Cinemax‘s Warrior, based on the writings of Bruce Lee, has been giving audiences a blend of Western, drama, and Kung Fu cinema. Over the course of season 2, we’ve seen San Francisco become more defined beyond just the Ducks and Chinatown. We’ve seen small glimpses of at least one Black community in San Francisco, learned more about the poor Irish, and, in Warrior Episode 6, we get to see a Mexican area of California—something I’ve been waiting for since the series began.
In the last episode, we saw the police raid the Fung Hai’s base, Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) meet Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) in hopes of reconciling, Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng) bonds with Nellie, and finally, Chao (Hoon Lee) chooses his side over any Tong. Much like last season’s episode 5, “The Blood and the Sht,” Warrior Episode 6, ” To a Man with a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail,” is nearly a self-contained story. While “The Blood and the Sht” was a clear love letter to films like The Magnificent Seven and The Hateful Eight, episode 6 this season draws heavy inspiration from Mexican Westerns and ultimately the American interpretation of Mexico in its Westerns.
In this episode, Ah Sahm, Young Jun (Jason Tobin), and Hong (Chen Tang) travel with Vega (Maria-Elena Laas) to Rooker’s Mill, a settlement on the US-Mexico border owned by Elijah Rooker (Connor Mullen), a wealthy white settler and host for a fighting tournament. Having been recruited by Vega, Ah Sahm is dedicated to winning the tournament and bringing home the prize money to help settle the mess that developed when Leary blew up Penny’s factory, and with it, the Hop Wei’s opium. But, this is where the connection to the main story of season 2 stops. A nice change of pace, Warrior Episode 6 dives into Vega’s background and, most importantly, the Mexican history that is inherently tied to California including the abuse and violence suffered at the hands of white settlers “claiming the West.”
Vega is able to bring multiple elements of Mexican American identity to the surface but the most important one is an understanding that California was Mexico long before the borders were drawn, even if Laas, the actress behind Vega, is Puerto Rican. I’m Mexican American, but more importantly, I’m Tejana with a family that has been in Texas for many generations and well before the state became a nation or property of the United States. Seeing this stated so clearly on the screen meant a lot, not only because it’s a fact but because it changes the narrative of Mexican Americans from only immigrants to the people who build these states themselves. Additionally, Vega’s past is a violent one. She lost her home to white settlers who murdered her family and claimed her father’s land as their own. To see her open up to Ah Sahm and ultimately seek his help in getting revenge was cathartic.
Warrior also deserves praise for including a variety of skin tones among the people of Booker’s Mill. Too often Mexican characters are shown with fair skin only. However, as we walk through the settlement, you notice actors with more indigenous features and skin tone as well as Black characters that help showcase Afro-Mexican people in the West. The latter of these is extremely important since they are often erased despite their contributions to vaquero culture throughout the Southwest.
That said, Warrior Episode 6 does drop the ball when it comes to representing Mexican identity visually. Some of the costumes, particularly Vega’s “fancy” dress, don’t look nearly as polished as the other costumes featured in the series, and ultimately there is a reliance on calaveras, Mexican sugar skulls, that is out of character. The use of calaveras in media to exemplify Mexican art is not always wrong, however, when the group first arrives there is a close up of a Mexican woman dancing while in skeleton and calavera paint. There are also decorations hung in the main fighting area that feature small calaveras on the pottery.
This isn’t our only aesthetic, and calaveras hold a special place for a specific holiday. This is a misstep for the series, as is the lack of Spanish, especially for a show that has done wonderful work with showcasing language barriers. Ultimately, Warrior isn’t about the Mexican experience, but it was for this one episode. And while it works overall, the historical eye lent to the whole of the series should have been used for episode 6. Elements just feel unfinished and aren’t given the nuance the series is known for, particularly in set design and costuming that blend cultural, historical, and contemporary elements.
Now, it is important to note that while this episode shifts its focus to Mexican identity and strife in early California, it also features some amazing action moments that bring the season’s most overt nods to Bruce Lee. Koji has done well making his performance as Ah Sahm be unique to the character while still bringing Lee’s physicality and mannerisms to the front of his physical performance. That said, the mannerisms have been less prevalent in previous episodes this season, which helped me appreciate the tournament, the single-kick win, and the scratches on his chest all the more. For fans of fight choreography, Warrior Episode 6 is a lot of fun, and Koji again proves why he’s a powerful force on screen.
Additionally, this episode also brings a diversity of fight styles that are exciting to watch individually but fantastic to see from Ah Sahm’s perspective as a fighter. We get to see mixed martial arts in Dolph, a fighter expected to win, played by professional MMA fighter Mike Bisping and most interestingly Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art. The diversity of styles that Ah Sahm faces allows us to see his range and his intelligence when it comes to countering attacks and learning in the moment. The tournament works as a way to solidify Ah Sahm’s physical power and just add new elements to his fight choreography that we haven’t seen before.
Overall, Warrior Episode 6 is a near-perfect and exciting episode. While there is a lot to dig into thematically, it serves as a nice filler episode from the main story, like last season’s episode 5 offered. This episode allows the series to use its format of exploring issues of race and how whiteness has been centered in the Western genre in a way that showcases Mexicans in California. While there are some issues in this episode, by and large, Warrior Season 2 continues to be an impressive force. While the series is currently canceled given the dissolution of Cinemax, I hope season 3 can be picked up on HBO Max so that we can see more mid-season episodes exploring genre and identity like this.
Warrior airs new episodes on Cinemax every Friday at 9 pm CT.
Warrior Season 2 Episode 6 - "To a Man with a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail"
- Rating - 8/108/10
Warrior Episode 6 is a near-perfect and exciting episode. While there is a lot to dig into thematically, it serves as a nice filler episode from the main story, like last season’s episode 5 offered. This episode allows the series to use its format of exploring issues of race and how whiteness has been centered in the Western genre in a way that showcases Mexicans in California. While there are some issues in this episode, by and large, Warrior Season 2 continues to be an impressive force.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.