Kung Fu third season returns this week and there’s A LOT to digest after the earthquake of last season that shook more than just the ground — Harmony Dumplings was left in shambles; Althea’s (Shannon Dang) career took a turn for the worse after hacking into everyone’s location (to save them); Dennis (Tony Chung) has been cut off from his family; Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) is stuck in the other dimension; Henry (Eddie Liu) left on his own adventure; and, Nicky (Olivia Liang) now has to figure out lift without a warrior’s purpose and a boyfriend.
The third season is set four months after the earthquake. The Nerds of Color had a chat with showrunners Bob Berens and Christina Kim about this coming season and what to expect for our favorites – also, just who is this new guy, Bo (Ben Levin)?
“I know you’re supposed to be the one asking us questions,” Kim says during the questioning of Bo. “I know you’re a Hicky (the relationship fandom for Henry and Nicky) shipper. How are you feeling?”
I tell them the truth that many of the Hicky fans are upset with their break-up last season. Henry and Nicky (aside from Mama and Papa Shen and Althea and Dennis) were the first Asian main character couples on mainstream television. I asked if there is any hope for a reconciliation since many in the fandom are waiting for the two to be reunited.
“I’ll say for the Hicky shippers, there’s an opportunity to actually deepen the relationship between Nicky and Henry,” Berens shares. “We saw glimpses at the end of season two – Henry is always the sidekick in their relationship. That’s natural. Nicky is the warrior. She is the one leading these larger epic battles. She’s got the hero’s burden, but Henry has a story of his own.”
This season will see Henry on his own quest to resolve some of his “identity issues”. Berens says the two will reunite, but “not necessarily get back together.” Berens and Kim are excited for fans to see “their relationship mature and evolve outside a romantic relationship.” So, is there any chance of Henry and Nicky to get back together again? Berens doesn’t want to give a straight answer.
“The shades of heartbreak and feeling between them are going to be really rich and really electrifying,” says Berens. “I think [this] will really redefine them as individual characters and redefine the relationship moving forward. There’s going to be a lot of bittersweet, really emotional moments between the two of them. So the story of their partnership and their love for each other is definitely not over.”
So, just who is this Bo guy, other than being a very attractive yet mysterious martial artist/hacker? Berens assures us that it’s not another perfect “Dennis-like” character. Bo has a darker nature and “hidden dimensions” to him, which audiences will see as the season continues.
“What’s fun about it is that it really kind of takes a perfect guy to even tempt Nicky under the present circumstances,” Berens shares. “There were various iterations of what kind of character we could throw at her to tempt her back into both love/romance and [that] kung fu partnership – and Bo really fit the bill for that. They’re very well matched and they have a fighting chemistry similar to the fighting chemistry she had with Henry, but distinct in a lot of ways like her – he’s a street fighter. He’s got a vigilante streak in him. He’s sort of the perfect foil to capture [her heart], but the question remains, is this the right time for Nicky to start a relationship as perfect as this guy is?”
Below, Berens and Kim talked about what to expect from Nicky’s mindset this season, the return of“Pei-Ling/Xiao” (Vanessa Kai), Althea’s future plans, Harmony Dumplings, and what’s next for Zhilan. *Please note, Kim had to leave in the middle of the interview*
The Nerds of Color: Nicky lost her powers and what it means to be a warrior. She also lost Henry. What is Nicky’s mindset this season?
Berens: Nicky has worked really hard to keep it together across these four months. She’s carried a really big, emotional burden. It really comes down to two things – losing her relationship with Henry – [especially on] heartbreaking terms, not knowing where he is and [the fact] he hasn’t been in contact with her has been a big blow to her. She’s [also] actually struggling a little bit with not having a larger, magical purpose. She has been so consumed by these massive quests across the first two seasons that she’s [feeling] a little bit at an emotional loss. When we pick up with her [this season], she’s very focused. She feels responsible for the earthquake that occurred last season. So she’s very focused on protecting her community and developing as a sifu and being there for her students and for her family. But she’s swallowing a lot of pain. In this [first] episode, we’ll see that she’s more wounded by all that occurred than she lets on.
Only four months have passed since Nicky and Henry broke up and the earthquake, but it seems like her family really just wants her to move on already. But, it’s only been four months!
Kim: It was four months and with Henry, it [was] really radio silence and we saw part of the breakup in the finale. For Nicky, who was so attached to Henry and had such a deep relationship [with] him. It was a really hurtful [and] terrible breakup. I think seeing Nicky throw herself into her work and perhaps not dealing with the pain of the breakup is why we’re rooting for her to move on.
I know Henry and Evan are the best of friends – even with the awkward history. What can you tell me about Bo and Henry’s dynamic?
Berens: We’re really in the beginning of the season. It’s really more about Nicky and Bo’s relationship and sort of Nicky and Henry on the other side of this breakup. Henry and Bo will cross paths and it will be a more conflicted relationship than Henry and Evan. Let’s just say, we’ll get to see a few more sparks. We told a very enlightened story of very enlightened masculinity with Henry and Evan but the circumstances are more charged this season. We have the opportunity to tell a more dynamic sort of conflict between Henry and Bo in due time.
I love the concept of/ the supernatural in television and movies. Bob, you worked on Supernatural and we have touched on different dimensions in Kung Fu. It looks like we’re bringing people back from the dead with the return of “Pei-Ling.” Are we at the point of supernatural to bring people back from the dead? Does that mean we’ll eventually see zombies, angels, devils, or other Chinese mythology types?
Berens: Christina had a very clear vision when I joined the show around the time of the pilot. I think the one sort of moving needle in terms of how much magic. The watchword for season 1 was always a little drop of magic – a thimble full of magic. As we progressed, we really led with what’s the most emotionally dynamic story we can tell within the universe of this show. And, as a result, we’ve had some great twists in season 2. There’s more magic as we proceed into the show. That said, we were like to bite off one thing at a time, or we tried to. So I think the rollout to that level of different kinds of magic would be pretty slow. We’re definitely telling a story of dimensions here and traveling between worlds. There is a resurrection story, but it has a very clear motive and will be unfolding – how Pei-Ling came back, why she came back, and what the entity Xiao has to do with it across the season.
Okay, I need to know if you guys made it a requirement to have JB Tadena, aka Sebby, have a shirtless scene in every episode this season – and thank you.
Berens: I actually think that was an actor’s choice. It comes down to his ownership of his character. How does he go to bed when he’s sleeping at his and Ryan’s apartment, he’s a shirtless sleeper. So I really think it was a character choice more than it was trying to show off the goods or anything like that. But yeah, that’s where that was coming from. And we were glad he made that choice.
As someone who loves Althea like she’s my own, I need to know she’s going to be okay through all of this. Living at home can really be draining for both parents and kids and to lose your career like that must be devastating.
Berens: In the premiere, we’ll see that Althea has her previous decisions weighing over her – what will be the consequence for her actions in last season’s finale. Althea is kind of holding on to hope that as soon as she puts this in the rearview, she can go back to her old life in some form or another and get back into the tech game. We’ll see that the plan will not go according to plan and Althea is going to need to course correct and find another way out. It’s a really fun and exciting journey, and we’ll see Althea exploring new aspects of her abilities than we’ve seen in the past and discovering new talents and a possible new career path forward for herself.
Ryan seems to finally find his groove next to his sister’s crime fighting side, but now that Bo is here – is there going to be some tension between the two since he wants in on the action?
Berens: Bo steps on Ryan’s toes a little bit in the premiere, but the truth is Bo is more or less so charming and winning that [Ryan] sort of lets go of his resentment and suspicion. Of course, it won’t be too long before Henry’s back in the mix. He will have his own concerns about both. Ryan’s just really focused on helping Nicky and his family. We’ll also get to see that with Pei-Ling’s return, that opens up an area that Ryan is really well suited [for], especially because Henry is not in the mix in terms of doing research trying to figure out why Pei-Ling is back. Nicky is going to be leaning on Ryan a lot and we’re even gonna get to see some fun relationship moments between Ryan and Pei-Ling of all people.
Henry is going through a journey right now. It’s having him deal with “pirates” and scammers. What is he doing?! It’s been four months… How far along is he? How’s he doing? How far along is he finding this out and then will it help him in the long run mentally?
Berens: I think it will definitely. There’s always been kind of this core wound for Henry which is in his relationship with his father and this sense of his father kept secrets from him. His parents separation and his father’s aloofness with him as a child, there may have been a cause for it and the story didn’t it didn’t all add up. Then Danny died. I do think Henry will get closure on that part of his past across the first few episodes of the show. As we’ll see in episode 2, Henry has actually gone on a lot of adventures. He’s toughened up a lot being on his own this four month journey across the world looking for these answers – retracing his father’s steps because his father was looking for the same thing he’s looking for. Henry is going to complete that journey for Danny and for himself. In the process, he’s going to get an unexpected answer about both himself and what motivated his father all those years. So as far as his father goes, he really is going to come to a place of closure across his journey, but the consequences of what he discovers is going to open up for Henry and he will be changed forever from his solo quest at the top of the season.
Are we gonna see an evolution of Henry? Is he gonna be a completely different person that Nicky fell in love with? Will she have to fall in love with him all over again?
Berens: When they do cross, she is going to be seeing a very different side of Henry. It’s going to be a very complex episode with a lot of emotion between the two of them. It’s only been four months. To Nicky’s surprise, four months with no contact is a long time to imagine the worst. What we’re going to see and I think what audiences will understand and expect to a certain extent is that, despite his silence, Henry’s feelings about Nicky have not changed. That’s going to throw a wrench in everything Nicky has built across the first few episodes of the season. So it’s going to be very turbulent [and] very emotional.
We see Baba and Mama Shen going through a crisis with the restaurant. Mama Shen knows she’s going to need help. Is this kinda a touch on gentrification in Chinatown?
Berens: Yes, we’re telling a story about gentrification. We’re also telling a very specific story about Chinatown and San Francisco rebuilding after an earthquake. So it’s all in the mix. In the premiere, we’ll get a taste that there may be a larger conspiracy afoot here. We’re definitely seeing in the aftermath of the earthquake, there’s been an uptick in crime and theft. And it’s been hitting the residents of Chinatown, but that even that uptick in crime may not be what it appears. There may be some nefarious forces at work and in episode 2 will come to understand that it is indeed a conspiracy and that there are people who are planning to profit from it. So it’s not just a straight story of gentrification that we’ll be touching on. It’s actually a larger story of conspiracy that will be sort of percolating that is felt that our Shoobys will be investigating across the season.
You know I need to ask about my girl, Zhilan. We last left her stuck in the other dimension. I need to see her soon. What can we expect from Zhilan?
Berens: Yeah, we’ll be seeing Zhilan in Episode 2 and kicking her story back in the shadow realm going to find herself in a very strange place. She’s been sort of surviving under very, very difficult circumstances. Our watchword for her at the top of the season is “Furiosa Zhilan.” We get that taste of her. It’s a world without Nicky. So, in a sense, Zhilan gets to play the hero a little bit in some exciting ways. She has a deep and evil backstory [and] she’s had moments of really unforgivable acts. But, in this new realm, she gets the opportunity to behave as if she’s a hero, and we’ve definitely moved the needle with her across seasons so we’ve seen the human sides where it’s going to be a really exciting story. We get to tell a very exciting story of her rebuilding her identity independently of the other characters for a few episodes.
Okay, this is the question we’ve all been waiting for – who are you shipping this season?
Berens: I mean, Meibastian is always right. Curse you, Olivia, for introducing that term. [laughs] I don’t see it as a romantic relationship, but I do see it as one of the most unexpected and rewarding friendships and partnerships we have on the show. Mei-Li is forced to take on partners to keep Harmony Dumplings afloat. There will be some conflicts and almost a love triangle of sorts between Mei-Li, her new business partner Carrie (played by Kim Rhodes), and Sebasian. They’ve had a great harmonious partnership and relationship but Mei-Li is going to find it very challenging on the business side of things with Carrie and the artistic creative partnerships she has with Sebastian who is much more of an artist about all of this. He doesn’t see things in business terms. So there’ll be some really interesting, prickly dynamics to play at Harmony Dumplings this season.
Okay, Bob. I appreciate that, but you know I am really asking about who you’re shipping with Nicky.
Berens: What’s really exciting to us this season is that in Bo, we have this really compelling fresh start for Nicky. Ben Levin is so charismatic and dynamic. They’re so great together, that it’s like ‘oh, wow, like this relationship is so compelling and so fun.’ And after everything Nicky’s been through, we’re really rooting for it. On the other hand, Henry really is coming into his own this season. There’s a lot he has to work through with Nicky when they do cross, but everyone is going to be aching for Nicky to go for both of them almost equally. So it’s a very dramatic love triangle and very different from the Evan-Henry-Nicky love triangle we played in season 1. So I want audiences to be completely divided and torn apart and rooting for both relationships.
Kung Fu returns this Wednesday at 9pm on The CW.