Olivia Liang Breaks Down Nicky’s Mental State This Season on ‘Kung Fu’

It seems like Nicky Shen can’t seem to catch a break. 

Before Kung Fu’s midseason break, Nicky (Olivia Liang) and her family are attacked by Xiao (Vanessa Kai), who had completely taken over Pei-Ling’s body, all thanks to Nicky’s new boyfriend, Bo (Ben Levin). After discovering his deception,Nicky brutally beats him before running away.

“[Nicky’s] not in a good place,” Liang tells The Nerds of Color over the phone. “She feels so guilty for what she did at the end of episode eight to Bo. She ultimately violated her principles, who she is, what she’s been taught, and what she’s been practicing.”

In the midseason premiere, a guilt-ridden Nicky tries to get her mind off what she’s done by throwing herself into her job as the city’s vigilante hero after she discovers one of the neighborhood kids was falsely arrested and taken into by the city’s new security firm. Unfortunately, Nicky’s PTSD causes her to hesitate during a job, resulting in her arrest. Instead of running, she decides to face the consequences for her actions. 

Liang chats with The Nerds of Color over what is going on with Nicky’s mental state, how it’s affecting her relationships, and what to expect for our hero. 

The Nerds of Color: With the return of the midseason, where is Nicky’s mindset at the moment?

Olivia Liang: She feels so guilty. She is having a crisis of identity and has shocked herself with how violent she got and how far over the line she crossed. She didn’t know that she had that rage in her and feels a little bit scared of herself when we see her again.

Nicky has become guarded again – pushing away from her family and retreating. Are we seeing the Nicky of the past who ran away to the monastery? Is there a possibility of Nicky running away?

You know, I think she’s thinking about it – for sure. But she has learned from her past and that running away is not the answer. So in the episode, she kind of stupidly runs towards another problem to try to absolve herself of her guilt and trying to counteract the bad thing that she did by doing a good thing. And then, by the end, we see her pass on leadership to Henry. Yeah. That was a mature move for her – knowing as a leader when it’s time to take a step back. She’s not running. She’s facing the consequences of what she’s done. She doesn’t want to run from it. She wants to face it and get through it.

It’s hard to keep track of the big bad of the season. Is Nicky focused on taking down the Architect? Is she gunning for Xiao? Or is she kinda sitting back and letting others handle it?

She is going to take a step back because there’s something inside Nicky that drives her to want to do the right thing all the time. She might be exhausted by it. Part of it is that she can’t let go. So letting go of the hunt for Xiao and passing it to Henry and saying, ‘please help me take over this because it’s clearly not good for me’. Her being able to recognize that is huge! We’ve seen her in the past trying to take on everything herself because she doesn’t want to put the people she loves in danger. But now she’s realizing that she might be doing more harm than good by holding on so tightly. So we’ve seen her mature in that way and thinking, ‘I actually can’t do this on my own. Maybe I’m not the best person for this job.’ So we’re gonna see her go through that a little bit. But ultimately, Nicky is always going to strive to do the right thing and if there is somewhere where she can help, she wants to help, but we might see her take a little bit of a backseat. But it won’t be for too long.

This topic is so important, especially for Asian American communities regarding mental health. Asians don’t typically ask for help. Mental Health is never talked about in our community. Will we see mental health discussed with Nicky seeking help?

Not actively for the rest of this season, but if we get a fourth season, that would certainly be an amazing thing to explore because Nicky has been through some stuff – and so has her entire family as collateral damage. We certainly haven’t shied away from it. We’ve shown each character go through [some sort of] struggle. In this episode, we got to see an interesting Sebastian storyline of him facing his own demons. We’ve certainly touched on the topics and we haven’t shied away from showing the flaws of these characters and how they get through things. But yeah, it would be awesome to explore in the future talking about their mental health and where they’re at and how they’re dealing with everything that they’ve gone through.

At the end of the episode, Nicky is seen in jail, but fortunately, she will be able to make bail. When she gets out, will we see her continue this serious mode or will we see her slowly be back to who she was?

This is something that Nicky can explore in Season 4 – she’s very good at compartmentalizing things. We will see her get her mojo back a little bit and get her fire back. It just sucks to feel responsible for the people around you when they’re hurting. She carries that with her constantly. But she does find her fire again and is able to put the hurt that she’s been feeling into a neat little box and is able to attack the bad guys with her team next to her.

We got to see Zhilan in prison being a badass fighter. Will we see a bit of Nicky and her time in jail? Any cool fight scenes?

Oh, I wish. I wish we got to see a cool jail fight or something. But Nicky is in there because she [did something she’s] not very proud of. I don’t think she’ll be trying to fight any inmates. But episode 10 is definitely interesting for Nicky in jail and the solitude that she’s finally forced to have and seeing where that takes her. It’s going to be a treat for the audience.

Kung Fu — “The Architect” — Pictured (L-R): Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen and Eddie Liu as Henry Yan — Photo: Justine Yeung/The CW — © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

With everything going on, will we see some moments of levity from Nicky?

Levity will come. There are a couple of fun moments between Nicky and Henry – and, obviously, the Shen family. They are so good at bringing lightness out of Nicky. Right now, Nicky is in a sad place and it’s going to take a lot of facing her demons and the things she’s done to truly feel lighter. There’s just so many loose ends that it is impossible for her to feel true levity. There are going to be light moments even though it seems Nicky is grappling with the darkness of what she did. The Shens around her are always bringing her up and there are so many funny moments. So yeah, we’ll see levity. 

Speaking of Henry, there seems to be some kind of tension between Nicky and Henry. Is she having second thoughts about what went down between the two?

I think that’s part of the sadness that Nicky feels. It’s hard for her to talk to Henry about what she did to Bo. Maybe part of her thinks Henry could be like “I told you. You should have been with me.” She’s looking at this perfect guy who is right in front of her and she essentially wanted to move on from him. There is definitely second guessing. She’s beating herself up over the decision that she made to pursue things with Bo and still keep Henry around. She’s realizing that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. We’ll see throughout the rest of the season what happens with Nicky and Henry, but there’s some juicy stuff. 

Well, what about Bo? Is there still something there?

Yeah. She is not us. So she didn’t get to see his tragic backstory of being manipulated and emotionally abused as a child by the person he saw as a mother figure. So she doesn’t know that side of him. All she has to go on is what he has shown her, which is that he’s a liar who betrayed and manipulated her. So she hates him for it. But we’ll see that because she has value, she’ll come to realize it doesn’t matter how much I hate you. I [won’t kill you]. That’s not who I am. [She’s not] someone who will use violence and go into a blind rage. He’s done bad stuff to Nicky, but that doesn’t mean he deserved what she did to him. He’s the source of a lot of her hurt right now and her identity crisis. It’s a complicated feeling that she has with Bo because it felt so good to take her anger out on him, but she knows that’s not the right thing to do. He’s a metaphor for the turmoil she’s feeling inside of what she knows is right or what she wants to do, which is a bit darker now. 

Nicky is already going through the guilt of Bo, but she will have to take down Xiao who has the face of Pei-Ling. I know she’s not ready now, but will she be ready for what she knows what she has to do?

Nope. She is not prepared. I mean, I wasn’t prepared as Olivia – and I knew what was gonna happen this season. Even when I was reading the scripts, I was somehow still shocked and had chills all over my body. I was like, [the writers] did it again. I can tease that I cried so hard shooting the finale that my contact popped out and was lost. I was blind for the rest of the work day.

I am currently into this thing of calling out “Eras” for people’s moment. For example, Zhilan is now in her “Hero” Era. At the start of this season, I labeled Nicky in her “Girl Boss” era. What Era would you say Nicky is in right now?

Oh, that’s a hard one. The “she’s going through so much” era. She’s in the thick of it. Maybe redemption? I don’t know if she even seeks redemption right now. I think her focus is not how to redeem myself. Her focus is that I’ve done bad stuff. Who am I now? She’s finding herself again. I feel like we’re always finding ourselves, right? She’s got so much more information about who she is and doesn’t like some part of who she is. She’s facing those parts of her and deciding whether or not she’s going to be okay with those parts or her or whether she’s going to try to change those parts of her. I don’t know what era that is. [laughs] You’re going to be using so many hyphens. It’s her “Flying-Too-Close-To-The-Sun” era.

So, you mean like her Icarus era?

Yes! It’s her Icarus era.

Kung Fu airs every Wednesday at 9 pm on The CW.