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27 March 2016 @ 08:51 pm
Rewatch: S1E08 "Cherry Blossoms" (August 11, 1992) by Roy Sallows  
"Cherry Blossoms" is another of early FK's many excellent episodes, and one of overall FK's very few episodes with genuine "ripped from the headlines" elements. It achieves an outstanding balance and mix of police and vampire storytelling components. It keeps a commanding rein on a number of dynamic themes. And it hands out character insights and banter with deceptive ease.

Recap: This is the episode in which one witness escapes a murder attempt by Hong Kong mobsters. Badly wounded, the witness finds refuge in a warehouse under the eye of an elderly acupuncturist. Nick finds the witness and her protector while Schanke escorts a Chinese-speaking immigration agent. Fearing a mole, Nick secretly brings Natalie to help treat the witness. The elderly acupuncturist misremembers Nick as his mother's murderer, and plans to execute Nick once the witness is safe. Janette helps the acupuncturist recover his true memory of Lacroix as the killer; he lets Nick go. In the end, Natalie happens to enter Nick's loft just as Nick and Janette are in each other's arms.

About the episode's title

Cherry blossom flowers have accumulated many symbolic associations throughout history. I expect that the direct references wanted for this episode are:
  • Transplantation from Asia to North America. Many cherry trees grow in Canada and the US, most originally sent as goodwill and friendship gestures by Japan. The famous blooming Washington D.C. cherry trees were first sent in 1910; the flashbacks of "Cherry Blossoms" happen in San Francisco in 1916.

  • Mortality, ephemeralness, resignation to fate. Cherry blossom flowers bloom for a very short time, and their petals fall almost all at once and are gone, a swirl of achingly, delicately, beautiful life, and then nothing. They may be a symbol for carpe diem or for inescapable destiny. Fate, fortune and destiny concern Dr. Chung, in his focus on revenge. Mortality concerns Nick, always, past and present, as his quest and his milieu. And Lacroix's murder of Mai Chung is a horrific illustration of the ephemeralness and fragility of human life, all too like the mob massacre of Nancy Leung's brother and uncle.


1990s historical context

In the 1990s, many people poured out of Hong Kong to Canada, the UK, the US — wherever they could go, to get out before the mainland communist Chinese government would take back Hong Kong in 1999, when Britain's lease would run out. There was great anxiety that, despite any promises, the mainland Chinese government would crack down and destroy what Hong Kongers had built. Naturally, such urgency, desperation, and transition — not to mention money — created openings for organized crime.

This episode therefore had some degree of "ripped from the headlines" about it when it first aired.

Acupuncture

Structurally, it's prudent of the episode to establish, first, in the flashback, that acupuncture does indeed work on FK vampires — or at least on Nick — and then later to use acupuncture on Nick again in the present.

Could acupuncture help Nick deal with his desire for blood? Mai clearly believes so, but is never able to find out, herself, and we never learn in canon whether Nick tried again with another practitioner. Clearly, acupuncture can immobilize him to some degree; did Mai intend for him to sit there with blood he couldn't reach, as conditioning, or did she intend something else? Did she think that her art could affect the desire itself, or his ability to control the desire, and how sophisticated was her (and Nick's) grasp of the difference?

Lacroix says that he thinks acupuncture can't help Nick, but of course he claims that — he doesn't want Nick helped by anything. (And of course Lacroix murders Mai before they can find out!) "Your desires are in your soul [where they can't be affected by needles]," Lacroix says, exactly one episode after claiming that vampires have no souls. "You are what I am," Lacroix insists, demonstrating vividly that what he is, is a murderous monster. Why Lacroix thinks that any of this will persuade Nick, rather than driving Nick yet further away, I can't imagine.

Revenge

Dr. Chung is obsessed with revenge — but he's careful that it be a righteous revenge. He wants to make absolutely sure that Nick is the thing that murdered his mother, and he lets Nick go when he smoothes out his memory.

(Has Chung followed Nick across the continent, from San Francisco to Toronto, from 1916 to 1992? Or is this a coincidental encounter?)

And yet, while Chung says "revenge" many times, he also listens very markedly when Nick says to Nancy Leung: "If you do nothing, the people who killed your brother and your uncle will be able to do the same to someone else. You can stop that." In a perhaps significant way, that's exactly what Dr. Chung is trying to to — to stop the thing that killed his mother, so that it will not be able to do the same to someone else. Nick's own words condemn him (or would, had he actually been the murderer).

"Fatal Mistake" will bring us Alexandra, with her vendetta against Nick; and "Baby, Baby" Serena, with her grudge against Nick. In "If Looks Could Kill," Sofia would like to blame Nick, but he won't let her. In "A Fate Worse Than Death," we will be given the depiction of Janette as particularly concerned with revenge, and not quite as meticulous about establishing the niceties in all cases as Dr. Chung. "Dead of Night" will also raise the question of souls that want revenge on Nick. And of course there's Divia. That said, is it curious that there aren't more Dr. Chungs out there, more bereaved men and women seeking revenge on Nick, or Janette, or Lacroix? Are there just so few surviving witnesses?

Schanke has someone from his long past attempt to take revenge on him, in "Hunters." Stonetree has someone try to take a more immediate revenge on him, in "Fatal Mistake." And someone tries to take revenge on Commissioner Vetter through Tracy, in "Night in Question."

Escape your past

Dr. Chung says several times that one can't escape one's past, that he has never been able to escape his, that Nancy Leung won't be able to escape hers — after all, what about her name? Nick expresses great faith in starting over, in leaving one's past behind and starting a new life, in the efficacy of a new name and new profession.

During that conversation, Nick can't know that Chung knows — as the audience knows — that we're speaking on multiple levels: about witness protection for Nancy Leung, about a small boy whose world was destroyed, about a homicide cop with a homicidal history, about a vampire hoping to become human... about a lost soul longing for salvation.

(And escaping one's past comes back again in the tag, where Janette admits that Nick may become human someday, but "right now," she knows just what he is... and then Natalie walks in. ~grin~ Who and what are you, again, Nick? ~grin~)

"I've killed no one in a hundred years"

Nick says that he's killed no one [as a vampire] in a hundred years. The first-season finale's flashbacks, set in 1892, give us Nick's final kill, the terrible mistake and epiphany of Sylvaine.

(You might point out that Nick did something to the guards in the tunnels in the flashbacks of "1966!" At least we know he didn't bite and drain them.)

Of course, come third season, we have to re-evaluate. Apparently, Nick did kill [as a vampire] in the flashbacks of "Outside the Lines," during WWII. Oh, I do loathe those flashbacks for that reason! (Did you know that OtLo was apparently a rejected script for first-season? I heard that they dug it out of a drawer during the tumult of recasting for third season.)

Miscellaneous

  • I once wrote a "Cherry Blossoms" fanpoem, called "Mai's Little Boy," from Doctor Chung's perspective. ("You're Mai's little boy?" is what Nick asks when he realizes what's going on.) It's very closely tied to the episode.

  • IMDB claims that "Tung Wa" is the family name of Mai and her son Chung. FK fandom has always presumed that "Chung" is the family name, and that the boy's personal name is unknown. (Nancy Leung calls him "Dr. Chung" on screen, and Nick and Stonetree call him "Chung.") The copy of the "Cherry Blossoms" script that I got to see didn't include any names besides "Mai" and "Chung" for these characters.

  • Another thing to love about FK: how characters who ought to be speaking languages other than English actually do speak those languages. :-)

  • This is the episode in which "they cut [Natalie's] budget all to hell" and she has to "lose two of the attendants off [her] shift." They both have families, and no good job prospects. In addition to being a character development point for Natalie, this could be considered to have tangential resonance to the episode situation of illegal immigration and organized crime. Natalie's Coroner's Office lab budget is a government budget, paid by taxes; presumably, her employees are citizens or legal residents. Crime siphons away money that could have been used to fight crime, and everyone needs jobs.

  • This is one of the many first-season episodes in which the final edited order of the scenes causes Nick's outfits to toggle back and forth unconvincingly. In this case, he goes from light blazer to dark blazer to light blazer again, all on apparently the same night.

  • Happily, this is one of the episodes where the Eurominutes are almost entirely set-up shots — longer alleys, longer hallways, more doors. I rewatched only the Region 2 cut this weekend, but if I recall correctly, the only two bits that Region 1 should really regret are a longer lead-up into and through the establishment in the flashbacks, and a brief extra scene of Dr. Chung sitting at Nancy Leung's side and reflecting.

  • "He saw me." Interesting how swiftly, how practically, this Nick and Natalie agree that Nick needs to run, if Chung tries to expose his secret! Later in the series, the answer to this kind of question will no longer seem as obvious and immediate to them.

  • Janette gets out of the back seat of that car, coming to Nick's aid at Chung's. Clearly, therefore, someone was driving for her.

  • If you listen carefully, you can hear Dr. Chung crying, off camera, as Nick, freed from the needles, embraces Janette. Beautiful. Heartbreaking.

  • Janette's dialogue indicates that this is her first time in Nick's loft. Yet it's not the first time she's heard about Natalie, she says, so they had to have been talking (just not in Nick's home).


What do you think?

Next week: S1E09: "I Will Repay" (IWR)

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(Anonymous) on April 8th, 2016 07:04 am (UTC)
Rewatch
I'm so glad you are doing this.
I'll even make some comments eventually. :-)

Walt D
Amy R.: Janette Againbrightknightie on April 10th, 2016 08:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Rewatch
Thanks! :-)