Season 5, Episode 12
Any Sum Within Reason
Chang discovers Mei's secret and forces her to flee Truckee. Cullen's search for her brings new realizations while exorcising old demons.
In 1863 China, Wai-Ling works in the back of her father's tea house. In the front room, Chang tells Wai-Ling's father that he wishes to marry her. After a brief dowry negotiation, Wai-Ling's father agrees to the deal.
In 1864 San Francisco, Wai-Ling stands in a lineup of brides for auction. Businessmen shout out bids. Watching from the back next to General Lee Yong, head of the Sze Yup Company, Chang proposes expanding business to the railroad and opening up a brothel of his own. Yong is skeptical, but agrees. Chang pulls Wai-Ling out of line: "To the mountains, my bride," he says.
Wai-Ling gazes vacantly as she rocks back and forth, having sex with a customer in Chang's opium den. Later, she bathes Chang's back with a sponge. Worn down by the harsh brutality of prostitution, she trades out the sponge for a knife and plunges it into Chang's back. Chang screams and yanks the knife out as Wai-Ling flees.
Carrying a mallet, Chang chases Wai-Ling down. Instead of killing her, he crushes her kneecap.
In present day, Wai-Ling wears Mei's mother's dress as she prepares tea. Chang approaches and admires the dress. He asks who gave it to her.
After the near-miss in Mei's tent, Cullen goes to the opium den and demands that Chang deliver Tao's future wages directly to the railroad office. He notices Wai-Ling's dress and realizes that Chang knows Mei's secret.
Cullen bursts into Mei's tent. He's gotten her a ride to Cheyenne with Stagecoach Mary. Mei protests -- she wants a life with Cullen. "Chang's on the scent and he'll follow it straight to your contract with the Sze Yup," Cullen warns. Cullen tells Mei he will come for her as soon as he's dealt with Chang.
Cullen loads Mei onto the stagecoach. She tells Cullen the tea is still in the box, implying that she's not giving up. Cullen hands her a pistol and instructs her to telegraph when she reaches Nevada that night.
Huntington dines on a luxurious meal at Chang's rice shop. The two talk business over an unsigned Central Pacific business contract. Chang's ambition wins Huntington over, and he hands the contract to Chang with a smile.
On a water stop en route to Reno, Mei searches for her satchel and accidentally knocks open Mary's bag, revealing the dress Mei gave to Wai-Ling. Mei buys it back at a steep price.
In the Central Pacific railroad office, Cullen tells Huntington to fire Chang. He offers Mickey and his Irishmen as a replacement for the Chinese they'd lose. Huntington says Chang provides a valuable service to the railroad and writes off his indiscretions as "Chinese business." Plus, Huntington adds, "Chang's never betrayed me. "Huntington believes the future is in China; they're building a bridge "linking Europe and the Orient," not just a railroad. "Either adapt and profit, or fight it and perish," Huntington admonishes, advising Cullen to start planning for "what lies beyond that final rail." "Chang stays on after she's built," Cullen answers, "don't count me in your plans."
Cullen sits across from Chang in the opium den. Using her real name, Cullen offers to purchase Mei's contract from the Sze Yup company at fair market value. Chang says a "prized" prostitute like Wai-Ling can earn $30,000 in five years. Cullen offers $40,000. Realizing that Cullen is in love with Mei, Chang refuses. He angrily reminds Cullen that he named his price months ago, a two percent stake in the railroad, and Cullen laughed in his face. "You refused to sell me a piece of your business and I refuse to sell you a piece of mine," Chang says, ending the negotiation. He warns Cullen that he'll find Mei: "Do not misjudge how far my company will go to claim what's theirs."
Mei cocks the pistol Cullen gave her as the stagecoach rolls to a stop in a field. Chinese riders approach. Mei sees one of them hand Mary a bag of money and realizes they're Chang's hatchet men coming to get her. She kicks open the stagecoach door, fires into the air and makes a break for the woods.
Exhausted from running, Mei enters a small town.
Cullen walks over anxiously as the railroad office telegraph starts tapping. The message: "Chang attack. Washoe City."
Mei tries to blend in with Chinese laborers working on the Golden Fleece mine. As she carries a bucket of rock out of the mine, she spots Chang headed her way, inspecting every worker he passes. Just then, a foreman steps in front of Chang and accuses him of trespassing. Chang explains his mission to find a runaway Sze Yup whore. The foreman, who works for the competing Sam Yup company, says Sze Yup "trash" are unwelcome and accuses Chang of poaching their workers. Two more foremen approach and flank Chang. The first foreman pokes Chang in the chest. Chang quickly and gracefully knocks them all unconscious, but not before one of the foremen slices through his shirt, leaving a bloody gash. The workers scatter and Mei uses the fracas as cover to escape.
Cullen rides hard towards Washoe City.
Distracted, Mei sits at a table inside the Washoe City saloon. She looks out the window and sees Chang ride into town. Chang heads straight for the saloon.
Gun drawn, Chang enters the saloon. Mei is nowhere to be seen. Chang tells the bartender that he's looking for a young man who might have passed through. Under the bar, Mei shoves her pistol into the barkeep's groin. The barkeep nervously says the town's been empty for weeks since the boom ended, but a man came through earlier headed East. Chang turns and Mei takes action. She jumps up, points her pistol at Chang's head and cocks it. Mei orders the barkeep out and tells Chang to drop his gun. Chang obliges, but warns her that Sze Yup men are everywhere. They're interrupted by the saloon door opening slowly -- it's Cullen. Chang starts to welcome him, but Cullen abruptly fires a bullet through Chang's head. Cullen sighs and walks out.
Inside, Mei watches through the windows as Cullen eliminates all of Chang's men. When the killing is over, Mei takes Cullen's hand and they walk into the street together.
Cullen and Mei talk as they ride home. Mei plans to travel back to China, but Cullen wants her to stay with him. Mei explains that, although Chang is dead, more Sze Yup will come and it's safer to run away.
Back in Truckee, Mei asks Cullen to stop outside Chang's brothel. Inside, Mei tells Wai-Ling of Chang's death and encourages her to escape before it's too late. Beaten down, Wai-Ling says the brothel is her home. "Freedom starts with a single step," Mei says.
Later, Mei tells Cullen that Wai-Ling was Chang's slave and she bears no ill will towards Wai-Ling for giving up her secret. "Chang take her life, her freedom, her honor," Mei says. Unsettled, Cullen confesses, "I owned slaves." Mei takes his face in her hands. "I see you," she says. "You good."
The next morning, Mei steps onto Cullen's balcony as he sleeps. She enjoys a brief moment of freedom as a woman. Suddenly, her face falls as she spots General Yong walking through town.
Cullen dresses and orders Mei to stay in the room until he returns. Mei says she doesn't want this life for Cullen. He tells Mei he loves her, then leaves.
Cullen joins Huntington for a meeting with General Yong. Yong has just informed Huntington of Chang's murder -- by a white assassin -- while searching for a runaway whore. Cullen coolly suggests they might be looking for the same white assassin that murdered Tao. Cullen doesn't believe that Yong is willing to jeopardize his whole business over Chang. Yong agrees; he'll send a replacement and business with the Central Pacific will continue uninterrupted.
As soon as Yong is gone, Huntington asks if Cullen had anything to do with Chang's murder. Cullen leaves without answering.
Cullen walks through the streets as Yong boards the train out of town. He passes by the opium den and rips down a wanted poster for Mei. When he reaches his room, he finds the door unlocked and Mei gone. The tea box rests on the bed. The last bit of tea is gone, replaced by a note written in Chinese.
Mei looks out over the water as a ship carries her back to China.