MAJOR SPOILERS for John Wick and John Wick: Chapter Two ahead
John Wick introduced audiences to a dark, polished, and sharply dressed, underground criminal society full of assassins who (mostly) abide by an unspoken code of conduct and two explicit rules. While the first movie told a more intimate story that only hinted at the larger world of this secret society, John Wick: Chapter Two takes the titular character through several of the corners of this complex underworld, revealing even more about the world of John Wick.
While very few of these customs are explicitly explained, there are still enough hints about the inner functionings of the various entities presented, giving us enough puzzle pieces to put together a loose sketch of this mysterious world of assassins.
The High Table
The underground criminal world in which John Wick lives seems to be comprised of a layered society of crime lords. Viggo Tarasov and his brother Abram head up the Russian syndicate in New York City, but as John Wick 2 shows, they are far from the top of the food chain.
The High Table is a council of high-level crime lords that rule the criminal world. The council is comprised of 12 seats, with each seat often owned by a family. Gianna D’Antonio inherited her father’s’ seat after his death, but Santino D’Antonio craves the power for himself, ordering John Wick to kill his sister.
The Continental is more than just a hotel for the criminal underworld, it’s an entire network of facilities and services that enable assassins to do their job. Of the two rules in this underworld, one of them applies specifically to The Continental: no business on Continental grounds. While most assassins like John Wick and Cassian (played by Common) strictly adhere to this rule, not everyone is so honorable, as we see Ms. Perkins killed for violating this rule in the first movie.
While the High Table is a supreme authority in most cases, The Continental is an autonomous organization, and its various branch managers - Winston in New York and Julius in Rome, among others - have complete authority over Continental business. In fact, Winston may even have a history of pushing back against The High Table.
The Continental’s concierge can provide for almost any needs for their exclusive clientele. Some locations even board pets - just not in the New York branch.
A Sommelier is normally an expert in fine wines, offering customers advice on important matters like wine and food pairing. Naturally, a sommelier is one of the services provided by the Continental, only this particular wine shop is a front for a high-end armory.
That doesn’t mean it’s not classy, though. Through conversations with his clientele, the Sommelier identifies a client's “dinner plans,” suggesting just the right weapon pairing to properly compliment every course, starting out with a light pairing of Austrian handguns before moving to a more substantial AR-15, followed by a "bold, robust, and accurate" Benelli shotgun, before wrapping up with a spring loaded boot knife for dessert.
If you look around The Continental, everyone is dressed to the nines (occasionally excluding John Wick). This is thanks to another of The Continental’s services, the Tailor. Found in the back room of a textile mill is a small shop where the Tailor makes bespoke suits for his elite clientele.
Not only are these suits made to order, but they include a lightweight armor lining that can stop a bullet at range, although it doesn’t block the impact, saving lives, but leaving the wearer bruised and battered. The Tailor provides his services for both men and women in a variety of styles and can even produce same day turnaround.
Behind a false bookcase in a small bookstore that looks like it smells of leather and mahogany is The Continental’s Cartographer. The Cartographer’s map collection is full of both ancient diagrams and modern blueprints, detailing the layout of many local sites. The Cartographer reviews his clientele’s travel plans and helps to provide all the logistical data necessary for their missions.
In addition to these manuscripts and documents, the Cartographer can also provide the keys necessary to access certain areas, aiding John Wick in gaining covert access to the Red Square concert venue in the roman colosseum.
John Wick may keep a stash of coins, guns, and other tools of the trade in a box under a cement slab in his basement, but like any professional, he doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket. Before traveling to Rome, he visits a small pawnshop run by an Orthodox Jew, the Pawbroker. This pawn shop is a front for a secure bank of safety deposit boxes.
The Pawnbroker accepts Wick’s account number, allowing him access to his box, where he has a spare suit, weapons, gold coins, and a passport so he can leave the country. Some assassins may have small stashes stored in various banks around the world to ensure they can access important resources in an emergency.
Killing can be messy work, especially in the volume and fashion that John Wick does it. Since getting rid of bodies safely can be a risky task, The Cleaners make themselves available to dispose of bodies and clean up the scene for just one gold coin per body.
Using a Waste Disposal company as a front, the Cleaners are punctual, quick, and efficient, usually leaving little to no trace of bloodshed when they're done.
The Soup Kitchen
After experiencing mercy at the hands of a younger John Wick, The Bowery King (played by Lawrence Fishbourne) rose through the ranks to become the head of a vast network of intelligence operatives, covering almost every corner of New York City. This network relies largely on agents in the guise of homeless panhandlers, using access to the city’s underground tunnels and passageways to quickly move about with ease.
The Bowery King also manages a flock of homing pigeons, used for secure delivery of messages or other small objects. Keeping these communications off of the phone lines ensures an additional level of secrecy.
A marker is small round object indicating the debt of a blood oath between two individuals. Opening in the middle to reveal a divided surface, the debtor presses a bloody thumbprint on one side to commit an oath is owed, while the debtee likewise presses their bloody thumb to the other side to indicate when an oath has been fulfilled.
When John Wick wanted to get out of the business to mary Helen, he was first assigned an “impossible task.” In order to succeed, he gives a blood oath to Santino D’Antonio, the influential brother of one of the 12 members of the High Table, in return for his aid. After John comes back from retirement to seek vengeance on Viggo Tarasov, Santino calls in the oath. Desiring to take his sister’s place at the table, D’Antonio has John Wick assassinate her to satisfy his commitment.
Records of blood oaths are registered and tracked by The Continental, under the supervision of Winston. He tracks the issuance and redemption of blood oaths in his own record book.
The currency used in the underworld is mostly gold coins, crafted by a coin maker and approved for distribution by The Continental’s manager, Winston. While their use is universal in this criminal society, there is not a consistent exchange rate. A single coin can be exchanged for any single good or service, be it a knife, an AR-15, a single night at The Continental, clean-up and disposal of one dead body, or a single bar tab. This may be to establish an even playing field among all assassins in which the value of a coin is determined by the skill of the owner instead of pure volume of wealth.
Despite the reliance on the gold coins, assassination contracts are assigned with a value designated in US dollars, possibly emphasizing that value is based on the individual. This would suggest that while any good or service can be exchanged for a fixed value of one coin, the value of individuals is a variable amount.
John Wick: Chapter 2 had a lot of worldbuilding. Which aspect was your favorite? Let us hear about it in the comments!
- John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) release date: Feb 10, 2017