I’m really digging AMC’s Into the Badlands for its hypnotizing, gorgeous skirmishes. But these acrobatic, limb-chopping warriors need to be showing a bit more personality—otherwise, we’re never going to care if the good guys get sliced to ribbons or not.
We’re living in an age in which wushu is being advocated for Olympic inclusion at the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020, and Into the Badlands is definitely doing its share putting a spotlight on martial arts in the mainstream. I’m incredibly thankful for this, and for the fact that the main character is portrayed by Daniel Wu, a Chinese-American. The show is also absolutely gorgeous to watch, from the eye candy sets to the Crouching Tiger-grade fight choreography. It’s truly unlike anything else on TV—or has been on TV for decades, for that matter.
But I want to see more reasons to care about these characters. Right now, the characters are largely defined by their roles within the world: Sunny is the killing machine Clipper, Quinn is the psychopathic baron, The Widow is the scheming femme fatale. I wish we were treated to more little moments and micro-interactions between the characters that reveal their quirks and habits and histories that make them more relatable and accessible (like Sunny mentioning to his girlfriend he’d prefer to read The Cat in the Hat during his reading lessons, or M.K. and Tilda’s surprise kiss.) That’d make us root for them more when they’re wrist-deep in katanas.
Still, it’s only episode two, and the show is already building upon some of the relationships introduced in the pilot in some cool ways. And first, of course, it kicked off with another badass fight scene.
Photo by Patti Perret/AMC.
The episode opens with The Widow entering what looks to be the Badlands equivalent of Mos Eisley Cantina, a bar-meets-burlesque parlor and hookah lounge filled with motley patrons, some of whom the Widow wants to recruit in her plans to overthrow Quinn and the other barons. Things quickly devolve into a dagger-dancing gore fest that looks straight out of Street Fighter, with the Widow learning that Quinn and his son Ryder are out to kill her as well. Her plan? Track down a boy who supposedly has unstoppable powers of destruction sealed away inside him. That boy, of course, is M.K.
M.K. is fleeing the Badlands when he runs into Tilda, a turquoise-clad young girl with a penchant for shurikens and a “mother” who just happens to be the Widow. They seem to strike up something of a trust, and she leads M.K. back to what ends up being the Widow’s estate, inhabited by an army of other blue-decked young ladies who are future Widows-in-training. Tilda then helps M.K. flee her “mother’s” clutches.
For me, the most interesting part of the episode, by far, was the blossoming semi-friendship between M.K. and Tilda—something made only more complicated by a Widow-fooling kiss while Tilda was helping him escape. Now that M.K. has fake-pledged his life to Quinn, his new baron, it’s only a matter of time before we see another forced M.K.-Tilda showdown. A teenage maybe-romance between two people fighting for warring clans kinda reminds me of West Side Story, except with, y’know, way more severed arms and throwing stars.
But so far, this friendship is the one on the show that’s fueling the most viewer interest—for me, at least. Both are teen fighters whose powers, especially M.K.’s, are the barons’ objects of desire; something they can harness for their Badlands-conquering benefit. I wished the fight scene between Tilda and M.K. lasted longer than it did; it was the first fight scene of the show where I felt really emotionally involved in what was going on and concerned about the outcome. It was a battle between two characters whose fates I’m getting invested in, instead of just another battle involving a bunch of anonymous henchmen.
Speaking of which, I did love Sunny in the last battle of the episode: Halfway through the brawl, the main goon muttered something like “let’s get him!” and chucks a throwing axe from the crowd. Sunny swats it away with his sword without breaking stride, ricocheting the weapon into a crony off to the side. Sunny’s way of saying “LOL nope!”
I will say that the weird, Civil War undertones between Sunny and Quinn make me kind of uncomfortable—Quinn keeps reminding me of Edwin Epps, Michael Fassbender’s character from 12 Years a Slave. One of the best parts of the show, in terms of cinematography and drama, was when Quinn demands Sunny march into his pregnant girlfriend’s adoptive parents’ house and murder them, baron’s orders. (Her father, a doctor, just informed Quinn that he has a deadly brain tumor, and I guess Quinn doesn’t want that information to get out?)
When Sunny refuses, saying he only clips enemies, Quinn swipes Sunny’s own sword, marches up the front porch and into the open door, and the show denies us the visuals of the gruesome act. Instead, we get a straight-on shot of the front of the manor, the armed baron disappearing into the entrance, and the camera slowly slinking up the stairs itself and toward the home. We hear bone-chilling shrieks and we cut back to a close-up of Sunny watching helplessly. This was a director making a good call, friends.
Photo by James Dimmock/AMC.
Make no mistake, I love the show and will continue watching no matter what, because I’m a geek who loves martial arts and the kung fu flicks and hack-’n-slash video games that Into the Badlands reminds me of. But without more interpersonal drama among these characters, who need to start showing more personality that engages all kinds of viewers, the audience might be limited to geeks like me.
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