Into the Badlands: “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is fascinating and frustrating

After a great season opener and a solid episode last week, “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is something of a letdown. It’s not a bad episode, and there are a couple of excellent scenes, but the whole thing feels decidedly slow-paced. This is mostly due to a major event teased in episode two not happening this week at all. “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is a lot of exposition and set-up with a deeply frustrating ending. The exposition is interesting, but it’s not particularly exciting for a full hour when you’re waiting on something else to happen.

**Spoilers ahead.**

Sunny and Bajie are still crossing the Outlying Territories, where apparently “everything is barren and windswept,” when they arrive at a bridge where their way is being blocked by a new character. Before we get a proper introduction, a group of bounty hunters show up—down ask where they came from—to try and capture or kill Sunny for the price that’s been put on his head. It’s nice to get a good fight scene in before the opening credits, but this is the most interesting thing that happens to Sunny this week. The new character, Nathaniel Moon (Westworld’s Sherman Augustus), is cool—an ex-Clipper with even more kill tattoos than Sunny (999 to Sunny’s 404)—but his purpose in the story is fairly predictable, and he never feels like a credible threat. That’s he’s left alive and missing a hand as Sunny and Bajie move on (with Bajie taking Nathaniel’s sword), likely means that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Nathaniel. I only hope that means better use will be made of him in the future.

Nathaniel Moon serves a couple of purposes in the episode and in Sunny’s overarching hero’s journey, a questing storyline that’s sometimes (like this week) a little too conventional for its own good. First, Nathaniel a barrier in Sunny’s path back to Veil, both literally and metaphorically. Like Odysseus, Sunny is finding himself side-tracked this season by other characters and events that demand his attention, and this week that’s Nathaniel Moon, who Sunny must physically best in order to move on to the next step of his journey. Secondarily, Nathaniel represents a version of Sunny himself, but a failed version with a fridged wife and son to function as a cautionary tale for Sunny, and in this sense Nathaniel exists to instill doubt in the hero. Nathaniel, grieving and broken and cynical as he is, is Sunny’s worst fear of what he could become if he doesn’t get back to Veil. The problem with this is that it is such an archetypal externalization of internal conflict that it’s not surprising or even particularly compelling. We even saw a similar, but more visually interesting, storyline play out with M.K. just last week, so it’s repetitive as well.

Speaking of M.K., this episode finds him still dissatisfied with his lack of progress at the Temple. The Master won’t let him back in the mirror room, advising him to stop fighting himself, which suggests that, whereas last week M.K. needed to conquer his darker side (and this week, Sunny needed to physically overcome a symbol of his own darkness and doubt), the Master’s ultimate goal for M.K. isn’t for the young man to beat his darker self into submission. Rather, M.K.’s goal should be a more holistic solution to his problems; he must reintegrate the fractured part of his personality in order to find wholeness and discover the answers to his questions about his past. M.K. doesn’t have the patience for this yet, though. Instead, kept awake by his anxious desire to be finished with the Temple, M.K. snoops around until he observes something frightening: the nomad boy, Tate, being tortured, which we find out from Ava is how the monks cleanse failed initiates of the gift. Instead of taking that information, heading back to bed and rededicating himself to his studies, M.K. asks Ava to leave the Temple with him.

At Quinn’s secret villain lair, which is still one of the coolest secret villain lairs I’ve seen in ages, Quinn is reading “Rumplestiltskin” to baby Henry when Veil tells him that it’s time for his x-ray. Perhaps unsurprisingly to the viewer, given his bizarre behavior, Quinn’s brain tumor is frighteningly large. We learn, however, that Veil has told him that the tumor is cured, although she’s still treating him with some kind of unusually blue potion that apparently just keeps his headaches under control. It’s an intriguing new shade of nuance added to the power dynamic between these two characters, and adds some nice depth to Veil, who can sometimes feel a little one-note. While last week it seemed as if she was primarily Quinn’s prisoner, here we see that if he’s guarding her very closely it’s because he’s actually extremely dependent upon her, both physically and—it seems—emotionally, though the show seems to have abandoned the idea from season one of Quinn having a sort of sexual obsession with Veil. Instead, we’re now getting something much weirder and more compelling. It’s going to be interesting to see which happens first—Quinn finding the real x-rays that Veil is just keeping in an unlocked drawer or Veil making her escape as its heavily implied she’s planning.

We first heard of Ryder calling for a conclave of barons last week, and I rather expected it to happen in this episode, but it doesn’t and it’s hugely anticlimactic. Instead of the conclave, we get a pre-conclave planning session with the Widow, Tilda and Waldo, which is at least a well-conceived and nicely acted scene, even if it is a huge disappointment to not see more forward movement in this storyline. The short story here is that the Widow isn’t taking her official Regent, Tilda, with her to the conclave; she’s taking Waldo, who has advantages of experience and knowledge that Tilda doesn’t. Tilda isn’t thrilled about this, but she’s mollified when her mother leaves her in charge, though the Widow’s “if I die, destroy the oil fields” feels worrisomely like foreshadowing, and I will burn some shit down if anything happens to her. The episode ends with the Widow and Waldo arriving at Ryder’s new mansion for the conclave, and things look bad. The place is absolutely crawling with clippers, the Widow and Waldo are unarmed, and Ryder and Jade look like murder is on their minds. Unfortunately, that’s it for this week, and now I have murder on my mind because that’s no way to end an episode.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I’m still slightly unclear on some things about the setting for this show. Like, I’m sure there are some rules for the worldbuilding, but I’m not at all certain what they are. That said, the monks’ secret science rooms are fascinating.
  • Sunny finally got a shave and a change of clothes, and holy shit Daniel Wu is a beautiful man.
  • I love Jade’s red eyeliner and dark red lip, but that dress is a little too matronly for a femme fatale look. Still, I’m digging the clash between her true red look and Ryder’s almost magenta suit. I have no idea how people in this kind of bonkers post-apocalypse are getting such great clothes, but the show’s costume designers do a great job of using costume to tell a story.

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