Tag Archives: Into the Badlands

Into the Badlands: In “Wolf’s Breath, Dragon Fire,” are you fucking kidding me with this?

Sometimes a show is disappointing for doing the easy, predictable thing. Into the Badlands, however, disappoints by doing something so unexpectedly cruel it verges on nihilistic.

**Spoilers ahead.**

As a conclusion to the season, “Wolf’s Breath, Dragon Fire” is far better than the season one finale at wrapping things up, but there’s still quite a lot of unanswered questions and unfinished business by the end, even regarding the show’s biggest storylines. Unfortunately, basically everything in the episode is completely overshadowed by the senselessly unnecessary and tragic death of Veil, which is hands down the most infuriating thing I’ve seen on television so far in 2017.

It’s been a tough season for Veil from start to finish, as she’s spent ten episodes as Quinn’s prisoner, trying to survive and protect her infant son from Quinn’s increasing brain tumor-fueled madness and violence. The damsel in distress trope is played out enough on its own, but it worked well for most of the season, partly because there’s still a certain amount of novelty in the damselled romantic lead being a black woman and partly because Veil has had numerous opportunities throughout the season to distinguish herself as a strong character with as much agency as her volatile circumstances have allowed.

In a sense, this continues in the finale; Veil’s death is, more or less, by her own hand as she runs herself through in order to strike a killing blow against Quinn. But the way that we get to that point in the first place is just absurd, even for a show in which characters routinely take a bananas amount of punishment before dying. Quinn, having survived Sunny’s season one attempt on his life—nursed back to health by Veil herself—has survived a brain tumor all this season. He’s survived the Widow and Lydia and even just narrowly missed out on another attempt on his life by Veil on their wedding night. Just in this episode, Quinn survives his own explosion to collapse the tunnels of his hideout, and he then survives being impaled through chest twice before he even lays hands on Veil. Honestly, just the idea that Sunny wouldn’t make damn sure of a killing blow of his own before turning his back on Quinn is absolutely mindboggling, and it costs Veil her life.

Honestly, I just don’t know if I can keep watching this show after this. It’s the second time this season that a woman has been blatantly fridged (I haven’t forgotten Ava), and that this time it’s the only woman of color in the main cast is unforgivable. Veil was a great character who was a valuable bit of representation in a show with a tendency to give white women the more exciting, ass-kicking storylines. Even through all the shit Veil had to put up with this season—which, frankly, got to be straight up torture porn at times—she endured and schemed and was constantly waiting for her moment to escape. There’s no reason at all to have Veil sacrifice herself in this way except to reorient the narrative so that the viewer is reminded that this show really is all about Sunny after all.

I suppose, in Sunny’s story, Veil is disposable. Which… fine. But I don’t want to watch a story where that’s the case, especially when we’ve been told all season that it wasn’t.

For a more in-depth write-up of just how fucked up this all is and why it’s hurtful and disappointing, be sure to check out Monique Jones’s piece on the episode over at Black Girl Nerds.

Into the Badlands: “Nightingale Sings No More” is a great set-up for next week’s finale

In addition to being a truly excellent episode on its own, “Nightingale Sings No More” is a creditable lead-in to next week’s season finale, setting up the finale’s major conflicts while offering some dramatic payoff of its own. It’s a briskly paced hour with a good mix of character work, dramatic moments and action, including one of the season’s best fights. Most importantly, however, the show seems poised to end with a decisive wrap-up of the season’s major storylines next week rather than a frustrating cliffhanger like the first season did. What will be interesting next week is to see if things are tidily concluded in anticipation of not getting a season three or if there will be hints of next season’s potential storyline.

**Spoilers ahead.**

The pre-credits scene reveals some more of Bajie’s past—and that the Widow is Bajie’s lost apprentice, Flea. It’s almost disappointing how obvious it was, especially after I know I wrote this speculation down in my notes weeks ago, but it works well enough. It’s also a revelation that quickly bears fruit, as Bajie and his erstwhile protégé are reunited this week. Some shows might have made us wait for that, but Into the Badlands is nothing if not prone to racing through story and not wasting time on diversions. In the flashback scene, we also learn that young Minerva had the book of Azra when she came to the monastery and that it’s something that she was asked by Bajie to keep secret from the Master and the other abbots there—a secrecy that Bajie also asks M.K. to enter into later in the episode when they are trying to steal the Widow’s book to combine with Sunny’s pocket watch (something tells me the watch is the key to deciphering the book). Bajie ends the episode presumably captured (along with M.K.) by the Widow, and this storyline will likely feature largely in next week’s finale.

Sunny is quickly changed out of that ridiculous white number Chau gave him and into something much more practical, but right as Sunny and the Widow are about to formulate their strategy against Quinn, Quinn’s flunky Gabriel shows up and drops several info-bombs on Sunny—namely that Veil is Quinn’s wife now and that it was the Widow who sold Veil to Quinn in the first place—before suicide bombing the Widow’s compound. In the ensuing chaos, Sunny escapes into the woods and seems intent on facing Quinn alone if need be. Sunny’s trust in the Widow hasn’t been robust at the best of times, but obviously finding out about the Widow’s betrayal of Veil—even sans details—sends him off on his own. It’s a little disappointing that he didn’t stick around for an explanation, but I expect something of that sort may yet occur next week. By the end of this episode, the Widow seems overdue for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, the reunion between Tilda and M.K. is sweet, but somewhat sullied when it turns out that Odessa was a cog being shipped on the same boat where M.K. went on a rampage and killed his mother and a whole bunch of other people. While it’s a little too convenient that Odessa would have this first-hand knowledge, it’s also a good way to force Tilda to really think about who her friend is and what he’s capable of and whether or not she’s okay with that. Interestingly, Tilda seems to have chosen a side by the end of the episode. When she goes to ask her mother where M.K. is, it turns into a broader confrontation about the Widow’s general ethics in her war to change the Badlands, and this turns into a gorgeously executed mother-daughter fight scene in the Widow’s conservatory that effortlessly accomplishes the twin goals of serving the story/characters and looking amazing. Though the scene ends with Tilda seemingly killed—after begging her mother to kill her, even—that’s, if anything, a confirmation that she’s definitely not dead.

At Quinn’s not-so-secret hideout, things go from bad to worse for Veil, who tries to stand up to Quinn and has Henry taken away from her and finds herself locked up in the ventilation room. A lot of shows might have decided to have Veil raped to show how bad things are for her, but after last week’s near miss it seems that Veil is off the hook for having to experience sexual violence for character growth. I hate that the bar here is so low to pass, but “not unnecessarily depicting the rape of female characters” is always a bonus in a fantasy drama, and Badlands finds plenty of other ways to put its women through hell. For Veil, being separated from her son and kept in isolation is torture enough, and when Lydia finally brings Henry to her—along with the news that Quinn has rigged the whole complex to explode before he’ll let Henry be taken away from him—their situation takes on a renewed sense of urgency. Quinn’s mental state is obviously deteriorating in a major way, and there’s no telling exactly what will set him off or when. As Lydia says, they can’t wait for Sunny; they’re going to have to find a way out on their own.

Miscellany:

  • Quinn’s careful grooming of Gabriel is chilling.
  • Bajie’s ploy to infiltrate the Widow’s compound was a much needed bit of light humor in an otherwise serious and quite dark episode.
  • Waldo is still touting his no emotions philosophy, and no one ever listens to him.
  • I kind of love that Odessa wasn’t jealous. Maddison Jaizani really sells the moment, too. I only wish the Odessa/Tilda relationship would get more screen time.
  • It’s interesting that it’s Odessa who rats M.K. and Bajie out to the Widow after she expressed her own lack of trust in the Widow just recently. I guess she’s more scared of M.K. than she is distrustful of the Widow, but I wonder what she’d think if she knew the Widow had similar powers to M.K.’s and that she’s trying to reawaken them.
  • The casual cruelty of the Widow telling Tilda to call her “Baron” rather than “Mother” seemed a little pre-emptive. While Tilda has been having some doubts about the Widow for a while, their relationship has otherwise been pretty normal (for them), and it seems weird that it’s the Widow who would be the first to upset the status quo in this fashion.
  • Tilda’s echoing of the Widow’s “Don’t start what you can’t finish” just destroyed me.

Into the Badlands: “Sting of the Scorpion’s Tale” is a sharp return to form after a couple of slow weeks

After some slower episodes mid-season, Into the Badlands was back in peak form this week with “Sting of the Scorpion’s Tale,” which continues to pull the show’s different storylines back together and brings back the martial arts action (sadly lacking in the last few weeks) in a big way. It’s nice to see how this show has developed and improved over its first season, and 1ith just two episodes left in season two, things seem to be really shaping up for a decisively epic finale after this week’s events. One of the major frustrations of the first season of Into the Badlands was its bizarre cliffhanger ending that left pretty much everything unresolved; if anything, I’m starting to suspect that season two may have too tidy an ending (though the advantage of that would be starting season three with essentially a blank slate to soft-reboot the series if they wanted to). Either way, this episode brought a nice infusion of energy and urgency to a story that had been lagging a little for a couple weeks, and that bodes well for the final two episodes of the season.

**Spoilers below.**

The episode opens with the Widow and her butterflies attacking Baron Hassan in a lovely (if too short for my taste) fight sequence that ends with poor Hassan losing his head. We shortly learn why when the Widow and Tilda arrive at Quinn’s bunker for an exchange of grisly trophies. While the Widow was taking care of Hassan, Quinn carried out his own assassination—of Baron Broadmore. And all Broadmore’s wives and children, which doesn’t sit well with the Widow, who still fancies herself a protector of women and children. She’s appalled, but not enough to break their alliance off just yet, and she even defends her decision to Tilda later in the episode when Tilda confronts her mother about having turned Veil right back over to Quinn. It continues to feel as if there’s a major conflict brewing between mother and daughter here, and I have a strong suspicion that it’s going to happen very soon.

Sunny, M.K. and Bajie finally make it through the wall, only to find out that Baron Chau’s clippers are involved in smuggling people into the Badlands—because of course Chau is always looking for new cogs to sell to the other barons. Sunny is able to turn this to his advantage though, and once Chau learns who he is, Sunny is able to formulate a plan that allows him to free M.K. and Bajie as well. I didn’t love Chau’s weirdly long, very clunky new update to Sunny, but their plan to draw out the Widow and defeat her is plausible enough, as is Sunny’s ultimate betrayal of Chau as soon as the Widow tells him that she can take him to Veil. What’s less plausible is that both M.K. and Bajie start off thinking that Sunny has really betrayed them, which makes no sense and is literally the opposite of everything we know about Sunny at this point.

The final major storyline of the week is one that I wasn’t expecting but that, in hindsight, should have been pretty predictable. With both Lydia and Veil back in his possession, but now without an heir and with his brain tumor continuing to progress and likely to kill him, Quinn is thinking about the future—and he’s got his eye on baby Henry to take Ryder’s place. All Quinn has to do is marry Veil to make it official, which he proposes over a dinner of raw steak in a scene that makes Lannister family dinners seem healthy and functional. Veil is ready to kill Quinn before willingly going through with this farce, but Lydia encourages her to instead go through with it, if only to protect Henry, and this is an honestly fascinating dynamic.

While Lydia was jealous and distrustful of Quinn’s other second wife, Jade, there’s none of that here. Instead, Lydia—despite her own seemingly confused feelings for Quinn—is encouraging and kind to Veil. Sure, Lydia is pragmatic about the marriage, but it’s made clear that she sees this as about survival, a temporary sacrifice that will keep Henry safe and secure Veil’s future, even if it means submitting to violation. Overall, this forced marriage is handled with a reasonable amount of sensitivity, and Veil is fortunately saved in the nick of time from being actually raped on her wedding night—and she’s saved by the news that Sunny is back, which is obviously a huge relief to her and also sends Quinn off to prepare to defend the bunker. I only hope that Veil gets another chance to kill Quinn herself before Sunny gets to him.

Miscellany:

  • Veil’s “What does your being sorry do for me?” was a powerful and necessary moment.
  • I hope we aren’t going to get a Tilda-M.K.-Odessa love triangle, but Tilda and M.K.’s joy at being reunited was still sweet.
  • So, Sunny is definitely going to find out what the Widow did to Veil, right? Because that is not going to go over well.
  • Kind of a bummer to not see Jade at all this week. I kind of thought Sunny and company might meet her on their way, but apparently not. I hope she hasn’t been written off the show entirely.
  • Speaking of people written off the show, what ever happened to all the folks Sunny pissed off on his way back to the Badlands? Could dealing with all those enemies be the premise of season three?

Into the Badlands: “Black Heart, White Mountain” is laser-focused, but on all the wrong things

Season two of Into the Badlands has, overall, been a vast improvement on the first season, which was too short to really develop its ideas and suffered, furthermore, from poor pacing. The expanded episode order of season two has really given the writers more room to play and the whole story has been allowed to breathe in a way that just, generally, improves the viewing experience. However, too much of a good thing is possible, and “Black Heart, White Mountain” slows things down to a frustrating degree, with most of the episode laser-focused on Sunny, which means that the far more interesting storyline—Quinn and the Widow’s attack on new Baroness Jade—doesn’t get nearly enough screen time to do it justice.

**Spoilers below.**

The pre-credits scene this week is the beginning of a lengthy dream sequence Sunny has while unconscious, broken up into parts that stretch across most of the episode. It turns out that in Sunny’s dream life, he lives with Veil and their son, Henry, on a small farm in the woods, but as the episode goes on Sunny finds himself haunted and tormented by ghosts from his past that destroy his dream life while picking at all Sunny’s worst fears and insecurities. An aura of tragedy has surrounded Sunny all season, and it becomes palpable in this episode; Sunny is terrified that he will never be able to truly leave his past as a Clipper behind him and that it will poison everything he tries to do forever; he worries that his past will get people he loves killed; and he’s scared that his child might follow in his footsteps. It’s all pretty straightforward redemption arc material.

What’s not entirely clear is how the viewer is meant to feel about Sunny’s anxieties. On the one hand, in-universe, his concerns seem to be well-founded. The Badlands are an ugly place, and Sunny has made a long list of enemies. Without eliminating or making peace with his enemies and changing the whole rotten system, it seems likely that Sunny will never fully escape his past and that his son may make similar decisions to cope with living in such a deeply messed up world. On the other hand, it also feels as if we may be meant to see Sunny as different, even as uniquely incorruptible, persevering as he is to try and build a better life for himself and his family and to do the right thing as much as he’s able. Perhaps we’re meant to think Sunny’s anxieties are exaggerated or neurotic, and they’re being set up as potential conflict between Sunny and the more optimistic characters in his life, namely M.K. and Veil, both of whom have a faith in Sunny that Sunny doesn’t have in himself. Sunny seems like the kind of guy who would “selflessly” leave his family behind to save them from himself. I just hope that tired old trope isn’t the direction things are heading.

While Sunny is working through his inner demons, Bajie and M.K. have to figure out a way to save him. While their bonding and the revelations about both characters are well-done, like Sunny’s dream sequence they just take up far too much space in the episode. Things get slightly more exciting when they finally arrive at the monastery, where they try to sneak in and out while the monks are having dinner, only to be discovered (predictably) by the Master. The ensuing fight is underwhelming, and in the end M.K. and Bajie manage to find a cure for Sunny’s condition and make their getaway without too much trouble. That the Master is left, presumably, alive is simply par for the course with this show; all of Sunny and Bajie’s journey so far has basically been about pissing off every person of note in the world on their circuitous route back to the Badlands. I only wish the Master felt like more of a credible threat. This is the first episode in which the Master has been portrayed as explicitly villainous, and we still don’t know enough about her motives to be certain that M.K. and Bajie haven’t simply misunderstood what the Master is trying to do with the monastery and the way she trains those who share their “gift.” The ease with which she’s outwitted and defeated here doesn’t make her seem very dangerous.

The most interesting thing to me about this storyline, however, is Bajie’s story about his novice, Flea. When he first tells M.K. about her, Bajie lets M.K. believe that Flea died at the monastery, but we learn at the end that that’s not the case after all. Instead, Bajie freed Flea before he left, and he’s been searching for her ever since; the Badlands is the only place he hasn’t looked yet. Also, probably, the city that M.K.’s book and Sunny’s compass might lead them to. After killing off Ava so unceremoniously last week (and mostly forgetting about her this week), it was nice to have a missing woman who isn’t fridged, even if Bajie’s story about Flea has some holes in it and confuses his motivations. This is the first we’ve heard of Flea, and Bajie’s stated goal of finding her seems at odds with his previous reluctance about going to the Badlands at all. Generously interpreted (assuming we are to believe it at all, which is still questionable), this Flea story adds some depth and complexity to Bajie’s character, but it doesn’t feel organic or like a truly integrated part of his personality, and it’s rather a big change from what we’ve been shown about Bajie so far. That Bajie has stolen and kept Sunny’s compass further confuses things as it suggests that Bajie may just be out for himself after all. We’ll see.

The storyline that is shortchanged this week mostly concerns Jade, who is the first Baron targeted by Quinn and the Widow in the war of revenge against their former confederates. We first see Jade this week in the bath, but she quickly works out that something is wrong when her servants don’t respond to her calls, and she goes to see what’s going on. It turns out that her cogs are in revolt, her clippers are defecting, and Quinn and the Widow are in her house, capturing her by the time she’s finished getting dressed. There’s not much actual combat to be seen here, probably due to time constraints, which is too bad as I’m positively itching to see Jade get to actually fight; she certainly seems game for the challenge. Instead of a fight, we get a short conversation between Quinn and Jade where he accuses her of tearing apart his family and she stubbornly points out that he did that himself. Jade truly loved Ryder, and that’s something that Quinn doesn’t understand and isn’t willing to truly engage with. Jade is ready to die and tells Quinn so, but in the end, he decides to exile her instead.

This is either a sad ending for Jade or the start of a new and glorious redemption/revenge arc for her, and there’s some great potential here if the show decides to develop her character more. It’s far more interesting than anything Sunny, Bajie and M.K. did this week, in any case, and the storyline could have benefited from just a generally deeper treatment. Sarah Bolger as Jade nailed her scenes with Quinn, but it’s left unclear what she said that caused him to decide to spare her life, and we see almost nothing of note with the Widow and what went into her decision-making process here. The Widow doesn’t kill women; she just gives them to predatory men when it’s convenient to her, apparently. This is way beyond “problematic fave” territory at this point and well into “undeniably garbage, self-serving White Feminist” neighborhood. I’m curious how much longer Tilda is going to stick with her mother at this rate. She cannot be totally okay with this, right? Maybe if this storyline was given a bit more time to play out, we’d know.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Having Sunny start his dream sequence without his tattoos is a nice touch, though a little on the nose.
  • Artemis looks just like Samara from The Ring, and it’s kind of hilarious.
  • I wish they’d saved the episode title “The Hand of Five Poisons” for this episode. It would have worked on so many levels, so it’s a real missed opportunity.
  • What possible good could a gas mask do for Sunny when he starts having trouble breathing because his lungs are collapsing or whatever? It didn’t even look cool.
  • I would love to see a little more of the Master’s history with Bajie, as their antipathy felt very personal.

Into the Badlands: “Leopard Stalks in Snow” takes some [possibly unnecessarily] dark turns

Into the Badlands has always been a show with sharp edges and dark corners, and “Leopard Stalks in Snow” takes things to perhaps the darkest place the show has ever been. We’re past the halfway point of the season now, and already we’re starting to see all the show’s disparate storylines begin to converge. This week showcases more than one significant reunion, a couple of big revelations and several potential major conflicts on the horizon. All in all, there’s a definite sense of an enormous storm brewing; it just remains to be seen if all this build-up is going to pay off in the end.

**Spoilers below.**

The pre-credits scene this week picks up right where last week’s episode ended. Lydia is reeling, disoriented and bloody after the explosion at the entrance to Quinn’s secret compound, and the men she led there are strewn about, some in actual pieces, as Quinn walks among them cutting the throats of the wounded. It might be the most gruesome scene of the show to date, to the point that it’s uncomfortable to watch. It’s saying something, really, that this isn’t the hardest to watch scene of the episode, to be honest, though Quinn’s quiet “Hello, Lydia” is chilling. Their reunion goes about as well as one might expect. Lydia is angry about Quinn killing Ryder; Quinn makes things all about himself; Lydia tries to stab her estranged husband; Quinn kisses her; and things get weird. I’m curious to find out if Lydia’s response here is real or if it’s calculatedly feigned. Either way, gross, and we don’t see Lydia again this week.

Sunny and Bajie get rid of Portia and Amelia early and unceremoniously, which is disappointing. I didn’t expect for those two to become a permanent fixture in the show, but the way they’re so quickly disposed of here—I don’t recall even seeing Amelia onscreen, and we only see Portia for a moment—borders on disrespectful and practically reduces them to furniture in Sunny and Bajie’s story. While Sunny does have a short talk with the man they leave Portia and Amelia with, that conversation is almost entirely about reassuring Sunny that he’s an okay guy and absolving him of responsibility for Portia’s injury. Sure, Into the Badlands has no dearth of interesting, complex and empowered female characters with stories of their own, but it wouldn’t have taken that much time to give Portia and Amelia the dignity of a proper ending to their story that wasn’t all about Sunny and his feelings.

Elsewhere, Ava catches up with M.K. and they continue traveling together, hoping to escape the Abbots, who are already hunting them using a device that can track M.K.’s gift. Before the Abbots catch up to the young fugitives, however, they’re sidetracked when the device picks up something else and leads them right to Bajie, who evades them by hiding underwater. Sunny follows the Abbots alone when Bajie refuses to go with him, and he catches up to them about the same time they catch up with M.K. and Ava, who are camping in an abandoned shopping mall Christmas display. This leads to the big showpiece fight scene of the episode, which is fine. We get to see Daniel Wu square off again Cung Le, which is cool; we learn that Bajie’s was once an Abbot as well, which is interesting; but the whole thing is marred by the tragically predictable fridging of Ava, who dies in the battle. And this after a genuinely compelling scene between M.K. and Ava where they Ava talks about her feelings of loss of identity now that they’d left the temple. This comes into play during Ava’s actual death scene, when she fears that if the Master lies, there may be no rebirth for her after death, just nothingness. Unfortunately for Ava, Sunny steals her thunder by having some kind of heart attack and collapsing, drawing M.K.’s attention away from her final moments so that it’s not just a fridging—it’s a poorly executed one in that the full impact of Ava’s death is considerably blunted.

I’m starting to think that, ultimately, the biggest and most interesting conflict of the season may end up being between the Widow and Tilda. Tilda’s big scene this week is with new butterfly Odessa, who is planning to leave after hearing that the Widow is planning to ally with Quinn to take down the other Barons. In response to Odessa’s concerns, Tilda shares her own story of how she met the Widow and why she calls the Widow “mother.” I’m not sold on the necessity of yet another story involving sexual abuse of a child, even if it does end with the Widow murdering her rapist husband and apologizing to Tilda for not doing it sooner, but it does set up a fascinating potential for future conflict. Tilda has deeply personal reasons for standing by the Widow, and Odessa brings an important outside perspective to challenge Tilda’s loyalty to her baron, but there’s an even bigger test of Tilda’s loyalty likely coming soon.

Last week, Veil finally escaped from Quinn, and this week she and Henry are found by one of the Widow’s butterflies and brought to the Widow’s estate where she meets Tilda again. The Widow offers Veil shelter and safety, theoretically anyway, in exchange for going back to work on trying to translate a book about the mysterious city that everyone is so obsessed with. However, when Quinn learns that the Widow is sheltering Veil, he demands Veil be returned to him as a condition of the alliance between himself and the Widow. Perhaps unsurprisingly, but nonetheless infuriatingly, the Widow, in the end, decides to turn Veil over to Quinn. It’s a horrendous betrayal of Veil, and the decision of a white woman to sell out a black woman to a white man for, essentially, personal gain is much worse than I think is even intended by the show. The Widow may think that she has a just cause and a greater good that she’s serving, but this action is also a betrayal of any principle she thinks she might have, and it’s solid proof that Odessa is right not to trust her. Veil’s expression of abject horror at the prospect of being sent back to Quinn is more than enough to paint the Widow as a villain here even if the Widow hadn’t just come up with some bullshit reason for why her conscience is clear. This isn’t the sort of thing she’ll be able to keep from her Regent, though, and Tilda isn’t going to like it.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • “Like you don’t have secrets.”
  • Sunny’s compunctions about killing have evaporated pretty quickly.
  • I’m curious how far in the future this show is supposed to be set. If it’s far enough in the future that a holiday as recognizable as Christmas has faded into obscurity and is just some weird thing ancient people used to do, it would be unlikely that an elaborate mall display would still be intact. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar had a similar scene in their other far future fantasy show, The Shannara Chronicles, and it was just as weird and out of place there. I guess they just like that juxtaposition of the future-fantasy with ruins of modern times, but it’s not nearly as visually interesting or thematically compelling as they seem to think it is.
  • I wish Tilda and Odessa would have had a couple more scenes before now to lead up to their romance a little slower. There was that one scene a couple episodes ago where I was pretty sure they were flirting, but that was it until now. For all that the Widow fills her home with younger women, Tilda often feels very isolated, and the emotional intimacy she has with Odessa feels very abrupt, which makes the physical intimacy feel rushed as well. I like these characters together, but I’d love to see their story have a little more space to grow at a more leisurely pace, especially considering that the conflict between Tilda and the Widow seems likely to be hugely important in the coming weeks.
  • I would also love to go at least one episode without having to listen to Waldo mansplaining something.

Into the Badlands: “Monkey Leaps Through Mist” is a solid transitionary episode after last week’s big events

Sunny and Bajie are back this week, M.K. still doesn’t get much screen time, the Widow is reassessing her situation, a major character death is dealt with, and things are not going super well for Quinn. “Monkey Leaps Through Mist” is primarily an episode about regrouping after last week’s events, and, consequently, it feels relatively slower-paced, especially with only one fight scene. Still, there’s some good character work, a couple of surprises and the beginnings of what might be the show’s next major shake-up.

**Spoilers below.**

The pre-credits scene confirms Ryder’s death. I was pretty certain he was dead last week, but I was also pretty certain that Quinn was dead at the end of the show’s first season. Given this show’s tendency to the occasional soapy plotline, a fake-out wouldn’t have been terribly surprising. What is surprising, however, is the ease with which Jade takes up her husband’s title. Ryder’s regent, Merrick, administers Jade’s oath right over Ryder’s dead body, with no fuss at all. There is a slight tension to the moment, but only because viewers may be primed by years of pop culture consumption to expect a group of fighting men to reject the leadership of a woman. Personally, I appreciate the matter of fact subversion of that expectation, especially because it does seem so normal within the world of the show, or at least within this moment in that world.

The other thing that Jade accomplishes more easily than I would have expected this week is getting Lydia to work with her to avenge Ryder’s death. It makes sense that Lydia would want to kill Quinn for what he’s done—and even more sense when we learn that Lydia had always wanted more children but been unable to have them—but the arc leading Lydia to this feels unfinished. She hasn’t gotten much to do so far this season, and we’ve been shown that she isn’t exactly fitting in back with her father’s pacifist cult, but it still seems almost inexplicable that she would so quickly join with Jade, be given command of clippers (whether she knows where Quinn’s hideout is or not) and take up a sword to lead an attack. Fierce as Lydia is, there’s never been any inkling that she was a trained fighter and in fact we’ve only been shown that she’s quite capable of defending herself through sheer grit and has a willingness to kill when desperate. Which is something to build on, but this week’s developments are abrupt and somewhat disorienting. It’s easy enough to buy Jade’s elevation to Baron—she was always ambitious—but Lydia’s sudden shift from trying to make it work with her dad’s pacifists to leading the attack on Quinn is harder to justify as a natural character progression.

Sunny and Bajie arrive at a town that is controlled by a friendly acquaintance of Bajie’s, Nos, who trades in metal and sex slaves. They trade Nathaniel Moon’s sword for a way into the Badlands, but before they go they have to get through a night in Nos’s village. Bajie settles in well enough, enjoying the company of one of Nos’s Dolls, but Sunny is unsettled by it all, especially when he meets a little girl named Amelia and her mother Portia. Knowing that Amelia will soon be used as a Doll, Portia approaches Sunny to ask him to kill Nos, but he refuses. When Nos finds out about this, he cuts Portia’s face, and prepares to use Amelia sooner rather than later. This finally spurs Sunny into action, and he and Bajie manage to rescue Portia and Amelia before escaping in the vehicle Nos has provided to get them to the Badlands.

I liked this fight scene, but Sunny’s newfound set of rigidly (and stupidly) inflexible morals are going to get people killed. His proscription against killing for hire almost does get Portia killed this week, and he was willing to let a little girl be trafficked into sex slavery before killing an evil man. It doesn’t exactly speak well of where Sunny’s priorities are, and it’s not clear that he’s truly learned anything from this most recent experience. In the end, he still didn’t kill Nos, which leaves numerous other women and girls trapped in a terrible situation and sets up Nos to be a recurring adversary along with the Engineer and Nathaniel Moon, both of whom are still floating around somewhere and almost certainly wanting Sunny dead. This cycle is starting to get repetitive, but I’m encouraged by the fact that Sunny now knows that Quinn is alive and at least suspects that Veil may be with Quinn. It makes Sunny’s goal moving forward a little clearer. Now he just has to get there without trailing a bunch of pissed off murderous bastards behind him.

Elsewhere, Tilda is apologizing to her mother for disrupting the conclave. However, the Widow isn’t upset. She even praises Tilda’s instincts and encourages her to trust her gut feelings. The Widow is not happy with Waldo, though. Waldo advises that the Widow earn back the other barons’ good will by capturing or killing Quinn, but she’s having none of it. Instead, she says that she plans to ally with Quinn against the other barons, which seems like a completely terrible idea, but she basically tells Waldo that he needs to make it happen. I mean, honestly, this seems like the worst idea, and there’s not much attempt made to justify it in the text, either. It seems impulsive, which is in character for the Widow, but there’s no clear gain for her in allying with Quinn, who she doesn’t know well and who has turned into an unpredictable force of chaos. Granted, the Widow can’t have much of the information that the audience has about Quinn’s illness and deteriorating mental state, but that seems like even more reason for her to avoid him. Their opinions were never aligned before, so what on earth could she be thinking now?

Speaking of Quinn’s deteriorating mental state, he is not doing well following the murder of his son. He’s followed throughout the episode by visions of Ryder’s ghost, and ghost Ryder has lots to say, digging at every one of Quinn’s insecurities and fears until Quinn is having a full-on paranoid psychotic break and threatens to kill baby Henry until Veil is able to calm him down by reassuring him of her care and appreciation of him. It’s a week of close calls for Veil, who has already in this episode had to explain (and not very well) to Declan what happened to Edgar and why she’s hiding x-rays that still show Quinn having a tumor. All that tension leads, ultimately, to Veil’s newest escape attempt. When Lydia and her clippers show up, a booby trap goes off at the entrance to the underground compound, and Veil manages in the confusion to run out into the woods with Henry. It doesn’t take long for Quinn to notice she’s missing, though, and it remains to be seen how Veil’s latest gambit works out.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • “Peace through force and justice without mercy” might sound cool, but that’s no philosophy for an effective form of government.
  • I’m not convinced that it was really necessary to make such a big show about how vile Nos is, especially with Amelia. It was genuinely upsetting to watch.
  • When I first saw M.K. this week I thought perhaps he was rededicating himself to his studies. LOL. Nope.
  • Why is there a tree full of hanged men in the middle of the woods?

Into the Badlands: Sunny’s absence lets the show shine some light on other characters in “Palm of the Iron Fox”

After last week’s relatively slow episode and its extremely frustrating ending, “Palm of the Iron Fox” provides quite a lot of payoff, though it’s not without its own frustrations. I’m glad that we finally get to see the Barons’ conclave, but there’s a major plot event that feels somewhat abrupt, especially this early in the season. Veil finally gets a plot that’s just hers, which might be my favorite thing about the episode, but I missed Sunny and Bajie this week, even if their absence works well to give the other plots, especially Veil’s, more space to breathe. As always, the fight scenes are well done, and the showpiece of the episode—the fight at the Barons’ conclave—is worth the wait.

**Spoilers below.**

Rather than just a pre-credits scene, this week there’s a rather long pre-credits sequence at Quinn’s underground compound, where Quinn’s making the final preparations to make his move against the other Barons. Veil, on the other hand, is clearly angling to get him to leave her alone in the compound with baby Henry because she wants to escape. Unfortunately, though Quinn doesn’t seem wise to Veil’s desire to leave, he is also too canny to leave her alone. He informs her that he’ll be leaving Edgar with her to be sure she’s “safe” and then goes to give a gloriously unhinged speech to his men. I know many reviewers like to criticize Marton Csokas’ accent as Quinn because it’s bizarre, but I genuinely love the over-the-top campy flair that Csokas brings to the role and it’s turned up to eleven here in an atmosphere that’s nothing short of cult-like.

Veil’s first escape attempt, once Quinn and the rest of the men leave, is to climb out through the roof of the ventilation room where she takes Henry for his daily dose of sunshine. Unfortunately, climbing up a rope while wearing an infant is harder than she seems to have anticipated and Edgar gets suspicious and comes to check on her before she’s out, putting an end to that plan. Later, Veil decides to drug Edgar and just go out the front door of the compound, but this too proves difficult. The gate to the outdoors is locked, and before Veil can break the lock Edgar wakes up and attacks her. He’s angry at being drugged and furious at what he sees as Veil’s betrayal of Quinn and the men, and he nearly strangles her to death before she’s able to fight him off and eventually kill him. Unluckily, a key that Veil managed to get away from Edgar has broken off in the gate’s lock, and when we see her last she seems to be still trapped underground, but now also traumatized, injured, and with Edgar’s dead body to explain if Quinn and company get back before she figures out another way to get away.

After spending the last couple episodes quietly making it clear that Veil wasn’t staying with Quinn of her own volition, it was nice to see Veil finally make her move to leave, but neither of her plans were fully thought out or explained very well. This ends up leading to some mixed messaging. On the one hand, Veil is explicitly portrayed as patient and methodical, willing to endure indignity and frustration to keep her child and herself safe. We’re also shown that she’s smart and resourceful and able to think quickly to avert disaster. On the other hand, she’s apparently not smart, resourceful or quick-thinking enough to make a success of either of her plans in this episode, and neither of those plans are particularly indicative of patience or of methodical planning. That said, Veil’s story this week ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger, with her collapsed and sobbing after fighting Edgar, so it’s still entirely likely that she’ll come up with some smart, resourceful, quickly-thought-up plan between now and the time Quinn gets home. Things are just uncertain enough that whatever happens next could shift the narrative and clarify the messaging we’re supposed to be getting about this character.

I’m also unsure how I feel about Veil killing Edgar. While, no doubt, even the gentlest person can probably kill in a fight for their life, Veil is the second woman this season (after Lydia) who has killed in self-defense after being characterized clearly as not a killer. Veil, for most of the show so far—and especially this season—has been a Penelope to Sunny’s Odysseus, not a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued (fortunately), but still a largely passive character whose agency in the story has been compellingly subtle up until now. In a show that has the ethics of murder as a major thematic concern, it has felt significant that Veil was so clearly not a killer. Even her refusal to treat Quinn’s tumor and her decision to keep his condition secret from him aren’t particularly murderous actions; it’s likely that Veil is simply without the means to cure the cancer, and it’s obvious how she benefits from using her status as his doctor to manipulate Quinn and ensure at least something akin to safety for herself and her child. At the same time, it also makes sense that Veil would want to escape; her situation with Quinn is tenuous at best. He might discover her ruse, he might go completely insane, he may die and leave her alone with a group of trained killers, at least some of whom still retain some hero worship of Sunny that may put her in a weird situation during any kind of power struggle.

Still, Veil killing Edgar feels out of character and unnecessarily tragic. Edgar seemed kind—though that is shown to be highly conditional—and seems to be one of Veil’s few friends and potential allies in this place. It’s possible that this is what is meant to be the real tragedy here—that a man who seemed so caring could so quickly turn on Veil and try to kill her, but if that was the case it’s muddled by the fact that he only turns on Veil after she poisons him (and does it knowing that he could be killed if Quinn returned to find Veil missing). While this, too, may all become less confused once we find out what Veil does next, it all just amounts to a failure of the fantasy morality of the show. It’s a show in which violence and killing are common—and commonly depicted with artful blood splatter as scores of nameless extras are slaughtered in battles between named antiheroes of various stripes—and life is decidedly cheap. Veil’s killing of Edgar is different, more personal and more ethically acceptable by real world standards, but it’s nonetheless hard to feel the full impact of it when ten minutes later we’re watching a gleefully wet bloodbath.

Finally, Veil’s purity, primarily expressed as nonviolence (even in resistance), and her penchant for healing rather than harming have been so essential to her character and to her dynamic with Sunny that her killing of Edgar feels like a despoiling event, complete with the lingering shot of baby Henry with Edgar’s blood splashed across his little face. There’s a sense here that, whatever happens next, Veil has been tainted by her experiences, and that it touches her baby as well. Considering the degree to which Veil’s resolute purity has always stood in contrast to Sunny’s corruption, it’s surely significant that Veil would find herself damaged just as Sunny has gotten well and truly started on his redemption arc (highlighted last week in his refusal to kill Nathaniel Moon).

The other major plotline of the episode concerns the Barons’ conclave that Ryder called for two weeks ago. This all opens with a scene of the Widow getting dressed for the actual event, which seems a little redundant since she just got to the estate, but okay. Waldo advises her to be fearless in a pep talk that is only just this side of insufferable mansplaining. I’m starting to wonder just how the Widow ever managed to become a Baron in the first place if she is as incompetent at politicking as Waldo treats her like she is. The only new Baron we’re introduced to at any length this week is Baron Chau, the only other woman Baron and a strict traditionalist, probably because she’s the Baron who is the source of all the cogs owned by the others. Chau offers her support to the Widow in exchange for a promise not to shelter any more runaway cogs, which the Widow at first balks at before being convinced by Waldo (natch) to take Chau’s offer. Still, it’s not enough, and when it comes time all five of the other Barons, Chau included, vote to strip the Widow of her title and banish her from the Badlands all together.

Just as an all-out battle royal is about to start, Quinn and his men show up to crash the party. This sends Ryder fleeing through a window with Quinn in pursuit, but it leaves the rest of the Barons free to fight amongst themselves in a cleverly conceived and gorgeously executed battle scene in which each Baron must rely on small weapons they were able to hide on their person and whatever they can improvise from what’s close at hand. The standout here is Waldo’s weaponized wheelchair, but Chau and the Widow trying to stab each other with their stiletto heels is pretty cool as well. Sadly, this fight is over almost too quickly when Tilda shows up to help her mother and Waldo even the odds a little. The other Barons flee while these three stand over a courtyard full of dead and dying clippers. Something tells me that the Widow isn’t going to abandon her lands without a fight, vote or no.

The second major emotional climax of the episode is Quinn’s final confrontation with Ryder. First, however, Quinn comes face to face with Jade, who begs Quinn for Ryder’s life. It’s an interesting moment for Jade, who has at times seemed cold and patronizing towards Ryder and is certainly a master manipulator of her husband, but who here seems truly desperate to save him from Quinn. It smartly complicates Jade’s character to have her love for Ryder be genuine, and not a moment too soon as she seems poised by the end of this episode to become a much bigger player over the rest of the season. Quinn is almost respectful towards Jade and ends up ignoring her to chase after Ryder, who has entered an enormous hedge maze.

The race through the maze ends in front of a statue of Laocoön that Quinn mistakes for Kronos, an intriguing classical allusion that I spent far more time than I’d like to admit today trying to figure out the symbolism of. It’s obvious that Quinn sees himself as Kronos, but it’s less clear what connection we’re supposed to draw between the story of Quinn and Ryder and the story of Laocoön and his sons. Even less clear than that is where either of these guys learned classics with no formal education. In any case, Quinn wants Ryder to kill him, while Ryder still just wants his dad to love him. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen, and it does. In the end, Quinn is the one who ends up killing Ryder (or at least it looks like Ryder is dead) and immediately regretting it before running away. The final shot of the episode is Jade weeping over Ryder’s body as Quinn retreats. It’s a surprising and abrupt ending for a character who had seemed to be just at the beginning of his story.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • What’s the deal with the white streaks in so many people’s hair this week?
  • M.K. probably killed his mother himself, apparently, which would explain why he dissociated from it so much that he can’t remember what happened and it’s fractured his personality.
  • I missed Chipo Chung this week.
  • Are Tilda and Odessa getting flirty?
  • How, exactly, did Quinn get Gabriel into Ryder’s household as an inside man? When was this decision made? Quinn’s whole plan here is woefully underdeveloped.
  • I worry that we’re getting into “Strong Female Characters must be Buffy-style ass-kickers” territory with all the show’s women. Lydia having to kill in self-defense made a certain sense; Lydia was always fierce in a way that suggested that she had the potential for that, and that fierceness was at least part of why she left her father’s cult to begin with. Veil has always had other strengths, though. And with Ryder’s probable death at the end of this episode, it seems as if Jade may be being set up to become another Widow-type character. Part of what I’ve always loved about this show was that it had a decent variety of women with different types of strength. It would be a shame for that to change.