Into the Badland’s sophomore season retains the graceful action of the first, but doesn’t lose sight of strong plotlines and character development
The Show: Into the Badlands
The Network: AMC
The Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Martial Arts
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Into the Badlands is an action-packed, martial arts inspired telling of a post-apocalyptic time in which the world has been ravaged and resources are scarce. Society has returned to the time of feudal lands ruled over by seven Barons, each of whom maintains control over a precious commodity. The Clippers, or highly trained soldiers and assassins, maintain peace and protect their Baron’s assets. This includes the commoners, or cogs, who provide the manual labor and serve those who rule over them. Sunny, the regent or head clipper for Baron Quinn, finds his life turned upside down when a mysterious young man is found kidnapped by the Nomads of a rival. It soon becomes obvious that the boy, M.K., is the vessel for a powerful but dark force that could be used to grant one Baron ultimate power. Soon, Sunny will not only come face-to-face with the dangers beyond The Fort but also the evil residing a little too close to home.
In Season 2, Sunny finds himself trapped outside the walls of the Badlands with no idea where Veil or M.K. have gone. Determined to fight his way back to his family, he reluctantly partners up with an opportunistic con man named Bajie who promises to help. Meanwhile, in the newly established power structure post-Quinn, Ryder is working on gaining the support of other Barons through their mutual dislike of The Widow, the same woman who helped him betray his father. She becomes the Baron to the people, but her ruthless ways must be tempered in order to prevent a war between the rulers. M.K. has been whisked away to a temple at an undisclosed location and training in hopes of controlling his power, but an overly secretive Master and memories of his missing mother drive him to seek answers elsewhere. Into the Badlands was created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and stars executive producer Daniel Wu, Emily Beecham, Sarah Bolger, Orla Brady, Aramis Knight, Oliver Starks, Ally Ioannides, Madeleine Mantock, Stephen Lang, and Marton Csokas.
The Badlands may be run by Barons, but this ain’t no boys’ club
When the words “martial arts” is spoken, our minds immediately conjure up the greats of past and present: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, the Karate Kid…and of course, Daniel Wu. HIs turn as Sunny on Into the Badlands has affirmed what Asian audiences have known for two decades – he’s not just a phenomenal martial artist, but also a talented actor and producer. We watched his journey in season one as he went from self-loathing clipper to a father-to-be with a purpose, all while kicking ass and taking names (typically in that order). While many of the other great fighters on the show were other men, we were also introduced to the likes of Minerva, better known as The Widow, and her legion of all-girl clippers. She did everything that the boys did, and did it wearing high fashion and sky high heels.
Chau: “I started at the bottom, as a Colt for my father. And believe me, I trained ten times as hard as my sisters. But I earned my title fairly by being tougher and hungrier than anybody else.”
When season two started, we were happy to see the return of The Widow and her daughter Tilda, but we were also thrilled to see other women take charge of their destinies. We saw Lydia, Quinn’s first wife, take down three Nomads who came into the Totemlers’ camp and threatened her father. We recently met Chau, a rival Baron who was her father’s Colt before inheriting his baronship. Veil, now a new mother, will do whatever it takes to protect her son Henry, even if it means breaking her Hippocratic oath. Then, we have Jade, who faced down both The Widow and her jilted lover Quinn without breaking down. Even M.K.’s Master turned out to be a woman, powerful enough to harness the dark force he cannot control. If you choose to underestimate a woman of the Badlands, we’ll be happy to watch your demise from the front row!
You must either bend like the reed or break like a branch when the storm hits
One of the things that we learned from Quinn is that power and fear often go hand-in-hand, and when we first enter the Badlands, that rings incredibly true. He has become the most respected Baron in the Badlands because he took his baronship through brazen and bloody means, and he has ruled with an iron fist. However, it is this same arrogance that brews anger and resentment with the other Barons, and allows Ryder to take power and Sunny to betray him. This season, we see him coming back with a fresh perspective (at least, superficially), and just as intent as The Widow to overthrow the old guard. Speaking of whom, her journey so far is a prime example of how even the strongest must know how to be soft. As strong as she is, and as talented a fighter as all of her clippers are, in the end, she is outnumbered significantly by the others.
Waldo (to The Widow): “Change doesn’t come easy. You lose this vote, this revolution falls flat on its face. And they’ll either banish you or kill you. Either way, all your plans come to nothing. You think that compromise is weakness. It’s not. It’s survival.”
We really like that the show doesn’t just focus on brute force as the only way to gain power in this post-apocalyptic world. Each of our characters are faced with the choice of shoving their way through or adapting to change. Nathaniel refuses to change, and as a result, he loses to Sunny. Veil may not want to be like Sunny and the clippers, but she must accept that death is part of survival in the Badlands. M.K. wants to deny the darkest part of him, but the Master reminds him that fighting himself will only result in failure. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar seems to remind us that in order to see personal growth, we have to pick and choose our battles and our weapons wisely. That means sometimes you fight, and sometimes you yield. This is a lesson that is just as relevant in the Badlands as it is in our own lives.
The fighting is not the only thing that is visually stunning
Let’s be honest, of course we love the graceful choreography of the fight scenes and the insanely eye-catching stunts of Into the Badlands. From the season one opening fight with Sunny against the group of Nomads to the season two premiere of The Widow’s bloody climb to the top, we have always been hungry for the action of the show. We’ve seen from AMC’s behind the scene extras how all of the main cast were put through intense fight, stunt, and weapons training to make every battle look as genuine as possible. The stunt doubles and teams obviously work overtime to make sure that there’s a smooth transition between realism and fantasy, which is highly important when dealing with anything involving martial arts. What we get is at least one glorious action scene per episode that leaves us working on our roundhouse kicks and swordplay in the comfort of our own homes.
However, we would be remiss not to mention all the other important details that make this show a must watch every Sunday. The distinctive show theme by Linkin Park’s co-founder Mike Shinoda paired with the immediately recognizable opening credits by Paul McDonnell gives every episode a beginning that stirs excitement in the audience. The costume design by Giovanni Lipari evokes a sense of the character’s personality, mood, and journey, not to mention they are always completely droolworthy. Even the choice of weapons used are reflective of the individual who wields them, as seen in Baron Broadmore’s pointed knuckles versus The Widow’s hairpin blades. The landscapes, backdrops, and sets are equally stunning, especially when we’re visiting aptly named Sanctuary and M.K.’s temple. The hallmark of a great fantasy show is one in which we completely lose ourselves in the fictional world, and Into the Badlands invites us to do just that.
Final Verdict: While we may have tuned in for the martial arts, it’s the human stories that will keep us coming back week after week
The first season of Into the Badlands captured our imaginations with its bold societal statements, vivid imagery, and dancing fights. The first four episodes of its sophomore season, however, sends a clear message that this show is not about style over substance. The cast has bonded over time and it reflects in the chemistry between the core characters, enriching their performances and giving us the ability to invest more deeply in the show. Each character, whether hero or villain, has changed in a realistic manner based on previous events, and watching them travel down the paths of their choosing is the foundation for season two. Gough and Millar are giving us insight into their pasts so that we may understand their futures, all while making broader statements about life and society as a whole. Entertainment that educates? Yes please!
As for what’s next, we want to see Sunny and Veil finally reunite, and for him to meet his son for the first time. We can’t decide whether to root for the newly enlightened Quinn in spite of all his faults, or throw our own votes behind The Widow knowing her thirst for power. A reunion between Tilda and M.K. is a must, and we definitely prefer it not to be on opposing sides! Lydia and Jade deserve to make their own marks without their husbands, and we hope they get that chance. Of course, let’s not forget about Bajie, who we want to see finally get his heart’s desire if only to shut him up for a few blissful minutes (we’re kidding – we love him!). With everyone starting to go in different directions, only time will tell if their lives will intersect once more, but we certainly hope so!