Gough and Millar upped the ante with hidden details, emotional depth, and action sequences straight out of old martial arts movies.
The cast continues to give us stellar ensemble and individual performances that make us forget the Badlands aren't real.
We desperately want Giovanni Lipari to design our entire wardrobe, even if it means we're just walking around the house in his clothes!
While this is a fantasy show, we had to suspend some major disbelief when it came to things like Quinn surviving multiple stab wounds to the chest while others perished with barely a scratch.
There were moments where the characters lost some of their psychological realism by sweeping some trauma under the rug while reacting to others.
Into the Badlands finds new ways to intrigue us in a second season filled with secrets, tragedy, and triumph
Into the Badlands is an action-packed, martial arts inspired telling of a post-apocalyptic time in which the world has been ravaged. Feudal lands are ruled over by seven Barons, each of whom controls a major commodity. Their Clippers, or highly trained soldiers and assassins, watch over the slaves, or cogs, who work the lands and protect their baron. Sunny, the regent or head clipper for the feared Baron Quinn, finds his life turned upside down upon the discovery that a mysterious young man named M.K. is the vessel for a powerful but dark force. Knowing that he could be used to grant one Baron ultimate power and news of his new family on the brink of discovery, Sunny must make a series of difficult decisions that will change the direction of his life forever.
In Season 2, Sunny, Veil, and M.K. have been separated by the events that transpired sixth months prior. Determined to get back to his family, the clipper unhappily partners up with an opportunistic con man named Bajie. At the same time, Ryder is protecting his interests by pitting the other barons against The Widow, the same woman who helped him betray his father. She in turn is making plans to take over all of the lands, insisting she is doing so to remove the power differential between barons, cogs, and clippers. M.K. has been whisked away to a temple at an undisclosed location and training in hopes of controlling his power, but a devastating vision sends him back to the Badlands in search of Azra. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and the secrets that come out threaten to destroy the lives of everyone in the Badlands.
The most valuable commodity in the Badlands is power, and everyone wants some
When we were first introduced to the world of Into the Badlands, we learned that society is run by seven barons, each of whom possessed a single commodity the others required. This allowed the feudal system to exist, and the territories to be ruled in relative (but tenuous) peace. However, it becomes rapidly apparent that there is an eighth commodity, the one most sought after but also most difficult to obtain – power. Each leader secretly wished for more than what they were given, leading to a multitude of schemes to oust one without disrupting the fragile alliance with the others. At the top was Quinn, the most feared baron of the Badlands, whose bloody rise threatened all those around him. Over the years, he had begun to burn bridges with his fellow rulers because of his arrogance, and with the help of his own son, a plot is hatched to overthrow him.
Waldo: “I’ll tell you something, life looks different from down here. From this chair. Back when I was standing tall I never bothered to notice all the people living on their knees, all the people whose lives are melancholy little tunes.”
The Widow: “Those are the ones I’m fighting for. That’s why I’m here.”
Waldo: “Is it?”
The Widow: “You questioning my sincerity?”
Waldo: “Power is a pricey doll. You get a taste for it, you keep coming back for more. Somewhere along that road, good intentions, they get lost. You would do well to keep that in mind.”
In addition to the struggle between the remaining six barons carrying on into season two, we come to realize that many others seek power for their own reasons. Sunny has to look to the power of his blade to reunite with Veil and Henry. Bajie uses his power of influence to get what he wants, even when he shouldn’t. Ryder believes his newfound position will help him step out of his father’s shadow. The Widow wants to gain power to create a Utopia in which class lines are eliminated. Veil, Lydia, and Jade are all looking to empower themselves to protect their family. The Abbots harness the power of the dark gift, although for reasons that we do not yet understand. M.K. wants nothing to do with his gift because of the pain it has brought him. Power is the thread that ties all of these stories together, and it weaves a most complicated web indeed.
The line between hero and villain is very thin indeed
During the first season of Into the Badlands, we were introduced to a list of characters that for the most part were easily categorized as good or bad. On the heroic side we had Sunny, the reluctant clipper, Veil, his kind lover, M.K., the boy wishing for peace, and Tilda, the girl with a big heart. On the villainous side were the barons, like Quinn and The Widow, the murderous Nomads, and The River King. We reveled in the victories of our favorites every week while jeering the actions of their enemies. We loudly proclaimed our support for Sunny and cheered him on as he clipped his way towards what seemed like inevitable freedom. However, by the time the season finale arrived, we started seeing things that made us question if we had jumped to conclusions a little too soon.
This season, we were challenged to take the time to truly learn about those we watched week after week. We see Sunny struggle with his tendency to fix things with his sword, while Veil discovers she is capable of murder if given the right motivation. Tilda uses her moralistic ideals to exact revenge on men who reminded her of the baron who abused her, while her mother reveals how a traumatic past of her own led her to save her regent. Even Quinn reveals his vulnerability and desperate need to be loved. Alfred Gough, Milles Milar, and the rest of the writing team encourages us to see beyond the tropes and archetypes to the real people beneath, because life is not so black and white. As we are the sum of our experiences and decisions, so are these characters, and it would be wholly unfair to pass judgment without an attempt at compassion and understanding.
The devil is in the details, and there’s plenty to find this season
One of the reasons why Into the Badlands became so successful came from the fierce attention to detail. The sets were carefully chosen, the costumes deliberately designed, and the fight sequences expertly choreographed to delight audiences. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar also revealed that each scene held hints of what was coming up next. This engaged us in a subconscious scavenger hunt added a layer of excitement and intrigue. In season two, prior hints were expanded upon, along with a whole new set of clues to decipher.
To start, the barons’ symbols are highlighted, giving us insight into the leaders themselves. Quinn has the armadillo, an animal with a leathery armored shell that makes it very hard to kill, and red reflecting his violent nature. Chao’s symbol, the fox, is known for intelligence and cunning, with white meaning understanding and perfection. The Widow is the butterfly, a beautiful creature to behold, but often poisonous if eaten. Her choice to wear black seems to allude to her deadly nature. As Sunny makes his way back, he goes through a myriad of colors, reflecting his promise never to pledge allegiance to a baron again.
Next, the titles of each episode are not random. While some of them are named after real martial arts moves, many others reflect the central theme of the episode in question. For example, “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is a clear reference to Quinn’s former regent and the other famous clipper, while in “Palm of the Iron Fox,” The Widow’s fate is in the hands of Baron Chau. In “Nightingale Sings No More,” The Widow stops Tilda from pointing out how far she has strayed from the good intentions she once harbored.
Finally, there is the giant painting in the background during the meeting between Chau and Sunny as he offers to take out The Widow for her. Entitled “Leonidas at Thermopylae” by painter Jacques-Louis David (thank you to J. Heilig for identifying it on Twitter!), it depicts the Spartan king moments before going into battle against insurmountable odds and certain death. This could be read as the moment that Sunny comes to terms with his own impossible battle, refusing to back down and choosing to fight until the very end.
Final Verdict: If there is one word to describe season two of Into the Badlands, it’s duality
One of the central themes that has appeared in nearly every episode of Into the Badlands is the concept of duality. Season two brings it to the forefront, exploring all aspects of this theme and using it as the linchpin for the journeys of each character. We watched how power, love, and hate all become forces of change, and how each of the individuals became different in personality and behavior. Some were corrupted, others were empowered, and then there were those who were lost. Bonds are both forged and broken, and secrets kept and revealed. Those who swore to protect become attackers, and followers turned into leaders. Even the lines between good and evil were blurred, making this a season that will continue to reveal more with each successive rewatch.
No matter how strong the writing, there must be someone to deliver the lines, and with Into the Badlands, there was no shortage of talent. Daniel Wu and Emily Beecham continued to amaze with their ability to balance action with drama, and Marton Csokas kept us glued to the screen every time he appeared. Ally Ioannides and Aramis Knight grew into the roles the way the characters did, and the addition of the fast-talking Nick Frost brought comedic relief when things became too heavy.
We obviously appreciate the fact that Into the Badlands has always been a smart show, and it continued to be the case this season. With its beautiful sets, high fashion wardrobe, emotional soundtrack, and many hidden clues, there was no shortage of things to pay attention to. Many episodes were chock full of quotable lines, each with deep meaning and a philosophical bent. All these things encouraged us as an audience to be more mindful of what we were watching rather than for the sole purpose of entertainment.
All in all, this was a season that validated our love for Into the Badlands, and with the show picked up for season three, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next!