It's been a long wait for the return of AMC's feudal martial arts extravaganza Into The Badlands. But it's back this Sunday, and creators and executive producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar promise in an exclusive interview with Syfy Wire the new 10-episode second season will be "epic" in just about every way.
The series, which finished airing its first six-episode season nearly a year and a half ago, ended in a massive cliffhanger with many of the characters left in dire situations. The world is set in a feudal future where Barons rule with the help of Clippers (aka assassins). Young Clippers-in-training are called Colts, and the slaves of the land are Cogs. Guns have been outlawed, so swords are the weapons of choice, but cars and motorcycles and horses offer familiar transportation.
Into this world falls M.K., a mysterious boy with dark powers, who becomes deadly when he's cut. Baron Quinn's deadliest clipper and Regent, Sunny, takes the boy to train as his Colt, which sets about a series of events that changes everything for both of them forever. Season two of Into The Badlands premieres Sunday, March 19, at 10 p.m. ET for a 10-episode season.
Gough and Millar (Smallville, Spider-Man 2) talked with Syfy Wire about creating a series that isn't based on a comic book, having fun with fight scenes, and creating a series that has everything they love in it.
What else do we have to look forward to as we go forth in Season 2?
Al: I think the word for Season 2 is epic. Season one gave you a glimpse of the world and certainly set up all the characters and got the story going, but season two we really blow the doors off it and you'll get to see much more of the Badlands. You'll get to see beyond the Badlands. You'll meet new barons. You'll meet new characters. We introduce a character called Baije, played by Nick Frost, who Sunny will meet in the in the first episode. I think the show's just bigger, the fights are bigger, you have more people fighting, more of the characters you love involved in martial arts. It's an epic season to come.
Season one left many of the characters hanging off a cliff. We have a M.K. in a box being kidnapped by abbots, and Sunny is in chains. It wasn't a happy ending for most of the characters and it felt like what M.K. said in voice over at the end, that it was just the beginning of the story.
Al: Very much so and I think that this season you'll see Sunny's journey to get back into the Badlands and to find Veil and his baby. That's really his driving force and then also, he's not a clipper anymore so who is the man? Who is he going to be when he gets back in there if he can find Veil and the baby? It's sort of his spiritual journey as well now. Because in season one as a clipper... as the regent to the most powerful Baron, you're pretty high up in the power structure of that society. Now everything's been taken away from you and you have to fight your way back in. And then with M.K., he was in the box. He was caught by the abbots and then they take him to their monastery and try to teach him how to control his power. But in order to do that he's got to delve into some painful secrets of his past as well. So I think it's going to be an epic journey certainly for Sunny and M.K., as well as the rest of the characters.
Sunny killed off your Big Bad of season one when he clipped Quinn. Are we getting a new Big Bad?
Al: To be seen, without revealing too much. I think that that'll be something that will be a surprise to people at the end of the first episode.
I was surprised that Sunny didn’t just let M.K kill Ryder? It would have been such a public service.
Miles: (Laughs) Sunny saved Ryder's ass twice in the first season, if you think about it.
I don't know what he was thinking.
Miles: Ryder and Jade are the ultimate power couple. He's the new Baron and she's the new Baroness, so he came out of season one in much better shape than a lot of the characters.
What have been your biggest challenges as you went forth to develop the second season?
Miles: The second is challenging because we wanted to really expand the walls. As Al said, the touchstone word for the season is “epic.” And one of the things we did was change locations of the production. So the first season of Into The Badlands was shot in Louisiana, in New Orleans. And the second season we moved the show to Ireland and Scotland, and we did that because of the epic landscapes that Ireland provided. It has incredible seascapes, cliffs, mountains, lakes. It has ancient ruins, it has modern ruins, it has industrial revolution era factories and relics and it really provided an epic landscape to tell our story. Amazing forests and variety of woods, waterfalls and lakes, streams, rivers. It just really provided the backdrop of a landscape in which we could tell this epic story.
Miles: That was one of the things we did, and then the show is challenging on a production level because we have our drama unit shooting, and concurrently we have a full time Hong Kong fight unit, which is working alongside our drama unit, to really capture these epic fights which are the signature element of the show. And unlike most television shows which have an action element, which may shoot two or three days, our fight sequences could go on for ten days.
I believe it.
Miles: That's why you get the quality and the cinematic nature of our fights because no one has the production ability to do that at the level that we can. We have this dedicated unit that does it. We have the best choreographer from China, Master Huan-Chiu Ku, our fight choreographer, and it really is an amazing unit. You see them work and what they pull off in the time they have, it's pretty remarkable.
The fight scenes are fun and inventive to watch.
Miles: We learned a lot doing the show because it's really ambitious to pull off these two units to really create a well built, creative future environment which is the Badlands. We really learned a lot in terms of doing the first season and then the second season, we really thought we wanted to have more fun. We didn't want to become to self serious. Obviously there is a lot of serious drama that happens, but also the element of fun I think we wanted to expand, and as Al said, the character of Bajie we introduced as someone who is fun. He's got his own agenda and is a slippery character and his allegiances shift and you're not sure you can trust him. The chemistry between Bajie and Sunny is a really great new element to the show. It brings some humor, some lightness, we have some comedic fights as well, or the element of comedy in the fight. We really wanted to explore that element, which is something that's very true of Hong Kong cinema. I think we brought that and really added a whole new dimension to season two.
What's the thing that has surprised you guys the most in developing this second season? What's the thing you weren't expecting, the good thing?
Miles: It's really how much story there was to tell. How big the word became. You always hope that and you always plan that. And then it was something that, as we were breaking the season, it just felt like we had so many stories to tell in a really good way and that the world just opened up. We felt like the foundation of season one has definitely allowed us to really, really expand the show in a great way and we're really thrilled with how the season turned out.
There's nothing quite like it on TV right now.
Al: Obviously that's the goal and you know in a world with four hundred television shows you want to set yourself apart and tell a compelling story, but also be fun. I think the show is more fun in season two as well. I didn't want it to be self serious. That just didn't seem like an interesting place to go. There are still big stakes. There is still high drama. But the fun level has been upped as well, not only in the martial arts sequences but also in the character interactions and who you see, and who you meet.
What was it about this material that appealed to you?
Miles: We created it. It's an original project. It's an original idea, and the idea, it's so bananas in terms of the mash up of Hong Kong cinema, of Spagetti western, of science fiction and put it all in this blender and coming up with what we came up with. I think for us it was just the chance to get away from source material, get away from comic books, from something that was contemporary, and create something that was uniquely ours. That was very compelling to us and it's very challenging on a production level. And to visualize and to create a world that is unique in terms of the costumes, the look, the sets. Everything is created in this world and that is very challenging as creators and show runners but also incredibly rewarding.
We really found this season that the show kicked into high gear and that everything was working in a really incredible way. We had an amazing Irish crew that contributed tremendously and just when we went from New Orleans to Ireland, it was a big gamble and a risk because we established the show. It was very rich and exotic and hot and sweaty and swampy, and going to Ireland was definitely a gamble but it paid off. It paid off in spades and I think when viewers see and watch season, the scale of it will be become very apparent. It's the same show but it just got bigger and better and these characters have become more complex and rich. The action sequences are even more dynamic and cool. I just think that you never know what's going to happen. The second season is always where you find your feet or you don't. You could have an intriguing first season and what we always thought was we could never just rely on the fights. The fights were the secret sauce and the fun part, but it had to be about characters. You have to get invested in the people, in these journeys and their arcs and their relationships. I think season two for us, we feel like we really pulled it off. That everything really began firing on all cylinders.
Even though the show will leave the Badlands this season, I'm assuming since it's called Into The Badlands, that the Badlands will always be a focal point for the series.
Al: Absolutely. We're now able to showcase more of the Badlands, which is also something that we really wanted to do. And as Miles said, Ireland really gave us these unique and dramatic environments to really expand the world of the show.
Do you have a plan for a certain number of seasons?
Al: Our joke is we used to have a five season plan on Smallville and the show went ten seasons, so we try not to make those predictions anymore (laughs). We just wanted to have a nice long run but we don't want it to overstay its welcome. We want to tell compelling stories and at the point where we feel like we can't do that anymore, that's when we'll end the show. And I think again in this new environment of television where you're not in that network, twenty-two episode sort of sausage factory. We just want to tell the most compelling, complete story that we can tell and as many seasons as it takes to do that.
Smallville was on network TV and now you're on AMC. Is there a difference in how you approach the production of the series and the story on cable?
Al: There is obviously more freedom on cable than you have on network broadcast and I think for us it's how do you use that to tell the best story and not just be salacious. I think sometimes it's like we're on cable so it's sex and violence and yada yada, just because you can do it. So it feels just like, “Look at me, look at me, look at me,” but it's for all the wrong reasons. I think for us it was just how do we take this freedom that cable gives you and really use it to our advantage. When you're creating this world you want to feel authentic and you want the stakes to feel real and you want to present compelling situations and compelling characters, there's no black and white in this world. It's all very gray and morally complex. It's getting away from network television and what makes this person "likable." You obviously don't want to have a characters that people hate, but Miles always says, “The hero of the show has killed four hundred people.” (laughs)
Miles: No. That is exactly right. That is his cross to bear and his journey to redemption is about that, but that's one of the great things we like about the show is that you can meet the expectations. You have these people who you know are all killers and who do you like? And sometimes you start out not liking someone. I think Lydia is a good example of that. You think you know who that character is, what she's about, where it's going to go, and by the end of the first season you kind of feel bad for her. Which I don't think you thought would happen when you saw her first entrance. I think for us it's always about those shifting allegiances, the complexities of characters, of people who start out one place and end up another. We're always trying to confound the audience expectations and the thought that someone is an archetype and then by the end of the episode and into this season, they've changed. They evolved and it takes the audience by surprise when someone they first meet and encounter is not the person who ends up at the end of the season. So I think for us as creators and writers, the great freedom of cable is that we're able to really explore these characters in ways we couldn't do on network. And I think also you have the serialized nature of the show, which is very free in terms of that. We follow these characters through their journey in a way you couldn't do on network, which is much more episodic, closed ended stories and about those cases a week. I mean eventually it became more serialized, but it really is about completing the story within an episode. That was looking from us structured like a comic book each week. This is a much more free ended exercise of storytelling.
I love the fact that you guys really put feminist sensibility into the series. The Widow and a lot of the girls are as skilled as any of the guys or more so. I think that was really an interesting way to make to the female characters so powerful.
Al: What's wonderful about martial arts is that it's the great equalizer because it's not about size. It's not about overwhelming somebody. It's really about a skill set and if you look at male martial artists like Jet Li or Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, they're not big guys. I think the martial arts genre in general is a great equalizer and then for us the show is set in the future, so it's not all a bunch of white men. That's not really what the future is about in this world. It's not about sexual orientation. It's not about the color of your skin. It's really about strength and weakness and if you can fight and you're strong, you're going to survive. And if you're not you won't. In season two you're going to meet a lot more the Barons. You're going to see it's a mix of people old and young, people of color, male and female. Cause that's really what it's about and I think the Widow was certainly a character that captured the fans and public sort of imagination, which is great. You see her as strong and she's bringing a compelling message or has a compelling point of view, even though frankly she’s just as big a killer as the rest of them.
Absolutely. And she definitely has plans for M.K. that may not be in his best interest.
Al: It's something that we definitely explore that more in season two and you will learn more about the Widow's past and obviously M.Ks past. We get into those mysterious abbots that grabbed M.K. at the end of the season, how they work and what their world view is. It's something to us that was it was very compelling and it just again added something else to this world.
Did you have an inspiration for this series?
Al: No, it's really a mash up of frankly a lot of the things that we love. If you look at the society it's sort of a feudal society. It's what you see in Japanese samurai films and then you have the great colors and the action obviously of Hong Kong, but also of Chinese cinema. Our world isn't desaturated and gray. It's very rich in color. There's obviously a science fiction element. There's obviously a superhero element to it. So it's literally all of the things that we love in one show.
Here's a look at season two of Into The Badlands: