There's nothing else on TV like AMC's Into the Badlands. It would be easy for any show to get lost in the shadow cast by its lead-in, ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead. And while some may have slept on its six-episode freshman season, thanks in part to Netflix and a loyal and very vocal fanbase powered primarily by Black Twitter, the show literally fought its way into the limelight in Season 2, becoming one of the highest-rated scripted programs on TV. Ahead of tonight's season finale we spoke to writer-producer LaToya Morgan about what goes into making such a unique show in part one of our two-part interview.
So obviously, as we know, Into the Badlands takes place in a post apocalyptic world, 500 years after there is a war. What is it about this kind of setting that plays so well into there being more female protagonists or more people of color as protagonists, or in positions of power? It kind of feels like that happens far more often in a post-apocalyptic world.
You know, I just think it's forward thinking on the part of my show runners, Al Gough and Miles Millar. I just think that one of the things that when I sat down to interview with them I was excited that there were women and people of color in the future. And that sounds funny to say, but that's not always played as the case. So it's just a great backdrop and a great world, and I think that most people want to see themselves in the future. They want to see that they have a place, and our show just does a good job of showcasing that.
I've read that you're a fan of comic books, and obviously, you were on the writing staff for Turn for AMC. How does your love for comic books -- and what titles -- play into or inspire your writing for Badlands?
Well, when I was a kid I loved Marvel comics. So I was all about X-Men and Spiderman, and those stories were about outsiders, they're about underdogs, and those are the kind of stories I like to tell. Badlands was the perfect place for that. You have people that are searching for a piece of themselves, searching for how to gain power but also keep their core selves. I know that sounds weird, but they're trying to balance the idea that "with great power comes great responsibility." I just love that in Badlands we're able to see that, but we're also able to see it through the lens of women and people of color. I make no secret about the fact that I'm very much Team Widow, and she is the most badass character that I've seen on television. She has this way of being very strong but also having this great vulnerability about her, and I think that that resonates with people.
Yeah, I mean, Widow is ... She's absolutely a badass, and I really want to talk about that character a lot because she is the embodiment of the current feminist movement, as are all of the women that are part of her clan.
So talk to me a little bit about that whole idea. How did Widow come to be what she is, and become this very progressive, and anti-heroine but fem -- she's becoming a feminist icon, like I wanna say it, she really is.
Well, I'm sure Al and Miles would love it that you say that, and it's true. I think that, in Season 1 Widow, she had goals, but I think in Season 2 a lot of the conversations that we had in the writers' room were really about solidifying what she wants and why she wants it. And so, in a way, she's sort of this populist heroine right now on the show. She is taking in Cogs and she's protecting them. She literally lives in a place called the sanctuary, and she's just trying to do her best to protect people. And over the course of this season, I believe it's in episode four, you get a little background on her and how she was a Cog and how she broke away from that, and how she wants to do that for other people. So we really talked about that, dug into her backstory, and really wanted to explore that this season, and looked for ways to do that while balancing the great fighting and the drama of all that. But we really wanted to nail down the core of who she is as a person, and I think people are responding to that.
There's very few times in pop culture that I can think of where you see fight scenes happening that are intersex. Battlestar Galactica obviously had that, and they really put men and women on equal footing on that show. I feel like you guys absolutely do that in a same vein, and you take it to the next level, because it's obviously much bloodier and gorier on your show.
I know you have an amazing fight choreographer, and I know you have that very intense fight camp that the actors go through, which is literally like movie-level fight training, which is incredibly impressive and it shows in the finished product. When you guys are putting those scenes together, how does that come to fruition in the writer's room and how do you work out when those come into play?
Well for the fight team, we really talk about what kind of story we need to tell. So for example, in the Conclave, we knew that we wanted to introduce all these great new barons and that it was going to build towards this fight at the end and the Widow was gonna have to fight for her life. And so we, every episode is different, but we try to lead with the drama and let the fight tell the drama for us. So the great thing about martial arts is that ... in a battle of the sexes, it doesn't matter so much if someone is bigger than you because you can leverage them, you can out maneuver them. So that's what we try to rely on most fights, especially with the Widow. We really enjoy the fact that she is strong and she's tough but she's also really elegant in the way that she fights. And that's a testament to Emily and what she brings to the table.
But when we talk a lot about fight scenes, really each writer for each episode is responsible for coming up with how that fight will lay out. So it's up to our creativity, our imagination, we sort of know what sets we have in mind, and we're just allowed to go all out and really make it whatever we want. And then we coordinate with the fight scene to see what is actually feasible. So sort of aim for the moon and then we see if we can get the moon. And it's a lot of fun in that sense. For one of my episodes, there was a great junkyard fight and it was so much fun to just think about what is in a junkyard. What could somebody use as a weapon? We know we wanted Sunny to be unarmed and a really great thing that came out of that was a close quarter fight. So that is where Sunny excels. And it was great to see that on screen and how they laid that out with the fight team.
I remember, I saw the second or third episode in the first season and seeing the Widow kicking ass, and I thought how amazing it was because it's a woman in this type of fight scene. Same with the fight scene on the stairs this season.
It's so good! So when we saw a cut of that scene of her coming up the stairs, she's chasing Jade and she does this backslide and this back bend and I'm literally screaming like, "Oh my god, oh my god. This is epic." And Al was just loving it. It's just so amazing to see that that is what we wrote on a page and then Emily takes it, and she does her thing, and the fight coordinators take it and they do their thing, and it becomes this amazing ballet of blood.
I love that, "a ballet of blood". But also too, watching that, and again I feel like as a viewer it's such an empowering thing. 'Cause I get pumped up, like I'm watching that, I'm like, "Oh my god, I want to go to the gym and I want to beat the crap out of everybody right now." Like you start to feel emboldened by it. You take that on, like I can take on anything right now.
And it's so important to have female characters like that exist in pop culture.
Absolutely. I mean, she is a role model in a way. She doesn't always do the right thing, but there's a certain confidence that she has, and a certain sense of her own code and right and wrong that I think is admirable even if you sometimes disagree with the thing that she does.
Can we talk about the costumes? They're absolutely absolutely amazing, and I know that it is a martial arts-based program and there's obviously a lot Asian influence in the aesthetic. But there's often a lot of symbolism in Asian culture. So how much does that play into the aesthetic for each of the characters, with their costuming?
Well I know that we take a lot of pride in the look of the show. I think it's one of the best looking shows on television. The costumes are incredible, the production design, the sets are just so lush and rich and gorgeous. I just love it, so I'm biased on that. But Miles especially takes the lead on the look of the show and what people are wearing and he does these really fantastic look books for each character. We're all about making sure that people are able to distinguish which clan is which clan. So you need to be able to tell Sunny from Quinn's Clippers to the Butterflies. Every faction has a look and they're all very different and all very detailed and I just think it adds a fantastic layer to the show, which is a mixture of things. It's a mixture of futuristic and post apocalyptic genres and science fiction, and so we are blending all those things and then coming up with this fresh new thing and it's something that I think Badlands does better than anything on television.
The show does a phenomenal job with representation. In addition to there being so many strong women in positions of power on the show, but there's a lot of people of color on protagonist roles, and especially black asian mix. I mean, obviously, Sunny and Veil have a baby, so you have a Blasian baby. The master is Blasian, right?
Yes, she is.
Did you guys consciously make this decision like, "Okay, we're not just going to make the Master a woman. She's gonna be a mixed race woman of color?"
Oh yes. Yes, that was a conscious conversation that we had in the writer's room. And I have to give credit to Al and Miles because that conversation starts and has always started with them. They did that in season one and we just sort of expanded on that in Season 2, and for every role that is on the show, every new character, we have very honest conversations about how to make this look like a future where people are included. So we try to include people of color, we try to include women, people with disabilities, we do that very consciously. And so this is a conversation that we have about the smallest of parts, you know Butterfly number four, that's in the background. We have those conversations and it's great that Al and Miles are open about that and they're always looking for input on that. We just try to make sure that we balance that as much as we can because it's important. I know for me, growing up, I always wanted to see myself on TV and someone who looked like me. It's nice that on this show, there's not just that one black woman or person of color on the show, there's an array which is fantastic.
Now, I have to ask, I know that you're a Marvel fan and I am too ... How much of the casting choice for the Master was kind a little subtle dig at Marvel for the white washing of the Master in Doctor Strange?
That was unconscious, but I have to say we were always like, "Wouldn't it be amazing if the Master was a black woman?" That was always part of the conversation. I know we had lofty goals about certain famous actresses, we were like, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we could get her to be the Master?" We ended up getting Chipo Chung, who is absolutely fantastic. She kills that role, and she was something that we actually didn't expect. We always thought about a black woman and then when she came in for her audition, and she was black and Asian and we decided that she was perfect and she has been fantastic in her scenes. She has this amazing gravitas that I love that she brings to the team, and I'm just so excited that we got her.
And also speaking of Marvel, I noticed that in the Iron Fist backlash, a lot of people were like, "Instead of watching this, watch Into The Badlands." So it kind of worked as a reverse marketing for you guys in a very twisted way. I know that, again, with the representation is absolutely important, but when you see these things happening in pop culture, and you see fans reacting in a way where it's like they're pushing for you as this progressive program. Do you start to feel that there's an expectation that you really have to live up to based on how fans are reacting on social media?
Well we love the fans reaction to the show but, more than anything we try to let the story dictate how we cast and how we move the show forward. I think it's our standard that we look to. When I say we cast people of color, of course we do do that and we will continue to do that, but that doesn't mean we leave out other people. We want to make sure everyone has a seat at the table and I just think it stands out because a lot of other shows still have some work to do. There can also be some stepping up on network shows to show more people of color, more women, and right now we're sort of at the forefront so we will continue to do that.
You guys had a shorter season and I really think that Netflix, you know, having that season on Netflix definitely helped, but from the jump it seemed like Black Twitter was really championing you guys a lot.
Oh yeah, Black Twitter is amazing.
So I want to talk a bit about that too, because I know that Black Twitter is championing hard for a specific actor to show up in season three. Do you know who I'm talking about?
I have a vague idea, yes.
Lewis, what's his name, Lewis Tan?
Yes, yes, yes.
Or, as he's been dubbed by Rebecca Theodore, "The Baron of Thirst Traps."
Yes, the Baron of Thirst Traps. But I don't know if he's going to be cast, but I ... More power to them to keep tweeting at Al and Miles, because they decide.
You're like, "I don't hate that idea-"
I mean, I've seen his videos, he's amazing. But that's a showrunner question.
So you're not gonna tip your finger on the scale either way to weigh this? You're just like, "Listen, you keep going, do your thing."
No, I mean, I would not be opposed to it, I will say that. But I'm just saying like it would of course need to be dictated by the story that we're going to be doing in the new season and all of that. But again, I love the game, I love the game face that Twitter is putting on right now. It's pretty epic. So I'm not gonna knock the game.
Speaking of Twitter, we follow each other, and I know that you and I share a similar worldview and our political views are very aligned.
How much does what's happening find its way into what's going on in the writers' room? Like do you ever thinly veil or take that as inspiration to kind of make certain things play out in the story?
Well, some of it happens on purpose and some of it is by accident. So when we first pitched the Season 2 ... We started talking about this idea of the wall, and that it was built not by us but by someone else and we just laughed because we were like, "Oh we won't have to worry about this because everything is gonna be great during the election, and this will be science fiction." Then we saw what happened in November and we were like, "Oh my god, this is now a documentary," like this could be our future. You know, that was purely by accident but we do have conversations about politics a lot in the writer's room, not that we personally infuse the story with that but there are definitely strong women that are on the political landscape that we use inspiration for a lot of the female characters on the show.
So we've introduced this new baron, Chau, and we really started to talk about what it would look like to have two really strong barons, two really strong female barons on this landscape, especially when they had two diametrically opposed goals and visions for that and it was just fun to explore that stuff. Yeah, I ... If it was up to me, there would definitely be much more politics infused in the show but we did it in our own way this season, which was a conclave and to have sort of the palace intrigue of who is aligned, who is on the inside, who's on the outside, and it was just a lot of fun to play with that.
So far this season, what's been your favorite moment to see played out onscreen?
Oh wow, that's a hard question. I think, you know there's so many really great scenes in the show. I have to say, just because it was the opener, the scene with the Widow fighting up the stairs was just epic. But the Tilda versus Widow showdown last week... that mother/daughter brawl was the best emotional rollercoaster we had all season. Badass and heartbreaking.
That was ridiculous, it was so good but so gut-wrenching.
You can't help but cheer when you see something like that. It was just incredible. I personally have also been in love with Nick Frost and the great humor that he's added to the show, and I think his dynamic with Sunny is really great. I loved the conclave to introduce all the new barons that we have in the world this season. I'm a big fan of Marton Csokas, so his scenes where he's been playing crazy in the bunker with Henry and he's fighting Ghost Ryder have been some of the most, the juiciest scenes to watch. I love to see him.
He plays a maniacal bad man like no one else. He's just, just the sight of him is terrifying, but captivating.
He's been riveting. You know, there's just something that he ... You cannot look away when he's on screen.
Yeah, you can't.
It's just like, he has you. He just has you, he has had me this entire season. And I just have to say, I can't pick one fight, I mean if I'm biased I'll pick the junkyard fight 'cause that was in my episode, but all the fights have just been insanity and bonkers and so full of martial arts goodness that I would be remiss if I chose one. But our fight team, I can't say enough, how they really elevate what we put on the page and just make it fantastic.
Have you guys started talking about or working on Season 3 yet, or no?
We have started. Two weeks ago.
Do you have any idea where you guys are gonna go in Season 3?
Um, I have an inkling but I can't tell you or we'd have to draw swords.
I just have to ask you this one final thing 'cause I don't know if you weighed in on it. You know that we're all abusing Oliver about his pineapple pizza preference.
Oh wow, why does he like pineapple pizza again? I need to talk to him about this. What is the problem, come on, that is blasphemy right?
So you're no pineapple, I just want to make sure which box we check for you.
Look, I'm not going to jump off of a cliff if someone has a Hawaiian pizza maybe, but if I had a choice of what toppings to put on a pizza, pineapple would be pretty low on my list. You know, you gotta go with the traditional, pepperoni, mushroom, you know. I'm a big fan of jalapenos-
Jalapenos on pizza? That's a new one. I've never heard that.
Oh my god, how can you not have jalapenos?
Cuz I'm from the New York area. I'm an East coast girl.
I'm a North Jersey girl. We don't ... Why would we have jalapenos on our pizza?
Maybe that's a California thing.
I think it is, yeah.
I'm guessing you're anti-deep-dish, then?
Um, I'm not anti-deep-dish, but I'm obviously a ... I go hard for New York style pizza.
Oh, no. See, I thought that too and then I finally had deep dish pizza in Chicago, and it is the greatest thing. You gotta try it, and I would say if you're a fan of spicy and heat, definitely try the jalapenos. But I draw the line at bananas. I think I saw a picture on Twitter, someone putting bananas on their pizza-
I saw that picture too!
That needs to stop. That needs to, no. Just jump off of something if you're putting bananas on your pizza, I'm just saying.