Every time I turn around, there’s a new TV show or movie I just have to see, but it turns out I actually require more than four hours of sleep a night. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be grateful for Late to the Party, a FANGRRLS feature where one of our writers introduces a neophyte to one of their favorite shows.
There are exactly two things I know about Into the Badlands: Carly Lane is a fan and it has been lauded as containing the best martial arts sequences on TV. Frankly, there’s nothing else I need to know.
Let’s dig into the five episodes Carly recommended I watch.
Season 1, Episode 1: "The Fort"
Sometime after the unnamed wars, we meet Sunny, the sexy as all get-out Clipper (read: assassin/servant) who works for the local Baron (Quinn). After the wars, the Barons helped bring order to the world, but their protection turned into servitude.
Sunny finds a young man whose whole caravan was slaughtered, except for him. He quickly dispatches of the men holding the young man hostage and then takes him back to his Baron to join the ranks of children trying to earn a place as Clippers. (It’s either that or working in the poppy fields forever.)
It turns out that Quinn isn’t the only Baron with an interest in the boy, as The Widow is the one who had her men kidnap him. When another boy jumps him in their quarters, he reveals his mystical fighting abilities, which are activated when he bleeds.
Sunny ends up turning the boy loose and letting him make a run for it, a choice that seems to have been influenced by the news that Sunny will be a father. When he sends the boy away he tells him, “I never had a choice. Now you do.”
Apparently, having a family is a big no-no for Clippers. They’re allowed to enjoy sensual delights, but no babies are allowed. Sunny’s lover (Veil) is terrified but wants to keep the child. As it turns out, so does Sunny.
Oh and Quinn is getting a second wife, but she’s busy getting freaky with his son.
This is the show I’ve been yearning for. That sounds ridiculous, I know, but I love shows with amazing fight scenes, beautiful landscapes, crisp musical scores, and dope cinematography, and Into the Badlands is really hitting the spot.
Every fight scene is brain-explosion-inducing levels of amazing. Every step, every swing, every flip—damn, they’re all so perfectly choreographed and timed. I am thoroughly impressed.
And Sunny. Oh, sweet sexy Sunny. I think I love him. I particularly appreciate the number of lives he's taken being marked on his skin, a trope that we see with Killmonger (Black Panther) and Deadshot (Arrow). I like the trope because it gives us a physical symbol for the ruthlessness of the character, but it’s also silly because who has time to get a tattoo every time you kill when you kill that many people?
Overall, I love that this show has classic elements of both Western and Kung Fu movies, but with a supernatural twist. Cogs and colts and Clippers, oh my!
Season 2, Episode 1: "Tiger Pushes Mountain"
Six months after the events of the finale of Season 1, Sunny has become a slave in a mine where he meets a bitter slave/miner named Bajie, a former opium smuggler who made a bad deal. Bajie figures out that Sunny is a Clipper and sells him out to the mine boss.
The boy, named MK (which I’ve decided stands for Magical Kid), is back and in some sort of training, but it seems to be forced. He does a lot of whining about the training and even challenges the system. He can’t control his gift, which he doesn’t see as any gift at all, but the trainees and the Master are determined to teach him.
Quinn is gone (everyone thinks he’s dead) and his son has taken over with Quinn’s second wife as his new wife. Some very cool women fighters/agents in outfits I’d really like to have are not on board with the new Baron. Their leader is The Widow, a badass redhead who has no issue slicing and dicing the Baron’s Clippers to send a message: The Widow is taking her oil refinery back. (She’s also planning to set up a new world order, but that message didn’t really fit with her terrifying slaughter of dozens of men.)
Oh and there’s a nice getting revenge on abusive men bit at the end where the female fighters destroy a group of Clippers who’ve been hurting sex workers.
My, how things have changed since the first episode of the first season! The Barons are coming apart at the seams, thanks to The Widow and the supposed murder of Quinn.
We first see Sunny shackled with a wooden beam that holds both his hands and head locked in a stock. No matter, though, Sunny still owns several of the mine owner’s guards. Ah Sunny, you’re the best.
Daniel Wu (Sunny) and Nick Frost (Bajie) make quite the pair. In fact, Frost gets the best line of the episode, “Every time I talk you threaten to kill me. It’s just boring, you know?” He brings levity without solely becoming comedic relief. And, frankly, I’m not buying that Bajie sold Sunny out. There have to be more buddy cop style hijinks ahead.
Keeping in mind I haven’t seen much of the first season, it does seem like there are a lot more powerful women in this season. The Master is a badass woman fighter who has the ability to heal her own wounds. The Widow is not only a ridiculous fighter but also a formidable leader and former cog. And, her team of women fighters (called Butterflies, if you can even stand it) perfectly combine intimidation and exceptional fighting skills with really cute outfits. Does anyone know where they get them made? I’d like a cobalt top with skin-tight black pants and giant boots, yes please.
Season 2, Episode 3: "Red Sun, Silver Moon"
Bajie and Sunny are out of the mine but are being hunted down for the bounty on their heads. They meet Nathaniel Moon, a former Clipper whose family was murdered because he defected. Nathaniel and Sunny bond over the pain of killing people, but Nathaniel seems to romanticize the whole thing, saying things like, “It’s the end of life, not it’s beginning, that defines what it means to be alive.”
Sunny disagrees and wants to stop killing. Nathaniel has accepted his fate, but Sunny believes there can be more. When Sunny and Bajie decide to leave, Nathaniel blocks their way, craving a challenge from an equal. Luckily, our boy Sunny is the real deal and Bajie has his back in the biggest way.
Back at the unnamed temple, MK has finally stopped being a little punk about his training and has started to take it seriously. He awakes in the night to find some men from the temple carrying a box, which it turns out contains one of MK’s friends who ran away. They “cleanse” the gift from the kid and another novice warns MK against running lest he find the same fate.
Quinn is alive, as we found out in the season premiere, but not so well. He is holding Sunny’s partner Veil hostage in his lair. She’s given birth to her son, Henry, and is providing medical care to Quinn. His x-ray reveals that he has a huge dark spot in his brain, but she hides this information from Quinn.
Meanwhile, The Widow readies for a political conclave where her fate as a Baron will be decided.
The plot is clearly awesome, so I won’t spend any time commenting on it, instead, I’d like to focus on the secondary characters I am currently loving.
I think Quinn is amazing—not as a person, don’t worry, as a villain. He’s creepy, but his motivations are so clear. Plus, he has an amazing way of speaking. He sounds like what would happen if you made a ruthless pirate talk like an old-timey gentleman. And, he’s pretty much the only person who speaks that way, so it really is a defining characteristic.
We got another great villain in this episode. Well, we might call Nathaniel more frenemy than a villain, but regardless, he’s a totally badass Clipper with 999 kills and he wants to make Sunny his extra special 1,000th tattoo. When he and Sunny fight it’s breathtaking. The choreography, the shifting power dynamics, the grunts, the sweat, the dust! AH! It’s all so perfect! It makes me feel so happy.
Also, I’m fairly certain The Widow is who I’d turn out to be in the Badlands. (I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but damn I would look good.)
Season 2, Episode 4: "Palm of the Iron Fox"
Tensions are rising in this episode. The Widow is trying to win over more of the Barons to her side, despite the odds being stacked against her. Quinn rallies his troops to take down the Barons during their conclave.
The conclave draws to the close with The Widow having her title stripped. However, she was planning for just such an outcome and currently knows the location of each of the Baron’s families. Just as she threatens to use that information, Quinn rolls up with his crew and everything falls apart.
Left behind during the assault, Veil attempts to escape from Quinn’s lair but is stopped by one of his henchman who she ends up killing.
It turns out Quinn is kind of a good guy. Well, no, not really. But he is a revolutionary, which in a world founded on the slavery of the many for the profit of the few is certainly a good thing. Plus, he gives his son several chances to stab him before he kills the kid (slash adult man who tried to commit patricide and failed) himself. So, we’ll upgrade him from loathsome to slightly likable.
More importantly, I love The Widow so much I think my heart might explode. When she tells them they can have her lands over her dead body, I gasped. “Not The Widow!” I exclaimed (in my head). Then she was like LOL GOTCHU and revealed she has everyone’s families in her crosshairs. Chills. Literal chills.
Season 2, Episode 10: "Wolf's Breath, Dragon Fire"
This show brings whole new levels to the quote, “The world is a wheel always turning.”
Sunny and Quinn are headed toward a showdown over Sunny’s family and Quinn’s obsession, Henry. Quinn lures Sunny into a trap and he’s crushed by a cave in.
The Widow has betrayed pretty much everyone, killed almost all of the Barons, and declared war on anyone remaining. And she has MK now?! And, Bajie?! Honestly, I have no idea what is going on, but apparently, The Widow and Bajie used to have the gift as well and Bajie trained The Widow?! (I can’t wait to go back and watch all the episodes that led to this moment.)
Tilda, The Widow’s daughter/regent, finds herself locked in the dungeon, but her girlfriend (or at least I’ve decided they’re girlfriends) breaks her and Bajie out.
Bajie pulls Sunny from the wreckage and joins him in an epic battle during which Bajie turns out to be a total badass and kills many a baddie. He seems to be killed when a sidekick, which he loathes, stabs him with scissors. But, don’t worry, Bajie lives!
A ridiculously amazing fight sequence takes place between Quinn and Sunny. They both appear to be dead at least once each, but Sunny gets the upper hand and his family is nearly able to escape. Quinn doesn’t go down without a fight and holds Veil hostage, offering trade for Henry. Veil seizes the moment to kill him, and herself in the process.
Instead of dying, Bajie sends a Morse code message out into the world.
First off, FIRST OFF, first off, NO ONE TOLD ME I WOULD GET TO SEE A FAT PERSON DO AMAZING MARTIAL ARTS AND KICK ASS. I could not love Bajie more than I do. I thought I loved Sunny. I thought I loved The Widow. Sweet heavens, I didn’t know they were just primer for my love for Bajie. (JK. I still love Sunny.) BAJIE LIVES is going to be my new password. Sunny is the GOAT. For sure. But Bajie rolling up without a sword to fight all of Quinn’s men?! I guess that makes him the SGOAT. (The Second Greatest of All Time, obviously.)
Okay. I still really like The Widow, too. She might be a betraying, lying monster, but she’s completely aware of who she is and what pull she has. She even threatens her allies. “I’m the only way to survive what’s coming next.” SEE?! She knows.
UM YES. Can my overall impression be an emphatic YES?
This show has everything: a post-apocalyptic setting, mind-blowing martial arts sequences, noble goals, ignoble nobles, fun (fat!) sidekicks, an Asian-American man as a sex symbol and lead character (Daniel Wu is stupidly sexy), women trying to empower women, an all-female fighting team called THE BUTTERFLIES, villains you can root for and hate in the same breath, and the list goes on.
The only thing that is missing is queers, though it’s been hinted in these episodes that Tilda has a thing for smoking hot powerhouses. Don’t we all, Tilda, don’t we all.
All the people who love Game of Thrones for its ever-changing power dynamics and political intrigue should not be sleeping on Into the Badlands. It has all that plus martial arts. So, you know, eat that.
I don’t know if I’ve ever written so positive a Late to the Party. I’m usually skeptical of new shows. (C’mon folks. I watch so much TV. Is anything you’re recommending actually that good?) But Into the Badlands proves that we really are living through the golden age of TV.