Into the Badlands Season 1 Episode 2
In my review for the pilot of Into the Badlands, I likened the show to Doritos because of its guilty pleasure factor and the figurative cheesy residue it leaves on your metaphorical fingertips. This time, I’m going to compare the show to a more delectable yet equally insubstantial snack food: chocolate covered pretzels.
To the uninitiated, chocolate covered pretzels are an unusual combo: crunchy, salty bread coated with deep dark sweetness doesn’t exactly sound appealing for the palette. And yet, when you try one, you realize that the mash-up of flavors work pretty well together, even if you aren’t quite sure why you’re eating it. Into the Badlands is a lot like that. It takes what might seem incompatible – tangy southern style and spicy eastern intrigue – and mixes them together to create a new kind of TV munchie that has an addictive taste but is not nutritious whatsoever.
“Fist Like a Bullet” continues to do what “The Fort” set in motion, which is establishing the world of the show at a modest pace. Though, even after watching it, we still don’t know a lot. But we get to know The Widow a little bit better, and her daughter Tilda, who has the most distracting eyebrows ever (and throws ninja stars at squirrels.) They’ve been searching for the “special boy” with the cool art deco pendant who we know as M.K. because of he has those mysterious mutant powers that will prove advantageous in the war against the other barons.
Like most of the other characters on this show, they’re not very likeable. They may be interesting to watch, but only dispassionately. We enjoy seeing them dance around in their intricately choreographed fight scenes, but when they open their mouths to recite soap opera dialogue, our eyes can’t help but glaze over. That’s because the actors don’t seem to be fully connected to their characters, like they’re not taking any of this too seriously. They’re basically just LARPing on camera, and they don’t seem to be very comfortable doing so.
In fact, the only actor who seems to have the most fun with their role is Martin Csokas as Baron Quinn. That’s not to say that this character is likeable at all, as he’s basically the main villain of the show at this point (and a cartoonish one at that.) It’s just that he’s probably the only actor here that puts gusto in his performance. He has a lot of scenery to chew in this particular episode, as we find out that his weird headaches are actually the consequence of a brain tumor, and he only has a few months to live. He doesn’t want anyone else to know this, so he kills the doctor that tells him this along with his wife, who also happen to be Veil’s parents, with Sunny’s own sword. (Veil is Sunny’s baby mama, in case you’re losing track. Is this show basically Dallas with swordplay?)
This is a necessary moment to cement Quinn as a colossal a-hole, but it feels too familiar to be meaningful and far too predictable to be shocking. It’s the kind of scene we’ve witnessed in almost every spaghetti western ever, a narrative platitude, and therefore it’s toothless. Sunny’s reaction to this tragedy is also incredibly wooden. I get that he’s a stone-faced yet sensitive soldier in a territorial war we’re not invested in, but he could at least let out a gasp or something.
I’m going to just going to come out and ask: is Sunny even likeable as a protagonist? Is this who we’re supposed to root for? Or is that M.K.? One is too distant, and the other is just annoying. They have pretty looking fight sequences, though. I guess that trumps character development in this series.
The real standout action scene in “Fist Like a Bullet” is obviously The Widow’s knife fight. It’s excessive and ridiculous, but it’s the reason why we’re watching this show. It’s the proverbial chocolate that covers the pretzel pieces, and that’s the sweetest part. So far, Into the Badlands is averaging about two to three stunt spectaculars per episode. If this frequency speeds up, we might have an authentically watchable show here. But if not, oh well. I’ll just put on some old reruns of Mortal Kombat: Conquest and call it good.