This Into The Badlandsarticle contains spoilers.
As you probably already knew, Into the Badlands started off as an adaptation of Journey to the West, an enormous historical fantasy novel by Wu Cheng’en that encompasses 100 chapters. But that was only inspiration to bring about something unique on the modern day television landscape.
“That was literally just our jumping off point,” Miles Millar said. “We borrowed elements that we liked.”
And they did. As the series continued its three year run, it resembled its source material less and less. During its third and final season, the show’s central plotlines no longer revolved around macho warriors like Sunny and M.K. If anything, Into the Badlands began to focus primarily on the character of The Widow, played by Emily Beecham.
“Emily did a great job. So it was a combination of casting and writing and story. Those elements really came together,” Gough said. “We always knew that was going to be a breakout character. I think it was just as the story unfolded we kept being able to go deeper with her.”
The Widow was portrayed as primarily an antagonist during Badlands‘s short but sweet first season, a femme fatale you didn’t want to mess with but definitely wanted to know more about.
“Her storyline has become quite important and central in the show,” Emily Beecham said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be explained about what happens for her in the future and her her mysterious past.”
“When she’s first presented in the pilot, she’s painted by Quinn’s side as a villain,” Millar said. “I think once you get to know her she really isn’t that. Her character really evolved over time.”
What helped was that The Widow had one of the most complex, and perhaps relatable, backgrounds of Badlands‘ diverse character lineup. Not only was she a powerful female icon, she was also an embodiment of the show’s exagerrated portrayal of class warfare.
“She has a very interesting story. It’s about someone who was basically a cog, one of the underclass, who became very empowered and brought that to her barony and really became a disrupter in this world,” Gough said.
As the plot developed and the mysterious and unforgiving world of the Badlands opened itself up to us, we learned that she had more ties to the protagonists than we thought — especially the character of Bajie (played by Nick Frost), whom she had a comical fight scene with during “The Boar and the Butterfly”.
“It was a lot of fun and very funny,” Beecham laughed. “I quite like their relationship because also knew each other when they were younger so they have a different relationship to play with…They have a snarky father/daughter relationship but he’s also like an old acquaintance so he irritates her. It was really good fun. We were right by a waterfall and I got hit by massive flying sticks which had to be tied up on wires. It was very fun. It was a laugh.”
One of the most visually striking moments from the series was in the third season’s “Raven’s Feather, Phoenix Blood”, where The Widow went on a psychedelic vision quest to face herself in fierce blade-to-blade combat.
“That was a fight that our fight director Andy Cheng put a lot of time and effort into,” Alfred Gough said. “I think he was nervous about it only because you really want to sell the idea that she’s really fighting herself. And I think what’s really great about that sequence is you see Emily being two different characters. Her performance beyond the fighting is excellent.”
“I was acting with nothing in front of me so it was quite a challenge,” Beecham said. “It was also double length so it was more exhausting because I was doing both, and it involved a lot of costume changes and makeup changes and also the fight choreographers…Sometimes you’re never quite sure how the story within the fight is going to turn out so often they’ll film in different ways, so it’s like putting together pieces of a puzzle. So often the story will change.”
“You know the single where they come over the stairs and down and the camera whips around and you see her? That’s all one shot,” Gough revealed. “There’s nothing stitched together. So I think it turned out to be a really great fight and I know that was one that the fight team was concerned about just because how you want to get her performance and the fight and all of these elements and it’s hard when you’re only dealing with one [Emily] — obviously you have the stunt doubles as well — but it’s hard to have someone fight themselves.”
“Literally that fight with Widow vs. Widow was the stunt team’s favorite fight,” Millar said. “I’d never seen them more excited when they had the first cut of that fight. They were jumping up the ceiling, they were so happy with it. It’s so seamless, so remarkable what they did, that people will completely forget that there was only one Emily.”
Another standout showdown from the third season was when The Widow had her final confrontation with Baron Chau (Eleanor Matsuura). They settled their lifelong rivalry once and for all in the middle what appears to be Kiss’s Psycho Circus meets the merry-go-round scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (But, y’know, way cooler than that.)
“That was obviously a battle that was coming. You got a taste of it at the end of season 3A and episode 8, but it was kind of cut short by design so we knew that was going to be another big showdown,” Gough said. “We really wanted to find a very unique location in which to stage it, one that you hadn’t seen in the show before. That’s where we came up with this sort of abandoned amusement part, and this was where [Chau] was hiding out, her bunker away from White Bone.”
“That was an incredible set,” Beecham said. “It was in a massive, dusty warehouse and was a huge creepy fairground, complete with old rides.”
“That set was constructed within and abandoned tire factory,” Millar said. “It was incredible, just walking into that set. It was eight times as bigger than we imagined it would be. I mean the neon on the rides…it was just extraordinary. It was one of the best sets I’ve ever walked onto. It’s macabre location for Chau and her showdown with Widow. It’s just perfect.”
“It felt surreal and creepy. It was quite a fun set to be on,” Beecham said.
“It’s another time where the fight team’s imagination ran wild. They were very excited about it,” Gough said.
“The fight sequence on the merry-go-round was definitely very challenging and tricky timing-wise,” Beecham added. “It’s great to look at.”
“I think that the coreography of the fight and the way it ends is epic,” Millar said. “It’s funny. It’s macabre. It’s gory. It’s great.”
Besides gory battles galore, Badlands’ final season saw The Widow enter new territory in her character development: a romantic subplot with none other than Baron Chau’s own brother, Gaius (played by Lewis Tan).
“It was nice to have a romance,” Beecham said. “Because she’s always so cold. It was interesting to have a challenge that way, with Gaius trying to push down her barriers. Lewis was very nice to work with, and he was very passionate about it.”
Yet perhaps The Widow’s most memorable legacy besides kicking plenty of ass is her complicated mother-daughter relationship with Tilda (played by Ally Ioannides), whom she grew to empower over time — despite the fact that they, too, had an epic brawl at one point (as you can see in the link above.)
“It was great because I thought that Tilda is at the age where she’s growing up and changing and I think Ally is really relishing that transition in her character for her to adapt,” Beecham said about working with her during the final season. “It brought a new dynamic between the characters for how it changed and developed. They are now equals.”
“We wanted empowered female characters in this show, women of agency,” Millar said. “We wanted an equal playing field in many ways as well. That was definitely from inception what the show would be. That martial arts is a great leveler, it’s not just about strength, and that’s something that a female character could be equal to a male character.“
If Into the Badlands were to continue on in the future with a spinoff starring The Widow, what are Emily Beecham’s hopes for it?
“I’d like to not wear a corset,” she said.