This Into The Badlands review contains spoilers.
Into The Badlands Season 2 Episode 3
This week on Into the Badlands, characters talk about themselves. A lot. They reveal their backstories, motivations, and broad philosophical views on matters of life and death in what sound like cliff note summaries while the show catches its breath. We sit around, waiting for the big Baron convention – er, “conclave” that Ryder called for so we can see The Widow tear shit up. Or maybe not. Seems she hasn’t decided yet and neither have we. But our foxy femme fatality rolls up in the driveway with Waldo anyway, late to the game. So late, in fact, the episode literally ends as she walks in.
That is precisely why “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is a tease. It builds up an event that doesn’t get a payoff within the same hour. I’m not a fan of storytelling like that, especially when it’s used this early on in a season. If, say, this had been closer towards the finale and built around whatever climax takes place then, I would cut it some slack for trying to create tension. It’s appropriate. But in the third episode? Really? Now you’re just padding things out, Into the Badlands. But it’s all good; I watched your first season, so I know there will be lulls. (Not to mention lulz.)
The focus of the episode is supposed to be on Sunny and Baije meeting a legendary Clipper known as Nathaniel Moon, not the Widow and Waldo’s cloak and dagger fun. It’s meant to introduce a mysterious and formidable character, a gentle killer who represents Sunny’s greatest fear about being a Clipper: that he will never have a normal life with Veil and his child. Moon’s own family was murdered by the nomads he worked with because he thought he could have the exact same thing. “If you care for her, don’t go back,” the suprisingly good-natured assassin warns our hero. “It’s the greatest gift you’ll give her.” To which Sunny gulps big time.
Yet this comment rings hollow. It’s meant to make Sunny doubt himself and his quest, but the delivery is too insincere. Although I find Nathaniel Moon to be a promising character that should be explored further, I don’t look at him and think: “Wow, there’s a brutal killing machine who has to cut off his emotions just to survive.” I think: “Hey, that’s a pretty nice guy who’s pretending to be a killer.” True, there’s a certain level of peace and tranquility he’s supposed to have since he’s a warrior, but this comes across as big-hearted in Sherman Augustus’ performance and it’s slightly distracting.
It’s funny how I know what motivates these characters because they explicitly tell me in formulaic, wistful info dumps, but I still don’t feel fully connected with them. In last week’s review I said that I finally care about what happens to them – and I do. But I would definitely feel like they were real people and not video game bots programmed to give exposition if we were shown more about who they are instead of being told about it in condensed monologues.
After laying low with Baije, Sunny and Moon go at it for a while – not like that – in a graceful sword battle that’s lethargic when compared to the other fight sequences that we’ve witnessed so far this season, including the big brawl on the bridge during the opening teaser. Which makes it seem like Nathaniel is holding back from really giving Sunny a whoopin’ and is instead participating in a training sequence of some sort. And when Baije saves the day when he cuts off this legend’s hand by casually tossing a sword at it, I was pretty much done.
Meanwhile, The Beard and Dr. Baby Mama spend time together when she gives him a cat-scan with rusted old equipment… somehow. She discovers that he has a huge tumor in the middle of his head, but she keeps it to herself and shows him different results instead. This is a moment I’ve probably seen in a million different TV shows and films throughout my life, and here it’s just another plot beat the show checks off unceremoniously. Besides that, we witness Quinn’s twisted sense of compassion when the guards catch one of his cogs named Gabriel trying to escape. Quinn goes off on some half-baked monologue about fear. He doesn’t call it the mind-killer exactly, but comes pretty darn close. Instead of clipping the poor boy, he forces him to face his fear and cut the Baron instead in another scene that makes my sense of genre deja vu flare up.
Despite the familiarity (read: triteness) of it all, let me applaud Marton Csokas for giving a good performance. Nex to The Widow and Tilda (and Lance Henriksen), Csokas has the most commanding screen presence on Into the Badlands. I might make jabs at his facial hair, but I can’t argue that he’s convincing in his role. I can’t say that for some of these other folks.
Oh, and what about M.K. witnessing his roommate getting scary electroshock acupunture therapy from the Master’s servants? You think that’s what our little padawan grasshopper is in store for later on? I like that he’s trying to portray the Master as evil to his instructor Eva, but I don’t think the show will do anything of interest with that concept, sadly enough.
Okay, now I’m going to say this and it’s going to hurt me more than it hurts you. (Well, maybe not.) Daniel Wu is awesome, love him to death. He’s a great guy. Sunny the character, though? He’s got to be the least interesting part of the show. Especially now, in the midst of everything else that’s going on. He shines when he’s in the middle of an elaborate fight sequence, yes, but when he’s forced to sit around and chat with people who are more talkative than he is? It’s clear he’s more of a video game avatar than a protagonist. I’m crossing my fingers that this will change as Into the Badlands’ sophomore season continues on, but I’m not going to hold my breath.