This Into The Badlands review contains spoilers.
Into The Badlands Season 2 Episode 5
I’ve been a wee bit harsh on Sunny the past couple of reviews. This has less to do with Daniel Wu’s performance and more to do with Into The Badlands’ forced, time constrained characterization. Or, rather, Badlands’ wandering eye. Sunny is our main character, yes. He is, without a doubt, the pivot upon which the show, uh, oscillates. (Put the thesaurus down, Stephen.) But now that we’re halfway through the second season, it’s clear that Badlands is far more captivated by the political intrigues of the baronage and the web of emotions surrounding it than it is with tracking the story of its main protagonist.
And who can blame it? Sunny’s character journey this year has mainly consisted of bargain bin homages to the post-apocalyptic films that have ripped off Mad Max filtered through a lens of Eastern tranquility. And that’s not a bad thing. I happen to love Mad Max imitators. Well, mostly the ones made during the ‘80s. (America 3000 and She are two of my favorites.) Fortunately, “Monkey Leaps Through Mist” marks the first time we actually get a decent tribute to George Miller’s oeuvre since the Bordo mines brawl sequences that opened up this crazy season.
Not to say that their buddy cop dynamic has been off-putting. But let’s be honest: we’re still getting used to these two working together. Despite what Into the Badlands‘ ambiguous timeframe wants us to believe, Bajie is still a brand spanking new character who is about four (technically three) episodes old. And since we’re being real right now, let’s also bring up the fact that we’re still getting used to this series in general, which has just begun its experimental phase.
But this week’s episode does something that felt far off to me: it tells a solid Sunny and Bajie tale that furthers their adventures and remains episodic (for now). Is it fresh and original? Not really, but it does highlight why Sunny is a hero and makes its conflict mirror his own. When Bajie introduces him to his old associate Nos, a junkyard supplier who also happens to be an angry psycho pimp, Sunny is asked by one of his prostitutes (Portia) to kill him so her and her daughter can be free. He refuses, witnessing the extent of his cruetly towards her instead which makes him regret his decision. Thus, Sunny gets in a rather large and unfair fight with Nos’ goons at the peak of “Monkey Leaps Through Mist”’s climax to provide us with the semblance of retribution at the very least. Or to facilitate the episode’s own signature well-coregraphed action sequence.
If Into the Badlands told stories about Sunny and Bajie that are of this caliber on a week-to-week basis, I’d be cool with that. Sunny is better when he’s forced to interact with the harsh reality of what exists outside of the Badlands rather than trudge along silently alongside the comic relief character while they talk for him. It reminds us why we root for him – because he’s a Clint Eastwood type, a man with no name, a Spaghetti Western badass that brings justice to where justice doesn’t live anymore, cutting evil down with a sharp sword instead of shooting it with gun that never misses. In short, his character is built for situations like this, even if they are trite.
Meanwhile, inside the Badlands, looks as though things are tense ever since the hot mess that the Baron conclave from the previous episode turned out to be. Now that Quinn’s secretly being alive thing is out in the open (Sunny also knows about it, by the way; he hears it through the grape vine that Nos is attached to), the game has changed. Jade has become a Baron now, inheriting what once belonged to Ryder and Quinn before him. Yay, The Widow has a character foil now. Are they going to have a duel at some point? (How is Jade with the swordplay thing, anwyay?)
Speaking of The Widow, she’s had it up to here with Waldo’s hairbrained schemes based on presumptions. Seeing as the conclave he proposed turned out to be a bust even before Quinn reared his bearded face, I understand why she’s losing trust in her advisor. She ignores his advice here and decides to ally with Quinn instead of rally together with the rest of the Barons to stop him. They’ve already made their feelings on her crystal clear; why would she back them up?
Quinn continues to lose his mind following his the murder of his own son. You know what this means: time to be taunted by the angry ghost of a regular cast member so we can squeeze more screen time out of him because of contractual reasons. Can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of this plot device, but it’s a convenient way to manifest symptoms of Quinn’s brain tumor while forcing his character into bouts of much needed self-reflection. It’s also a way to stretch out Ryder’s sudden death/say goodbye to him. Who knows how long they’ll keep him lingering around for.
Veil faces the repercussions of her actions during her failed escape attempts in “Palm of the Iron Fox.” Veil is the show’s go to damsel in distress this year, but she takes an active role in trying to break out of that mould. She does so her when she finally manages to escape her crazy abductees clutches when Lydia storms his West Avalon base with a gang of clippers to get revenge for the death of her son. This is following a rather long sequence in which Veil convinced Quinn that she loved and cared about him and wouldn’t try and run away again. The ghost of Ryder (or his delusion of the ghost of Ryder) saw right through her act but Quinn wouldn’t listen. Silly Quinn! Your accent is odd at times. It’s ’cause you’re not really from the south, isn’t it? Not to mention America itself. Hmm…
All in all, “Monkey Leaps Through Mist” is an effective midseason episode that plays up the strengths of Into the Badlands’ new format while it establishes the groundwork for what the latter half of this season has in store for us. Although there’s still a lot of talking going on, there’s a strong Sunny and Bajie episodic plotline and the momentum continues. I approve.