This Into the Badlands review contains spoilers.
Into the Badlands Season 3 Episode 1
There was a time when I didn’t think much of Into The Badlands.
The year was 2015, and the world was a different place. Obama was still president. AMC was riding The Walking Dead wave higher than it is now. The X-Files revival was just a twinkling in our eye. I had recently started writing for Den of Geek, and I was excited because I remember reading their articles when I was in high school. Pretty sure other things were going on in the world, but my memory’s a bit foggy.
Anyway, I specifically requested to review Into the Badlands after reading a list of shows that were about to premiere that year. I was somewhat excited because it was described as a Kung-Fu action program, and I was working part-time at a bar called Badlands at the time. So, I felt writing about the show would be cosmically appropriate. Also, more than a little ironic.
The handful of episodes that made up the first season of Into the Badlands didn’t impress me much at all, even though I genuinely appreciated (and grasped) what executive producers Millar and Gough were trying to do with the platform. The seeds of a fantastic show were there, but its identity wasn’t fully formed. I found the subtle efforts at world-building to be the most intriguing aspect of the show. The fight choreography was a close second, but there simply just wasn’t enough of it spread out across those six brief yet drawn-out episodes. Season one was an adequate introduction into the world of the Badlands, but was it a spectacular one? No. Not exactly.
Then season two debuted much later, in 2017, long after I had forgotten the show existed. Even then, the world was a different place – and so was the series that I had once likened to Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. (Mostly because, I admit, I am a shameless fan of that movie.) Yes, it was still Mortal Kombat-y, but in a more flattering sense of the comparison. Also, it had Nick Frost, a buttload of ambition behind it, and action sequences that I will never forget. Case in point: Tilda vs. The Widow. I’ll always recall the shock I felt when our beloved warrior girl was kicked so hard in the head by her “mom” that I actually thought she had died.
The second season of Into the Badlands wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge step up from its predecessor, a calmer affair that was heavy on talk and light on action. Season two was when the show began to own its identity as a post-apocalyptic martial arts extravaganza, incorporating more Mad Max-ian set pieces into its East-meets-West kung-fu fusion. As the action ramped up, so did the pacing. By the end of it, Into the Badlands finally felt as though it had found a distinct identity. Having gone through a trial period of two seasons that felt like one insanely long pilot episode, the show had begun to crystallize into…something. The second season finale was one of Badlands‘ best, delivering an operatic end to a few major storylines with a sense of refined grace and an impressive sense of artistry. I was eager to see where the series was heading then, and especially curious to see where the series would take its Azra-centric mythology, as that had always been a big draw for me.
Now, after watching its third season premiere, I am strangely proud to say that the show has finally become a can’t miss spectacle, the kind it aspired to be from the get-go. It’s evolved past its humble beginnings as a southern plantation drama with a vague martial arts theme painted over it, and surpassed the George Miller-inspired action/comedy proclivities of its sophomore year in the process. Now, it’s much larger than all of that. It’s an epic saga, one that isn’t centered around one hero’s journey and one hero’s journey alone. In fact, it’s fitting that Sunny isn’t introduced until after a very lengthy teaser in which we watch the Widow square off with Nathaniel Moon in a beautifully choreographed fight sequence that made me fall back into the world of Badlands in the most graceful way possible.
Into the Badlands has become an ensemble piece, one that’s more than the sum of its parts. Although its kung-fu kaleidoscope still spins around Sunny, the writers are aware that they have a fascinating cast of characters to draw from and that he is merely one piece of a larger and far more intricate puzzle than was first envisioned. This elevates the show to a more ambitious storytelling level that is on part with its source material Journey to the West. It’s pacing, too, reflects this well, as scenes are given more time to breathe, the actors aren’t always spouting off reams of dialogue between roundhouse kicks, and the music doesn’t beat us over the heads to tell us something intense is happening.
In a way, “Enter the Phoenix” delivers itself as a prologue to the season, a quiet reflection on what has happened and a glimpse into the future at what’s on the horizon. It reunites our heroes in a way that doesn’t feel contrived; it’s relaxed and organic. And Tilda’s epic ninja getup? That was a sight to behold. Way to steal the show. (Here, take the keys! It’s yours. You can have it.)
Two big developments occur in this episode. One is huge: Sunny’s child has “the gift” that M.K. has. The other is that other people with this “gift” are introduced before the end credits roll, and they don’t look like they’re going to be an easy bunch to deal with. I know there will be sacrifices, but I’m confident that Sunny, Tilda, Bajie, and Lydia can handle it. I trust them as heroes now, and I’m excited to see what Into the Badlands will do with a new set of villains that aren’t played by Martin Csokas and who hopefully don’t have as much facial hair, either.
Here’s the main idea of this review, put inside a delicate yet easy-to-understand nutshell: I give a sh*t about this show now, and you should too. It’s worth the investment. Its characters will grow on you. And by the time you get to this season, you’ll be glad you stuck with it. That, folks, is the sign of a worthwhile television program.