This Into The Badlands review contains spoilers.
Into the Badlands Season 3 Episode 12
Oh, Into the Badlands. I’m going to miss you a lot more than I thought I would. And this episode made me realize that.
I’ll miss the way you make sure every scene counts; I’ll miss how every interaction you show on screen pushes the plot forward explicitly; and I’ll miss how you don’t waste the audience’s time, do you? That’s because you’re determined. You’re on a mission. You know where you’re going and which characters are sticking around for the long haul.
What I mean is, you know when it’s time to kill people off, and Baron Chau’s had it coming for a while now. Not to say that Juliet isn’t one of the more enjoyable villains on the series. Eleanor Matsuura has always knocked her performance out of the park during each appearance. This time was no exception, but thanks to the epic brawl between her and The Widow (Emily Beecham), it’s most likely the final time we’ll get to see her in action.
But “Cobra Fang, Panther Claw” starts off with a different fight, one that manifests the larger ideological conflict happening across this season on the physical plain. Pilgrim confronts The Master on her own turf, emancipating the Abbots with the promise of more freedom—but under whose control? Azra’s, apparently, which is just a pretty way of saying Pilgrim’s.
But the points he makes about how The Master controls the dark gifts of those who follow her are valid. Her methods to contain them (like inducing comas by sticking pointy needles in them, for example) are questionable indeed. Yet her motivations are understandable. She wants to teach the dark ones discipline and balance while also protecting the lives of innocents from any violent acts they may incite. Basically, she wants to teach them responsibility. And who can blame her?
What I don’t understand is why I was secretly rooting for Pilgrim during their decisive, head-to-head battle. Maybe that’s just a testament to how it’s getting more and more difficult to determine who’s good and who’s evil as Badlands nears the finish line? This series has more or less existed in a moral vacuum ever since it debuted. In this season, the writers have taken the time and effort to make the Badlands into more of an ambiguous gray area, a limbo, rather than a hellish nightmare where everyone just wants to get their pillage on. Fine, okay, the show’s setting is still very much like that, but the story’s emotional core is no longer a victim of it.
Into the Badlands used to be about surviving in a cold and uncaring world, even if that meant compromising your integrity to do so. Now it’s about teaching that same world that it doesn’t have to be cold and uncaring. This reminds me of a greater lesson that one of my favorite shows, Angel, taught—one that can be summed up in this quote from the show’s title character himself: “Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh and cruel. But that’s why there’s us. Champions. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be.”
And that’s who the main characters of Into the Badlands have become, despite which side of the fence they started off on: champions. Sunny, Bajie, The Widow, Lydia, Moon, Nix, even Ankara… all of them are fighting to create a better world, one that’s worth living in. One that’s worth raising a child in, perhaps?
Besides The Widow, Gaius Chau emodies this paradigm shift the most out of the cast. He’s become a catalyst for several major changes in the Badlands lately, if not a convenient shortcut to a bloody revolution. Helping Tilda kill his own mother last episode was a good example of that. (It’s was less evil than it sounds, I swear.) At times, it feels as though Gaius a much-delayed knight in shining armor that’s come to help right wrongs and triumph over evil with his status and privelege.
But the writers acknowledge this fact and aren’t afraid to address it head on. Both Gaius himself and TIlda explore this aspect of his character in a brief exchange during this episode, where she commends him for looking past his circumstances (i.e. growing up as a royal figure in the Chau Barony) to see the atrocities being committed to their post-apocalyptic society. “Privlege is no excuse for blindness,” Gauis states, summing up the essence of his character as succinctly as possible.
“Cobra Fang, Panther Claw” features what might be one of my favorite scene in the entire series that doesn’t involve stunt choreography : a road trip with Sunny, Bajie, The Widow, Nix, and a passed-out Ankara. Bajie talks about all of the animals he hasn’t eaten, specifically a hawk. This welcome moment of levity has just the right amount of laughs without clashing with the somber tone of the series. When Nick Frost first joined the cast as Bajie at the start of the second season, some of his attempts at humor fell flat. This scene not only demonstrates how has perfected the art of cheeky gallows humor.
It’s no secret that The Widow’s redemption arc has become the ace up Into the Badlands’ tattered (yet surprisingly well embroidered) sleeve. Personally, I love it. But even I admit that it does feel forced at times. If not forced, than at least rushed to the point of being insensitive to emotional needs of the other characters. Specifically, Sunny.
As evidenced in the knock-down-drag-out fight he had with her towards the end of “The Boar and the Butterfly,” Sunny’s not ready to be super friends with The Widow just yet. And who can blame him? He reiterates why he doesn’t trust the Baron formerly known as Flea multiple times, and yet it doesn’t matter. “Get over it, Sunny,” the season’s narrative arc tells him through its supporting characters. “We don’t have time for drama right now. We have a series finale to set up.”
At least, that’s what it feels like. The plot’s need for The Widow’s 90-degree turn overrides the importance of Sunny’s own arc, which is another reason why I believe her character has successfully stolen the show. Sunny is forced into a corner, asked to overlook major problems she has created for him, and made to begrudgingly accept that The Widow is his ally. And he does so with a passing comment to Nix. I’m not sure if this is character focused writing or plot focused writing. You could say it’s the former when it comes to The Widow, but the latter definitely applies to Sunny right now.
Speaking of Nix, she’s a welcome addition to our cast of misfit heroes, but she’s not given much to do outside of initiate discussions about continuity and lore to so casual viewers can catch up. Ankara, meanwhile, is a literal exposition bot, but she’s a damn good one. Claire Higgins (one of my favorite performers) delivers big reveals about The Black Lotus, Azra, and her own involvement in such matters with the passion and gusto of a classically trained actor. As a result, her monologues sweep the audience away as if Higgins wrote each line herself by hand.
But the real centerpiece of “Cobra Fang, Panther Claw” is The Widow vs. Baron Chau fight at Iron Fan, a psychedelic circus of not-so-sexy sadism. The set itself is incredible — perhaps even Badlands’ most illustrious death trap yet — and quite noticeably massive. This crazed carnival is the perfect setting for The Widow to exorcize the demons that Chau has inflicted upon Minerva her entire life, not to mention a terrifying backdrop for the torture that Chau puts Tild and her brother Gaius through.
When all is said and done and The Widow beheads Baron Chau, she walks away from the scene like the total badass that she is in an empowering moment. The Widow, Flea, or whatever her name she wants to go by now has become a full-fledged protagonist on Into the Badlands. The show has made this very loud and very clear. So… now what?
I guess I should mention that Bajie gets stabbed in the gut and dies in the end, huh? Well, he does. And I’m not sure if it will last or not. Remember, this show has faked us out on more than one occasion.