This Into The Badlands review contains spoilers.
Into the Badlands Season 3 Episode 16
I don’t like series finales.
They tell you when the ride ends, when the party’s over, when you’re being kicked out of an entire universe.
They take away all the possibilities that the show fostered within you, sealing them up in a jar that will sit on a shelf deep down in the basement of your mind. Oftentimes, these ceremonious episodes try to do too much and leave the audience with little left to go on in the name of closure.
But if we’re not provided with this closure that we feel entitled to — if the finale is too open-ended and plot threads are left dangling on purpose — it’s an incomplete experience. And that’s worse. Because then, not only are the characters we’ve grown to love — characters who have become reflections of different parts of our psyche — damned to wander across a limbo for the rest of eternity, we are too.
“Seven Strike as One” is not an incomplete experience, per se. It provides us with just enough narrative closure to make our journey into the badlands worth each and every step we took. It brings its character arcs to a conclusion that feels organic.
And yet, there’s this haunting sense of abruptness that hangs over “Seven Strike as One”, a sense of unfinished business that exists just so the show can live on in your imagination. The Azra arc ends with Pilgrim’s death. Sunny’s story, too, is over…or so we thought. He dies by the sword just as he lived. But as we learn in the episode’s brief and enigmatic coda, he just might have another shot at this mortal coil after all.
The Master meets Sunny’s spirit in the realm between life and death. There, she tells him that his gift had been activated in the final moments of his death, therefore he has another chance to meet his son Henry. But she warns him that the badlands won’t be the same when he returns, and that an evil force more dangerous than any human has been dug up. After this, she asks him to follow her because “his journey has just begun”.
Directly after this, we cut to a scene where Eli (Thom Ashley) wanders across what remains of the Meridian Chamber, lost in the aftermath of the great battle. He falls to his knees and digs into the mud with his already soiled hands, as if he knows what is buried there, the beacon of insidiousness that the Master spoke of: a gun.
Which makes sense, doesn’t it? Well…yes and no.
It didn’t when I first watched this episode. It was a confusing note to end on for me. Not because of the weapon itself (anyone who’s seen Temple of Doom knows that guns can beat swords rather easily) but because of the character who the writers chose to find it.
Eli is a character whose name isn’t on the tip of anyone’s tongue right now, as he was introduced less than a handful of episodes ago. I forgot to mention him in my other reviews because, well, he’s not that memorable. (Also, I was trying to keep track of the insane amount of exposition that was being hurdled at me with every line of dialogue.)
But he does have that psychotic white male look which makes it more believable that he would be the one to start shooting up people in the Badlands, I guess. Besides, it wouldn’t make sense for Cressida (the show’s surviving villainess) to go back and pick it up. She got away scot free in a motorboat during the finale’s most unintentionally hilarious scene (don’t ask), taking the freeway exit to her own private redemption road and leaving a frustrated Nathaniel Moon begging for revenge.
Ending Into the Badlands on a message against gun violence is a curious note to go out on, but it doesn’t come across as preachy in the slightest. However, it makes me wonder how a single gun can be a danger to all of the badlands. Will Eli be the only person to wield its terrible might? Will he learn how to make more bullets? Will he be able to engineer and build other firearms for a new team of baddies that he’ll lead?
I don’t know. I don’t think I’m supposed to, either. Judging from this old interview with them, I think the creators may have always had that endpoint in mind.
Peculiar ending aside, “Seven Strike as One” is mostly action and not a lot of talk, which more than makes up for the exposition heaviness of the past few episodes. (Not saying that that was a bad thing; the info dumps were well-written and logical enough.)
In a season full of standout action sequences, this episode bombards you with breathtaking punches, kicks, stabs, decapitations, wire-fu madness, explosions…practically everything you’d expect from the finale of a show as elegantly coreagraphed as this.
And even though we suffer a few losses here — Sunny’s aforementioned death being the most impactful to the story (and Tilda fallin into a coma of sorts) — it still feels like a victory for the characters and the viewers watching at home. It’s a pyrrhic one, yes, but it doesn’t feel like a defeat. Maybe that’s because we know Sunny has a second chance at life after the mysterious side quests in limbo that the Master sends him on.
But you know who won’t? M.K.
Looking back on the series, it’s heartbreaking to see his what his character has become. It’s damn good writing and clever storytelling to bring out the worst in M.K. during the show’s final season, but it also hurts to see him stab Tilda through the chest right in front of The Widow. (Right before she went all dark-eyed herself to exact bloody vengeance on him, which was a truly awesome moment to behold.)
M.K. has been a lost soul ever since we first met him, someone that needed guidance, support, and a stable father figure in his life. But he also needed someone to teach him about the darkness inside of him, which Sunny could not do. His adoption by Pilgrim made sense to us emotionally, even if it didn’t morally.
Here’s what I want to believe: I want to believe that the Master has chosen Sunny to save M.K.’s soul from the netherrealm. That’s the task he must complete before being reunited with Henry back on Earth. It would be a beautiful storyline to flesh out in a theoretical fourth season of Into the Badlands, one that would sit pretty on the moral foundation that its final season so gracefully built.
Because my biggest takeaway from “Seven Strikes as One” is not the anti-gun message that came out of left-field, which would be felt more strongly had it been carefully foreshadowed throughout the season (or the series) instead of being revealed at the very last minute.
The lesson I learned from Into the Badlands was that true strength — true power — lies in compassion. And without it, the world is a very bad place indeed.