This Into the Badlands review contains spoilers.
Into the Badlands Season 3 Episode 9
There’s nothing on TV like Into the Badlands. And I don’t think there will be again for quite some time.
“Chamber of the Scorpion” serves as a premiere for the second half of Badlands’ third season — which, in case you didn’t know already, also happens to be its last. Because of this, a sense of finality hangs over the proceedings here, threatening to steal away all the characters we’ve grown to trust (and despise) in equal measures over the past few years. Which is sad, really, because judging from this episode, the show is still gaining confidence and establishing its identity.
A breathlessly choreographed action sequence between The Widow and The Master kicks “Chamber” off. It embodies pretty much everything I’m going to miss about this series. For the rest of its running time, we’re at the mercy of long, sweeping monologues provided by all major characters, usually while they look in the opposite direction of the person that they’re speaking to, in classic TV style. It works, but only if listen closely to every single line that’s being said and not check your email at the same time.
Yes, “Chamber of the Scorpion” is overloaded with exposition. But in its defense, this episode was designed to be the connective tissue that gives us clarity on a few storylines that didn’t have enough time to gel together during the first half of the season. We learn more about “the gift”, the Meridian Chamber, Azra, Pilgrim’s schemes, Sunny’s relationship to Pilgrim, Cressida’s distrust of Sunny, and the detailed motivations of pretty much everyone ever.
But I’m not going to call it long-winded. Taking this apporach is quite an ambitious and emotionally mature move for Badlands to take, one that balances out the extreme violence we witness from episode to episode quite nicely. Everyone’s perspective is taken into account now, and you can emphathize with almost all of them. Even the big bads this season (Pilgrim and Cressida) don’t feel like villains. This is the level at which I like my TV shows written, so I’m pleased as punch that Into the Badlands feels comfortable aspiring to such great storytelling heights now.
However, it’s ironic that “Chamber of the Scorpion” serves as a better cliffhanger than “Leopard Catches Cloud” did last year, as it puts Sunny (Sanzo?) in more physical jeopardy. His bond with Pilgrim and the Thunderdome crew echoes that of his relationship with Baron Quinn, who always considered Sunny as a means to an end for his own delusional machinations. Now, after fighting so hard for his freedom in a harsh and unforgiving post-apocalyptic wasteland, Sunny is finding himself once again forced to be an instrument of someone else’s insane will. Is their any relief in sight for him?
If Into The Badlands had been a wildly successful franchise (and I sincerely hope it still becomes that one day soon), I could see a collection of essays about how the show’s storylines relate to philosophy being published. In this perfect world I’m imaginging, “Chamber of the Scorpion” would certainly be cited more than a few times as an example of how Sunny is asked to surrender his individualism to serve someone else’s visions of perceived greater good. Sunny, being the lone wolf that he is, refuses to do so, and is either exiled or sentenced to death (or both) as a result. It’s interesting to see how his connection with Pligrim (as Sanzo) is supposedly more familial than his relationship with Quinn. But it makes sense, since those who are closest to Sunny are often the most dangerous for him.
As mid-season premieres go, “Chamber of the Scorpion” is a somber one. It’s an episode overshadowed by self-reflection and a peculiar sense of dread. But maybe that dread comes from the knowledge that Into the Badlands’ time on the air is about to end when we really don’t want it to.