Into the Badlands: Snake Creeps Down Review
The latest episode of Into the Badlands is full of quiet moments between characters. Here's our review...
Today on Into the Badlands, Lance Henriksen guest stars. Yes, the Lance Henriksen, seen in all sorts of sci-fi/horror milestones from Alien to Near Dark to TV’s Millennium. His face can tell a million stories, and all of them would be pretty grim. That trademark gravelly voice, too, is music to my genre loving ears. He’s the god of unnerving B-movies, and he’s come to legitimize a show that’s still figuring out what it wants to be and do.
Although I’m not exactly sure what his character’s name is (because I don’t recall hearing it mentioned in the preview screener I watched), I vaguely know what his role in the universe of The Badlands is. I think. He’s what they call an Abbot, which I’m guessing is a spiritual figure of some sort that play around with totems. Again, this is just me speculating on the material I have to go on while writing this, so bare with me here.
He’s introduced in a scene where Ryder (Quinn’s son) visits his cabin to ask about Azra and the mysterious golden pendant that represents the fabled city that may or may not exist. According to Mr. Henriksen’s character, Azra isn’t real; he says it’s just a myth to give the Cogs (i.e. poppy field slaves) something hopeful to dream about while they toil their lives away for the Barons. When Ryder asks him how that can be if the pendant is real, he infers that it could be fabricated to keep the lie going. And you know what? He may be onto something there.
“No way,” I hear you saying. “What about the part at the beginning where Sunny put the weird compass into the Book of Azra that was stolen from The Widow? That has to be proof that the city’s real, so shut up.” First of all, don’t tell me to shut up. It’s not polite. Second of all, that doesn’t mean squat. Into the Badlands is based on The Journey to the West (and quite loosely, I might add), which was about the quest for enlightenment, remember? Well, more or less. The classic Chinese epic novel ends with the ragtag group of misfit heroes finally making it to their legendary destination of Vulture Peak where they receive the scriptures from the living Buddha and then go back home to be holy people themselves.
When you take a look at some of the illustrations in the strange Azra book, you’ll notice that it’s mostly made up of the kind of illustrations you’d see in ancient tomes about alchemy and the qabalah. My theory is that Azra isn’t so much a city as it is a spiritual state of being, a place that you have to reach within yourself. So why does the compass spin around and point towards the west when Sunny places it inside the book then? Good question. See how that hole he places it in is shaped kinda like a monk sitting down and meditating? Pretty sure that’s symbolic.
Premature speculation aside, let’s talk about the rest of “Snake Creeps Down”, the penultimate episode of a very abbreviated first season of a show that should have had a ten episode order instead, so it could have more time to world build and lay thematic groundwork onscreen instead of through the webcomic prequels you’ll find on AMC’s official site. Not that they’re using their time very wisely anyway; if you’ve followed my episodic reviews thus far, you’ll know that the show’s focus is much more on the quiet relationship intrigues that happen on different Baron’s territories, punctuated with a couple action sequences that tend to be rationed out towards the end of each installment.
“Snake” is no different, and might be one of the talkiest hours of Into the Badlands yet. But unlike previous episodes, I didn’t find myself getting bored this time around. That might be because we’re finally moving past the awkward “first season syndrome” – where the plot is slowly gestating and the characters are still searching for definition – and into a more solidified version that knows what its strengths are and what it can do to improve its weaknesses.
And what’s the biggest weakness of the show so far? The dialogue. It’s not remarkable whatsoever. It doesn’t sparkle or sing. It just carries out the expository duties with about as much joy as the actor’s cold and stony expressions can afford. In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of a single line of dialogue from the entire season that’s been memorable. Maybe you’ll have more luck, but I think we can all agree that nobody will be enthusiastically quoting the show online or in physical reality anytime soon.
Even if the words Into the Badlands uses are generic muzak to the ears, things are still heating up as we stumble hurriedly towards the finale. A few major events happened this week, all involving M.K., Tilda, and her eyebrows. When Sunny and M.K. went out looking for The Widow (as per Quinn’s orders), Tilda decided to spy on them while camping in the middle of the night. This lead to yet another secret rendezvous between M.K. and Tilda, in which she tells him what The Widow told her: that his life force will run out if he keeps cutting himself to use his powers. Sunny intercepts this meeting and drags Tilda back to The Fort, but not before she pulls a Mike Tyson and bites off a Colt’s ear when he calls her a bitch. (Question: does this count as an action sequence?)
After locking her in your atypical dimly lit dungeon, Sunny is ordered by Quinn to torture her until she tells them where to find The Widow. But before he goes and does that, Quinn also orders him not to sleep with Veil anymore, because he doesn’t want everything to be so interconnected, as she’s still treating him for his weird headaches. Especially since he’s trying to make her believe that Sunny killed her parents.
Even though Baron Quinn is kind of a jerk (#understatement), I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that he’s not killed off anytime soon. He completely deserves it if he does, and it would certainly make life easier for everyone in the confusing and non-descript wilderness of post-apocalyptic Louisiana. Nevertheless, in a world populated with characters that can be classified as either lifeless or unlikable, Quinn has the most personality, and he’s the perfect antagonist for a show that seems hell bent on being one big grey area. Marton Csokas has a captivating screen presence as well, and you know whenever he’s in the scene, something interesting (and mildly infuriating) is going to happen. So, please, Badlands showrunners, if season two is indeed happening, don’t kill him off just yet; your despicable villain might also be your saving grace.
When Sunny goes back down to torture Tilda, The Widow shows up and they get into a duel that really outdoes their last fight because they get to improv with weapons that are lying around Quinn’s dungeon. Sunny defends himself with a torch (not a flashlight, mind you) and The Widow swings around a couple flails like there’s no tomorrow. Too bad this fight breaks out only in the last five minutes. But I get it, Into the Badlands. You have to stick with your prescribed philosophy of talk first and stab later. I accept you for who you are.
While the episode’s stunt quota is being met by the series’ two premiere fighters, M.K. saves Tilda from being kicked to death by cutting himself and killing that random Colt jerk with a magic blast that flings him onto a bunch of spikes. (Flawess victory.) The Widow witnesses this, so now she finally knows that Tilda was lying and that he actually is the boy she’s been searching for. Wait, it doesn’t stop there: after she runs away with Tilda, we also find out that Quinn was watching everything too, so now he knows the big secret as well. Well, that was convenient!
Now M.K. is out of the closet as a mutant…or, uh, whatever he is, and just in time for the finale next week. I can’t help but wonder season one will end off with Sunny and M.K. fleeing Quinn and his forces and heading towards Azra, which is where I think we should have been by episode three or four, to be quite honest. But no. There had to be a buildup, right? We had to bear witness to Quinn’s concubine mama drama between Jade and Lydia, who, by the way, are getting along rather well these days. They both agreed that they’ll handle this as a team and not let any hurt feelings get in the way of sharing the man and his beard. Ah, polygamy. How sweet it fits into feudalist society.
Although the meaning behind its name isn’t quite clear, “Snake Creeps Down” was a decent outing. It may be slow and full of quiet moments between characters, but I think that’s a symptom of the show staying in a holding pattern until episode six where Badlands’ game will be changed. At least, I hope it will. A second season that has a sense of urgency, with higher stakes, that’s more Mad Max than Game of Thrones…that would help the show find the kind of cult following it acts like it has now.