Is AMC the right network for Into the Badlands to air on? That’s what I was pondering while watching “Two Tigers Subdue Dragons.” Yes, it has become a menagerie of edgy television programming in the past decade or so, and most of them have become classics. Zombies, meth dealers, and dysfunctional businessmen from the ‘60s all have a home there, so why wouldn’t sword-wielding kung-fu southern debutantes? AMC is a badlands itself, after all: a dark alley on basic cable where you can get away with knifing someone and saying the s-word once or twice.
I think the answer is yes and no. Yes, because this is the right channel to host the kind of elaborate, gorey stunt sequences that this show dishes out so well. No, because everything else about the show seems like something you’d find on The CW. The lighting, the makeup, the wardrobe, the performances, the soap opera intrigue, the comic book-ish aftertaste – all of it would fit on the millennial network that’s daring to defy this season. Even the scenes with Lydia, Ryder, Jade glowering at one another make me feel like I’m sitting through a flashback sequence on The Vampire Diaries. (Don’t ask me how I know that, please.)
Regardless of whether this show is a good fit for AMC or not, this particular episode manages to be a rushed follow-up to “White Stork Spreads Wings,” one of the more solid chapters of the show’s brief first season. Since there’s not a lot of time left, the show scrambles around, tossing out major plot developments left and right like they’re on clearance, all while still slowly introducing us to the monolithic universe our story takes place in. This erratic pacing is disorienting to say the least, since our expectations must constantly adjust to fit the mood of the show (which is predominantly sleepy, if we’re honest with ourselves.) Silly Into the Badlands. Your main storyline can’t be a slow burn and quick blaze at the same time, otherwise your audience is apt to get lost in the inertia that lies in between.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Towards the end of the episode, Quinn and Sunny arrive back home at The Fort after the best scene in the entire episode (which we’ll talk about in a bit.) When we get there, we find out that while they were away, The Widow and her girls dropped by and killed all of their Clippers (amongst other people) offscreen. Huh?! A major turning point in the show’s story arc happens, one that has immense consequences on the whole season, and we don’t even get to see one bit of it? Uh, right. Such a quick reveal might have sounded more shocking on paper, but it plays out onscreen like a cheap way to compress whatever time the show has left to tell its first season’s main story arc. Surely we could have traded most of the Real Concubines of South Carolina stuff for a few minutes focusing on The Fort massacre. Smells like a further symptom of odd pacing to me. But what do I know? I’ve never produced a genre-bending sword-fu nighttime soap opera before.
One thing is starting to becoming very obvious, though: everybody and their mom’s weasel want a piece of M.K. He is the special chosen boy with weird mutant abilities and Dark Willow eyes, after all. And he’s the key to escaping the Badlands and finding the lost city of Azra (which I’ve picturing as The City from Dick Tracy in the back of my head this whole time). By the end of this episode, we find out that two people are scheming to get him. One of them is The Widow, obviously, who is also secretly working with Zypher, the blonde regent of Baron Jacobee who had the semi-platonic late night rendezvous with Sunny last week. They both capture Ryder and enlist him to kidnap M.K. and deliver the poor boy to their evil southern clutches because they want his sweet, sweet super powers.If he does, he’ll get to be a Baron. Stick that in your corn pipe and smoke it, daddy Quinn.
Meanwhile, Sunny also meets someone named the River King who wants a little bit of M.K. on the side – his head, in fact. Severed and on a platter. Hold the garnish. The River King tells Sunny that the boy was responsible for slaughtering a ship full of people when he raged out. He’s been trying to find him ever since. He tells Sunny that if he succeeds, he’ll help escort him and Veil (and their unborn child) out of the Badlands. What’s a Sunny to do?
For starters, it would be helpful if he grew an honest-to-god personality. Sunny is the main character of this show, despite what Baron Quinn’s beard thinks, and six episodes in, we still don’t feel connected to him. Now that he’s forced into this moral dilemma (turn in M.K. so he can escape and start his family or remain loyal and protect the boy), we can honestly say we don’t really know what decision he’ll make. Not because Sunny is an intriguing anti-hero who keeps us on our toes or anything, but more because he is still a stranger to us. He’s not a steadfast action hero just yet – he’s just the brochure for one.
Guess who else wants in on some of that M.K. action? Our lady of eyebrows herself, Tilda. Tilda’s attraction to the mysterious black eyed boy that should never get a papercut lest he end the world continues, and it’s distracting her so much from her ninja chic lifestyle that it’s become a full-on character defining motivation at this point. She has another epic run-in with the boy and accidentally grazes him with one of her shurikens. (Couldn’t she have just sent a kiss emoji?)
I’ve said it in every episode review of Into the Badlands so far and I’ll probably be saying it again: this show’s action choreography is incredible. The spectacular graveyard showdown near the end was the most memorable part of the episode, visually speaking. We got to see Quinn go up against another Baron and his clippers (I think) in a bloody sword fight. I love that the main cast were trained in these fighting styles in pre-production so they get to kick tons of ass in scenes like this. I just wish they had spent a couple weeks with an acting coach too.