As Into the Badlands slips us back into the grip of its foreign landscape, there’s a clever meting out of favorites and fight scenes that keeps viewers engaged. Whether or not you’re invested in the Badlands’ particular brand of politics (or can remember which baron rules over what) doesn’t necessarily matter; it’s easy enough to navigate through another series where everybody wants to rule the world, as it were. Ear-perking moments are shared between individual pairs; Sunny and Bajie — one of the oddest couples since Jesse Pinkman and Walter White first met — M.K. and The Master; The Widow and Waldo; Quinn and Veil. The hardest part of ItB is waiting for television’s most exhilarating fight sequences, and in “Force of Eagle’s Claw”, they’re carefully measured throughout the hour. It’s a well-paced episode that left us anxious for more.
One gets the feeling that were Sunny any other hot-tempered Badlands’ soul, Bajie would have already been dead several times over. In fact, chained and cuffed together for the Engineer’s engineered entertainment, Sunny asks his unwelcome partner for “one good reason why I don’t kill you right now”. Quickly (and to Sunny’s consistent surprise) proving himself more than just a quippy sidekick, Bajie assists Sunny in gruesomely dispatching their fight club opponent, and escaping both the Engineer and their binds (rat bone lock pick!).
Daniel Wu’s expressive reactions to Nick Frost’s antics are perfect, and though our adjusting to this comic relief is as strange as their budding relationship, it’s wholly enjoyable. Bajie isn’t only there to provide laughs; he’s smart and knows things even an experienced Clipper doesn’t … like that the barons didn’t build the huge wall that blocks Sunny’s path back, and perhaps just the right people to aid their passage.
Waldo (Stephen Lang) continues to manipulate … everybody, it would seem. As he’s mentioned before, Waldo is on whichever side wins, advises Tilda on how to be a great killing machine (cold, not mindless; lock away emotions) and her mother to try diplomacy first. Having discovered that following the Widow’s attack, Ryder has called a conclave — a meeting between the Barons — Waldo dissuades violence as a first step. But if, as the Widow suggests, the barons decide the best thing for the Badlands is to cut off her head? “I suggest we draw swords and kill them all”.
In by far the most bizarrely interesting scene, Lydia’s peaceful return to her father, Penrith’s (Lance Henricksen) white-robed congregation is very short-lived. During a wedding celebration, the joy is dampened by raiding Nomads and even further, after Lydia refuses to fall to her knees and accept her fate like the rest of the group. When she fights back, saving her father and slicing and dicing a pair of raging scumbags, Penrith scolds her for spilling blood in his land. “Killing is a privilege left only to the gods”. (We scoff at his foolishness alongside Lydia.) Afterward, Lydia pays her son and would-be newly positioned baron a visit to ask for help protecting her father, and to offer her sage advice. Haughty boys will be haughty boys, and Ryder is so offended by his mother thinking he’d ever need or want her help, he quickly dismisses her.
Speaking of mums, it appears M.K. is harboring a deep secret about his (did he kill her, or cause her to be captured?). Prodded by the origami burning Master to face his past in order to set himself free from whomever is controlling him, an extra Ava shove sends him back in. After two trips and a pretty cool fight with his dark other self, The Master must again rescue M.K.; we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see her protégé master his own domain. Supposing this young man is the next generation of a powerful force (he does have a mean tree-kick and other excellent, tree-related moves), I want his story to be more compelling. Of the young characters, Tilda is much more interesting; M.K.’s story feels like one we’ve heard too many times before.
An earlier peek of Quinn training his loyal followers wherever his secret location is; he promises the group redemption and a celebration once they reclaim his world. Clearly (well, would seem …), Quinn thinks Sunny is dead and has an eye on claiming Veil and baby Henry for himself … leering at the woman who saved his life is not permitted. Bringing back the forgotten tradition of baptizing Badlands’ newborns with blood, the delightfully creepy and still badass baron keeps his promise to find Veil a place in the sun — only behind a locked door probably wasn’t what she’d hoped or imagined.
Of course Quinn’s trying to put it into Veil’s head that Sunny abandoned her — something she’ll never believe — but does he really think Sunny is any more dead than he, himself is? Magic 8 ball says: ‘No’. My inclination is that Veil and Henry will serve as bait, and Quinn thinks he’ll have a shot at revenge. Wonder if Sunny will kill him again at the end of this season, this time, for real.
As I mentioned above, I know we’re meant to be interested in the up and coming younger crowd: M.K., Tilda, Ryder, Ava, but I’m consistently drawn to the crusty crowd: Quinn, Waldo and Lydia, whose agility and intelligence captivate. Penrith, though? Dude, you’d be dead if Lydia didn’t save your ass. I do love the apparent comment on religious beliefs though; you can fall to your knees, pray and be slaughtered, or you can DO SOMETHING to change your situation.
That tree hug with his legs during M.K.’s fight with his dark other was damned impressive. Likewise, Sunny’s moves with the fan grate, first using it as a shield, and then manipulating the Engineer’s fighter to his gruesome end (*vomit*), which also featured an amazing leg move by Bajie. I don’t know if Nick Frost is doing any of his own stunts, but that was damned cool. And that rat-catch!