Dear Into the Badlands,
It’s not me; it’s you.
Eight episodes into your sophomore season, we’re not much better off than when we started. In fact, after a first year spent on our hero, Sunny’s quest to leave the Badlands, he’s apparently spending this entire second round trying to get back. Of course, he has no choice — has to rescue Veil and his son — but stop me if I’ve heard this one before, and let me guess: Season 3 will find Sunny working to escape? It’s all feeling little more than hampster-wheeling, if you catch my drift. And hey, after everyone tried to kill off (seemingly succeeding) Quinn in Season 1, and just like The Walking Dead‘s Glenn Rhee this little game can only last so long; clearly he’s being set up for his much-teased, exasperating, final death. But if your whole schtick revolves around killing off the man who’s arguably the best character, a scenery chewer whose presence electrifies his every scene, what happens when he’s gone? I worried about this after the first finale, and as we head into Badlands‘ final two hours, that feeling is still sitting in my gut.
Daniel Wu, Marton Csokas, Orla Brady, Emily Beecham, Nick Frost; these are all excellent actors, supported by strong fighters and players, but beyond the visuals and well-said, interspersed lines, the slow-crawling story to nowhere is not great reward. “Sting of the Scorpion’s Tale” was another round of Baron/ess X — insert Alan Wai’s Hassan here — falling victim to — insert Baron/ess X here — the Widow and associated butterflies, her part of the alliance deal with Quinn. The gorgeous sheets and shadows sequence is a quick reminder of the comforts that keep an old lover viewer around, while still leaving them ultimately unsatisfied.
After Bajie pulls another “Hey, look how useful I am” trick to impress Sunny, gaining passage for three through the Badlands’ wall, the three amigos (not really) are once again captured (this time by Baron Chau), once again, easily cheat death, and once again end up jailed. Sunny makes a deal with Chau to go after the Widow in exchange for his “freedom” and round and round we go. To no one’s surprise, MK is even less interesting without his dark powers, and useful in trade only because the Widow doesn’t yet know. While all the players renege on their respective agreements, Quinn informs Veil she’s about to enter into one with him.
The majority of the hour is spent repeating basic scenes we’ve already witnessed several times: betrayal, seethe, threaten, fight, repeat, and it is in this formulaic presentation we fight drifting into a coma between fight scenes. Nobody trusts anyone else and with good reason, but no particularly interesting results. We see Quinn set up to die by Veil’s hand; that he won’t is more than obvious throughout. We know Sunny will get back to Veil, but barring someone (I suppose Quinn could do it in anger) killing both her and Henry (which could actually spawn Sunny turning dark again), this will end up a wholly repetitious waste (though Nick Frost has had his moments).
After the fake trade of MK lures the Widow just as expected, there’s the last quarter fight just as expected, and she offers to align against Quinn with Sunny just … well, you get it. Veil is married to Quinn, but that doesn’t really matter (one or both will die), and she’s heartened to hear Sunny is alive and back in town. While the penultimate episode will likely feature an exceptional fight or two, and small curiosities remain — who does and doesn’t have the dark power, will Bajie and the Widow recognize each other, who will be the one to kill Quinn? — the idea of heading into a third season is not the thrill we’d hoped it would be.