Westworld/Into the Badlands Season Reviews

I did give some light mid-season reviews for both of these shows, and I said I’d have something to say about each one of these seasons.

Hmmm…lets go with some statements about Into the Badlands, first.

Into the Badlands

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This season ended on another cliffhanger, which was not as intriguing for me as the last one. Sunny has spent the entire season trying to get help for Henry, who is sick because of his genetic heritage of Black Chi, from Sunny. It turns out that Sunny is a catalyst, who can induce it, in those with latent abilities. We find out what that really means when he finally makes his way to the Sanctuary run by Pilgrim.

Pilgrim insists on referring to  Sunny as his brother, (and I’m not sure if this is literal, or metaphorical), and says his real name is Sanzo, (and one of the earlier characters, in the season, mentioned he has a sister). So we are just beginning to find out tiny details of Sunny’s backstory. Sunny encounters an angry MK, who only wants to fight. Sunny tries to talk him down, and stave off the fight as long as possible. He’s not trying to hurt MK, and has far more pressing concerns.

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Pilgrim has started to show he’s not as much of a good guy as he wants the denizens of the Badlands to believe he is, as he kills Castor, tries to cover it up, lies to Nyx, and  attacks Cressida, when she confronts him. He’s not as stable as he seems. He and his followers unearth a massive machine, and when he and Sunny touch it, he is imbued with Henry’s  Black Chi. How this is going to help him rebuild Azra is anyone’s guess. Now he’s more powerful than any of the others in the Badlands, except for one Wild Card. And it is not The Widow.

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I like to call her The Abbess, but The Master of the Abbey, that MK escaped from last season, and played by the African-Chinese actress, Chipo Chung, has a role to play in this new dynamic. When The Widow finds herself trapped, and near death, after walking into a trap in Baron Chau’s home, the Abbess, freezes, then reverses Chau’s wweapons, and rescues Minerva. With this one act, the writers have officially added magic to the worldbuilding of the Badlands, (although it was always heavily implied that this world was magical).

I am interested to see what role the Abbess is going to play in the next season. Somehow, I don’t think she and Pilgrim are going to be on the same side, and we might find out the reason it appeared as if she were siphoning the Black Chi from the students at the Abbey.

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Some of the relationships were foreshadowed, as Lydia and Nathaniel Moon have renewed their old romance. The most interesting, (yet completely unsurprising), relationship is between Gaius Chau and The Widow. The Widow has really sort of lost everything, by the end, as her people turned against her, held her prisoner, and she was lead into a trap by some false information. She has seemingly teamed up with The Abbess, and it’ll be interesting to see what these two heavyweights will get into next season, as the Abbess has promised to return Minerva’s Chi powers to her.

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The Westworld Finale:

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Opening Credits/Themes

One of the most noticeable changes to the opening credits, for season two of Westworld,  is the addition of a woman, (it appears to be Maeve), holding a baby. This is not, (according to the show’s creators), meant to convey the idea that the Hosts can get pregnant, (as these are not organic beings), but an illustration of the concept of family. The major theme this season is the relationship between parent and child. This is examined, in the plot, as the idea of fidelity. This is a word Dolores says to Bernard when she is testing him for his authenticity to Arnold. William says it to the James Delos hybrid when he tests him, and The MIB’s daughter, Emily, says this to him, in the end credits. Remember, the linchpin of a Host’s sentience  is often based on the loss of family, and note that William, James, Bernard, and Maeve all have the memories of having killed, or lost, their children.

(Side note: One of the more implausible fan theories I saw floating about, was the idea that the mother and child image, meant that Dolores was pregnant with Teddy’s baby. The idea of two “non-organic” constructs having a child, is what’s known as “fan wank”. But outside of that, is the incredibly annoying act of applying that particular image to Dolores, rather than the Black star of the series, whose narrative is actually searching for her  “child”. That image is a direct reference to Maeve, so why would you take an image of a Black woman, with a  child, and apply it, in a fan-wank no less, to her White co-star? *Sigh* White fans stay trying my fucking patience!)

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The most obvious reference, for that image, is Maeve’s storyline, to find and rescue her daughter, but Maeve’s companions, Hector, Armistice, Felix, and even Lee have also, through their adventures, formed a family, of sorts, and this is a theme peppered throughout  Maeve’s entire arc, extending into the story of Akecheta of the Ghost Nation, and Akane’s parallel story of her daughter. The revelation of Akecheta’s nature, and the world, is through his connection to family, and the loss of his wife. Akane’s story is a parallel to Maeve’s relationship to Clementine, the adopted daughter she has to kill in the finale.

Dolores, as much as Ford,  has control issues, and her character  arc is to learn to let the other Hosts be themselves, and learn to rely on other’s strengths. Teddy’s strength ,after finding out what he was, was his compassion. He would have been able to temper Dolores, and help her accomplish her goals that way, had she trusted it.  Just as Maeve has learned to rely on the individual strengths of her companions, Dolores has not learned to appreciate these qualities in hers, and learns the hard way, by losing Teddy, who rebels against her manipulation of him by destroying himself.

I think, for Dolores to be more successful in her next goal, she needs to make the idea of family a personal one, rather than an abstract concept, that is less important than her objective. Her story arc is the reverse of the others though. She spends the first half of the season trying to rescue Peter Abernathy from the Delos Corporation.

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The theme of parents, destroying, or rescuing their children  is also illustrated through James Delos, and William (The Man in Black). The aim of the Delos corporation was to put human brains into Host bodies, and they semi-succeeded. Just like the Hosts, the Human/Host hybrids also have a linchpin memory, which is the key to their sentience. For the James Delos hybrid, it was the death of his son Logan, who he rejected just before Logan overdosed on drugs. The Host version of Delos seemingly cannot get past that incident, and is eventually destroyed. James and William both rejected (and thereby, killed) their children, and neither of them seems to be able to get past the memory of that.

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For The Man in Black, some parts of the season were scenes of him doubling back and forth in his loop, and attempting to make different decisions than we saw him make the first season, and some parts are of a different timeline ,where he is actually making the bad decisions. Basically if you see him making different choices than he made before, its probably the hybrid/Host version. The linchpin memory for him is when he shot his daughter, Emily. (This is what the end credits scene is about.) The scene where he kills her is an actual flashback, according to the writers.

(Side Note: I don’t pay attention to the idea of the different timelines, because that’s not especially fascinating to me. I keep a loose idea of when things happen, in my forethoughts, but  I refuse to get hung up on it, because when things happen, is essentially meaningless. In my mind, all of the decisions of the Hosts, humans, and Hybrids, are of a piece, and its not as important for me to understand when something happened, so much as why it happened. I think the writers feel this way, as well, which is why they jumbled up the timelines, in the first place. I don’t think they want viewers to get hung up on when something occurs. For me, Westworld is about the characters, personalities, and relationships, and how they all serve the primary theme. It is not about the minutiae of when, and I don’t spend a lot of time parsing that.)

It’s almost as if, for the Hosts to move forward, to move out of the stagnancy of their loop, they need to confront their greatest sins, realize that, and then undo them. Many of the mind concepts on this show are based in various psychotherapies and PTSD. Although, unlike humans, the Hosts don’t just hold on to  painful memories, they actually live them, over and over. One thing the show took pains to mention is the idea of humans remaining in their loops as well. (I mentioned this in one of my posts last season, about the idea of Karmic Debt.) The humans are less free than the Hosts. I think this is illustrated in William’s story and his inability to move past Emily’s death, and James Delos’ inability to move beyond Logan’s death.

https://www.recoveryranch.com/mental-health/why-do-people-with-ptsd-relive-traumatic-experiences/

The one person, who is able to move beyond the loss of their child, is Maeve.

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For Maeve, her emotional linchpin was her inability to save her daughter from the MIB, and she, just like him, had to circle back to the place and time where she lost her. To save her daughter, she had to respond  differently and, (to reach a kind of emotional equilibrium), she takes on and defeats The MIB, which gives her some small amount of closure, (even if she doesn’t kill him).  For her to keep moving forward, she needed to confront one of her greatest sins, and the demon that came with it.

More importantly, Maeve doesn’t do this alone. She accomplished her goal because of the coalition of humans, of different races, and Hosts, with different strengths and skills, (like Hector and Akecheta). She forms this “family’ through a combination of mercy and compassion, unlike Dolores, who coerces her accomplices, through brute force, sacrificing them when they are no longer needed, and remaking them to suit her needs, like she did with Teddy. There is a reason that Dolores is nicknamed The Deathbringer by Ghost Nation.

For Delores, her linchpin  was the killing of Arnold, her biological father. We know this because it’s the one memory she kept revisiting, again and again, in season one. In fact, Dolores could be said to have reached full sentience, when she circled back to her beginning and Arnold’s killing. She spends the first half of the season attempting to rescue and protect her Host father, Peter Abernathy, from Charlotte’s machinations, but Arnold is her linchpin memory, and she is responsible for his death. She can’t save him, but she can save Peter Abernathy, and Bernard, the replica of her biological father. Unlike the others, Dolore’s sentience is through the loss of a parent.

 

The Finale

*Maeve escapes the Mesa and reunites with her group, and they, Bernard, Dolores, Akecheta, William, and Delos all converge on the Valley Beyond. Dolores and Bernard enter first and find the Forge, a more advanced version of the Cradle. Dolores reads some of the guest data as the Forge opens “the Door” for Akecheta and his followers to upload their minds into “the Sublime”, a digital world cut off from the physical world. Bernard kills Dolores to prevent her from destroying the Forge and flees with Elsie back to the Mesa.

Maeve and her group sacrifice themselves holding off Delos forces to ensure Akecheta and Maeve’s daughter escape to the Sublime. Charlotte murders Elsie to keep her quiet, which convinces Bernard to build a host version of Charlotte with Dolores’ control unit. Dolores kills and replaces Charlotte while Bernard scrambles his own memories. In the present, Dolores kills Strand and Bernard while transferring the host minds in the Sublime to a safer location. She then escapes back to the mainland where she rebuilds Bernard, knowing that he will oppose her plan to destroy humanity and hoping their resulting conflict will ensure the survival of the hosts.

In a flash-forward, William enters the Forge to find it abandoned save for Emily, who tests him for “fidelity”, revealing that his consciousness has been implanted in a host body.

 

Overall Plot: The Cradle/The Forge/ The Valley Beyond

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This season was very very busy. There were multiple threads, timelines, motivations, and a lot of dying! I am ill equipped to explain all of the plot to you because I mostly watch to see how the characters are navigating the plot,  their emotions, and relationships. This can leave me ignorant of some of the finer  details. So, how about some links from people who are either marginally smarter than me, or just paid closer attention to the plot.

https://www.gq.com/story/westworld-finale-explained

Still trying to wrap your head around all those crazy twists? We’re here to help.

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*And from the creators themselves, Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan:

https://mashable.com/2018/06/25/westworld-season-2-finale-explained-lisa-joy-jonathan-nolan/#VqdG.8m3.Oqg

Maeve:

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One of my biggest pet peeves, for the first season, was how many critics slept on Maeve’s story. I knew that her story would be important, in comparison to Dolores’ story, and that there would be a payoff, for it.

https://io9.gizmodo.com/sorry-maeve-had-a-more-satisfying-story-than-dolores-i-1827122416

Maeve, unlike Delores gets to have a certain amount of  closure to her story. Her original objective was simply to break out of the Matrix Westworld, and she almost succeeded, but gave that up in favor of finding her “once” daughter, who has undergone her own awakening,  and still remembers the mother she once had. She accomplished this goal, aided by a group of Hosts,  Lee,  a couple of Westworld technicians, and the leader of the Ghost Tribe. In the finale, she safely escorted her daughter into a pocket digital universe, called The Valley Beyond, where humans can’t go. Maeve may never see her daughter again, but at least she knows that she is safe.

It was interesting watching Maeve’s character arc all season, as she not only grew in power, but in her compassion, and her ability to love and sacrifice. She started off as a much more selfish character, and though there are criticisms that could be made of her character within the narrative of Black female stereotypes, overall, I’m satisfied with her story and how it ended this season.

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That said, my favorite episode is Akane No Mai, as it was a showcase episode for her character, emphasizing her deep humanity and compassion. And I just love the sight of Black women wielding samurai swords, for some reason.

Since the Delos Corp. have no idea that what happened was the robots reaching sentience, they intend to start the various Parks up again, after wiping and fixing the Hosts. They  believe it was all some sort sabotage by Ford, to destroy the Park, because he was forced to relinquish control of it. The issue of the Hosts sentience has not been resolved, and Dolores and a handful of other Hosts are now out in the actual world, as well.

When we last see Maeve, she and her crew have all been decommissioned, but we know she will be one of the ones to be revived, as Felix is one of the technicians who has been tasked with reprogramming the Hosts. Unlike Dolores, Maeve isn’t trying to do what she does all alone. She has a team, and they work as a team. Maeve is the Mastermind, with each member of the group working to their strengths, with Hector,  Armistice, and her Japanese twin, often working as “the muscle”, and Felix and the other humans, acting as the technical specialists. And then there’s Lee.

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Remember how I said I disliked Lee, who is the hack writer of most of the storylines of Westworld, and even Shogun World. Well, he proved himself to be redeemable, and much more complicated, than he was when we first met him. After Maeve’s shootout with The Man in Black, she gets taken back to the facility, where everyone tries to figure out how it was possible for her to control the other Hosts, after which they plan to decommission her. But it is Lee, who pleads with the technicians to save her life, and he seems to be so deeply affected by her imminent death, that he is in tears, and sits by her table, and talks to her, the entire time.

She so transcended the limited narrative that he wrote for her, that, like Hector, and Felix, he has fallen in love with her. (there’s a very neat parallel to her and Hector in Akane No Mai, when you realize Musashi might very well be in love with Akane.) This is very possibly one of my favorite moments in the season, because I love to be surprised by  changes in a character. Later, he actually sacrifices his life so she can rescue her daughter.

Once again,  the name Maeve means “to enchant”. And that is what she does, both literally, and figuratively.

 

Dolores:

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Dolores is on a different journey from Maeve. Her objective was to free the Hosts from the Park, and she mostly succeeded at this, having uploaded the minds of  many of the Hosts (at least the ones who went into the Valley) to an undisclosed location. She and Bernard leave the park and go out into the real world. Her new objective is, I think, to destroy the human world, or close all the parks, or something.

Dolores is learning how to work with others, which is to the good. Maybe she learned her lesson after Teddy decommissioned himself, but she seems willing to work with Bernard to accomplish her next goal, and she managed to rescue several of the mind pearls from the park.

I don’t have as much to say about Dolores, because her story wandered in some unexpected directions, and there’s a lot of mystery about her new goals. At any rate a lot has already been written about her, that’s much more in-depth than what I could provide:

https://www.express.co.uk/showbiz/tv-radio/979084/Westworld-season-2-finale-explained-Is-Dolores-alive-S02E10-Charlotte-Hale

Overall, though I’ve seen some reviews bashing this season, (there’s always several of those, by people who probably shouldn’t be watching the series, if they’re not into, or even getting, the point), but I enjoyed it. I don’t think it was as good as the first season, but the first season had the benefit of novelty, and we are now well used to all these characters now. I’m looking forward to season three. I’m eager to see what kind of mischief Dolores can get up to in the real world, if there are other Hosts already walking about, will Maeve be back, and in what capacity, and will the Delos Corporation figure out that their problem is much, much, bigger than Ford?

 

 

 

 

Into The Badlands Season Two: So Far

Oh wow, I’m really late with this one, although not too late since the season hasn’t ended yet. I really should have begun this earlier, because there is a lot of ground to cover, and as is usual with this show, if you miss an episode, you’re up shit creek as far as understanding what’s going on, or what happened before. The plot does not slow down here. As the season moves forward the plot becomes more dense, the betrayals and alliances fly fast and furious, and of course, the action is literally kickin’! We’re gonna have to do this the old fashioned way: via character list.

 

Sunny

Sunny

Since the first episode, Sunny (whose actual name is indeed Sunshine) has been at pains to save Henry, since Henry became sick. It turns out that Henry is a baby Dark One. In his quest to save Henry from dying from his Dark Chi, Sunny teams up with Bajie, takes over a refugee camp, gets kidnapped by cannibals, and finally confronted by Nathaniel Moon, and finally reunited with the River King.

As usual, many of Sunny’s current problems spring from all the past shit he did as a Clipper, but there’s also a new wrinkle. Sunny happens to be a Dark One, only his abilities are latent. Sunny is a catalyst instead, capable of awakening the abilities of others. Should this information become public, and others find out he can create Dark Ones (possibly even control them), Sunny will become even more valuable to all the major Powers of the Badlands.

 

Bajie

Bajie

Bajie is one of those people who knows everybody, and  everybody’s everybody. The Widow used to be a former pupil of his, and one of his former masters from the abbey is a witch who can cure Henry’s illness. He and Sunny find their way to this woman. She manages to cure Henry’s fever, but she is also the person who figures out that it was Sunny who caused the flareup because  its hereditary.

Bajie is disappointed to think the signal he sent out, in first season, got no response, but the witch says it did. It attracted Pilgrim. And guess what? Bajie seems to know him too. So, at some point he and Pilgrim will be reunited.

Nathaniel Moon

Nathaniel Moon

Nathaniel Moon tracks Sunny to the lair of the cannibals, where he gets taken prisoner, as well. In exchange for saving his life from the cannibals, Moon decides to spare Sunny’s life. Also, Moon is an honorable man, who does not wish to make Henry an orphan.

The writers have learned at least a few lessons from the past seasons. They have given Moon a backstory, and although he does questionable things (most of the people in the Badlands do questionable things), he manages to maintain his honor, and occasionally make some good choices, but I suspect sooner or later, just like Tilda and Waldo,  he will grow disillusioned with The Widow, and leave her.

He also has a sordid past with Lydia, who had an affair with him, when he was Quinn’s Clipper. I like this relationship and hope they get together because their chemistry is unmistakable.

The Widow

The Widow

The Widow’s war with Baron Chau continues, and its hard to say who is winning. They both use innocent lives to manipulate each other into action, so I can’t even say who is the better person. The Widow is still one of my favorite characters but I still got  problems with her methods.

After Pilgrim floods  her poppy fields with pamphlets, stealing away half her Cogs, she decides to get out in front of the problem, and goes to see him. Subsequently, she and Pilgrim reach an accord. He doesn’t steal away any more of her workers, and she will take his side against anyone who attacks him.and there won’t be any need for violence between them,

 

Lydia

Lydia

Lydia has been appointed to be the Widow’s governor,  taking over the poppy plantation, where she used to live. It turns out that she and Nathaniel Moon used to be lovers, and their reunion was …how do you say? “Fraught with tension!” Like I said, the twists, turns and connections on this show fly fast and furious, and you have got to pay close attention, or you’ll miss some new, and relevant, development.

 

M.K.

M.K.

When we last saw MK he was zonked on opium, and without his powers, but the opium caused some type pf revelation, and he now believes that it was Sunny who killed his mother. I’m inclined to believe this is a delusion on his part, except Sunny has met more than a few people he’s wronged in his time as a Clipper, so why not MK.

During MK’s mission to find and kill Sunny, he’s shot by Gaius Chau’s crew, and found by Pilgrim. Pilgrim knows what he is, and wants him to stay and work for him, as a kind of enforcer, since one of his enforcers is in the final stages of being a Dark One burnout, and he needs a replacement. I’m not sure where this is going, but I’m pretty sure this won’t end with MK killing Sunny.  They are set to be reunited, and I’m sure there’s gonna be some kung fu fightin’, but I think that will be the extent of it.

 

Tilda

Tilda

Tilda and her mother have reconciled, (sort of), and she is now a kind of liaison, between the war refugees and her mother, helping to run the  camp set up in a corner of the Widow’s district, by Lydia. Over the course of the season, this camp has been attacked by everyone in the Badlands, mostly in an attempt to steal the refugees and get them involved in the war. Tilda makes this  deal, with her mother, to protect them.

 

Baron Chau

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After her people are attacked by Pilgrim, Juliet Chau realizes she cannot fight a war on two fronts, and sends in her nuclear option, her brother, Gaius Chau, who she suborns into working for her, by threatening his friends. She and her brother have a history where he tried to be a nice guy, but his sister took over his position as head of the family because she was utterly ruthless. They were feuding, but she imprisoned her brother, after he tried to stage a coup. Needless to say, Juliet is a few rungs down the ladder of villainy than Minerva, as she seems to actually believe in, and support, the slavery of the Cogs.

She sends her brother out to find, and assassinate Pilgrim.

I’m not sure I like this version of the “dragon lady” stereotype, but I do like this character, who is every bit The Widow’s equal. Perhaps if the show had more Asian women in it, to offset her depiction, that might be better.

 

 

Gaius Chau

Gaius Chau

Fomented a rebellion against his sister when she became the head of hte clan. And guess who was at the bottom of this rebellion. A very young Minerva, of course! She seems to have ties to everyone in the Badlands.

We’ve already seen The Widow’s reunion with Bajie, last season, which did not go well, but after Gaius’ assassination attempt of Pilgrim is unsuccessful, he finds his way to the refugee camp led by Tilda, where he and Nathaniel team up to protect it from Baron Chau, after which he is reunited with The Widow, and now works for her.

Can I just say how happy I am to see Lewis Tan in this show.

 

Pilgrim/Cressida

PilgrimCressida

Pilgrim and his entourage, which include the two Dark Ones, Nix and Castor, (and now MK), have taken up residence in an abandoned castle/museum on an islet. Pilgrim certainly seems to be educated from somewhere as he knows a lot about the artifacts in the museum, and has been heard quoting The Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.

Pilgrim is turning into one of the top power players in the Badlands, mostly because he is able to offer hope and stability, from the war, to the Cogs  who flock to his banner. He’s certainly becoming someone who needs to be gotten rid of for becoming a hindrance, or parlayed with, instead. The Widow decides to make a deal (which she will renege on, at the first opportunity, of course). Baron Chau decides that getting rid of him is her best bet, and sends Gaius to do it.

Pilgrim and Cressida are engaged in some mysterious construction activities. Its kind of confusing because a lot of the people in the Badlands refer to Azra as  a place that is gone, a place that exists now, a place that will exist in the future, or sometimes, a person. At any rate, actual mystical abilities (magic) have been introduced to the mythology of the Badlands, as Cressida actually is a seer, and keeps seeing Sunny’s Clipper hash-marks in her visions, which is convenient becasue Sunny is on his way to Pilgrim’s place, in the last episode.

 

This season consists of sixteen episodes this time, so we’re about half through. Of course, by the end of the season, every individual situation will have changed, and I hope they all survive to the next season.

 

Into the Badlands Season Two: Series Review

Plot:


The plot this season was much more intricate, with multiple characters, arcs, intentions, and designs. There was a lot to fit into eight episodes, and that the show managed to keep so many plot lines coherent, while tying up several from last season, is a testament to the skills of the writers. As outlined in the character reviews, everyone got to have a plot. The overriding theme seemed to be everyone seeking power, in the vacuum left behind by Baron Quinn’s rumored death.

The overriding character arcs were the Widow’s corrupt rise to power, Sunny’s search for his wife, MK’s escape, and Baron Quinn’s last hurrah. The writers juggled these four plots with a number of subs, managing to keep most of them untangled, and comprehensible, while still throwing  in a number of unpredictable twists and turns, which I enjoyed. The betrayals were flying fast and furious at one point, and if you blinked you’d miss who was aligning with who.

My biggest complaint is the treatment of the black characters, Edgar, Silver Moon, Veil, an unnamed black teenager at the monastery, and an unnamed butterfly, who were all brutally killed. Of them, only Silver, and Veil, had backstories. The show can do better than that.  I don’t think the show wants to get embroiled in a discussion of anti-blackness, but it will, if it keeps killing off  all its black characters like that.

Plus, it gives us one of the worst types of  character trope, in the show’s finale, with the fridging of Sunny’s love interest, a black woman who sacrifices herself, to save her man. It seems no matter how progressive white male writers believe themselves to be, they simply cannot seem to avoid the trope of the Sacrificial Negro.

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That said, my favorite character this season was Silver Moon. I loved this character but I don’t know why. Probably because he reminds me of the character from the RZA’s Martial Arts movie, The Man with the Iron Fists. I also think it’s very interesting that Sunny, even after he had his own sword returned to him, kept using the one he took from Silver, giving his old sword to Lydia. This character had lines and a backstory. They tried really hard to flesh him out, and that’s to be applauded.

Complaints aside, I am glad that the show remembers there are Black people in the future, and in a fantasy setting, just walking around in the background scenes. The show does need to add more Asian characters though, and Baron Chau is a good start. I loved watching her kick some ass, and liked that she lives to see the next season. She’s played by actress Eleanor Matsuuras, who is from Hertfordshire by way of Tokyo, and has mostly starred in British productions.

 

Worldbuilding:



We didn’t get to see much architecture and landscapes in the last season, and what there was, seemed more of an afterthought, but with the show’s bigger budget this season, we got some very ambitious, sometimes epic, background scenery. From the shot of the huge walls that cut off the badlands from the rest of the world, to the  intricate and lush gardens surrounding the Widow’s home, we got treated to some tremendous worldbuilding. And the details of this world are simply incredible, as seen in the Widow’s study, and the map of the Badlands above, that’s only glimpsed in a brief moment in a single episode, which outlines where this takes place in the US, and marks the different baronies.

I remember that first season, I had some major questions about food and textile production, and we get a partial answer, in learning that not everyone grows poppies. There are oil fields, and if that is the case, then there are also textile mills somewhere as well. These things aren’t knowledge that would be lost, since creating fabrics is one of the most basic human skills. Certainly the working and tooling of leather hasn’t been lost, or car repair either, it seems. We got such a small glimpse of the world in the first season, that we were left with a ton of questions, but the show has really built on that in a way that makes sense for the Badlands. This world is set to become even bigger in the third season after Bajie’s Morse code message is received.

We’re also given some startling glimpses into what type of world we’ve joined. Apparently this world is set about a hundred or so years from now, (how far into the future is unclear, so I could be wrong), but it’s long after some sort of soft apocalypse, that left lots of infrastructure, and fewer people. In one of the episodes, MK and Ava visit a long abandoned mall/dept store, that still has Christmas lights and decorations. It can’t be too far into the future because the lights still work. There’s electricity in some places. There’s little literacy, but some knowledge of medicines and machines ( like X-rays) is still available in the Badlands. And then there’s this unseen city (Astra) that everyone keeps talking about.

And it’s not just the landscapes, but all the tiny details inside the homes of various characters, like Baron Chau’s all white interiors, and grand wall paintings, the dark, old-world, furnishings of the Widows home, the dark majesty of Quinn’s home in exile, in an abandoned metro station. We may have started the show traveling through the classic Mad Max dystopia of the mines, but not all of the Badlands looks that way, and it was very exciting to get these glimpses into a broken past.

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Costumes:

The series had some stunning costume work this season, with rich colors, and beautiful, very sexy, outlines. This is very probably one of the sexiest martial arts shows I’ve ever watched, as usually the costumes for this type of genre can be somewhat pragmatic.You can see there’s real intent  to create a feeling of lost majesty/ bygone luster.

And every  character (even the most minor of them) gets the luxury treatment. From Silver Moon’s  old and tattered Clipper outfit, to Tilda’s pragmatic, newly minted Regent uniform,  from Baron Chau’s sumptuous furs and glittery dresses, to Quinn’s scuffed and grubby finery. These details really bring home the kind of lifestyles of the Baron’s, as the Cogs are dressed in the simplest colors and practical, easily cared for, fabrics.

Everything, and everyone, is given gorgeous detail, from hair, to  shoes, to makeup, furniture, and housing. From Baron Chau’s pearl jewelry and on-point makeup, to the Widow’s more action oriented look, with everyone receiving more elaborate hairstyles, including MK. Even Waldo gets some scrumptious blue velvet to wear.

Each Barony has its own color scheme. Quinn’s was dried blood red, but now that it’s been taken over by Jade and Ryder, it’s a fresher, magenta red color. Baron Chau’s color scheme is white. Another Baron’s color is green. The Widow’s colors are a deep royal blue. The monks and MK are wearing various shades of purples, and oranges. After he escapes the monastery, MK is seeing wearing a gorgeous green surplus, that I wanted for myself, along with some more gentle earthtones.

 

Even the lowest, most minor characters, got the full costume treatment. Look at the detail on this Junkyard King, in his darkened purple, and mother of pearl buttons. Contrast that with the  fresher and more vibrant purple of MKs monk’s robes. I love the matching color schemes in these two photos.

The duplicitous and conniving Jade. Her hair and makeup also reflect her character. Contrast that with her more innocent look in the first season.

Veil is often associated with soft natural colors, and earth tones, in keeping with her honest, down to earth, nature.

The details this season are incredible. Check out Waldo’s pince nez glasses, the little crossed cufflinks, and the chair handle ornaments! I also liked MK’s more elaborate hairstyle, with its tiny twists. Most of these things you’re never going to notice during the series, except for a quick second, but the set designers and prop masters went the full one hundred, anyway. This is the first time I really noticed Waldo’s knuckle tattoos, from his time as a Clipper.


I have since learned that the painting in Baron Chau’s home is called “Leonidas at Thermopylae”, and is a reference to Sunny making a commitment to a fight he knows he won’t survive. It’s by a Neo-Classical French painter of the 19th century, named Jacques Louis-David. Sunny’s and Chau’s postures imitate the formal poses in the painting. This was a hallmark of the Classical style in which grand Mythological and Historical themes were painted in a clean, formal manner.

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Contrast Chau’s white minimalist environment, and  the marble columns, with Minerva’s home which is  very Old- World traditional, with lots of greenery, velvet, and hard-wood.  Chau’s home, and costumes are also a reflection of her character, which is just as cool and calculating, as Minerva’s is cool,yet determined.
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I love the details here as one of the girls wears a matching blue ballerina skirt under her coat.Just a touch of whimsy for a little girl Clipper. I also like the natural hairstyles on the black girls. I’m glad this show remembered black women exist, even if they’re not treated especially well.
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Baron Quinn is like the Badlands version of Darth Vader. Everyone is afraid of this grim creature, come back from the dead, to destroy all their lives. Check out the tiny details like the little glimpses of red in his new outfit, a callback to when he used to be a Baron, and the tiny rivets on his  belts. The rough, nubby, texture of his coat is in keeping with his new rugged lifestyle, and gives the viewer some idea of his rough character, and disturbed mindset. Except for his voice, he’s just rough all over.

Contrast Quinn’s look with Jade’s smoothly streamlined look,  since moving into a more comfortable position of power with Ryder, below. There’s more than a touch of the Antebellum South in Ryder’s suit coat, which is a deliberate choice on the part of the costume dept.
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Ryder Welcomes His Guests - Into the Badlands Season 2 Episode 3

 

Cinematography: 

Everything this season was given an upgrade, including the lighting and  cinematography. No detail has been spared. There’s a rich three dimensional feel to the environment, which allows the viewer to see every detail of a character, or event, and totally immerse themselves in the show. It’s equal parts dream and nightmare.

There’s some gorgeous lighting happening here, in the final scene of the series, as Sunny walks off into this frosty looking sunset with Baby Henry.

The monastery is full of candle light, giving its inhabitants a deceptively soft appearance. The irony is that these are some of the most lethal beings in the Badlands.



Sunny is fighting the monks in an old, worn, Nativity scene, at an abandoned dept. store. No one knows the meaning of any of the decorations, but check out the penguin with the Christmas wreath around his neck! The old religion has been supplanted by an even older one, that involves dark Chi, and superpowers.

 

I think it’s  really cute that they chose a baby that looks Black and Asian.

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Whenever possible, the creators tried to use natural lighting on all the sets, so we get some wonderfully lit scenes, like Veil with Henry, above, and Sunny’s fight with Silver Moon, below. Veil is often given the Madonna treatment with her  lighting.


Action:

The show has also upped the ante on the fight choreography this season, with much more elaborate stuntwork, and ambitious fight scenes involving multiple highly trained characters. The show also added some explosives work, which is something most shows don’t have a good sized budget for, but the larger budget shows how much confidence the network has in the success of this series. Whereas last season I struggled to get the word out about this show, its popularity has really soared this season because of its move to Netflix, and basic word of mouth. There are also more than a few websites dedicated to the show, on Tumblr.



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Bottom line: 

All of this adds up to one of the most visually stunning action series on television, and I’m so happy to be alive during its airing. I cannot wait for whatever new visual treats we’ll get next season.

 

 

 

Into the Badlands Season Two: Character Review (Pt. 1)

I like how short the seasons are for this show because it means that the plot can move quickly with a minimum of filler episodes. Despite that, the show still manages to throw some surprises in our direction. One of those surprises was the re-introduction of Baron Quinn. Another pleasant surprise, was the addition to the cast, of Nick Frost as Bajie. We got some major worldbuilding going this season, as the story fleshed out the where and the when of this show. I’m going to do this in three parts because otherwise its going to get too long. I’ll start with the the top four characters, around which most of the plot revolves.

Sunny: 

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The vast majority of the plot this season concerns Sunny’s search and return to Veil who, by this time, has given birth to a boy she names Henry. Veil is currently being imprisoned by Sunny’s nemesis, and former employer, Baron Quinn. Everything  is leading to the showdown between these two pivotal characters.

This  is all about Sunny coming to grips with his demons,  and laying the spiritual foundation for him to be a father for Henry. He feels he can’t do that until he puts his past as a killer for hire behind him. From episode one (Tiger Pushes Mountain), and his theme song, I’m Only Human by Rag ‘N Bone Man, to episode seven (Black Heart White Mountain), we see Sunny dealing with all the killing he dealt out in his past, and what kind of man that makes him. Last season we were given the idea that Sunny was sort of superhuman. At the beginning of this season we see him very much humbled. We watched him fall, and now we get to watch him rise up.  In order for him to do that he needs to acknowledge certain things about himself.

He also needs to choose a side. One of the most frustrating things about Sunny’s character last season was his passivity. He simply refused to make hard decisions, and would allow things to happen  to the people around him. Not only  would he not do anything, but he often refused to pass judgment. Adopting MK was the first pro-active decision we saw him make. after that it became easier to choose things for himself and his own happiness.

But the primary catalyst for his self reflection this season, like it is for a lot of men, is the birth of his first child, and his encounter with a legendary Clipper named Silver Moon, in the episode Red Sun Silver Moon. Pay attention to the titles here, because many of them refer to Sunny, or the people he encounters, like Silver. Silver has been waiting for a worthy opponent so he can die in style, so you can guess what the Red Sun means in the title. Sunny bests him but in keeping with his new vow, doesn’t kill him.

Sunny, like Silver, had made a vow not to kill anymore, for unnecessary reasons. He’s going to fail at this, as circumstances will require he keep at it. After escaping the mines, with a new companion named Bajie, he sets out to find his wife and son.  Whereas last season he pretty much lived according to Quinn’s whim, we see him fully committing to something unabashedly selfish. His own future happiness. He has a number of adventures along the way that require him to engage in violence to defend himself, as no one in the Badlands can be trusted. His journey into the Badlands is also a journey into his past and his self.

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Sunny has always been a kind of true neutral. Last season, he often held himself aloof from moral decisions, like when he stood by and watched Quinn kill Veil’s parents. There was a kind of curious moral paralysis, which Veil called him on towards the end of the season. This new moral version of Sunny is best illustrated in  episode five, Monkey Leaps Through Mist. He makes the decision to save a young girl from being sold into prostitution. This is major moral act for Sunny, who has always tried to shy away from being a savior. I think part of Sunny realizes that “not killing” isn’t enough. He is going to have to engage with the world to make it a better place, and  can’t just stand by and do nothing, if he hopes to become the kind of man he wants to be, that his son can be proud of.

Sunny also has to learn to work with, and trust others. Last season Sunny was very much a loner. This season he meets Bajie and the two of them have to work together to get back into the Badlands, defeat the Monks who want MK returned, and find and save Sunny’s  wife and son. This is made incredibly difficult because Bajie has ulterior motives of his own, and appears utterly untrustworthy.

In Black Heart White Mountain, Sunny literally confronts the many dead he’s responsible for, after being put in a coma like state by one of the Monks. He dreams of what his life could be, but he realizes on some level that he cannot have that life until he deals with his violent past. Reunited with MK, in  Leopard Stalks In Snow, he is then prepared to acknowledge that he can’t do what he needs to do alone,  that MK is his family, and he has a responsibility to him.

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In Sting of the Scorpion’s Tale, Sunny makes and breaks alliances with Baron Chau (the only other prominent Asian woman we’ve seen), and The Widow. Taken prisoner by Chau who is in hiding from the Widow, he convinces her that they have one thing in common, they both want Quinn and The Widow dead. Upon contact with the Widow, she convinces Snuny to spare her life, because she knows where Veil is, so he allies with her. That alliance is broken when he discovers she betrayed Veil to form an alliance with Quinn.

Unable to trust the Widow, and having lost MK again, he prepares to go it alone, after entrusting Bajie to find and care for his protege. He’s come a long way since the first episode when he could barely bring himself to look at, or even speak, to Bajie.

Sunny finally makes it to Veil’s side and we get the reunion we’ve all been waiting for, with  lots of kissing, soaring music, twirling cameras, and some tears. But its not to last, and we should’ve known that happiness, normality, and a white picket fence on a farm was never going to be in Sunny’s future.

 

Veil:

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Veil has been one of the most frustrating characters but I was starting   to understand her and why Sunny fell in love with her. Its not just her pleasant nature. We saw in season one, that she was willing to challenge others when she was in a position to do so. She was never a floormat when she could help it. The key to understanding Veil is that she was a relatively powerless individual. She had no martial skills, she had no political power, and no kind of social clout, but what power she did have she wielded carefully.

How she operated in the Badlands was by showing a level of integrity, and honesty, that many of the other character’s entirely lacked. Jade, Lydia, Quinn, all the people that Sunny knows, are people willing to manipulate and deceive to gain their own ends in the Badlands. Veil was unwilling to do any of those things, was unwilling to compromise her principles to get ahead. Her moral compass remained strong.  Sunny gravitated to her because he could trust her. She was the one steady component in his life. She was honest with him in ways no one else was and so he trusted her like no one else.

Its not that Veil didn’t engage in immoral behavior. She did occasionally try to lie. But only  as a form of self defense, or to protect Henry, and usually  her attempts at deception weren’t successful.  She occasionally relied on her helplessness to win mercy from others which we saw in Palm of the Iron Fox, where she lies to, poisons, and eventually kills a Clipper named Edgar, when the poison doesn’t work. Later, she tries to claim she killed him because he  attempted to rape her, only to be told that was unlikely because Edgar was gay. So she does engage in immoral behavior sometimes, but it never proves profitable for her, and she is never rewarded for it.

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Her moral certitude is illustrated best in  Sting of the Scorpion’s Tale, when Quinn forces her to marry him so that he can claim her son as his own. All pretense she made of caring about Quinn in her efforts to protect Baby Henry earlier, fall to the side. She makes no secret of her fear and contempt of Quinn, and shows little patience for the foolishness he keeps spouting to her and Henry. Eventually he has to lock her away to control her.

I have to admit, I was getting very frustrated with her inability to simply go along to get along, in the hopes of getting Henry away. That she would just chill and pretend she liked Quinn like before, but I get now why she didn’t do that. That kind of manipulative behavior simply does not come naturally to her, and she has no talent for it really. Her deceptions are always uncovered. In episode three, Red Sun Silver Moon, we find that she’s been lying to Quinn about his x-rays, substituting healthy x-rays for his, and that deception gets discovered in the next episode. I understand she’s been doing that because if Quinn doesn’t think she’s curing him he might kill her and Henry.

By the end of the season, Veil has formed an alliance with Lydia, against Quinn, and I have to applaud the show for writing it this way. Lydia is well used to manipulating and deceiving Quinn, and Veil needs someone like her, and I like that the writers show these women as allies against  their oppressor, rather than as competition for his attention. There’s a reason for Lydia’s behavior which I’ll get to in a moment.

I also liked that Veil got to be a love interest at all. The show definitely had that Django Unchained/Ring of the Nibelung vibe, where Sunny has to walk through ten kinds of Hell, the Widow’s  Butterflies, and Quinn’s wingnut Clippers, to win back his beloved, and I’m all kinds of here for that when its a Black woman, because we rarely get treated like that in genre narratives. That’s something that’s been the sole province of White women, and I have it on good authority that they find that shit kinda chafing. Its very interesting that neither Jade, nor Lydia, got that kind of treatment in the story.

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Unfortunately this is all we’re ever  getting about Veil, since she dies in the season finale, protecting Henry. I feel some kind of way about this and not just because I’m so tired of women of color being ‘fridged and watching  the show runners  sit back and make up bullshit excuses for why that happened.

But to be fair though, I wasn’t watching the show for her. I didn’t even know who Madeline Mantock was before watching it,  but I faithfully reported on her activities, gave her the benefit of the doubt, and followed what little of an arc she had. My faith in the showrunners was entirely misguided though, believing they might want, at some point, to do something with this character besides kill her off, but Gough and Millar seem unable to see much purpose in having PoC in their narratives except as cannon fodder.

Of the three Black people in the show this season, who had any lines,  they’ve all been killed. Edgar had a handful of lines, attacked Veil, and was killed. There was a Black Butterfly in The Widow’s camp, and she was unnecessarily singled out, and unceremoniously killed, by one of Quinn’s Clippers. I know a lot of women had feelings about that scene. And then there’s Veil. She’s been locked away, betrayed, assaulted multiple times, nearly raped, and then she sacrificed herself to kill Quinn. I think I saw the writing on the wall as soon as she walked into that room with Sunny, who was about to fight Quinn.

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This will not stop me from watching the show next season. I wasn’t watching the show to see Veil, but I was happy about her presence. Unlike some people I never had the luxury of just picking and choosing  which shows I was going to boycott. I grew up in a time of genre scarcity, where EVERYTHING I watched had problems, and nothing and no one was enlightened. I’m not going to boycott a series for one or two problematic elements. (It would have to be a really bad problem like what happened with Sleepy Hollow, or whitewashing, like with Ghost in the Shell.) I’ll watch the series and just keep complaining as loud as possible about the one problem. My attitude towards this type of thing is to reward the good behavior, and beat Hollywood with a rolled up newspaper, when they act a fool.

 

The Widow:

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We spent the bulk of our time this season shuttling back and forth between the Widow, Sunny and Quinn, the three major players in the narrative. We watched as the Widow connived, lied, and killed to consolidate her power, falling  even further into the dark side.

I must admit I was dismayed to see what became of Minerva this season. Its not that I ever thought she was a good person, but I was championing her cause. I believed in it. But it turns out that she really isn’t any better than the Barons she hopes to succeed. It turns out that power corrupts because the Widow had the most disappointing character arc of the season and has mostly just gone darkside at this point.

With Waldo (Sunny’s former Clipper teacher) as her adviser, she was willing to try diplomacy. When Ryder calls a Conclave of all the Barons in Palm of the Iron Fox, to assess what rules the Widow has broken in her rise to the top, she tries to play the game the way Waldo asks, but she is betrayed by the other Barons, who either attack her, or flee. She is saved by Tilda, who disobeyed a direct order to stay behind.  The event seemed to  crystallize something in Minerva, and she rejects Waldo’s advice, and starts following her own decisions from that point forward.

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Unfortunately, the Widow  doesn’t have a very good moral compass to follow. She makes all the wrong decisions. Decisions that both Waldo, and Tilda, two people with much stronger morality than her, attempt to talk her out of. She forms an alliance with Quinn which was galling enough to Waldo, but to do that, she returned Veil back to his custody, which Tilda found untenable. I never thought of her as a good person, as she always had an “ends justifies the means” attitude, but she lost me as a fan when she displayed complete hypocrisy in returning Veil  and Henry to  Quinn, in Leopard Stalks in Snow.

This is a woman who has championed the rights of Cogs and Women all of last season. I suppose I should have seen the writing on the wall after she kidnapped Veil in season one, as that was a bit extra. She cannot talk about protecting the women of the Badlands and be willing to send another woman into bondage for power. Not only that but it has also become clear that she has been using her emotional link to Tilda to get her to serve her cause. Its not that she doesn’t care about Tilda, but just as Veil said, she is willing to send little girls to fight and die for her cause. this makes her little different from Quinn.

In Nightingale Sings No More we get some backstory on the Widow (Minerva). How she used to be like MK, was kidnapped by the same Monks who took MK, and they drained her powers from her. Part of the reason she wants so desperately to decipher the book in her possession is she believes it can give her her powers back. That book that everyone has been passing about, that no one could read, is actually something that belongs to her. She owned it as a child, when she first encountered Bajie, a Monk who named her Flea.

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Baron Chau

We also get the mother /daughter fight that’s been long in the making. This has been coming since season one. Tilda always had the privilege of speaking freely with her, and the Widow trusted her like no other. We started seeing the cracks in their union in the first season when Tilda questioned her mother’s warmongering.

This time, Tilda, because she has a much clearer sense of morality than her mother, rightfully calls her out for betraying Veil, and challenges her mother to a duel, which she loses. Minerva can’t bring herself to kill her though, even though Tilda challenges her to do it. She locks her up instead. Tilda is rescued by a young woman named Odessa.

After she beat up Tilda,  Waldo turns his back on her too, believing her to be as corrupt as the other Barons. I guess next season we’ll have a brand new Big Bad as the Widow consolidates her  power.

 

Quinn:

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He’s the one person everyone seems to be hunting at some point. Yes, he’s still dying, and still insane.  He spent the first part of the season quietly terrorizing Veil and Henry,  losing it completely after he kills Ryder at a Conclave of the Barons, that Ryder arranged in Palm of the Iron Fox. After that, he must have been haunted by what he’d done  because Ryder’s hallucination taunts him for the entirety of the next episode, Monkey Leaps through Mist. Why his tumor hadn’t killed him yet is anybody’s guess. Why is Quinn still alive? That tumor was the size of a golf ball.

Lydia’s attempted capture of Quinn sets off explosives that he booby trapped throughout the compound, (an old transit station) and in the confusion, Veil escapes and goes to the Widow. Quinn forms an alliance with the The Widow, to take down the other Barons in exchange for Veil’s return, in Leopard Stalks in Snow, but the alliance doesn’t last  long. Neither of them can remotely trust the other, and  turn against one another at the first opportunity.

 

I’ve always been somewhat in awe of Quinn’s ability to talk complete bullshit and have it be believed, and  we get to see it in full force, up close and personal, all season. We saw him doing this last season but the only people he managed to hold in thrall were all Clippers. Lydia, Jade and Sunny all appeared to be immune to this superpower. I think this says a lot about the Clipper mentality, really.

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Quinn gets a lot of speech time, hissing, whispering, and conniving to anyone within earshot, to get what he wants. We get to watch him Jedi a young man named Gabriel, his entire Clipper force, and even tries his wiles on Veil, although I think she might have some immunity. His alliance with the Widow comes to an abrupt halt after he talks Gabriel into a terrorist attack in the Widow’s courtyard. He spends the rest of the next two episodes, Nightingale Sings No More, and Wolf’s Breath Dragon Fire, wiring the entire compound with explosives, waiting for Sunny to arrive.

It takes Sunny four tries to kill Quinn! At one point I was simply screaming at my TV because, for some reason, Sunny simply would not take this asshole’s head. Every time he thought the Baron was down, he would wander off and drop his weapon, and Quinn would just get back up, and cause more mischief. This complete inability to finish him off, was the reason  Quinn was alive at all. I was also pretty salty at the writers because it was all rather clumsily done. I really don’t want to have to look at Quinn all of next season again. I was getting pretty tired of all his speechifying. Not that I don’t like Martin Csokas. He played the Hell out of this character. Its just that a little bit of Quinn goes a long way and in this season was a bit too much.

In Part 2: Bajie, Tilda and MK get character reviews along with Lydia, one the few other people from season one, who survives to see a third season.

Into the Badlands Season Two: Tiger Pushes Mountain/Force of Eagle’s Claw

Okay, this is a long one, so let’s settle in.

We are now in the second season of Into the Badlands and the situation has changed greatly for most of the major characters. In the first episode of the season, we find out what happened to the major players of last season, get introduced to some new characters,  and are introduced to  a couple of surprise guests.

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Sunny/Bajie:

Sunny tried to dupe the River King, when he substituted the head of one of his Baron’s Cogs for MK’s, after the River king asked him to kill the person responsible for murdering a hold full of cargo/people. Seriously pissed off, the River King has sold Sunny to a mining consortium. When the show opens, we get the full on dystopia treatment, and a nice fight scene with Sunny’s first day at his involuntary job. The theme song for this was:

I’m liking the musical choices for this season. They’re much more appropriate to the mood of the show, rather than just some generic background notes. I also hope to see more of the River King this season. He and Baron Jacobi were two of the more interesting characters introduced in the middle of last season.

So far this seems to be one of those alternate worlds where race and skin color doesn’t seem to be a huge issue. none of the characters mention different races or cultures, which is just as interesting as if they did, but for opposite reasons. I like that this is a multicultural world, as I’m always suspicious of alternate worlds where there are no PoC, and I automatically give the side-eye to anyone arguing that those worlds shouldn’t be.

At the top of the episode we get some great fight scenes, some greater world-building, and an introduction to a new character named Bajie, played by Nick Frost. You may remember him from Hot Fuzz, or Shaun of the Dead, and he’s a welcome touch of humor for the series, which is pretty grim and gloomy. It also gives Danny Wu the opportunity to be show his sense of humor by playing straight man to Nick’s cutting up. I’m always fascinated by funny Asians on TV,  as the media has a tendency to depict Asian people as grim and moody, or a punchline to someone else’s jokes. I know Indians can be deeply funny, but I love to see Asian people of any culture, get snarky.

If you remember my earlier reviews,  I talked about how Into the Badlands was based on a Ming Dynasty era novel titled Journey to the West. Well, Bajie is based on one of the  characters from that story, named Zhu Bajie.  Zhu means pig. He’s often called an idiot in the original novel, which I haven’t read, but I take it he’s the comedy relief.  The Bajie part of his name is based on the eight precepts of Buddhism, which are much stricter versions of the five precepts. Well, its appropriate because the character, Bajie, breaks every single one of them.

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The Eight Precepts:

1. I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.
4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
6. I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).
7. I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.
8. I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

Human  is definitely Sunny’s song. That and the title of the episode are both references to Sunny. The Chinese languages are full of these little pithy sayings, which are like the American equivalents of ,”You can lead a horse to water…”. I couldn’t find a direct translation of the phrase Tiger Pushing Mountains, (its one of the forms of Tai Chi) but once you see the episode, you will understand the references to Sunny.

In episode two, after Bajie betrays Sunny, who has impressed the warden by beating the shit out of his men, while in restraints no less,  Sunny gets drafted to do some pitfighting. In every TV show about prison there must be a pitfight. I believe it’s some kind of law.  Naturally Sunny wins and uses the fight as an opportunity to escape, while attached to Bajie with chains.

The show is a lot more gory than it was last season. There’s a lot more blood flow as one guy gets thrown into a giant spinning fan, and another guy gets his throat cut onscreen.  I also love the banter between Bajie and Sunny. Sunny never had much of a sense of humor last season (the only person he ever smiled at was Veil) and his responses to Bajie’s foolishness gives Daniel Wu a chance to show his acting range, as we get to see him express more than  one emotion.

MK/The Master:

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MK as been secreted away at some type of monastery, where he can learn to use his superpowers correctly. The show gives Marvel a big  middle finger by having The Master of the monastery be portrayed by an Asian- Black woman, Chipo Chung, who has starred in the movies Sunshine, and the show Camelot. This is how you cast an Ancient martial arts master when you don’t want to adhere to Asian stereotypes.

It turns out,  due to the trauma of having killed people with his powers, he has formed some kind of alternate self, that the master says he must defeat, if he’s ever going to leave the monastery. MK is desperate to leave because he thinks Tilda, Sunny and the others needs him. His alternate personality is the master of his powers, and is far stronger than him, so we get a lot of scenes of MK beating the crap out of himself, and the disturbing implication that he may have killed his mother, and doesn’t remember that either.

The Master tells him that he’s the most powerful Jedi…uhm, student, she has ever had, after she rebuffs his demon self and breaks her arm. We know because we get to see her magically heal the jutting bones of her forearm afterward. Ugh! I’m loving this character though because she’s like a more stern version of Yoda. She has little patience for MK’s snark. I think its hilarious how he seems to have that effect on all his mentors.

For his part, MK is his usual snarky, whiny self. Yes, he’s annoying, but I still like him because he’s annoying in an authentically teenagery way, that I just find funny. He’ s snarky, impatient, wants to know everything at one time, and seemingly fearless towards people he knows are more powerful than him. And played by Aramis Knight, he’s also distractingly pretty, and you can see, in his face, the grown man that he’ll later become.

Veil/Quinn:

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Veil has given birth to a baby boy she names Henry, after her father. The midwife turns out to be none other than Baron Quinn, who we thought was killed by Sunny last season. He’s still as weird as  ever, and although he claims he isn’t, he’s actually holding Veil prisoner, while making creepy implications that he’d love to be closer to her. He also makes it clear that he has plans for Sunny’s, and Veil’s, child.

Quinn is a snake oil salesman of the first order. He’s always got honey-coated speeches, ready to deploy, against the naive and the gullible. You could see that in the first season. His speeches to his clippers about how wonderful a leader he is, to Sunny about the Badlands, to Veil about Sunny, to MK about Sunny, are all designed to get people to do what he wants, and believe what he  wants, even if he seems to be talking about what they want.

Veil is as lovely as ever, but we have yet to see any backbone from her. She hasn’t made any real effort to escape. Despite Quinn having some kind of  weird, Cult of Clippers Ceremonial Bloodening of the baby, she probably just hasn’t gotten desperate enough. She also has remained unharmed, although the Baron’s men have been leering at her, when he’s not paying attention. We await her further entrance into the plot, probably by trying to escape the Baron’s craziness, and if his brain tumor has been progressing, then he is definitely a noodle short of a bowl of soup.

To be  clear, a show like Into the Badlands is somewhat unprecedented, so I have no idea what to predict for these characters, or where the plot will take any of them. For all I know, Veil might end up having a baby like MK, and ending up at the monastery with him.

Jade and Ryder:

These two are finally as together as they longed to be, and Ryder is as trifling as he always was. He is still trying to live up to his father’s legacy, while being propped up by Jade. I’m sorry, but Ryder doesn’t strike me as the brightest penny in the wrapper. It’s no wonder no one had any respect for him. He tried to take over some of the Widow’s territory but isn’t strong enough to hold it,and loses it back to her because, while he is wildly ambitious, he has no idea how to plan ahead.

Just as I suspected, Jade isn’t half as light and innocent, as she had Quinn believing. She’s got a brand new wardrobe, and new attitude, as the wifey master of Quinn’s territory. In her defense,  she does appear to truly be in love with Ryder, although that’s not really saying much, because she truly appeared to be in love with Quinn, too. I wonder what will happen if she encounters the Baron again, as she turned out to be a lot more duplicitous than I thought she would be.

The Widow/Tilda/ Waldo:

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The Widow gets some of the best action in the entire first episode, despite Sunny’s antics, and she is always going to be one of my favorite characters.  Unlike most people, I’m not at all put out by the idea of women wearing heels, in a fight. I do get kind of exasperated when they’re wearing skimpy little outfits with heels, but I have the greatest admiration for the Widow, who always dresses to the nines, for all her fights. The Widow, with Tilda as her new Regent), mows down a whole crop of Ryder’s Clippers, just to deliver the message to Jade that she was taking back possession of her oil fields.

Tilda is still feeling conflicted over her Mother’s activities and plans for the Badlands. When her mother decides to release a group of Ryder’s Clippers, giving them free passage back to their home, Tilda goes against her mother’s express word, and with a posse of her own butterflies, has the Clippers secretly killed. Tilda’s become more independent of her mother and I see some future betrayal. I wonder if she and MK will meet again, and how they’ll react to the changes in each other’s lives and personalities.

Waldo (Quinn’s former Regent)has joined the Widow, as her adviser, and is fully on board with her plans to reform the Badlands. He has training sessions with Tilda, who he seems to have taken under his wing, and although he can’t walk, he still doesn’t go easy on her, or is very nice to her, either.

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Lydia/Ryder

Lydia was doing well with her father, but after they’re attacked by Nomads, and she kills the two men, her father condemns her again. She killed the men to save her father’s life. We finally get to see Lydia kick some ass. Contrast her fight scene, with Jade’s complete inability to do any kind of fighting, and you get some idea of the formidable opponent she was for Quinn. She’s pretty ferocious, but unlike the Widow, she is completely untrained, too. So everyone in the show has different fighting styles, which is important. I like how the show treats the women. They’re at least as dangerous as any of the men, and although rape is sometihng that is implied, it escapes the Game of Thrones problem of showing it to us, or using it as a plot point, all the time. Its interesting to me that a lot of shows have decided to do away with rape, as the entire plot, point all together, and only imply that it might happen, or that it used to happen.

As a side note, we’ll use The Walking Dead, as an example, where occasionally one of the Saviors might act  interested in raping someone, but it’s never shown. Its explained in the narrative that Negan has forbidden rape, and any man who rapes a woman, he kills. In a show like The Walking Dead, where consequences for one’s actions are not necessarily an issue, I expected it to be one of those go-tos, just like on GoT, and I keep being surprised when they don’t do it.

It was really frustrating watching Lydia’s father  condemn her for killing, saying that killing is only the province of the gods, and what right did she have to step into that space, while entirely neglecting that the nomads kill all the time, and are hardly godlike creatures. In her father’s mind, its perfectly okay to not defend his own life, or even the lives of his people. The irony is that Quinn’s bloodshed is what kept his people safe, and allowed them the space to form such extreme views, or his little cult would’ve gone extinct long ago, having been killed off by others, who are also willing to kill. So Lydia’s father is willing to accept bloodshed, in his name, as long as he doesn’t have to see it, I guess. The moment she killed the men I knew she would be banished though. Her father wouldn’t allow her to have a place there with blood on her hands, so I was not surprised to see her visiting Ryder later.

It turns out, Quinn protected her father’s little cult from the depredations of the Nomads, and she’d like Ryder to continue doing that. But her advice triggers Ryder’s daddy issues and he rejects her request, and her. My advice to her: Go  to the Widow. If Lydia truly wants to keep her father safe, she’ll make whatever deal with her that she can. I’d love to see what kind of mischief the Widow could get up to, with both Lydia’s, and Waldo’s, advice.

As it stands now, most of the characters are paired up, and unaware of what’s happened to the other characters. No one has mentioned Waldo, so I don’t think they know he’s working with the Widow. No one knows Quinn  is alive. Tilda knows nothing about MK’s fate. Veil believes Sunny is alive despite Quinn (with his ain’t shit ass) trying to convince her that Sunny abandoned her.

The World-building:

I also want to commend the world-building, in these episodes, as we get to see a lot more of not just the Badlands but the world outside of them. There’s an entire economy in the Badlands, which is something I had questions about the first season. We also find out, in episode two, that there’s a massive wall separating the Badlands from the supposedly civilized parts of the country.

The Fights:

The fight scenes have been stepped up a notch. They’re even more wild and outrageous than last seasons fights, being more fun and completely over the top Wuxia style fights. Everybody’s fighting styles is different. Bajie doesnt fight like Sunny. His fighting style is more of the Iron Man/Brawler style. He fights like the large man he is. Sunny and the Widow are the two most balletic fighters and eve nstill, the Widow fights like a woman. She’s not dainty, or anything like that, but her fighting style fits her personality. Tilda doesn’t fight like her mother. She is much more pragmatic and efficient, sort of like Quinn.

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Waldo is the most interesting, because the writers have taken the time to come up with a style for a man confined to a wheechair, that’s a believable style. We’ve seen him kick both MK’s and Tilda’s asses from that chair, and part of his ability to do that, is people keep underestimating what he can do from that chair. They think, because the legs aren’t working, that the rest of him is limited too, and one of the low-key messages of last season was people underestimating other people’s fighting abilities, because they were handicapped, or because they’re  women, or because they’re children, and then getting their asses burned. I see this is a theme set to continue this season, as we watch Sunny beat up an entire team of free-roaming nobodies, basically with his hands tied behnd his back both times. The first time, while in stocks, and the second time hobbled, by being chained to Bajie.

This is the first time we’ve seen Sunny as less than godlike. In the first season he was mostly kind of invincible, and I like how they keep showing him get occasionally defeated by someone like the monks, or the guards in the prison.

Well, I’m going to continue these reviews, hopefuly in a more timely manner than this. I’m as enthused and happy about this show as I was disappointed by Iron Fist.

Into the Badlands: Fist Like A Bullet

Okay, everybody! Into the Badlands has put in its application, after only our second date, to be my new boyfriend, and I have accepted this proposal. It doesn’t hurt that I’m probably in love with it.

I love a lot about this show. Not that it’s perfect. No show is perfect. There’s still some issues for me to overcome, some problems we need to work out as a couple, but I don’t see any deal breakers yet, and hey! it’s really, really pretty. The costumes look good, creating some nice silhouettes for the lead characters, the lead actors are handsome, the color schemes are rich.

The music, while not especially memorable, is at least not intrusive, and the fight scenes are awesome! They are well choreographed, the actors look like they’ve put some effort into them, and the actors move well and look good, especially Daniel Wu as Sunny. I knew already that I was going to like The Widow. She doesn’t have that balletic moves of her daughter Matilda (who fights a lot like Black Widow) but she moves in a clear, defined manner, sort of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with more jumping.

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Of course, since this is futuristic scifi, we must have the obligatory brothel, or nite-club scene, where some henchmen are waiting to get their asses handed to them by The Widow, although that’s not why she’s there. She is attempting to drum up support for her big move against Quinn, but her ally is assassinated by some gruff looking men, hired by Ryder, to kill her. This fight was a lot of fun. We didn’t get to see The Widow lay her shit down during the pilot but it was great to see it in this episode. Lets just say, “She got skillz”.

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MK is having a really hard time of it trying to get his ass out of Dodge. He’s just been imprisoned, crawled through a sewer, has barely escaped the Nomads, Baron Quinn’s fort, and may have to escape from the woman who tried to capture him, in the first place, The Widow. Wandering through the forest, he comes across a young girl killing squirrels with throwing stars shaped like butterflies, which is hilarious to me, for some reason I can’t explain. This is Matilda, one of The Widow’s daughters. She takes MK to her mother’s fort.

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Quinn has sussed that there is a traitor in his house after hearing about The Widow’s near assassination and MK’s escape from jail. He takes Sunny with him to see a doctor because his headaches are getting worse.

It turns out that the headaches are a brain tumor and that Quinn only has several months to live (how soapy can we get? His wife hates him, his son is a schemer, and his most trusted man betraying him). He can’t let anyone else know about this, so he orders Sunny to execute the elderly couple, who just happen to be Sunny’s girlfriend Veil’s, parents.

Sunny defies his Baron, possibly for the very first time in his life, but instead of killing him, the Baron elects to murder the couple himself, while Sunny looks on in amazed disgust. The Baron is not a very good Clipper, as he’s extremely messy about it.

The Widow is convinced that MK is the special boy she’s looking for and that he is lying when he tells her otherwise. This conversation is notable to me for his use of the words “free farmers”.  Apparently, there are such things as nomad farmers, who move from plantation to plantation.

There are also other, smaller plantations, that grow other things besides Poppies, as we learn when The Widow asks MK about tobacco farming, and when she offers Baron positions to some smaller landowners she’s trying to ally with to take down Quinn.

You have to listen closely to the dialogue for all the tiny details of what this world is like. So its not all plantations and slaves. I guess, according to Stephen Lang’s character, there’s a setup where people choose to become sharecroppers, or indentured servants, on the various properties, for safety reasons. Some people choose not to do this, becoming, Nomads, free farmers, or maybe some other type of professional, (like doctors), but since there are no laws or police, you are at the mercy of people who are more ruthless. At any rate there is a kind of economy that exists that cater to the needs and desires of the clippers, Nomads and various free persons wandering the Badlands.

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If this is the Badlands, are there by definition, some Good Lands called Ezra, maybe? And what are all these Poppies being used for?

Underestimating  The Widow and Matilda, the smaller plantation owners have to agree to back her play, after one of them loses in a fight with Matilda, who very easily wins against her bigger ,stronger opponent. There was never any doubt in my mind that  Matilda would win because her mother is The Widow, and she’s got mad skillz, and  for the Widow to demonstrate that things are not always as they seem, after one of the fools dissed her for being a woman.

 

Not to be outdone in the bad guy category, Ryder makes plans to have The Widow killed, when he makes plans to capture her skimming their profits, not knowing that this is a trap for him, and his father’s top enforcer, by The Widow.

 

We get a Stephen Lang cameo when Sunny visits his friend Waldo for some life advice. I’ve been loving this man’s career since the eighties. He almost  always plays bad guys, it seems. After what he witnessed that morning, Sunny informs Veil that the Baron killed her parents and the two make plans to escape the Badlands.

The Widow tells Tilda to test MK for his powers in a training session but MK convinces her not to hurt him. Matilda nicks herself, then lies to her mother about MK, saying he’s not “The Cho Zen Won”. Boy! There’s  supposedly trustworthy  people just lying through their teeth, all over the place in this episode. Ryder, Sunny, Matilda. I believe I’m sensing a theme here.

Later that evening Mk exhorts Matilda to help him escape. She takes pity on him but when they are caught by The Widow, who thinks they are merely lovers and not traitors, she kicks him out.

One of The Widow’s  swarthy looking new allies decides to take MK to his territory. But since there’s a bounty on MK, from Quinn, it looks like he’s headed right back where he came from, once again, locked in a trunk. (This actor is exceptionally pretty, and  probably not underage, but he seems to spend a lot of time in these episodes, shirtless, which is mildly disturbing.)

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Arriving at the abandoned factory to catch  The Widow, Ryder and Sunny are set upon by her allies and we get to have the joy of watching Sunny go to work. While Ryder dangles uselessly, having been taken out of the fight before it even started, Sunny takes on a couple dozen men with swords. This definitely cements Daniel Wu as a member of the Kingdom of Badass-ery, along with Jet Li and Donnie Yen.

He does get ambushed trying to save Ryder’s life, and that’s when MK, having cut himself free, kills his first man, to save Sunny. He asks Sunny to help him escape the badlands, but Sunny has another plan. He will mentor MK as his replacement (aka: Colt). He tells him that he needs to control what he is and he can only do that with training. Sunny’s right. So far, MK’s primary tactic has been to run away from what he is instead of mastering it and that’s not working. He is powerful enough to be at no one’s mercy if he tames his wolf, instead of being scared and running from it.

When MK becomes a Clipper, his job will be to safeguard Sunny’s wife and child to Ezra, which sounds beautifully tragic.

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Sunny takes MK back to the Baron’s fort where he declares that MK will be his new student. the Baron grudgingly agrees and then declares war on he Widow for nearly killing Ryder.