Into the Badlands, Season 1, Episode 2 - The Next Leg of the Tour
We take the long way to get to where the show was going from the beginning - with M.K. training under Sunny's tutelage - but boy is it an enjoyable journey. We're taken further into the Badlands and learn more about an intriguing group of characters in episode 2.
In some ways, a better title might be Out of the Badlands, though it doesn't have the same ring to it. At times, the series feels a little too closely tied to a lot of other shows. Power plays are and will always be popular, so it's fortunate that the Widow's intent on taking the Baron's fortress is interesting enough.
M.K. is our eyes into each camp so far, though that's probably about to change. The character has now done a complete circle, spending a night in luxury before ending up where he began at the start of the series. It's refreshing to have a central male character who is far less compelled to train or fight, and wants nothing more than to find his family and find peace. Hopefully this stays relevant despite his training to come.
We learn more about the Widow, who is the focus of the pub fight that kicks off the episode. We meet one of her daughters, Tilda (Ally Loannides), who we learn essentially holds a high rank position in her 'family', and any weakness will risk her losing her place by her mother's side.
The younger characters, Tilda and M.K., pose the most potential so far in the cast. While the adults around them are waging wars and plotting, the teenagers are more or less pawns (yes, even M.K. is a means to an end for Sunny by the conclusion). There's definitely something to make of this dynamic, especially as they come into their own and perhaps prove too much to handle for their underestimating leaders.
But while there's a little politics amongst all the fighting, the meat of the episode is between Sunny and Quinn, who is revealed to be terminally ill. It's a gutsy move on the show's part to give one of its starring characters a time limit so soon, but it could be due to the writer's confidence in the cast they've created.
Quinn's reaction to the dire news is shocking, and a brilliant piece of storytelling. The man is given the perfect motive for carrying out the senseless killing of a kindly ageing couple, allowing the knowledge they held to be the catalyst for his outburst. When he exits the house, blood-soaked atop the stairs, it's an imposing image. And it's the point at which Sunny realises that this life is not the one he wants any longer.
The scene is aided by some splendid direction, never showing the brutal acts but allowing us to listen to the shrieks as the camera sneaks up the stairs. The only human connection we get to the heinous act is Sunny's own expression to the horror. Quinn enters the building clean but exits it as if marching out of the trenches. He enjoyed and reveled in it, perhaps because he didn't have to think for a moment of what the future holds (or what it doesn't).
Further too, the director implements some clever panning work in the bathroom, travelling from the doorway, where Tilda stands, to the other side of the room. The Widow is standing in the corner, creepily enough, and when M.K. looks back at the doorway, Tilda is gone.
The beauty of the series is maintained here, and the fight sequences are astonishing. Particularly the one in the warehouse, and so far each scene has outdone the last. Obviously it isn't a trend they'll be able to keep up, but so far each episode has sported two major battles. I'd say that's probably the aim.
Despite the gorgeous aesthetic, and despite the characters being particularly interesting when window-shopped, on a deeper level they offer little more than what we might hope. It's all power plays and desires, but very little more. A total understanding of a character is not expected, but a more subtle focus on each of our major players might take great lengths in fleshing them out.
The action is still astonishing, only aided further by the aesthetic. The characters have a little more growing to do before they can hold attention beyond their titles, but Into the Badlands is shaping up to be an intriguing and bloody venture into power,politics, and the search for freedom.