Into the Badlands – S01E02
Title: Fist Like a Bullet
This week the tale picks up right where it left off, but it also parallels the first episode’s narrative in some ways. Last week’s open served to establish the sheer badassery of Sunny. This week that segment is repeated but for the benefit of The Widow (Emily Beecham). Having only gotten a brief glimpse of her in the first episode, she is now given more of the spotlight and she kinda knocks it outta the park…along with a few heads.
SPOILERS beyond this point.
So a Rooster, a Nomad and a Black Widow walk into a bar…
Since her encounter with Sunny in the previous episode did not seem to go all that well, she heads into what passes for a club in the badlands, to meet with Rooster, a former henchman. It seems the pair had a falling out over some graft issues, but The Widow is willing to forgive his past transgressions if he’ll come back and help her against Baron Quinn. There are two points to make about this meeting and the overall nature of the show thus far.
First, Rooster is set up with some dialogue, an interesting backstory, and has the look of a character that might have a larger role to play on this show. But a failed hit on The Widow during this meeting instantly proves that traditional television narrative can be thrown out the window with an ax to the head. The Widow then goes on to show just how deadly she can be by singlehandedly taking down the entire squad of assailants.
But this speaks to the second point. She’s obviously much more skilled than her assailants and Rooster couldn’t even get his weapon out of its sheath or dodge a thrown ax. So why did she even need such an incompetent underling? We’ll come back to this point a bit later, because it comes up again.
Bread Bath & Beyond
After the intro credits, we pick up with M.K. still fleeing through some woods. Here he chances upon Tilda (Ally Ioannides) who is out squirrel hunting with her butterfly shaped shurikens (as one does).
As M.K.’s stealth ability is clearly non existent, Tilda gets the drop on him. He lies and tells her he is a free farmer that has escaped from a nomad attack. Tilda offers him safety and takes him back to The Widow’s estate. Since M.K. apparently reeks of the badlands, a quick and uncomfortable bathing scene is in order, where he gets to meet The Widow, up close and personal like.
Meanwhile, Sunny and Quinn’s son Ryder have been out looking for M.K. but are forced to turn back when his trail leads across the border into The Widow’s lands. For a clipper force to cross over would be an act of war, and to do so is expressly forbidden by Baron Quinn. Upon their return to the Fort, Ryder reveals the amulet that M.K. was trying to retrieve to his father. When the Baron asks Sunny if he’s ever seen anything like it, Sunny lies and tells him no.
Looking for new allies, The Widow sets up a meeting with the axe gang nomads (which, based on their weapon of choice, one would assume is the same group that attacked her in the intro). The gang leader Hud (Owen Harn) reluctantly agrees that if Tilda can defeat one of his men, he will help the Baroness.
Last House Call on the Left
The Baron and Sunny ride out to meet with the Baron’s family doctor and his wife, who also happen to be the adopted parents of Veil (Madeline Mantock) Sunny’s secret main squeeze and baby momma. But the doc has bad news for the Baron in that he has some kind of tumor in his brain and doesn’t have much longer to live. The Baron processes this, says his goodbyes, and in the time it takes him to walk outside quickly skips through the stages of grief to the psycho stage whereupon he orders Sunny to kill the doc and his wife. Sunny, to the Baron’s surprise, refuses. So the Baron does it himself in a compelling sequence that is implied but no less effective in demonstrating what a demon he can be.
Here again we come to a question on the value of underlings. Quinn’s fears of anyone discovering his illness are clear, but to off such a valuable asset like a doctor in an era where such knowledge seems rare, isn’t perhaps the wisest move.
In the wake of this, Sunny seeks advice from Waldo (Steven Lang), a wheelchair bound bird handler, who talks of freedom and cages. It would seem that after the Baron’s display Sunny has begun to seriously think of taking Veil and escaping.
Back at her estate, The Widow, who now suspects that M.K. is the boy she is looking for, decides to test her theory by having Tilda attack him and try to draw his blood to see if his inner power will come forth. Tilda does as her mother requests, but in the decisive moment she cuts her own hand and smears the blood on M.K.’s cheek. A risky ruse in that her mother cannot see her do this and no one seems to care to check the ‘wound’ on M.K.’s face.
In another parallel to last week’s episode, Tilda now agrees to help M.K. escape but the pair are discovered by The Widow who hands him over to Hud and his nomads as a new recruit. However, Hud knows that there is a bounty out on M.K. and intends to collect and so he dumps him in the trunk of his car.
An ax to grind…
Acting as a courtesan, one of The Widow’s other daughters has laid the seeds of subterfuge by spilling some false information to Ryder. So when he and Sunny show up at a warehouse that is suspected to be containing some opium stolen from the Baron, what they actually find is an ambush by Hud and his ax gang nomads.
Ryder is quickly turned into a human piñata as he is strung up to be slowly choked out. So it’s up to Sunny, who despite the overwhelming odds, is more than a match for the ax gang. As with the previous episode’s rain soaked fight sequence, the factory fight is both stylish and derivative of classic and current Hong Kong cinema action work. One momentary sparing sequence atop a wooden frame reminded me of a similar sequence in Stephen Fung’s Tai Chi: From Zero To Hero [太極Ⅱ：英雄崛起] (2012).
But, after the exhaustive melee with all the minions, Boss Hud seems to gain the upper hand, until M.K., having managed to free himself from Hud’s trunk, shows up just in time to lend a
hand sword. M.K. admits to Sunny that he can guide him though the badlands, so Sunny agrees to take him back to The Fort to train him as his colt (apprentice clipper) which will buy them the time they need to make their plans to escape.
Thoughts on the episode:
- Aside from The Widow and her daughters, I didn’t catch allot of connections to the classic text this week, but the Ax Gang homage was a nice callback to Hong Kong films such as Drunken Master II [醉拳II] (1994) and Kung Fu Hustle [功夫] (2004). I’ll be interested to see if Stephen Lang will become more of a presence in the show. He seems to be a fairly large name for just a cameo, but time will tell.
- The Baron and Sunny are both still nailing it with their chemistry. But I have to give kudos to Emily Beecham this week. She really built a strong presence for the character in this episode.
- Back to the point made earlier about henchman, both Sunny and The Widow have been demonstrated as the two toughest characters so far with the ability to eliminate scores of enemies at at time. We are provided the assumption that Quinn has an equal level of skill (though it has not been directly shown). Of the kids, Tilda has some skill, M.K. can Hulk-out when he bleeds, and Ryder seemed easily dispatched in this episode. So I’m not seeing the need for the underlings like Hud and Rooster? They clearly aren’t near the same skill levels as the grown ups.
- If you look closely in the brothel scene you’ll catch a glimpse of Ryder’s mangled foot and what looks like a weaponized prosthetic. I was expecting to see that in action during the final fight, but Ryder was incapacitated for nearly the whole thing.
- One wonders if Quinn’s killing of his doc will be a factor at all in Ryder’s survival / recovery. My prediction is that Veil gets assigned the task of caring for him in the next episode.