Television can always stand to benefit from more women, but in genre and geek TV there has been a slow assembly of action heroines and it’s an exciting trend to witness: Supergirl, Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones), Mockingbird and Agent May (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Peggy Carter (Agent Carter), Abbie Mills (Sleepy Hollow), Michonne and Maggie (The Walking Dead), Sara Lance/Black Canary (Arrow), and now Krysten Ritter’s titular role in Jessica Jones. I would pay an obscene amount to see them all team up.
In its second week, Into the Badlands has made their contribution. “Fist Like a Bullet” formally introduced The Widow as its secret weapon and the reason anyone should be tuned in.
A rival baron to Quinn, The Widow is rumored to have succeeded her baronship after murdering her husband (hence her unambiguous nickname). While she made an appearance in the pilot episode, her opening brawl in the second episode established her as a physical, fluid juggernaut of destruction.
Melissa Benoist as Supergirl/Kara Zor-El remains the top contender for best actress in these hypothetical awards (Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones is coming up quick) but The Widow outshines both in pure swagger and presentation.
Her look is begging to be a cosplay favorite. Her advantage lies in Into the Badlands’ steampunk/western/Asian fusion aesthetic, so the functional Jessica Jones and Abbie Mills and Black Canary’s “Hot Topic Ninja” could never compete.
In genre special weapons are shorthand for personality, but TV is remarkably lacking. Mockingbird’s eskrima means she prefers versatility and Michonne’s katana has been an extension of her psychology, but everyone else has utilized vanilla variations of hand-to-hand combat. But The Widow, cunning and fluid using two daggers, attacks like a venomous spider’s bite — an unambiguous and heavy-handed allusion to her husband-killing origins (Black widow spiders kill their mates). But when few characters give meaning to their weapons, it’s refreshing to see The Widow, whose style is as natural as breathing.
But above style and presentation, The Widow’s most powerful asset is her current arc. While she unknowingly acquired the weapon she’s been searching for (M.K.), he was released by her daughter whom she raised to be a living killing machine. After her betrayal, Into the Badlands is on track to put a female spin on the dominant parent vs. child trop made popular in modern culture by Luke Skywalker and his daddy Vader. Is The Widow the kind of ambitious to kill her own child? Or does she have limits we’re unaware of?
There are a lot of reasons to watch Into the Badlands. The action choreography remains top-notch and there is a nice balance between world-building and storytelling, a tightrope The Walking Dead failed to achieve this week. But who would have thought an underplayed, under-promoted utility player would be one of them?