AMC’s action western Into the Badlands started strong like an ox early in the season, but when lead-in The Walking Dead went on winter break, viewership for the series dipped. Their loss: All those suckers are missing out on TV’s best action.
The show has its flaws. Its political landscape isn’t compelling like Game of Thrones. The story is a mess. Character motivations are paper-thin. With only six episodes in the season, there is a breathless pace that hasn’t allowed us to grow attached to anyone.
But I’ve stayed tuned because Into the Badlands is just. Plain. Nuts.
While cable TV means Into the Badlands can’t go HAM like maybe The Raid, they’ve still produced some of the most thrilling and brutal choreography that outpaces any other show. No other genre show is as ballsy, not Arrow, not The Walking Dead… I’d even say, not even Game of Thrones.
In its first episode, “The Fort”, Sunny introduced viewers right out of the gate with this unarmed beatdown. It was a brutal fight disguised as character exposition: This is a man who is loyal and straight-up dangerous, and, unlike most of the Clippers, he doesn’t need swords.
Worse things happen in Westeros, but it isn’t as pretty as it is here.
But the Badlands are a sprawling land littered with dangerous people. We met Quinn’s most direct rival, The Widow, after this rain-drenched fight in the streets that evoked kung-fu period pieces and dark, gothic westerns. It was this fight that was shown so often in the trailers that got me stoked. And it delivered.
Though Emily Beecham is far from the martial artist that Daniel Wu is, she still made an amazing impression as The Widow in her first fight. The second episode, “Fist Like a Bullet” began with her bloody clearing out of a gentleman’s club — an unsubtle metaphor — to which the actress described at Comic-Con as being inspired by a spider’s movement.
Though it wasn’t as good as the first episode’s climax, Sunny’s fight against The Widow’s recruited allies was still impressive with some terrifying twists.
In the third episode, “White Stork Spreads Wings” I was stunned at how quickly it gave us Quinn versus The Widow. I didn’t expect actor Marton Csokas (Quinn) to be capable of throwing down like he did. Very few instances in pop culture do we see its biggest antagonists meet on the battlefield so quickly.
In the fourth episode, “Two Tigers Subdue Dragons”, Into the Badlands gave us our first skirmish between two factions. Unlike Quinn’s raid of The Widow, this is a more even fight with even stakes, set on a graveyard (again, terribly unsubtle). Into the Badlands has gone out of its way to establish Quinn as a Darth Vader, a leader who will get his hands dirty. It’s actually a terrible military strategy for the general to just walk around the enemy base, but Vader did that in Empire Strikes Back because he’s a G.
And then, Into the Badlands shows why it’s worthy of an Emmy.
“Snake Creeps Down” gives us Sunny versus The Widow. While it ends weak, it’s still ridiculously paced and intends to shock you at every turn. It escalates every second, both fighters changing weapons — each time changing the narrative. The battle in the rain is probably the show’s best fight overall, but this one is my favorite.
“Hand of Five Poisons,” currently the last scheduled episode left for Into the Badlands unless AMC grants its renewal, promises a few more surprises to come. Turns out Sunny’s two katanas can become a goddamn dual-bladed staff and he’ll be throwing down against three Shaolin monks … and M.K.
M.K. hasn’t gotten a grasp of his mysterious power, and he may be using it against his mentor. Since the show began, Sunny has shown him to be more than capable of holding his own, but could he apply that same prejudice to his own pupil? And that, my friends, is why I’m still watching Into the Badlands.
By the way: All five episodes are available on AMC’s website. Have fun.