Freedom Isn't Free in 'Into the Badlands'

"Hand of Five Poisons" bows out AMC's kung-fu western with mixed results.

AMC Networks

“Hand of Five Poisons” was the foreseeable finale to Into the Badlands. If Season 2 isn’t greenlit, AMC’s kung-fu Western will be remembered as a weird month and a half fling that we’ll yearn for when we’ve settled with some other, more respectable show. Yeah, it might be better written, but oh heavens was Badlands fun.

To recap: Sunny is a prisoner of the River King, Quinn is dead, Lydia is Exiled, Tilda is about to poison (or cure?) her mother The Widow, and M.K. is once again in a trunk. To leave the Badlands, be prepared to write a check you can’t cash.

Freedom has been the overarching motivator for Into the Badlands, a Western definition the characters of Journey to the West embarked on. The protagonists of the original Chinese novel were motivated by enlightenment, echoing Buddhist precept, but that’s a hard sell in 21st century America. We think we know it all already, and if we don’t, we Google it. But freedom, that’s easy. We celebrate that every July. We try to bring it to other countries (with really, really mixed results). We almost named fries after it.

In “Hand of Five Poisons,” the inhabitants of the Badlands learn what a price freedom really is and that it may just be a myth. Sunny and M.K. are literally trapped, having found themselves in situations they don’t fully comprehend. Sunny thought he could trick the River King with a false head (since he wanted M.K.’s), but the River King really is the king of the sea and won’t be mistaken for an idiot. Meanwhile, M.K. has been apprehended by a trio of warrior monks who share his dark power, and master it — they can tap into it without needing to cut themselves. They’re from the mysterious city M.K.’s pendant depicts, though it seemed a bit empty. Perhaps it too has decayed like the Badlands.

Will Tilda poison her mother? Her boy-crazy hormones for M.K. are forcing her to make rash decisions, but what good would it do for her to poison the one person in the Badlands on her side?

Poisoning, on the other hand, was the key that Jade — who is actually alive most likely — poisoned herself. It was a power play, to frame Lydia out of the Badlands. It worked, but now Quinn is dead. Jade may have stumbled into the highest position in the Badlands, given Ryder’s survival from his fight against M.K. It’s a possibility, he was never shown to have “died” just “really hurt badly.”

The finale isn’t without its sins and missteps. The Widow, one of the strongest characters in the show, spent the entirety of it lying prone and licking her wounds from her fight against Sunny. It was downright criminal that Sunny and Quinn was not the climactic fight the whole season had built towards. The whole damn season, ever since Quinn killed Veil’s parents with Sunny’s swords. And their tension ends with a quirky one-liner in the corner of a bigger fight occurring like 30 feet away.

Into the Badlands arrogantly presumes it will continue, even though the ratings say otherwise. As a viewer, it simply can’t end with such open-ended resolutions. There is far too much potential for its characters and their new journeys are begging to be witnessed. Sunny as a powerless slave? M.K. learning his roots? Jade as the new Baron? To quote Oliver: Please AMC, can we have some more?