Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer
Season 3 of Into the Badlands returned Sunday night with no punches pulled, delivering a heavy dose of beautifully choreographed fight scenes, engaging plot development and new mysteries on the horizon with the arrival of Pilgrim.
Last season, the tides seemed to turn against the Widow (Emily Beecham) as Tilda (Ally Ioannides) rebelled against her adoptive mother. Sunny (Daniel Wu) engaged Quinn (Marton Csokas) in one final, epic battle to decide the fates of Veil (Madeleine Mantock) and their newborn son, Henry. But just as Sunny thought Quinn was defeated and prepared to escape the latter’s compound with his family, Quinn grabbed Veil and threatened her life if Sunny failed to hand over Henry. Veil chose to take her own life alongside Quinn’s instead, however — leaving Sunny heartbroken and with no other recourse than to go into hiding with their child. Bajie (Nick Frost), greatly injured by a pair of scissors, takes a desperate bike ride to an old communications center, appearing to send off a message. M.K. (Aramis Knight), meanwhile, is left beholden to the Widow’s plans to find a way to reinstate his deadly “gift.”
If you have not watched the season premiere, this is your final warning, because here is a spoiler-heavy rundown of the good, the OK and the ugly of “Enter the Phoenix.”
Badlands is all about its martial arts, and the scenes this season promise to be no less compelling than before. The roughly first 10 minutes are dedicated to a beautiful, cinematic overview of the conflict between the Widow and Baron Chau (Eleanor Matsuura). On an actual warfront, we witness one Butterfly slaying multiple Clippers at a time before getting taken down by a barrage of arrows. The scene then shifts to the Widow riding along a sandy beach on horseback toward a stone tower. There, she confronts Nathaniel Moon (Sherman Augustus), the legendary Clipper Sunny defeated after cutting off his hand last season. But it is not Moon’s head she is seeking: It is his cooperation as her new Regent, even if it must be elicited by force. Their battle takes up a good chunk of the episode, but it is a worthwhile wait. From balancing on two swords embedded in the ground, to effortlessly scaling the stone tower (and in heels no less), the Widow shows off her formidability with grace and deadly determination.
On that note, her character continues to toe the line between freedom-minded idealist and ambitious cutthroat. After enlisting Moon, she presides over the coffins of the Butterflies from the frontline and is soon visited by the mother of one of the deceased. Beecham’s acting is on par as she searches the eyes of the Butterfly accompanying the mother to elicit who the dead woman even was, trying to give rehearsed condolences to the mother about fighting for a better world. Unmoved by abstract ideals, the mother sobs in the Widow’s arms as the latter awkwardly tries to embrace her. It is a much-needed reality check. The scene juxtaposes her strange new role as a freedom fighter over being a Baron — one that will, at times, demand genuine compassion over merciless brutality.
In the six months since Sunny disappeared with his newborn son, Tilda has assumed a new identity as the angry leader of the Rabbits — raiding the Widow’s supply convoys and delivering whatever she finds to a refugee camp headed by Lydia (Orla Brady). One such run even gives Tilda an unexpected surprise: Bajie, chained up in the back. Tilda is rightfully angry after her defeat at the Widow’s hands from the previous season and her sense of betrayal at her adoptive mother’s plans. It is a demeanor that perfectly contrasts her former, unquestioning loyalty as one of the most capable Butterflies on the show. Plus, she receives a colorful outfit upgrade compared to the Butterflies’ uniform blue.
The show is taking an interesting approach to the deadly Sunny being a single parent. Sunny is no less beholden to his propensity to kill. When a small group of “stalkers” try to take his head (now worth a hefty sum) while he is camped out at an RV with his son, he unflinchingly dispatches each in close quarters combat. Sunny even uses a device built into Henry’s crib to skewer one through the neck. Yet, this is the same man who is hesitant to kill a deer just as he sees a fawn approach it. The contrasting scenes may very well be a setup for Sunny’s struggle to raise his child in a world drenched in violence and war, partly symbolized by the blood spattered on Henry’s cheek.
Sunny’s later decision to spare the man who ordered the hit stems more from pity for the man’s own kids, who Sunny believes ought to grow up with their father around. It is nice, internal bookend about parenthood within the episode that also displays subtle character growth on Sunny’s part.
Action-packed though it may be, the premiere’s narrative pace past the battle between Moon and the Widow slows down quite a bit. The premiere effectively functions as a reunion between key players from last season — now united around the surprising revelation that Henry, who has developed a fever, has begun to manifest the gift at an unusually early age. While not exactly “ugly,” per se, the episode closes out as a deliberate setup with little internal plot resolution beyond Sunny’s
introspection on parenting.
The episode closes with an introduction of a new antagonist on the scene, who proclaims himself as a messiah. Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay), accompanied by two youths bearing the gift, takes down all of Chau’s Clippers at one of her checkpoints, sparing one to report on the slaughter. Meanwhile, Sunny, desperate to find a solution to his son’s gift manifestation, becomes determined to seek out Azra for answers. With an Azra compass in Pilgrim’s possession as well, we may finally see the mysterious civilization this season — or at least the fate that has befallen it. Episode 2, “Moon Rises, Raven Seeks,” premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. EST.