By Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer
With sword battles, betrayal and unexpected reveals, “Into the Badlands” delivers an impressive sophomore onslaught in its Sunday Season 2 premiere. Season 1 introduced a post-apocalyptic world ruled by the Barons, powerful leaders claiming dominion over various resources and the people forced to produce them. It left off with Sunny (Daniel Wu) getting separated from his protégé, M.K. (Aramis Knight), who, six months later, is now training at a mysterious monastery of like-powered people.
The opening reveals that Sunny has been thrust out of the Badlands and into slavery as a Picker in the Bordeaux mines. Ryder (Oliver Stark) has taken control of his father’s Barony with the ambitious Jade (Sarah Bolger) at his side. And after laying low, the Widow (Emily Beecham) is making her move to reclaim her stolen resources. With war looming over the Baronies and as M.K. struggles to control his deadly power, Sunny is in a race against time to escape the mines and reunite with his family. Here is a spoiler-heavy rundown of the good, the OK and the ugly of “Tiger Pushes Mountain.”
With unmatched, on-screen fight choreography, “Into the Badlands” is a callback to Jackie Chan, Jet Li and good old-fashioned Hong Kong action cinema. Season 1 impressed when it showed off the no-guns fighting etiquette of the “Badlands”-verse and the compelling martial arts and preferred weapons of the Barons. Season 2 does not disappoint. Even tired and starved, Sunny displays his ingenuity in taking down underlings of the Engineer (Stephen Walters) — with his neck and wrists still trapped in a wooden stock.
Nick Frost makes his debut as Sunny’s mine chain-gang partner, Bajie, injecting a welcome amount of humor to the show’s more serious overtones. But even with all the well-timed wisecracks and his easygoing nature, Frost effortlessly undermines the trope of the bumbling sidekick. Bajie shows Sunny how dangerous an opportunist he can be when he forcefully steals a valuable ring found by a weaker Picker. Sunny, after years of living like a king as a Regent under Quinn (Marton Csokas), is now being humbled in compelling, unexpected ways by the show. From (eventually) getting beaten down by the Engineer’s men to suffering the consequences of Bajie’s sly betrayal, Sunny’s removed veneer of invincibility is a welcome direction for the story.
After making an explosive entrance to reclaim her oil refinery from Ryder, the Widow chases Jade and her escort up a stairwell, effortlessly slicing through Ryder’s Clippers standing in the assassin’s way. It is hard to tell whether Jade is frightened, impressed or both by the woman making mincemeat of her Barony’s best men. With nearly each flight of stairs, she and her guard oddly take the time to glance down at the Widow’s deadly progress.
As the Widow corners Jade on a roof, it turns out the only goal in her prolonged, mass-Clipper takedown was to frighten the haughty Baroness into delivering a message: The oil fields have been permanently retaken. Though somewhat drawn out, the scene is effective at illustrating just how vulnerable Jade is, regardless of her penchant for political machination.
In its powerful season opener, the show does not really have much “ugly” to comment on. Though, as a character, M.K. is still a work-in-progress when it comes to warming up to the audience. His role as a novice youngster thrust into an unforgiving world is meant to resonate with viewers, who are none the wiser about what is happening than he is. Yet, with a lack of common sense combined with some teenage bellicose, he can be hard to sympathize with. He inopportunely loses his temper with the abbot assigned to train him and falls into the Master’s early taunts almost too easily. Aramis Knight does what he can with a character still finding his footing.
In exchange for his own freedom, Bajie betrays Sunny to the Engineer by revealing his Clipper status. The Widow casts her web of influence over the escaped Cogs and Dolls seeking sanctuary, promising democracy and equality — even as Tilda (Ally Ioannides) works in the shadows to ensure there are no loose ends to her mother’s goals. In the final scene, Veil (Madeleine Mantock) gives birth to Sunny’s child; it is a surprising moment that reveals Quinn is still very much alive, though his intentions and goals are shrouded in mystery.
Overall, “Into the Badlands” shows off its attention to detail, engaging fight scenes and conveniently color-coded factions to present a well-rounded premiere with a compelling cliffhanger. Episode 2, “Force of Eagle’s Claw,” airs Sunday at 10 p.m. EST.