Conflict creates drama, but relationships create emotional stakes. Into The Badlands finally earns some of those stakes in “Snake Creeps Down,” its best episode yet. Plot lines, bolstered by strong characterization, solidify and surprise while the fight scenes, no longer needed to fill time, take a backseat. It makes the show more sustainable and interesting. The fights, while viscerally exciting, are now used more appropriately, accentuating the interpersonal struggle between characters. There’s an argument for a bit more superfluous violence, but I like the balance found in the last two episodes.
Sunny’s morals continue to be tested as he is now in debt to three people, Quinn the Baron, Veil his pregnant girlfriend, and M.K., his rebellious colt with mystical powers. That list does not include himself and Sunny’s own ego is what’s missing most in his characterization. After five episodes, Into The Badlands does not reveal exactly what Sunny himself wants. What’s most important to him? Who is most important to him?
While his multiple loyalties are interesting, it often cheapens his decisions since it is unclear if protecting Veil or training Sunny go against his inner core or not. To pull from a far better piece of media, what makes Vader’s turn at the end of Jedi so powerful is that it is obviously a turn, a change of heart. Sunny’s heart is a mystery, a black box, which only plays for so long. That opaqueness has run its course. Because it seems that his devotion lies in Veil (a dream about a powered-up M.K. shoving him off the parapet helps cement that). If that’s the case, then why would Sunny not just grab Veil and sell out Quinn to The Widow? He knows the Butterflies could protect him (not to mention that he seems very capable of protecting himself) and he seems to have less and less reason to care about The Baron. His loyalty to Quinn has never made much sense to me. Perhaps a defection is what’s coming now that Quinn forbids Sunny from seeing Veil and plants a seed of doubt that it was Sunny’s blade who killed Veil’s parents. But Quinn seems too smart to believe this would tear them apart as opposed to just pushing them together.
“Snake Creeps Down” does a great job of sowing doubt throughout, adding a layer of tension over the whole affair. The Widow claims that every time M.K. uses his powers, he’s draining his life force, and that without training, he’ll die. Is this true or just a lie to keep Tilda honest? Who knows, but it ups the stakes every time M.K. decides to hulk out. Meanwhile, Ryder lies to M.K. about giving away the pendant and goes to his grandfather to get the full scoop. The preacher, again possibly lying, tells Ryder that Azra is a fairy tale. Another potential lie festers and takes root.
The biggest change in relationship is between Quinn’s new wife Jade and original spouse Lydia. The Widow uses a little coin to persuade Quinn’s cogs (farmhands/slaves) to join her side. This leaves The Fort severely understaffed, which is important because…I don’t know, it just is (who is buying all these poppies? The economics of this world are a little shaky). Jade suggests using the Clippers, the assassins, to harvest the poppies. Lydia demurs, but then shows up in the field anyway. In a vaguely sexual training lesson and post-field cool down, the two bond over the difficult work. “How do we do this?” Jade asks. “I don’t know, but I don’t want to do it as rivals,” Lydia responds. They unite to The Baron’s surprise. It’s an alliance that works even if it won’t last. They both have a lot to gain and only united are they as powerful as Quinn. It was a nice change of pace for Lydia who had been mostly one note until now.
But It’s most interesting because Jade goes down, presumably poisoned, at the end of the episode. First instinct points to her biggest rival.
The Widow is still fiending for M.K.’s super powers, and daughter Tilda is equally crushing on the boy. She goes to warn him that her mother still suspects him, but they are interrupted by a nosy colt and then Sunny himself. Tilda pulls a Mike Tyson on the kid’s ear, but is still taken in and strapped in the dreaded prison chair.
Luckily, The Widow has an inside man in the Fort and an epic fight between The Widow and Sunny takes place in the catacombs over custody of Tilda. There are so many nice bits on display here, especially in the facial expressions. Watch The Widow’s face when she sees the maces. Perfection.
Evander Holyfield is earing on the side of caution and beating the shit out of Tilda to make sure she doesn’t escape. Desperate, M.K. powers up and blows back the cell door, impaling the kid, another casualty of a teenage love affair.
Quinn watches on, his health having continued to worsen, meaning he now knows M.K.’s true powers. I’m sure he will be perfectly reasonable in his use of this information.
There are lots of ends to be tied up in the last episode next week. Into The Badlands has just found its footing and here’s hoping it can finish strong.
- Super conveniently, Sunny’s compass fits inside the book and now works! But you have to have it in the book, which seems like a poor design.
- I loved the composition of Quinn on the balcony flanked by his two wives, each wearing a bright solid color.
- “Kindess is a weapon men use to get what they want” - Tell that to the Internet.
- Evidently Jade is attending a Derby party after she milks the poppies.
- Quinn first saw Jade when she was 16. Gross.
- One more episode left! With Into The Badlands become Out Of The Badlands?