It makes no sense why The Widow and her clan are not the center of this show. Composed and calculating, but with a through line of empathy, The Widow is a fully realized protagonist and her daughter, Tilda, a wonderful sometimes companion, sometimes foil. It’s the type of relationship that does not exist between Sunny and MK, the ostensible main characters of the show, and it’s frustrating to watch dramatic possibilities go largely to waste. instead, Into The Badlands delivers another uneven episode that hints at more potential.
As the name of the episode implies, triumvirates play a large role In “Two Tigers Subdue Dragons,” the fourth of a short six episode season. The main threeway is between the barons themselves, Quinn (our baron, so to speak), The Widow, and newcomer Jacoby, whose tribe is so into mining gold, they use their pickaxes as weapons. The Jacobys are pissed that Quinn took the oil fields, Quinn is pissed that The Widow keeps trying to kill his entire populace, and The Widow is pissed she got run out by Quinn. So, a parlay is in order.
Parlay comes to us via the Latin word par, which means equal (think parity). The main emotional hooks of the episode comes from a desire of each character to feel equal to another. MK, who goes into beast mode when he bleeds, desperately wants to be on par with his mentor Sunny. Disappointing is that these emotions are no different than they have been since the second episode; MK hasn’t changed at all. He’s training, but impatient, wanting to both to go on cool Clipper missions while also wanting to figure out how to bail out of the Badlands.
This dynamic, Sunny and MK’s desire to escape the Badlands, but their continued willingness (or obligation) to serve Quinn and his empire, fails to properly materialize into believable emotions. The only other interactions Sunny and MK have are about training. They don’t talk about the inherit tension of having to bust ass for a man, for an institution, they both want to escape. They don’t talk about how to manipulate their surroundings to achieve that. And so their bond dissolves and weakens with each episode and that doesn’t feel like an intentional choice from the creators.
It is heavily implied, interestingly but somewhat clumsily, that Tilda was raped by her father, The Widow’s husband. That’s a heavy bomb to drop, but it contextualizes The Widow’s desire for power in a way the other characters lack. It also opens a Pandora’s box of fucked up feelings between Tilda and The Widow, the wife of her abuser. The Widow wants to create a world where men are not in the position to exploit their power the way her husband did. It’s rare to see such a demonstratively feminist character on television, especially in a genre show, and it’s really refreshing. Again, it makes me want Into The Badlands to focus more on The Widow and Tilda, whose blue eyes stop MK’s hulk fists after he is cut in the graveyard.
The Widow pulls off a smart trick and it’s an example of political machinations we haven’t seen yet on Into The Badlands. Honestly, the show could use a little more clever. The Widows ambush a Jacoby gold transport and then frames one of Quinn’s Clippers for the robbery. In turn, Jacoby beheads one of Quinn’s scouts and helpfully carves “PARLAY” into his forehead. Quinn still sends Ryder to parlay with Jacoby, but everyone involved is wary, a powder keg needing only a spark to ignite it.
At the parlay in the cemetery, that spark comes from a Jacoby axe that Tilda throws at Quinn’s head. Luckily, MK, against orders, snuck along to the cemetery, and yells out a warning. The whole thing is a clever trick, but some of the logic of the show sags among the clinking swords. If this was all a set up to make Jacoby and Quinn fight each other, why would Tilda even bring her Widow ninja stars (aka The Widow’s business card)? For all of the puzzle pieces that had to click into place, it seems a thoughtless mistake. Also, why would MK save The Baron? (Did he even know he was saving The Baron? We don’t know.) However you slice it, The Baron dying helps MK’s escape. And wouldn’t the chaos of war make escape easier? Why are MK and Sunny even talking about “forms” instead of what’s best politically for their uneasy alliance? Into The Badlands takes some logical leaps I can buy like the lack guns and the presence of bonkers accents, but in “Two Tigers Subdue Dragons,” it violates its own emotional logic and that hinders the enjoyability of the episode.
Meanwhile, Ryder, wanting to be an equal of his father, is dragged into a threesome of his own with Zephyr (Jacoby’s Regent) and The Widow. At the same time, The Widow has bribed Quinn’s cogs to her side with the Jacoby gold, incensing Quinn and setting up the last act of the season. Finally, Sunny meets with the River King (seems like a nice dude) who reveals that MK straight up murdered about 30 of his cogs on the ship ride into the Badlands. The River King demands MK’s head in exchange for safe passage out of the Badlands, ending the episode with the first interesting cliffhanger of the season.
“Two Tigers Subdue Dragons” offers up a lot and succeeds occasionally. However, the main characters, Sunny and MK, are far more boring than anyone else around them and while the others feel powerful, Sunny comes of as impotent. As Sunny himself said, “You need to learn to make the unexpected move.”