This week’s Into the Badlands took a little side trip through Sunny’s poison-infected mind, introducing us to an older version of his son, Henry and an idyllic (well … ) Wizard of Oz-ish, farm life twist.
After he was “tagged” by Cyan with the 5 poisons, which Bajie informs MK will spread through Sunny’s brain, liver, kidneys, lungs, and finally, his heart, Sunny spends the hour in his alterna-world as a farmer who can’t adequately protect his wife and child. These deep-seated fears mix with Sunny’s guilt about the many lives he’s taken as Quinn’s Clipper, and in this father’s dreams, Henry wants nothing more than to carry on the family legacy.
While Sunny deals with the terrors in his own mind, MK and Bajie go on their own mini-journey — both figuratively and literally — discovering more about each other as they head back to the monastery in search of the miraculous cure Sunny desperately needs.
Nick Frost’s gifts are full on display here, as he has an intriguing discussion with MK about their shared losses. MK tells Bajie he killed his own mother; Bajie confesses he left the monastery over a talented, young apprentice he called “Flea”. (Is Flea The Widow?). MK manages to convince his reluctant companion to return to their training grounds (land of the dinner siren) in search of a cure, after his offhand mention of a certain compass … which once back inside the monastery, Bajie promptly steals. The pair quickly and easily find what they’re looking for (a diagram and set of giant needles), but of course as they try to leave, the Master discovers them. And, cue the big fight scene!
Bajie is surprisingly agile, proving we’ve underestimated his fighting skills and almost embarrassing superiority to the much younger MK. As with all such Badlands fighting, they seem to get off and out of there a little too easily, but likewise, the fight scenes are always an enjoyable episode highlight.
This brings me to a point — a plea, if you will — especially now that ItB has been renewed for a third, super-sized season: This series really requires better dialogue, and a deeper dig into its characters. In between the excellent fighting, it’s a struggle to get through some of Badlands‘ simplistic conversations (Veil and Sunny; yes, it’s only a dream conversation, but still), and many — if not all — of the episodic conflicts are quickly resolved, almost brushed off. I don’t think I’m alone in wishing for, if not a Game of Thrones level of complexity, at least something in the middle of that series and what we’re getting here and now. The writing feels too close to big three network television, and with such good actors on board, they and we deserve better. The fight scenes, though? Fantastic.
Back in Sunnyland, our hero hears the whisper of MK calling to him, but tells Henry it’s just the wind. Henry informs his father he doesn’t want to be a farmer; he wants to be a fighter, and in trying to impress his creepy “friend” in the woods, a ghostly girl he calls Artemis (Hazel Doupe), Henry kills and marks all the pigs in the barn. Of the pleasantly unexpected little horror sideshow, I have nothing but good to say. Artemis was wonderful; she was almost the personification of Kubo and the Two Strings‘ creepy sisters, and it amped up the episode whenever she appeared. When it’s finally revealed she’s one of Sunny’s victims, and as he’s succumbing to the spreading poison, the bodies of those he’s killed begin falling on top of him (that scene reminded me of Jon Snow’s near burial among the bodies in “Battle of the Bastards“).
Of course, it’s down to the last moment before Bajie jams in the the needles (yak!) to save Sunny’s life, just as he feels Artemis choking the last breaths of life from him.
Off in B-plot land, The Widow and Co. made a surprise attack on Jade, and by “Co.”, I mean Quinn, who even as he’s threatening does it so smoothly, all I want is for him to read me bedtime stories every night. Surrounded, and with her Clippers and Cogs either killed or run off, Jade has no choice but to accept defeat. Once again, Quinn spares a ladylife, and tells the Widow to drop Jade out at the Badlands’ borders, exiled.
The hour closes out with Bajie sitting by a stream, speaking of his Flea freed and fleeing from the needle room. After MK lets him know Sunny is on the mend, Bajie pulls out the compass he stole, opens and closes it on whatever secrets it holds, and everyone lives happily ever after, for now. And, that’s part of the issue I must take with the series; despite its better parts (great actors, excellent fighting, gorgeous visuals), I often find myself drifting off in between the big scenes. Sunny, Bajie, The Widow, Quinn and others could truly be intriguing if their psyches were further delved. Here’s hoping AMC’s continued support and promotion allow that to happen.