In the massive backlash about the unnecessary whiteness of Netflix’s Iron Fist and then the reviews coming in to highlight that it’s apparently boring as shit and is full of lazy martial arts suck, I’ve been hearing a lot about Into the Badlands. The first season was available on Netflix, so I decided what the hell, let’s give it a whirl. I sat down to watch the first episode with my housemates, which became the first three episodes, which would have become the first four if we all hadn’t really needed to go to bed for work at that point.
Now I know I’m in trouble, because I don’t have cable and can’t subscribe to AMC the way I have to HBO. But that won’t hurt me until I’ve run out of episodes. Um.
Anyway, I’m going to blog as I go. Spoilers shall abound, obviously, because I’m going to just react to what I’ve watched.
Goddamn It’s Pretty
The first three episodes are fucking gorgeous. It’s got a saturated color pallet that shifts depending on the scene, which is amazing for setting tone and even speaking to the characters involved. It’s so colorful! From the start, seeing Sunny’s red coat-of-total-badass-+3, I knew it was going to be something different. It’s got a hyper-real, almost video game feel at times, like you just tripped and fell into a backdrop from a jrpg or something.
And the camera work, especially in the fight scenes. My god. In the first episode, there’s a fight that takes place in the rain, in a street partially covered in water. Moments of slow motion often get overused or poorly used these days in fight scenes, but this was gorgeous in its use. Particularly the use of water reminded me of one of the most beautiful fights in Hero.
And Speaking of Fights, Holy Shit
I feel like this series is going to be governed by the laws of kung fu movies a lot—you can feel when the fights are coming, and there will always be fights. And there’s the classic, beloved, badguys-form-a-ring-around-the-good-guy thing. It’s all very conscious in its formula, and if you love kung fu movies like I do, it’s going to speak directly to you.
Beyond that, these scenes are good. The foot work is solid. There’s that quality of a well-rehearsed fight where it’s got the feeling of back and forth exchange, where the fight itself is telling a story. And stylistically, every character has their own style that suits their personality. Sunny’s first fight is utterly, almost comically brutal in how he deals with the bandits, showing how tough he is as an enforcer for Quinn. But in his later fights, there’s style in there that feels much more like classic wuxia to me, hinting that he really is a hero and good beneath it all.
And the Widow. My god, the Widow. I love that here’s actually a point to her high heels. And the first time we see her fight, it’s all in close and hidden daggers and her sprouting weapons you never would have guessed she had. And that’s her down to the core, someone to never be underestimated. When she fights Quinn, they’re diametrically opposed, where he’s brutal and straight in and ultimately wins by overpowering people, whereas she comes at everything from an angle and never holds still.
In the first three episodes, they did something different with every fight, told a different story. I’m excited to see more. In a TV series it’s got to be harder to keep up interest and keep finding innovative ways for people to punch and stab each other, but the first three episodes have given me a lot of faith.
Well, I mean, when we see Quinn’s Barony, it’s basically a Handmaid’s Tale kind of wet dream. We see no female Clippers. All of the Clippers-in-training are called Colts, which really just highlights that it’s all boys, full stop. Quinn apparently gets to have multiple wives. While I was enjoying the setting already, that made me kind of leery because I didn’t really want to watch a show where it’s basically female oppression free-for-all with pretty punching.
Enter the Widow. I thought all right, this might be getting interesting since it’s obviously a set conflict between her—whom Quinn constantly tries to discredit as a Baron in her own right, subtext being because she’s female—and the super misogynist Baron. Then we actually get to the Widow’s territory and see that her most elite enforcers are all female, and she seems to refer to all of them(?) as her daughters. So now it’s a conflict between a toxic patriarchy and an apparent matriarchy. (Which is much less toxic in that we do see men actually doing things in the Widow’s world.)
The Widow does have a name, by the way, but it seems she’s take on “the Widow” as almost a title of pride—like if she won’t have “Baron” out of the mouths of people, she will have something. She’s obviously not in any kind of state of true mourning. She also does the classic “use a guy’s misogynistic attitude against him” several times in her own right, or by siccing Tilda on the bandits, for example. So there is a satisfaction to seeing misogyny get weaponized against men, but… it’s also a prevalent thing in TV. Better than the alternative of just wall to wall misogyny though, I suppose.
Then in the third episode I watched, by the way, we find out that another Baron has a female Clipper as his regent. Okay, this is awesome to know. Obviously, the Barons each set the tone for their own territory, and Quinn is a special kind of turd. But now I want to know more about the world!
I mean, no matter where you are, it pretty obviously sucks to be someone who’s not a baron.
By the way, I find both of the young male characters in the series insufferable, for different reasons. Ryder is a very classic disappointment of a son who is trying very hard to impress daddy and struggle for power in an underhanded way because he can’t come at daddy overtly. I basically want to punch him every time he’s on screen, which I suppose makes him a good villain? His face isn’t quite as punchable as Eddie Redmayne playing the rather similar in character Balem Abrasax, but my goodness.
I mean, it does make sense in a conversation with modern society that the bad guy we’re building up should be an entitled, (white) manchild. Because I’m predicting that Quinn’s days are numbered and Ryder isn’t going to have some kind of redemption arc.
And then MK. I am incredibly glad that Sunny is the main character of this series and not MK, because I’d probably nope the hell out instead of wanting to watch more. MK’s problem seems to be that he’s a teenager, and he wants what he wants now. I’m not going to say this isn’t normal for his age and situation, I just find it frustrating because he’s very one-note so far. And I’m utterly mystified why most everyone but Waldo (and Sunny) seem to find this charming, or at least not murderously annoying. I’m guessing Sunny sees a lot of himself in MK, but goodness. And why does Tilda keep sticking her neck out for him? It’s a mystery.
I do find it hilarious that MK is basically the damsel in distress that Sunny has to keep rescuing, though.
Waldo and Veil
Waldo and Veil as characters are awesome for totally different reasons. But awesome nonetheless.
Veil is basically the strongest person in the show. She has managed to deal with Quinn on multiple occasions, even knowing that he murdered her parents with his own two hands, and hasn’t broken. She is quiet, but she is a rock.
And Waldo beat the snot out of MK while looking totally bored, and I love him. I want him to be my grandpa.
Hope I get to watch more episodes soon.