It’s been two days, and I’m still furious at Into the Badlands. As usual when I’m writing about this show, there’s going to be a ton of spoilers.
The last two episodes have kind of run together in my head, I think because in all honesty, not that much happened in the final episode. A lot of fighting, which kind of makes sense because it was the battle everything else in the season set up. Over the course of these two episodes, the Widow basically loses all of her allies and Sunny has it out with Quinn. That’s the nice recap.
Before I really work myself up into a howling rage, there were some things I liked. After Tilda and Odessa started their relationship, I was incredibly worried the whole time that either one of them would end up dead, Odessa would end up betraying Tilda, or Tilda would throw off Odessa for fucking MK and his inexplicable protagonist aura. All of those would be really typical ways for the show to fuck up a queer relationship. Instead, after Tilda picks her fight with the Widow and gets put in a cell, Odessa rescues her and they basically ride off into the sunset together. THANK FUCK. I have even more affection for Odessa, by the way, since apparently she saw MK go evil and kill a bunch of cogs in the shipment they were both a part of, and she stuck to her guns about Tilda needing to get the fuck away from him instead of getting hypnotized by his I’m The Writer’s Favorite Character aura. DOUBLE THANK FUCK.
I’ve got some real mixed feelings about the Widow, at this point. She’s still hanging in there as the most complex of the characters, and I still want to be on her team. But I also think she really earned what happened to her, in the sense of every one of her allies telling her to fuck off. Her decision to give Veil back to Quinn episodes ago bit her big time, and she deserved it. It caused Sunny to turn on her, and Tilda to turn on her, and Waldo as well.
Because this is the thing about the Widow. (And it’s a discussion I had with my housemate, who is more strongly on Team Widow than me after all this.) What’s getting her in trouble is that she’s made such a big deal out of how different from the other barons she is—she’s still ruthless, but she talked a really big game about how she wants to destroy the sick system around her, and bring about equality for people, and protect women. I’m not saying her decision to screw over Veil doesn’t make sense—it does, on an emotional level, because it was an act of pure revenge on her for Veil trying to drive a wedge between Tilda and the Widow—but it was a major crack of hypocrisy in her apparent convictions. And that was going to bite her when people found out.
Where I’ve got really mixed feelings here is wondering where the Widow is going to go from here. Will she course correct and realize she fucked up and recommit? Or is she going to show that she really is a giant hypocrite and it was all a ploy to get power, a different tack in a ruthless system? To be honest, if we get to season three and the Widow is the new villain who is just as bad as Quinn, I’m probably just going to give up on the show. She won’t be interesting any more, at least not to me.
Her final conversation with Waldo is what’s making me think we’re headed that way, though. Suddenly it’s not about knocking down the system any more. Because “these people don’t know how to be free.” Are you even fucking serious, Minerva. (Maybe you could call it a meta-critique of “white feminism” but after the way the season ended, I am giving no benefit of the doubt for this show.) And to me, it didn’t play like someone talking themselves into going over to the dark side, it read like someone finally showing their true colors now that they had their prize at hand.
I’m not expecting the Widow to be some kind of lawful good paladin, here. But I think it would be a lot more interesting watching her try to navigate a compromise between her obvious love for power and sincerely held principles, as opposed to them being faux-principles being something she discards offhand now that she has what she always wanted all along.
Because this is the thing. I never would have been on #TeamWidow if I’d thought she was just Quinn in prettier clothes who we blessedly don’t have to watch eat all the time. I wanted her to succeed because I bought in (got suckered?) to her vision of what she wanted to do and liked the push-pull of watching someone ruthless and pragmatic making terrible bargains with her eyes on that prize. But if it turned out to be bullshit all along? I guess bravo on the Widow for skunking me too, but I sure as hell won’t be cheering for her any more than I’m cheering for Baron Chau.
And at this point, I’m not really willing to trust the writers anymore, because…
After a protracted fight between Sunny and Quinn, during which time Sunny lands several good blows, Quinn seems to die. Sunny inexplicably doesn’t CUT OFF HIS GODDAMN HEAD, so that minutes later he can spring up and grab Veil. Who then stabs herself through the chest so she can stab the man behind her in the heart. And they both die.
No, really, fuck the writers. This was the most lazy, cheap, manipulative way they could have gone. Here, let’s go over a few highlights of how this was shitty, shitty writing.
- Way to kill off the black love interest. A+ racist trope.
- Veil was basically the token non-fighter character. Hell, even Lydia gets to put a shovel through a guy’s head. Veil has survived entirely on her wits and her determination because she isn’t a fighter. And they chose to kill her off. I guess if the message was that no one who can’t punch should survive, well done. Slow clap.
- The clumsy, continuous build up of people questioning if Sunny could actually kill Quinn, since Quinn raised him obviously was leading to this fight. And effectively, because of this build up we get the conclusion that Sunny’s relationship to Veil and his child, whom he is specifically trying to protect, is less important than whatever connection he subconsciously still has with Quinn. This takes two seasons of Sunny’s development as someone who is struggling to escape Quinn’s shadow and shits all over it with a cherry on top.
- Consider the difference if, say, Sunny hadn’t been able to kill Quinn, and Veil had still killed him, but without killing herself in the process. What does that say about their relationship versus Sunny standing there and watching her off herself because of something he couldn’t manage to do?
- After you fucking FORCE MARRIED VEIL TO QUINN, this is the payoff? All of her struggle, her survival, her determination, and she literally never gets to escape Quinn because she dies with him. She kills herself with his arms around her. She dies with their blood mingling again, this time through her own action. Just fuck you.
- Apparently his lover and child are not enough motivation for Sunny going forward. Instead, he needed a good ol’ injection of angsty manpain, because that’s the only interesting way a man can experience emotions? Fuck off.
And do not even come at me with something-something gritty realism. This is a show where the world-building is already paper thin and runs on an engine of fridge logic.
Killing Veil off destroyed a lot of avenues for interesting character development for both Veil and Sunny by cutting them off cold. It showed utter laziness because it plays into the idea that people trying to be in relationships and being prevented from being together is more interesting than people actually being in relationships and figuring them out—and this is the Badlands. It’s not like Veil and Sunny getting out of Quinn’s base together would mean they no longer have anything to do but fence repair and PTA meetings at Henry’s school. This could have been some good, crunchy, interesting character stuff in all directions.
It also basically shit on all the promise of emotional payoff that gets built into horrible situations for characters. I gritted my teeth and kept watching through all the horrific, rapey, awful shit she had to deal with regarding Quinn because I wrongly trusted the writers to give it some kind of decent resolution.
Sometimes it’s good to challenge the audience expectation if you can do something creative and even better with it. If you can take it somewhere new. If you can show there’s a reason for it, a promise that this is going to lead us on an even more wild ride. But the reason audience expectation is a thing is your audience is trusting you to tell them a good story. The way you structure a story is creates those expectations, and you better have a damn good reason if you’re going to whip around and shit all over them.
The entire fucking second season for Sunny and Veil was about a build up to their reunion—Veil surviving, escaping and failing, doing everything she could to just keep herself and Henry alive, while all the time Sunny tried to make it back to her. Their romance is one of the major emotional engines of the show—seeing if love can survive in dire circumstances, if people can keep their families together as the world falls apart around them.
Apparently the answer is no.
Killing off a woman while a man watches in horror is not new. A woman sacrificing herself while her man watches helplessly is not new. These are old, overdone, lazy tropes that reduce female characters to sacred items the men can get upset about is not new, or interesting, or a novel direction. Veil, who had her own internal life and was amazing, deserves better than to be stuffed in the refrigerator with so many other women.
Her death was a lazy betrayal, a failure of creativity, and no good narrative reason was offered. It feels like someone trying to be edgy by playing a nasty trick on an unsuspecting victim.
Sorry, it doesn’t make you edgy. It just makes you an asshole.