I meant to write about episodes 1-3 a couple weeks ago when I actually watched them, but then I got sidetracked with some editing. So we’re just going to talk about the first six episodes in one big wad.
Spoilers included. So many spoilers. Like sprinkles on your donut.
Season 2 starts with a time skip. Sunny has been sold down the river into slavery, basically, and he’s out of the Badlands. MK is in some kind of monastery that has a super picturesque waterfall. Ryder’s a baron and Jade’s got Lydia’s old job. Lydia’s living a peaceful life in her dad’s cult. And Veil… well, she’s had her and Sunny’s baby (Henry) and is trapped in an underground lair belonging to Quinn.
Yeah, Quinn’s still alive
Initially, I was super pissed about this. Sunny killing Quinn at the end of season 1 was like the big payoff. Where even though he failed at almost everything else he was trying to do, he managed that. So it felt like a cheat for him to miraculously have survived getting stabbed through the chest by The Best Clipper Ever™ just to continue slowly dying of brain cancer.
After six episodes, I’m less angry about Quinn still being alive. Mostly because I can see why he makes for such a good villain for story purposes. He’s utterly unhinged, he seems to be descending into more overt forms of insanity (probably thanks to the brain tumor) and he makes a good outside force that’s utterly unpredictable. He’s the nemesis for the Widow and her foil, which is not a role anyone else could have really filled, I think. Ryder didn’t have the chops as a character, and Baron Chau got introduced fairly late. (And it would have been another sort of story problem to kill off the Widow’s old nemesis and promptly introduce a new one.)
But man, Quinn is awful. He’s a very chewy villain, in the sense that he’s the one guy you can root for to get killed off one hundred percent and have no doubts. There’s also that sort of badguy suck field around him, where he tries to twist everyone else into being what he is, which is fascinating and horrible. He tries it on Ryder and it doesn’t work, which is why Ryder dies (can’t say I’m sorry), and then Lydia, and… ew. That’s a slow motion collision of two garbage trucks that are on fire right there.
I’m kind of waiting to see where she’s going, because so far it hasn’t been what I expected. She’s got that classic sort of “can’t escape the old life” story, where she seems to be finding peace in her dad’s cult, and then reacts violently to defend them from bandits and gets kicked out in thanks. But after that, what is she up to? She seemed so eager to kill Quinn, and now… yuck. I don’t know. I’m hoping she’s got something more in store than just endlessly repeating bad old habits.
But the women in general
Into the Badlands keeps really being about the female characters, I think, with Sunny and his buddy adventure with Bajie the notable exception. Jade’s now a baron thanks to Quinn whacking Ryder, and I don’t think she’s going to have a merciful bone in her body about it. I’m still on Team Widow forever, and it’s interesting to watch the push and pull between Tilda and Waldo on that front, with Tilda pushing the Widow to be more ideologically pure and fanatical, and Waldo trying to coach her on how the game is played—when the Widow at least keeps insisting that her end goal is destroying the game entirely.
I was honestly surprised to see Baron Chau, since I hadn’t gotten the impression there were other female barons, the way everyone had been treating the Widow. But then we get the perspective on why everyone’s challenging her legitimacy, which is still… not making sense? Baron Chau draws the line between herself and the Widow, because Chau “did it properly.” She worked her way up through the ranks, becoming a clipper before she took power from her father “the right way.” (Was this killing him? Did that get explicitly stated?) And somehow that means the Widow isn’t good enough, because she just married a baron, and then murdered him and took power.
Considering the whole thing for this society seems to be “might makes right,” I’m really not buying this distinction. And I’m also wondering about Jade taking her oath as baron, since Quinn was the one who killed Ryder. Are the other barons going to be challenging her legitimacy as well? Or are they just after the Widow, because she represents someone who is supposed to be powerless besting them at their own game and that really upsets them? If this really is about them trying to delegitimize someone who is challenging their power (which as we know is something those in power love to do in the real world), their incoherent attacks on her make sense, and the thin “just-so” stories they’re telling themselves as to why they deserve power and she doesn’t also make sense.
So I do hope that’s what’s going on. It’s sure an effect that should be examined.
The series is building into more rationalizations that people make as well, with the Widow coming up with a super shitty one to rationalize why she’d give another woman (Veil) back to the very thing the Widow professes to hate (Quinn). The Widow needs the alliance with Quinn for her strategy to have a chance, so she grasps at the only straw she has to tell herself it’s okay to treat Veil like she claims no one should be treated.
I just really fucking hope someone calls her on it.
And my god, Veil continues to be my everything. She is unstoppable, even when she’s terrified. And she is living by her wits, which is extra nice to see in a show where martial arts run the world.
My Queer Ship
So basically from the second time Tilda and Odessa were on screen together, I was like yes please, give me this. I was not expecting the writers to have somehow read my mind and given me Odessa and Tilda kissing. I made noises that could probably only be heard by dogs.
Please do not fuck this up, Into the Badlands. I know terrible things happen to everyone in this story, but let Odessa and Tilda have a decent moment. Do not give us yet more tragic dead queers. Do not make it all about evil manipulative bisexuals. And let this be the way for Tilda to escape the MK suck field, because she deserves better than that utter nonsense.
Because fuck MK
I found MK incredibly annoying in season 1. The greatest benefit of season 2 is that there has been less of him. Unfortunately, he continues to have Chosen One-itis in the worst possible way. I don’t care about his tragic past or his angst, but whatever.
I didn’t actually get angry about it until Ava died for him, though. Oh look, MK’s first on-screen fridged girl, not to be confused with his mom. I’m so fucking done with it. So many characters seem to be caught in this vortex around MK where they want to take care of him, and there is literally no reason for it. Why did Sunny suddenly decide that he couldn’t possibly go back to the Badlands without MK? How did he even know MK was around? There’s no sense to it.
I remember back when I first got into anime and watched Fushigi Yuugi. I was constantly annoyed and frustrated by Miaka, who had this entire harem of hot, powerful dudes who just wanted to protect her. But looking back on it, I can at least understand what redeeming qualities Miaka had as a character. She was cheerful, she always tried to make everyone feel better, she tried to think about others before herself even if she was a total failboat at it, and she genuinely cared about other people. So yeah, I still don’t want to listen to her endlessly screaming Tamahome’s name, but I now get the justification for why the other characters actually gave a shit.
MK doesn’t have any of that. He’s intensely selfish, he’s petulant, he’s got a shit attitude, he’s constantly getting himself into trouble, and others into trouble, and he never fucking apologizes for it. He’s the confidence of a mediocre white dude writ large, where he never has to say sorry for anything because he’s not the one who’s wrong, it’s the world that’s wrong and should change. (Yes, the system around Sunny was wrong and sick and he needed to get out of it—and he already knew this without MK making his life a thousand times more difficult.)
Where this comes out most is with Ava, who was doing just fine in the monastery, and then MK shows up, decides he hates everything about it, and somehow (for no reason I can define) causes Ava to follow him—and not just because she’s going to bash him over the head and drag him back to the waterfall before anyone notices. So of course Ava dies for him.
And yay for Bajie
I’m basically legally required to like Bajie because of Nick Frost, come on. But he is an utterly delightful foil for Sunny, and he’s a great comic relief character that’s got his own complex and interesting skill set. Can’t we just keep him as the sidekick and get rid of MK permanently?