INTO THE BADLANDS: Sunday 10PM on AMC
The vigorously pulpy INTO THE BADLANDS has returned for a second season, gifted by AMC with a Walking Dead lead-in for the first 3 weeks of its run that should guarantee some viewer attention. This time it has a 10-episode order, not necessarily good news considering how ponderous last year’s 6 episodes tended to be.
The season premiere, written by series creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, introduced some new locales. The last time we saw our hero Sunny (Daniel Wu), the expert assassin (“Clipper”) was imprisoned on a slave ship, and when the story picked up 6 months later, he was enduring forced labor as a miner. The intent was probably to introduce a grittier feel to the vaguely futuristic, fantasy-driven action, but the sequences have an unfortunate visual similarity to some of Syfy’s cheaper licensed scripted programming. However, Nick Frost is a welcome addition to the cast as Sunny’s untrustworthy new sidekick, injecting a bit of levity to his scenes.
Meanwhile, the show’s Chosen One MK (Aramis Knight), was off at Chosen One training camp, where the leader, known only as The Master, was already finding his powers difficult to control. This is a more luxurious setting, with the martial-arts-and-magic tutorials held near waterfalls and other picturesque sights.
Back in the Badlands, war continued to rage between the forces of Ryder (Oliver Stark), who is believed to have killed his father Baron Quinn (Martin Csokas) and who had now married dad’s fiancee Jade (Sarah Bolger), and those of The Widow (Emily Beecham) and her daughter Tilda (Ally Ionnides). The reveal in the episode’s final shot that Quinn isn’t so dead after all would be a bigger twist if Martin Csokas’s name weren’t still emblazoned on the opening credits as a series regular, but it’s a bit more of a surprise that Quinn is with Sunny’s lover Veil (Madeleine Mantock) and Sunny’s newborn child.
Into the Badlands is far better when people are killing each other than when they’re speaking, and Gough and Millar wisely piled plenty of action into the season’s opening hour. The highlight was an attack by The Widow and Tilda on Ryder’s oil refinery, directed with high bloody style by Nick Copus, and featuring beats where The Widow sliced and diced a guard while he was still standing (until his severed head fell off) and killed several more with a single throwing star. Tilda, too, got a grand bloodthirsty moment at the episode’s end, where she revenged herself with a dagger on a renegade soldier who had raped women in the town., kicking off a massacre by her troops
What keeps Badlands from being more consistent fun is the dialogue, which is stilted and painfully expository. The cast is also uneven, with some of the actors sounding as though they’ve been dubbed for US exhibition. With 9 more hours to fill, there can be only so many battle sequences, and the substance of the show is likely to mostly be its weakest parts. On the other hand, at least Badlands doesn’t take itself as seriously as Walking Dead does, let alone that show’s superfluous spin-off. Into the Badlands is far from a necessary journey, but every episode supplies a few minutes of extravagant blood and guts that are worth the wait.