Into the Badlands, S2 E5: “Monkey Leaps Through Mist”
Written by LaToya Morgan
Directed by Paco Cabezas
“Do you pledge to uphold the twin pillars of the Foundation Treaty, Peace through Force and Justice without Mercy?”
If this episode had aired a little earlier in the year, Donald Trump could have used the quote above for his swearing in ceremony. When this show began in Fall 2015, I had no idea how political it would be. After last week’s bloodbath of barons, the action remains subdued as people regroup. Even though it’s a quiet week, another widow rises to power in the Badlands, and the show suffers its first death by hubcap. Sunny demonstrates that he cannot only fend off 20 men at a time, he can magically change shoes in mid-fight. Escape forms the theme for much of the exposition this week: M.K. escapes from the Abby but not necessarily from himself, and Veil takes advantage of an explosive moment to take baby Henry and escape from Quinn. Sunny and Bajie escape from a child sex trafficker with an unfortunate taste in makeup. There were many developments this week, but not much fighting.
Ryder did die after Quinn stabbed him last week. We’ll see if he shares his father’s ability to survive a fatal injury in future episodes, but so far it looks like he really is dead. Or at least he’s really dead enough for Jade to usurp his position and take over as baron. She swears an oath of office on the Foundation Treaty, which is like pledging to do exactly whatever you want, whenever you want, and to whomever you want without letting unimportant things like morals get in the way. Now there are two widows who have taken over from dead husbands. The Widow Minerva cares about the plight of people other than herself, and wants to change the unfair and unrelenting misery of the society that is the Badlands. Jade, however, has never thought about the wants or needs of another person and it doesn’t look like she’s going to start now. Either she actually cared for Ryder or she’s just pissed that Quinn killed off her favorite toy before she was ready for him to die. Since Jade was always aiming for the top position, I’m not sure why she shows so much resentment for Quinn’s attack on the conclave and his murder of Ryder. It worked in her favor, and she’s hardly the sentimental type.
Jade summons Lydia and tells her that Baron Quinn survives and that he has killed Ryder. She shows her Ryder’s body. Unlike Jade, Lydia does seem to genuinely mourn her son’s death. These two women form a surprising alliance: the first wife of a Baron, plus the second wife of the same Baron who is also the wife of that baron’s son. They seem like an unlikely team. But Lydia agrees to join Jade in seeking revenge. She tells Jade that Quinn possesses a bunker in the woods on the far eastern border of the baron’s lands. Her assistance to Jade is predicated upon one condition: Lydia gets to be the one to kill Quinn.
Lydia and Jade are going to have to race to kill Quinn, or else Quinn’s brain tumor is going to do it for them (not to mention whoever’s left after the massacre at the conclave). Quinn hallucinates that Ryder stands ever present near him, tormenting him. I guess Ryder represents Quinn’s sense of guilt for murdering his own son, because he is afflicted with Lady Macbeth syndrome: he sees blood on his hands where none exists. At the same time, this imaginary Ryder gives voice to Quinn’s greatest paranoia– driven fears, rendering him almost unable to separate reality from the ramblings of his own mind.
Quinn wants to believe that Veil and Baby Henry, whom he loves and who bring meaning into his life, are good and trustworthy. His Regent Declan, however, ties Veil to a chair and questions her about Edgar’s death. Veil explains that she was forced to kill Edgar when he tried to rape her, but Declan doesn’t believe that for a minute. He says Edgar was gay. Declan also knows that Veil has been lying about the growth of Quinn’s brain tumor, and the success of her treatment for it. He tells her she better start actually healing Quinn, or else.
While everyone else is plotting to kill Quinn, the Widow decides that what she needs is to form an alliance with him. The other barons already threw her under the bus, so she refuses to go back to them and grovel by asking for their help. This represents a turn away from the advice that Waldo has been giving her. After the throw-down at the conclave, the Widow determines that she will trust her own instincts rather than Waldo’s strategies. She applauds Tillie’s willingness to listen to her own intuition rather than the Widow’s orders, and not just because it saved her life. The Widow tells Tillie that a good Regent always trusts her own gut.
M.K. runs away from the Shaolin monastery. He now knows that he is responsible for his mother’s death after last week’s vision quest. Whether he is running to try and save himself or the people around him is not clear. Wherever he goes, he takes his power with him. What he will do with it remains unknown. He comes across a hanging tree with eight or nine corpses shifting in the breeze. He cuts down a young man about his own age, steals the boy’s clothes, and buries the body. Dressed in a dead man’s clothing, he sets off. We don’t know who these executed men were. We also don’t know where M.K. is going.
Bajie and Sunny find themselves in the encampment of the person who sold them to the mine. One thing this show does well is keep coming up with interesting villains. This one, called Nos, is a soft-spoken moonshiner with an intense love of eyeshadow who likes to refer to himself as the Commandant. He also deals in child prostitutes and scrap metal. He agrees to help Bajie and Sunny get back to the Badlands in return for the sword that Sunny took from last week’s now handless villain, Moon.
Women on this show lead the most atrocious lives imaginable. Women in the upper echelons of society, like Lydia and Jade and the Widow constantly must stay one step ahead of numerous enemies while manipulating and negotiating to maintain their power and their lives. Most women on the show however, live in the utmost misery. The Commandant’s dolls serve food and service his goons. One prostitute Portia, assigned to service Sunny, tries to hire him to kill Nos and help her and her daughter escape. She’s desperate because her young daughter is approaching the age where she will be turned into a prostitute. So these women not only are forced into prostitution themselves, they are forced to watch as their children are forced into prostitution as well. She begs for Sonny’s help, but he states that he doesn’t kill for hire anymore.
The prostitute assigned to Bajie informs Nos about Portia’s attempt to hire Sunny. Nos cuts her face and baits Sunny by talking about how he’s going to make a fortune off her daughter, who looks about nine. Bajie tries to get Sunny to leave, sensing that Sunny is about to embroil them in a battle. Sunny requests that Nos let him take Portia and her daughter Amelia with him when he goes, as Moon’s sword is worth far more than a ride to the Badlands. Nos not only refuses, he stabs Portia, thereby precipitating the first and only fight of this episode.
As Sunny takes his fighting stance and prepares to fight, he’s clearly wearing new-looking light blue sneakers. He starts dispatching Nos’s goons as they come at him, including throwing a hubcap so hard that it embeds into the head of an unfortunate goon. As Sunny continues to fight, his shoes magically change from the light blue sneakers to a pair of black buckled boots. He continues to kick ass in the new shoes. As he fights off Nos’s minions, Nos grabs Amelia and threatens to dismember her with Moon’s sword. Bajie knocks him out and tosses the sword to Sunny. They escape, taking the wounded Portia and Amelia with them. They drive off towards the Badlands in a Mad Max style vehicle from the late ‘70s which looks like it is running on spare Weed Wacker parts and tinfoil.
Driven to extreme paranoia by his hallucinations of Ryder, Quinn takes Baby Henry and threatens him with a knife. Clearly conflicted and torn between the poisonous insinuations of Ryder’s ghost and his need to believe that Veil is a good person, Quinn gives Henry to Veil when she kisses him and tells them that they can start a new life together as a family. Barely able to function in any meaningful way, Quinn screens an old black and white silent film. Outside his bunker, Lydia and Jade’s Clippers arrive and prepare to ambush Quinn and his men. They break open the door to the West Avalon underground bunker, setting off a huge explosion. Quinn has apparently booby-trapped the entrances to his lair. It looks like Lydia survived the blast but not many of the clippers were so lucky.
This episode closes with Veil taking advantage of the confusion caused by the explosion to escape with Henry. Where can she possibly go? Now that M.K. knows the truth about himself, where will he go and what will he do? All Sunny wants to do is get back to the woman he loves and their child, but now he has another woman and her child to protect along the way. Escape in the Badlands may just mean changing from one hell to another. Are we building up to a clash between the female barons of this godforsaken land, the Widow, Jade, and Lydia? Could a group of like-minded women actually transform this horrible place into an actual civilization? Somehow I think that’s optimistic.