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Into the Badlands: “Black Heart, White Mountain”

Into the Badlands, S2 E7: “Black Heart, White Mountain”
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by Stephen Fung

“It would be like walking in with our dicks in our hands and sorry, sorry, I’m not going to put my dick in that position.”

This week on The Bajie Show, Bajie saves Sunny’s life. Of course, that happens every week, but surprise – this week he does it with acupuncture! Who saw that coming?

This episode employs the clever device of one storyline unfolding within Sunny’s unconscious mind, while a parallel storyline develops as M.K. and Bajie try to save Sunny’s life. Sunny lays in a coma at Christmas-land after one of the abbots attacked him with The Hand of Five Poisons in last week’s episode. As his body nears death, his mind un-scrolls an M. Night Shyamalan ghost story, in which he lives out his ideal life as a peaceful 19th century farmer with Veil and Henry, now magically aged about seven. Even as it appears that Sunny’s near death experience consists of his ideal life, a scary looking woman calls out to him from the trees. And in the distance, Sunny can hear M.K.s voice calling his name.

M.K. insists on trying to save Sunny. The Master possesses a library of medical scrolls with cures for all kinds of injuries. M.K. devises a scheme by which he and Bajie will break into the monastery and steal the necessary scroll. Bajie agrees, even though he does not think that Sunny will survive long enough to make the trip. On the way, they open up about why each of them left the monastery; M.K. says he left because he found out something about himself and something about the monastery, but leaves the details vague. Bajie talks about his favorite novice, a little girl named Flea. Like M.K., she was so powerful that she killed indiscriminately when under the influence of her supernatural rage. The abbots at the monastery put her in their needle room and extracted her gift.

While Bajie and M.K. try to save Sunny, Sunny’s dream life starts to turn into a nightmare life. His son Henry describes a friend he met in the woods, who gave him a sword. The sword is the same sword that Sunny forcibly took from Moon. Henry says his friend’s name is Artemis, like the Greek goddess of the hunt. It appears that she may be some sort of angel of death, for she is clearly hunting Sunny. She keeps appearing, each time getting closer. Henry discovers that all of the farm’s pigs have been killed and lined up neatly in the barn, with crosses carved out of their skins. Sunny insists that wolves must have done it. Yeah, wolves with scalpels.

As Sunny denies what is really happening, Artemis’s appearances grow more dangerous. Henry cuts his hand on Moon’s sword, then what look like bloody clipper tattoos appear on his back. Artemis pursues Sunny, reaching for him, grabbing him. She gets him by the throat, and asks him if he remembers her. He does not.

Sunny’s condition worsens as Bajie and M.K. drive to the monastery. Bajie leads them to a door behind the waterfall through which they can break in, but Bajie refuses to enter the monastery at all, even to save Sunny’s life. M.K. reveals to Bajie that he is like Flea: his trance in the mirror room revealed that M.K. had even killed his own mother. Bajie finds that interesting, but not as interesting as M.K.’s stories about Azra, especially when M.K. tells him about the book and the compass that supposedly show how to find it. Bajie relents and enters the monastery with M.K. He tells M.K. that in addition to the scroll, they must find a leather satchel with needles in it – these are the tools they will use to save Sunny’s life if they can. All goes well, M.K. finds the satchel with needles and Bajie locates the correct scroll. Bajie also finds Sunny’s Azra compass and pockets it, but neglects to mention this to M.K. Just when it looks like they are going to escape with their goodies, they come face-to-face with the Master.

Since both Bajie and M.K. have lost their gifts, a fact which has not yet been explained entirely, their chances against the Master appear slim, especially when she throws them through a wall without even touching them. They end up tumbling into the dining hall during dinner. Now they’re up against not only the Master but all of the abbots and novices as well. It appears that Bajie knows how to do two things really well. One is eat. The other is to figure out ways to survive the most un-survivable crises. Bajie tells M.K. to cut the novices because their supernatural rages will compel them to attack the abbots. Pretty clever! Bajie and M.K. focus their fighting to inflict minor cuts on the novices; soon the abbots and the novices are killing each other and it looks like the Master is going to be the master of a lot of corpses. Then they stop fighting amongst themselves and all turn on the Master. Bajie and M.K. escape the monastery before we find out whether the Master survives or dies.

Back in the Badlands, Jade takes a bath. She yells to her slave that the bathwater is getting cold but the slave never responds. Hearing some strange noises, Jade looks out the window and discovers that her compound is under attack by men in blue shirts and bowler hats. The Widow is invading.  Jade finds her slaves stealing all her stuff and running away. One of them even slaps and kicks her on her way out the door. Jade, her regent, and a few of her loyal clippers head for the tunnels to escape but Tillie and the Widow are waiting for her. One of the Widow’s butterflies kills the regent with throwing stars. The Widow gets to exercise her killer heels yet again, trapping Jade with a boot under the chin. Jade scoffs that she didn’t think the Widow killed women, and the Widow agrees, as Quinn walks up. Jade and Quinn have a nice chat, the kind where he accuses her of being just like him and she taunts him that he is incapable of love. I think they’re both right. Quinn tells the Widow that he will take Jade to the Badlands border and leave her there alone so that she can suffer some of the misery she has inflicted on so many others. So much for the very short regime of Baroness Jade. So far.

As Bajie and M.K. fight for their lives in order to save his, Sunny’s nightmare grows even worse. Like all terrifying dreams, this one reflects Sunny’s deepest fears. Henry wants to grow up to be a fighter; Sunny is afraid that he’ll do just that. Veil decides to take Henry away from Sunny and the weird things that are happening, but Henry doesn’t want to go. So sweet baby Henry kills her. Two apparitions of Artemis appear, beckoning Sunny into the woods. When he looks back, Henry has turned into the sword. Sunny takes the sword and enters the woods. Artemis explains that she and her brother were killed by Sunny, one of so many people that Sunny killed that he can’t even remember their faces. All of Sunny’s kills appear in the woods and surround him, like so much guilt. They attack him, the way guilt attacks one’s peace of mind.

Sunny’s body convulses and his tattoos start bleeding while his mind confronts his atrocities. Using the scroll for guidance, Bajie sticks him with the acupuncture needles, which are more like the size of knitting needles. It’s amazing that Sunny could survive the treatment, let alone the injuries. When Sunny awakes, Bajie crows jubilantly that he has saved Sunny’s life (again) (parentheses mine). And yet another verse is added to The Ballad of Bajie and Sunny! This song would be getting repetitive if it wasn’t for the inventive use of unlikely utensils.

Bajie, M.K., and Sunny share a tranquil moment by a babbling stream on a beautiful golden day. Bajie tells M.K. that he actually got Flea out of the monastery, and he’s been looking for her ever since. The only place he hasn’t looked is in the Badlands. And so our heroes embark on a quest to find the people they’ve lost, and maybe a little of that idyllic dreamlife Sunny seeks somewhere over the rainbow in a place called Azra, but hopefully without the creepy apparitions.

Focusing primarily on the ghost story and inserting it within the larger story arc proves surprisingly effective. You wouldn’t think that martial arts and supernatural horror would go together. But the interior, psychological drama framed in terms of a ghost story fully illustrates Sunny’s inner conflict. How that is going to affect his external, physical conflicts in future remains to be seen.

Grade: A

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Amy Anna was raised by wolves. She spends all her time eating and watching movies while lying on the couch . Her animal totem is the velociraptor.

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