Into the Badlands, S2 E2: “Force of Eagle’s Claws”
Written by Matt Lambert
Directed by Nick Copus
“Is that clipper humor? Very droll. Maybe you should go back to punching people.”
Every time you see a giant fan spinning in the background of a fantasy or sci-fi show, you know somebody is going to get chopped up in the blades. It’s one of the Hollywood Rules. But Badlands gets points for incorporating ideas cadged from other shows into this time-honored tradition. The producers of Into the Badlands also watch Game of Thrones and Ash v. Evil Dead. You can tell. The aforementioned fan splatters blood and body parts into the open mouths of onlookers, and this week’s episode features a wedding at which there is a massacre, which also splatters blood into the faces of bystanders. Not only does this show sport the best martial arts action on TV, but it combines all the best features of television’s most expensive TV show with one of the yuckiest.
The cage fight set up by last week’s show comes about with a twist: as expected, Sunny fights Despicable Middle-Management’s huge champion, but he does it while shackled to Bajie. Bajie gets in the way and messes up some of Sonny’s moves, but this gives Sunny a chance to show off his kicking skills, which are magnificent. Further, Sunny uses Bajie’s weight for an especially impressive dead drop, and that allows the two time to escape. They make it as far as the giant spinning fan, where the fight erupts again. Confounding expectations, though Sunny is held suspended in the fan while Bajie jams the blades, both he and Bajie – and the champion – initially make it through the fan. The champion should have quit while he was ahead, though, because he ends up chopped into a million nasty little pieces and sprayed into Despicable Middle-Management’s mouth. I don’t know what they use as a prop for these scenes here and on Ash, but I hope it tastes good.
It’s the little touches that make a show worth watching. This season the opening credits have been given a visual boost. It’s not enough anymore for a show to just slap together a montage of key characters and list their names. Perhaps because of the complex “game” that opens Game of Thrones, as well as the high-quality graphics which begin series such as Vikings and Turn, fans expect to be entertained even while the credits roll. The graphics on Badlands resemble those used for a show called Ancient Assassins; though this series is set in the future, that seems appropriate. They add to the visual interest of the show, and that’s a plus. But nothing made this episode more entertaining than when the show’s resident wheelchair-bound badass, Waldo, referred to “Tilda the Killa” as ”Tinkerbell.” It just doesn’t get any better than that.
The producers of Badlands must also pay attention to Pinterest, because they staged a Bohemian-style wedding at the Commune of Arty Linen Clothing worthy of a Martha Stewart Living photo spread. Although I don’t think Martha generally depicts the groom getting speared right after the ceremony. Anyway, after the nuptials, Lydia offers a toast and thanks the members of the Commune for welcoming her home. She says that her time there has been some of the happiest in her life, just as a few nomads show up and start hacking up the wedding party. We have not seen Lydia fight previously on this series. She has not been one of the martial arts practitioners on the show. But what she lacks in formal training, she makes up for with her ability to improvise weapons from whatever happens to be around. When the nomads threaten her father, she defeats them with, in order: a knife, a chair, a meat fork, hot soup, and another knife. So handy in the kitchen! Martha would be proud. Lydia gives “knife skills” a whole new meaning.
Unfortunately for Lydia, her father does not appreciate such violence. He reprimands her, saying “killing is a privilege left only to the gods.” While one wonders how anyone who lives in the Badlands could ever say such a thing, it reveals an important point. He accepts the possibility of death at any time. Unlike everyone else in this godforsaken land, he does not claw and scrabble just to stay alive a little bit longer.
Lydia returns to her marital home, but whether she goes voluntarily or was thrown out of the Commune is not clear. She speaks to Ryder about protecting the Commune, as Quinn had always done. But mother and son argue, and Ryder ends up grabbing his mother by the throat. He refuses to protect the Commune from the nomads. All is not lost, though – as long as they maintain a well-stocked kitchen, Lydia should be able to provide enough protection.
At the mountain monastery, M.K. learns that his greatest enemy lies within himself. The master takes him into a hall of mirrors, where he must face all of the things that he’s ever done. The nightmares that M.K. suffers while he sleeps pale in comparison to the ones he faces in the hall of mirrors. He fights against his dark self, the one within him who drives his violence. It looks like M.K.’s dark self may be more powerful than he is – the master must wake him from his trance before M.K.’s dark self wins.
Meanwhile, Sunny and Bajie traverse the outlying territory, bantering all the way. The show is now filmed in Ireland, and the gorgeous landscape adds yet another element borrowed from Game of Thrones. I guess every Game of Thrones reference will be matched by Ash v. Evil Dead yuckiness: the camera actually shows Bajie bite the head off a rat and eat it. I hope it wasn’t real.
When Sunny cannot break the shackles that bind them with a rock, Bajie picks the lock with a rat bone, proving that intellect is just as important as strength. Determined to make his way back to the Badlands, Sunny attempts to leave Bajie behind, only to come up against a huge wall stretching off into each direction as far as the eye can see. Sunny cannot conquer the wall, but Bajie may know the way through. These two are like a married couple you have over for dinner just so you can spend the evening watching them bicker.
Quinn has gathered his remaining clippers into some underground hideaway. He plans to make some sort of comeback. He is holding Veil and her baby captive. He claims to be keeping her safe, in return for her care, which saved his life after his apparent death at the end of season one. He obviously plans to use the baby for his own purposes. He holds a baptism for the child, during which he anoints the child with blood and christens him, and at the same time kills a clipper who had the temerity to spy on Vail by stabbing him in the eye with a deer antler. It looks like he will fulfill the role of Godfather in more ways than one.
Game of Thrones does not return until July this year. Ash Versus Evil Dead probably won’t return until the fall. Luckily we have a ten episode season of Into the Badlands to tide us over until those shows return, with the added spice of Martha Stewart Living tips on how to keep a home well-stocked and well defended at the same time. Happy thoughts!