Into the Badlands, S2 E9: “Nightingale Sings No More”
Written by Justin Britt-Gibson
Directed by Paco Cabezas
“Same old Sunny. Just back from the dead, already found a new way to die.”
With an ominous title like “Nightingale Sings No More” for this episode, we were perhaps given a heads up that at least one of our female characters was in peril. As it turns out, they all are. Just not from the same threat.
The big reveal comes early this week, as the episode opens on a flashback from 20 years ago when Bajie was still working as an abbott at the monastery. He’s just brought back a recruit locked in one of the monastery’s special trunks. This one must be very powerful, for she busts out of the trunk. Surprise! It’s a little redheaded girl named Minerva. Sound familiar? Bajie’s friend Flea and the Widow are one and the same person. Furthermore, Flea arrived with the Azra book but she can’t read it. Bajie tells her that they will keep the book their little secret. He says it’s fate that they met.
Fast-forward to the present day. It seems that Bajie has known that Flea became the Widow all along. He smashes himself against a tree and whacks himself in the face a couple times so that he can credibly claim to be a refugee and ask for protection from the Widow. Though they don’t meet up right away, their potential reunion presages several other reunions that occur this week; Sunny and Bajie, Tillie and M.K., Sunny and Waldo. Of course, this is the Badlands, so it’s not a reunion unless a fight breaks out.
Tillie and M.K. catch up after their long separation. M.K. tells her that he’s lost his powers, and that he doesn’t want them back. For the first time in his life, he feels free. He shows her the magazine cover depicting Azra that he found at Christmas-land. Their separation has lasted long enough though that Tillie tells him that she has met someone else. That someone, Tillie’s girlfriend Odessa, happens to be listening outside the door as Tillie and M.K. discuss Azra, including M.K.’s attempt to get Tillie to join him in finding it. Odessa recognizes M.K.: she was on the boat when he slaughtered everyone on board. She doesn’t tell how she survived, though. She warns Tillie about M.K., and in a bit of foreshadowing, tells her that when in the throes of his supernatural rage, M.K. really enjoyed what he was doing. She says that kind of darkness never dies.
Sunny and Waldo also reconnect, though it appears that neither of them expect to be together for long. Waldo warns Sunny against pursuing the Widow’s plan of going after Quinn in his underground tunnels. He thinks it’s just a suicide mission. He warns Sunny not to trust the Widow, but Sunny doesn’t seem to need that warning. He doesn’t trust her, but needs her to go against Quinn. Waldo suggests that Sunny stop by Walter’s old clipper shack on the grounds of Quinn’s former plantation – there’s something inside that may help Sunny. They part as though they don’t expect to see each other again; Waldo doesn’t think that the Widow’s plan will work, and I guess Sunny doesn’t think a guy in a wheelchair can stay alive too long in the Badlands.
As we know from the beginning of the episode, the Widow must have once had a very powerful dark gift to be kidnapped and taken to the monastery. Like Bajie and M.K., she seems to have lost that gift, though how has never been explained. She thinks that the Azra book contains a solution by which M.K. and the Widow can heal each other and regain their powers. He refuses. He wants to go to Azra and find peace. She asks him what about all the other people who would also like to find peace.
Quinn always seems to be eating. I guess brain tumors and opium pipes give you the munchies. While the Widow and Sunny plot to overrun his underground compound, Quinn makes his preparations as well. This includes indoctrinating his most fervent acolyte with the kind of absolute loyalty required for a suicide mission. Quinn’s bribery tool of choice is ice cream. Apparently Gabriel is the only other person besides Quinn in the bunker who has been allowed to eat it. It’s amazing that such zealotry could be purchased with a dessert. Meanwhile, Quinn taunts Veil that Sunny will never be able to rescue her and the baby. She slaps him; he slaps her. This must be Quinn’s idea of a happy family, because he clearly gets off on it. He tells Veil that she must embrace Quinn as her husband and new father to Henry, or he will raise the baby without her. Lydia watches all this and she’s not happy with what she sees, but whether it’s because Quinn is taking on a new family or because she doesn’t like the way he’s treating Veil and the baby just isn’t clear. She overhears Quinn and one of his underlings discuss putting the bunkers on lockdown, in preparation for his “final step”.
The ice cream must have worked, because Gabriel shows up at the Widow’s compound in one of the refugee trucks. He takes one of the butterflies hostage. When the Widow and Sunny hear the ruckus and come to see what’s happening, he says he has a message from Veil for Sunny. After he cuts the butterfly’s throat, he says that Veil has accepted Quinn as the true father of the baby, and reveals that the Widow traded Veil to Quinn. Screaming that the “alliance is over”, he opens his jacket to reveal that he’s wearing a suicide bomber vest. He explodes. In the aftermath of the explosion, Sunny and the Widow eye each other across the courtyard. Gabriel was right; the revelation about Veil ended their alliance. The Widow tosses a throwing star that nicks Sunny’s cheek, and Sunny runs, pursued by butterflies with crossbows.
Yet another verse is added to The Ballad of Bajie and Sunny, when Bajie takes out a butterfly clipper with a crossbow who’s got Sunny in her sights. We went a whole week without Bajie saving Sunny’s ass, so it’s good to see the old bromance back in swing. Their reunion just lasts long enough for Bajie to admit that he is getting tired of saving Sunny before Sunny goes off to get Veil and Henry away from Quinn. He tells Bajie to get M.K. and meet him at the Fort.
While Sunny leaves for Quinn’s bunker, Lydia catches sight of one of Quinn’s men rigging up bombs on the walls of the underground compound. She tells Veil that he is rigging the whole place to blow. She and Veil and Henry have to break out immediately. They can’t afford to wait for Sunny to rescue them.
Bajie finds M.K. and tells him Sunny’s plans, not realizing that Tillie’s girlfriend Odessa is eavesdropping. Bajie adds his own codicil to Sunny’s instructions: he tells M.K. they have to get the Azra book before they leave. When M.K. says that the book isn’t any good without the compass, Bajie finally reveals that he stole the compass from the monastery. He says fate brought them together for a reason.
The Widow walks in on them as they search for the book. Her reunion with Bajie is not quite as warm as you’d expect from Bajie’s explanation of their teacher/student relationship at the monastery. She says that he abandoned her. That’s not how he told it. Rather than let them leave with the book, she wants Bajie to interpret it so she can use it to get her powers back.
Tillie confronts the Widow about her willingness to sacrifice people. She says that the Widow has changed, and now she’s no better than any of the other corrupt and violent barons. The Widow slaps her for her insolence and they fight. This is the set piece fight of the show. They both know there’s no going back from this moment in time. They fight up and down the grand staircase at the Widow’s mansion, until the Widow finally bests Tillie. No longer mother and daughter, at this point their tie is broken and they are enemies. While Tillie is laying on the floor, apparently defeated, the Widow throws her blade at the chandelier above her and drops it onto Tillie. Tillie gets up and demands that the Widow kill her, even as the Widow starts to walk away. The Widow whips around and kicks Tillie, and it looks like she drops to the floor, dead. But this is the Badlands, and other characters have returned after what looked like fatal injuries.
The theme of loyalty runs through all of the relationships and alliances on Badlands. In this last week before the season finale, we have seen how fragile trust can be, even between people who seem to have a pretty formidable bond. While it seemed that Tillie had occasionally fidgeted in her role as the Widow’s regent, her outright rebellion came as a surprise. The Widow and Sunny could not maintain their alliance long enough to attack Quinn, which seems a damn shame. Quinn clearly expects all of his people to be willing to blow themselves up with him, rather than be defeated. And Bajie always keeps an ace hidden up his sleeve, just in case he ever needs it. Bajie’s ultimate loyalty may lie only with himself, no matter how many times he saves Sunny’s life. Who survives and how do these survivors recombine themselves in order to survive in the Badlands? Perhaps only fate can tell.