Into the Badlands, S2 E4: “Palm of the Iron Fox”
Written by Daniel C. Connolly
Directed by Toa Fraser
“Don’t you think the world has been screwed over enough by men?”
There’s nothing quite so thrilling as a man in a leather skirt going into full on preacher-mode and exhorting his followers to “cleanse” the world of its defects by burning all of civilization (such as it is) to the ground. Sounds like Steve Bannon’s Cialis-fueled dream for the future of this country.
This week opens with Baron Quinn preparing for a raid on the Conclave of Barons by whipping his clippers into berserker frenzy. Quinn leaves Edgar in charge of keeping Veil and baby Henry captive during his absence. This appears to present an opportunity for Veil to escape; Edgar really likes Veil, so maybe he would be lax about procedures. Maybe he could even be persuaded to let her go. Alas, Veil’s attempt to escape up the ventilation shaft used to give the baby access to sunlight fails when Edgar almost discovers her in mid-climb. Eager to please her even as he remains loyal to Quinn, Edgar cooks breakfast for them both. Veil drops a sedative into his drinking water, and tries to escape again, only to find that Edgar has taken extra precautions and padlocked the way out. Edgar wakes as Veil struggles to break the lock, and they fight. By trying to escape she has killed his affection for her – they both know that if she escapes, Quinn will hold Edgar responsible and kill him. As he straddles her, Veil rips the flesh of his face and stuns him with a rock. She tries once again to break the lock, but he comes around and attacks her again. Edgar need no longer worry about Quinn’s retribution; Veil does him in with a pipe. Now only Veil has to worry about Quinn, because the key she stole from Edgar broke off in the lock. She cannot get out.
It’s interesting that Quinn’s hideout lies under some bus terminal in a place that was once called “West Avalon.” Avalon was the isle of the dead to which the body of King Arthur was taken after he was defeated by his son, and where he supposedly remains until needed again to defend his homeland. Since the name appears prominently several times, it seems to suggest one possible outcome of the inevitable meeting of Quinn and Ryder.
In the mountains, M.K. steals the magic origami flower – a clever play on the narcotic poppies which comprise one of this dystopia’s main industries – so that he can go back into a trance and search for his mother. This time, M.K. succeeds in locating her. They reunite only briefly, though: just long enough for M.K.’s mother to forgive him for everything he’s done, including stab her to death. The show has hinted that M.K. has left some corpses behind him. Now we know why he was alone when he was found in the badlands: he had killed everyone else around him.
Tillie runs into a former doll from the oil fields, now training as a clipper for her mother. This friend questions why the Widow, a supposed feminist, left Tillie behind and took Waldo, a man, to the meeting instead. Ever insecure of her position as regent, Tillie wonders why, too.
Quinn has somehow gotten his newest and most fervent acolyte, Gabriel, into the conclave disguised as a waiter. This boy serves as Quinn’s Trojan Horse into the conclave. Jade sees him and recognizes that he is not part of the normal household staff, but he covers himself well and his identity stays hidden. He releases a carrier pigeon to signal Quinn that all is ready for the raid. Meanwhile, Quinn obsesses over his traitorous son, Ryder.
At the conclave, the Widow and Waldo discuss the best way to handle this delicate situation. The Widow requires a majority of the other barons to support her reclamation of the oil refineries. She tries to broker a deal with Baron Chow to get the necessary support. Chow agrees to vote for the Widow, but in exchange the Widow must stop giving sanctuary to runaway cogs. Chow likes her privileged lifestyle at the top of the food chain, and letting all those cogs gain freedom might give them uppity ideas above their station.
The Widow and Ryder are given opportunities to make speeches to the conclave. The Widow argues that law is in her favor: the oil refineries and fields were stolen from her husband. She inherited them by right, and Quinn stole them. She had every right to reclaim them from Ryder after Quinn’s death. Ryder’s arguments rest on something much more powerful than merely the rule of law contained in the Foundation Treaty, which is this society’s version of a constitution. He claims that the Widow will upend the natural order of things, threatening the haves with loss of position, power, and money. If the have-nots start expecting to be treated like people, all hell will break loose, and society will completely fall apart. This speech sounded so familiar to me and I couldn’t remember where I heard it before. Then I realized: it was in the U.S. Senate, a couple of days ago.
While Ryder passionately upholds the rights of the 1%ers, Gabriel lets Quinn and his clippers into the conclave. The vote is held, and not surprisingly, the barons vote in favor of the established order, including the treacherous Baron Chow. She votes against the widow despite her agreement. This means that the Widow will lose her title and her property and she will be exiled. Ryder suggests that death is a better solution than exile and the tensions mount. Just when it seems that the other senators, I mean barons, are about to go all Julius Caesar on her, the Widow mentions that she knows where the barons have stashed their families in case the conclave went sideways. She has positioned her butterfly clippers at all these supposedly safe houses. If she does not return intact from the conclave, all the barons’ families die. Quinn’s clippers appear on the rooftop overlooking the courtyard where the conclave is being held. You would think that the barons would unite to fight the invaders, but as Quinn’s clippers leap in and start slashing, first one and then another baron go for the Widow instead.
A total free-for-all erupts in the courtyard. After she dispenses with Baron Hassan and some of Quinn’s clippers, the Widow and Baron Chow face-off. As demonstrated by her thoughtful plan of using the barons’ families as bargaining power, the Widow comes well prepared to this blood bath, including her wardrobe. In addition to the knives stashed in her hairdo, the Widow is wearing her killer heels; unfortunately, Baron Chow wears hers, too. When diplomacy fails, there’s always fashion! They are pretty evenly matched and it’s hard to tell who will win.
Waldo the Wheelchair-bound Wonder clips a few bad guys, but one of them gets him on the ground and tries to force a blade into his eye. Just when things start looking desperate, Waldo is saved by… Tinkerbelle! She swoops in and lands a throwing star in the attacker’s brain. Waldo, who always chided Tinkerbelle Tillie for not following orders lives to fight another day because Tillie disobeyed again. Tillie tosses her mother a blade, and Baron Chow runs away. Bodies of clippers and barons alike litter the courtyard. Quinn’s clippers make a “strategic withdrawal.” Not surprisingly, when Quinn himself appears, Ryder runs away. Ryder runs through the formal gardens and finds himself in front of a statue. Quinn catches up to him and talks about the man depicted in the statue: the Titan Cronus was told that one of his own children would defeat and replace him, so he murdered all of his offspring. Ryder corrects him: the statue is actually of Laocoön, whose sons died with him when the gods sent serpents to attack them. Here we see another allusion to how things could have gone between Quinn and Ryder. Notice that none of them end well. Quinn offers Ryder his knife and tells Ryder to kill him. Ryder balks. Quinn dares him, but Ryder still falters. When it’s clear that Ryder won’t stab his father, Quinn drives the knife into Ryder’s chest. For the first time in their entire lives, Quinn and Ryder share a meaningful father-son moment. They realize they did care about each other. Too bad it’s much too late. Quinn escapes with his surviving clippers as Jade cradles Ryder’s bloody body.
This week’s episode speaks less about the quest for enlightenment than it does about filial devotion in all its myriad forms. The mythological and literary references serve to point out the inevitable conflicts between parents and children. M.K. killed his own mother in one of his supernatural murderous rages. Tillie defies her mother’s orders and shows up at the conclave just in time to save her mother’s ass. Ryder can’t bring himself to murder his father, even though their relationship has been conflicted at best. He defies his father’s order to kill him and thereby fails to become the man that Quinn hoped Ryder would be. Meanwhile, those ruthless enough to rise to the top of a brutal society desperately cling to their wealth and position and power. All in all, it’s just another shitty week in paradise here in the Badlands.