Into the Badlands
My brother asked me why I never did a post about Into the Badlands. Because my memory is like a sieve, was the only possible answer.
But now that I have been reminded that I have been intending to do a post on the series, why wait?
Here we go.
Into the Badlands is an original TV series produced by AMC. It started in 2015, and it is currently in its third season. And I like it a lot, and I highly recommend it to anyone sharing my interest in adventure, science fiction, action, intrigue and a good solid entertainment, with a brain.
What are we talking about?
The story opens with the following narration:
The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.
Set about half a millennium after some catastrophic conflict, Into the Badlands follows a vast cast of characters as they move in a world that has found its fragile balance, just as the balance is about to collapse.
We are introduced to Sunny (Daniel Wu), a honorable man who finds out he is in the service of a scumbag – Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas). In a world in which medieval lords control resources, Quinn is the sole producer of opium, a highly-prized commodity.
As treason brews in Quinn’s own court, the appearance on the scene of a new player, the Widow (Emily Beecham) sets in motion a slow but gradual disgregation of the status quo. Meanwhile, Sunny discovers MK (Aramis Knight) a boy with a sort of berserker power, a power somehow connected with the pre-cataclysm times.
And this is just the beginning…
Apparently, the original idea, when Into the Badlands was pitched, was to do a wuxia-style action series – with martial arts, highly choreographed fights, wirework and all the bells and whistles of Hong Kong action cinema.
And indeed, much was made of the spectacular fighting choreographies, the actors having gone through a fight camp training to achieve a “Hong Kong Action” standard of prowess.
And it shows: after you see Nick Frost (a regular since Season Two as scholar/scoundrel Bajie) do some high-action martial arts, you’ll never look at him in the same way.
Achieving the high standard of action as planned would have been great, but actually, what the production company ended up with is an intelligent story, with an excellent and diverse cast bringing to life a gallery of interesting characters, and set in a world filled with mysteries and surprises.
In particular, it is worth noting that the female characters in Into the Badlands are absolutely great: well-written, interesting and strong characters, brought to life by a number of excellent actresses. Not a given, in an action-adventure.
The series also has a unique look, and its highly stylized scenes and locations add more value to the final product. The first season was shot in Louisiana, while the following two seasons were filmed in Ireland.
The plot tackles themes like loyalty and freedom, faith and mystery, family and politics. The intricate interplay of the various Barons is as deep and surprising as any Byzantine or Renaissance conspiracy, and comes with the extra bonus of not being simply a rehash of the War of the Roses. And the sword-wielding leads would have made an author like Robert E. Howard proud.
Mind you, there is very little sword & sorcery as such in Into the Badlands, but the theme of sword-masters (and sword-mistresses) facing impossible odds to further their cause (or just to save their skin) does resonate with fantasy readers.
As the series progresses, the simple two-track plot, of Quinn’s confrontation with the Widow and of Sunny trying to escape his role as servant of a dishonorable man expands, acquiring a lot of post-catastrophic fiction elements – and thankfully, no zombies! – and we get a better glimpse at the world in which the story is set.
We start getting an idea of what exactly caused the catastrophe, as the story accelerates towards yet another point of crisis.
Right now we are six episodes from the end of the third season, and I really hope there will be more.
Into the Badlands is the sort of good science fiction/action story, with enough substance to please viewers in search of something more than high kicks. High kicks that are dutifully delivered anyway. It is also a great example of choral storytelling, in which characters are not cardboard black-and-white flats, but people.
In other words, highly recommended.
Check it out and let me know what you think.