Sunday, November 15, 2015

REVIEW: 'Into the Badlands' - Sunny Discovers a Young Boy Named M.K. Who Has Special Powers in 'The Fort'

AMC's Into the Badlands - Episode 1.01 "The Fort"

The Badlands' deadliest Clipper, Sunny, rescues a mysterious boy, M.K., who harbors a dark secret, but may also know the way out of the Badlands.

Into the Badlands has a lot of world building it needs to do in its opening episode, "The Fort." It's a post-apocalyptic, martial arts drama. As the opening narration points out (and thankfully it's the only use of the device in the hour), no one really remembers the war that ended the world. They just care that the various Barons came together to create the badlands - the one place of sanctuary for all. This is a world without guns. So trained fighters in hand-to-hand combat control the land for the barons. It's a universe that has accepted what it has become. There is a natural order to things. It's complicated but everyone has gotten accustomed to what the new way of life is. No one is innocent and no one believes in God any more. In the badlands, one has to kill in order to survive.

All of that darkness could create some interesting characters as the show opens with the discovery of a young man who could change all that is known to these people. Lead clipper Sunny has pledged his loyalty to the baron, Quinn. The opening minutes of the premiere show just how lethal he is even when he is woefully outmatched. He has the skills to make him one of the most feared men in this landscape. He's a strong fighter. The character is at his most exciting when he is locked in battle with other people. That opening fight shows how little remorse he has for killing. All he's trying to do is get some answers as to who killed the slaves of his baron. The answer that he gets is much more complicated than he ever thought.

And yet, an answer only brings out so much in the character. When Sunny isn't fighting, he's largely just a stoic advisor. Quinn is the showman. He's the one who wants to motivate people to fight in his name. Sunny just stands in the background ready to be propped up as a motivational tool because of all the tattoos on his back that signal the number of people he has killed. That takes a toll on Sunny because it has to. He's the lead character of the show. He's capable of doing all of this killing. But he still needs to have a conscience at some point. That comes out in his handling of M.K., the young boy he rescues during his time on the road. M.K. is the latest instance of a child having special powers that can drastically affect the normal operating procedure for the show. That's the only reason why Sunny shows any interest in him. Without that, he would simply take the boy back to the barracks to fight with all the other young recruits.

The entire plot of this opening episode is built around the connection between Sunny and M.K. During that opening battle, M.K. is the person being kept prisoner for nefarious reasons by another baron, The Widow. That's enough to spark Sunny's interests. He makes sure that the boy is placed exactly where he needs to be despite his near constant protests. But it's not until later when Sunny sees what M.K. becomes when he bleeds that he takes much of an interest in the future of this young man. A darkness consumes M.K. when he bleeds. It turns him into a fantastic warrior who is just as lethal as Sunny. It's not something that M.K. understands. In fact, it's something that he and his family have feared for years. The barons could easily want to exploit this power for their own diabolical plans. That's what makes him desirable. But it doesn't really create a connection between the two characters. That is instead formed due to the two sharing an abstract connection to a place that exists beyond the badlands borders.

It is commonly accepted that the badlands are the only things left in this world. Trying to go beyond the borders will only lead to death. Serving a baron or plotting to a kill a baron and take over his throne are the only things to look forward to in this world. It's a deadly world where not even children are safe. It's a tantalizing idea to run to see if there is anything else out there. That's exactly what M.K. wants to do in order to be reunited with his mother and possibly rid himself of the monster within him. Sunny gives him that chance by letting him escape the fort. Sunny stays behind in order to continue to protect Quinn in a time where the rest of the barons are plotting against him - though it only seems like the Widow is doing that at the moment. But Sunny wants answers as well. So it's a tad difficult to understand what the show is building towards for the rest of the season. It doesn't seem likely that M.K. will be out in the wilderness for very long. If he is, why build up the connection between him and Sunny? Also, just how far will Sunny explore in this world - both in the name of Quinn and for his own newly reenergized personal curiosity? The answers to these questions are necessary for the next episode. But right now, they only garner very minor interest from this viewer.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Fort" was written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and directed by David Dobkin.
  • Quinn and his first wife, Lydia, seem to have conflicting feelings about life beyond the badlands. He seems pretty certain that there is nothing out there. And yet, Lydia seems to recognize the symbol on M.K.'s medallion as well.
  • That was Quinn's new bride disrobing in front of Ryder, right? A father and son battling over the same woman isn't interesting if that woman doesn't have a personality. Here she is just spoken of and shown as a sexual object. That can't continue in the future.
  • Sunny is also in a relationship with a woman who works at the local tattoo parlor. She is pregnant with their child which apparently isn't something that society thinks too highly of - because they have the discussion about whether or not they can keep it. It's not abundantly clear what her presence is suppose to bring out in Sunny.
  • The Widow watches as a handful of her clippers take on Sunny in the rain. That's a fantastically stylized sequence. A battle that's just as exhaustive as it was meant to be. It also served as a fine introduction for that character - and just how luxurious this life actually is at its best (seeing as how she is driven around in a beat up car).