Sunday, November 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'Into the Badlands' - Sunny Questions Quinn's Orders as The Widow Prepares for War in 'Fist Like a Bullet'

AMC's Into the Badlands - Episode 1.02 "Fist Like a Bullet"

M.K. finds refuge in an unlikely and dangerous place, while Sunny's loyalty is tested when Quinn tries to force him to commit an unspeakable act.

"Fist Like a Bullet" shows just how ruthless Quinn and the Widow actually are. They have to be in order for Sunny and M.K. to want to get out of the badlands as badly as they do. The narrative has been building to the point where Sunny agrees to train M.K. and help him control the monster that lives inside him. It's a monster both Quinn and the Widow would love to get their hands on in order to emerge victorious in their war. It's meant to create a very precarious situation for the leads as they try to keep this secret while the two barons are on the precipice of war. It just feels like a lot of work for a relationship that isn't nearly as important as the show desperately wants it to be.

It seems as if the only reason why Quinn let M.K. go at the end of the series premiere was so that he could land in the Widow's territory and thus give those characters a proper introduction to the audience. Him being hunted down wasn't an interesting story because he was a plot device and nothing more than that. In order for him to have value to the rest of the characters, he needed to be in close proximity to them - not running away and out of the badlands. So instead, he runs straight into a young woman, Tilda, who rescues him by bringing him straight to the Widow's home. The Widow was the baron who initially got M.K. captured before Sunny rescued him. And now, he is in her house doing his best to avoid being noticed by her. He is solely motivated in finding his mother right now. He is caught in this war between the barons that he wants no part in.

And yet, it makes very little sense why Tilda does so much for M.K. in this episode. At the border between the two lands, it's easy to understand that she protects him because he is being hunted by Quinn's men. At home though, she shows just how deadly she is as well. Her mother is the Widow and she has been trained by her. Tilda is able to take down a man twice her size with relative ease. The only reason why Tilda has any sympathy for M.K. is because she notices him lurking as she kills the man. She doesn't see a man capable of doing such a horrifying thing. That's the only reason why she doesn't cut him to see if a monster comes out like her mom tells her to do. She is risking her livelihood with this family just because she doesn't believe that M.K. is a killer. And then, she wants to help him escape. He would need a purpose if he stayed. She tried to get him out but it failed spectacularly. All this story really does is show just how determined the Widow is with her cause and that Tilda hasn't completely lost all of her morals yet. It still doesn't do anything resembling character work with M.K.

Elsewhere, Sunny is faced with a critical choice when he accompanies Quinn to a local doctor treating him for his headaches. Quinn gets the bad news that he doesn't have that much longer to live. In order to keep that information secret, Quinn orders to kill the doctor and his wife. It's something very personal to Sunny because they just so happen to also be the adoptive parents of Veil, his pregnant girlfriend. If it wasn't for that, Sunny would have done this no problem. But Sunny hesitates for some reason. It's suppose to be because of his grand connection to this woman and the regaining of some emotion after killing too many people. And yet, that doesn't really come across on screen all that well. This moment defines who both of these characters are and what they are willing to do in order to maintain power. Quinn ordering these deaths makes him just as villainous as the Widow. He is the man Sunny has sworn his loyalty to. So it becomes a question of what he wants to do - continue being loyal to his baron but to the detriment of his secret family or protect his family and risk being killed by his baron. In the end, Quinn does this himself and doesn't punish Sunny at all for disobeying orders. That largely just makes this such a cop out that never had any intentions of exploring the consequences of such actions in this landscape.

All of that is suppose to be fine because Sunny is able to serve Quinn's interests later in the episode. The Widow has planted a trap that Sunny and Ryder walk straight into. It's a mess that M.K. soon gets caught in as well. After all of the Widow's careful planning to get more allies in her war against Quinn, Sunny is able to eliminate most of them during this attack at the abandoned factory. It's not made clear if Ryder can't fight or he just got ambushed very quickly into the battle. This fight is largely about Sunny vs. a squad of goons who wish him harm. It could have showcased Ryder being an expert fighter as well. Instead it just shows someone who gets chained up easily - to the point of death. It's impressive watching Sunny as he takes on all of these warriors. The show really does make some terrific use out of the space where this battle happens. But the battle is also suppose to be significant because it's M.K. who ultimately saves Sunny's life. When Sunny turns his back, a surprise attacker appears who M.K. kills for him. It's never made abundantly clear why M.K. would enter this building after breaking out of the car trunk. But he's there nevertheless to save Sunny.

That moment confirms the bond between Sunny and M.K. They are both united in wanting to escape the badlands. M.K. wants to do it in order to find his mother while avoiding his monster from being used to bring destruction to the kingdom. Sunny wants to do it in order to protect his secret family. Sunny now has to train M.K. so that he can protect his family for him. That will have to be some fast training if Sunny wants Veil to leave before everyone learns that she is pregnant with his child. Plus, it's been made clear that the Widow has an interest in the symbol that identifies the community that exists outside the badlands. So it seems very unlikely that any of this will have a happy outcome. It just needs to complicate that in a way that makes the characters interesting.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fist Like a Bullet" was written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and directed by David Dobkin.
  • The Widow's own battle at the bar/strip club was also very impressive. She is just as capable in that kind of action as Sunny is. That should make their future battle exciting to watch. Though this scene also just shows that Ryder is capable of making a move against his father's wishes.
  • Tilda taking on the larger man wasn't as good as the show's other action sequences because the show had to cover up the stunt double more than they have to do with the adult actors.
  • Sunny apparently has a confidant played by Stephen Lang who he can talk openly with. When Sunny wonders about freedom from this way of life, his friend just says that freedom is an illusion.
  • Ryder only has two toes on his left foot. That is definitely not information that the audience needs to know - except in saying that he's had his hardships too even though he only exists to question everything his father does.
  • Quinn went from believing there was a mole in his organization who let M.K. escape to letting Sunny personally train M.K. very quickly.