Sunday, April 29, 2018

REVIEW: 'Into the Badlands' - Pilgrim Proves His Strength and Importance to His Followers in 'Moon Rises, Raven Seeks'

AMC's Into the Badlands - Episode 3.02 "Moon Rises, Raven Seeks"

Sunny and Bajie seek help from Lydia. The Widow struggles to control M.K. Pilgrim seeks to establish a new order in the Badlands.

In my review of the third season premiere of Into the Badlands, I noted that the show has constantly been improving with each passing year. It has adjusted itself to focus on the stories that actually mean something as well as the characters that actually fit well into the themes of the show. And yet, I was still worried that heading into the third season where the episode order was suddenly upped to 16 episodes that the show would feature more filler hours as it tried to pad out the story. That does seem to comprise a little bit of "Moon Rises, Raven Seeks." Sunny doesn't really seem to do anything this week while many of the other players are just moved around the chess board once more. That can still be an entertaining quality of the show. At times, it can be difficult to track who is loyal to whom as well as all of the characters' previous interactions and loyalties. For example, it is suddenly important to remember once more that Lydia's father helped the abbots find young individuals with the Gift. As such, she has always known more about that world and could potentially help now that Sunny and Bajie are in her refugee camp. It seems like the show is on the verge of finally delivering on some big questions that have been asked since the beginning of the series. But it also feels like the show is spinning its wheels a little bit. It continues to talk around in circles about the mysterious Azra and whether or not it is actually real or if it's a relic of the former world that needs to be rebuilt in order to reestablish paradise. It's a story that hasn't really gone anywhere even though it's this destination that so many characters have been trying to find for so long at this point. The show has its drivers of story. But sometimes, it feels like it's too chaotic of a plot to actually mean anything for the characters at large in this world.

More time is spent this week on the mysterious newcomers to the Badlands. Pilgrim led his troops through the wall at the conclusion of the premiere. He sent his two young warriors, Nix and Castor, into battle to get rid of the forces that stood in his way. He immediately presented as this intimidating force who promised a world of clarity and belief or destruction if the people didn't bow to his faith. And now, the show continues to play with the creepy cult undertones of this new following. At first, it seemed like this was a group from Azra. They were the individuals who received the messages that Bajie was sending out in that radio tower at the end of last season. He believes there's no reason to hope that there is any kind of meaningful world outside of the system in the Badlands. It's just chaos and destruction everywhere. That may ultimately be the case as the show now proves that this group doesn't know anything more about Azra than the main characters do. They have a different perspective on the same plot details in this world. They are trained warriors who value those with the Gift as well. But they don't know how to exploit those powers or heal them from the disease that sends many to an early grave. They just present as newcomers to add further complications to The Widow and Baron Chau's plans of ruling the Badlands with their specific ideologies. Right now, Pilgrim is demanding that all bow down to his will.

Of course, Pilgrim's group does make one huge discovery in the Badlands. They come across a building out of place in time. It's a museum that appears to have gone untouched in all of these years of the Badlands being in existence. That seems incredible. It's a surprising sight because it's this isolated building in the middle of an island. It appears as a sign to give hope to the people who have traveled far to this new land. Pilgrim has led his people on this journey in the hopes of finding salvation. Instead, they are walking directly into the middle of a war zone. Right now, he is already facing doubts about his leadership and whether this journey was worth it. Nix and Castor obviously fight many of the battles for Pilgrim. But it's important to see that Pilgrim is just as skilled a warrior as they are. In fact, that's the most entertaining sequence of this hour. Pilgrim is able to fight three people at the same time while blindfolded. He doesn't rely on his eyes to fight. He can defeat his opponents simply by listening to their movements. It's very impressive. It's understandable why so many fall in line behind him. But it also appears as if this new storyline is also an excuse for the show to be as dark and sadistic as possible. It teases that answers and clarity are coming. But it's a story that ultimately builds to this huge sacrament where Pilgrim impales these hooks into Cressida's back just so she can receive visions while she's hoisted up into the air when there is a full moon. It's so strange while basically revealing nothing of substance. It's a cliffhanger built out of dread and gore instead of ominously teasing something radically different than everything that has come before it in this story.

Elsewhere, the show is telling the audience that we should be questioning the legitimacy of what M.K. saw in the mirror room last season. Since that moment where he seemingly defeated and repressed his gift, he has operated under the belief that he killed his mother after getting cut near her. He couldn't control himself and simply obliterated everyone near him. That was such a destructive reveal to him last season. He sees his gift as nothing but pain. It has taken so much from his life. He has become a more proficient soldier without needing to rely on that skill or worry that he is about to get cut and potentially kill even more people. He doesn't want anything more to do with that. But he is a prisoner of The Widow's because she wants to tap into those powers once more. She understands that his gift isn't gone for good. It has just been repressed for some mysterious reason. It happened as a consequence of him not following The Master's orders. And now, he is once again defying the orders of the people around him. Of course, he doesn't think highly of The Widow because she is keeping him in prison while she continues to speak openly about creating a free and fair society in the Badlands. But now, an opium-induced haze leads M.K. to come face-to-face with his darker self once more. It's completely unclear if this is an actual confrontation that could lead to him unlocking his gift or if it is simply him overdosing on these drugs. It really could go either way. But the more damaging reveal is that this sequence shows that it was actually Sunny who killed M.K.'s mother under orders from Quinn. He was simply a clipper listening to his baron. That was the Sunny before he saw the nuances of the world. And yet, it's bound to stir up even more personal resentment and change the dynamic between those two characters. However, that would require M.K. and Sunny to reunite so that they could have that discussions as well.

Right now, Sunny is solely interested in finding a cure for the disease that is currently plaguing Henry. Bajie recognizes it as a disease that only those with the Gift get. The show teases that it's incredibly deadly because it seems like it is also taking a toil on Castor. Cressida points out to Pilgrim that those with the dark eyes don't live long lives because of it. As such, it's very ominous that it has manifested in Henry so young in his life. It also teases that Henry must have inherited these abilities from one of his parents. It once again calls into question Sunny's own lineage. The show needs to remind the audience that Sunny was found abandoned near the River by Waldo as a baby. He grew up in the Badlands and was trained to be the best clipper anyone has ever known. He is legendary in this world but he's still completely in the dark about where he comes from. One day the show will finally deliver on the promise of using the book and the compass to lead to some grand discovery. But right now, it's still getting distracted by these various plot complications. Lydia and Bajie can point Sunny in the right direction of where he needs to go to find the Mad Witch, a former master of the abbots who is apparently all-knowing. It's the only hope of saving Henry. But it also means traveling through the front lines of the war to get to her. That's a very ominous and precarious tease for the future. That isn't a place for a baby. And yet, Sunny will need to make that journey with Henry and Bajie in the hopes of getting the clarity he has always craved from this world. It should just be interesting to see if the answers are satisfying to him. They haven't been so far to Bajie or anyone else.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Moon Rises, Raven Seeks" was written by Matt Lambert and directed by Paco Cabezas.
  • Nathaniel makes his debut as The Widow's new regent. He puts on the uniform and it is quite striking to see him in service to the brutal system of the Badlands once more. It also comes with a serious upgrade for his missing limb. He was able to craft a weapon out of the supplies beyond the wall to make it just as deadly in battle. But now, The Widow has given him a piece of armor that has many surprises that can kill his opponents in many different ways.
  • Nathaniel's first mission as The Widow's regent is to retrieve Bajie from the refugee camp. She knows that the Iron Rabbit attacked her supply trucks and caused her this huge delay in understanding the mysteries of the Gift. Instead, he returns to The Widow with Lydia. The two women have an interesting conversation about who is doing more to help the people of this world actually feel safe amidst all of the chaos.
  • It's also heavily teased that Lydia and Nathaniel have a romantic history between them. Nathaniel once asked her to run away with him. She denied simply because she was young and afraid of the world. But now, she has experienced so much trauma thanks to Quinn. She has become hardened and fearless. Everyone can see that now. That may make the sparks start between them once more as well.
  • The Widow doesn't know that the Iron Rabbit is actually Tilda and her friends. She could have her suspicions. But right now, her focus is elsewhere in this war. Meanwhile, Nathaniel has no idea who Tilda is so he doesn't recognize her when she shows up to support Lydia. In that moment though, Tilda is only asked to protect Henry and ensure that he is brought back to Sunny safely. Of course, Sunny doesn't forgive Tilda for refusing to help Veil when she needed it the most.
  • Nix and Castor see images of the old world. They are presented with the beauty of this museum. But they also wonder about the glory of Azra and whether they will see it. It seems inevitable that Castor will die before that moment. That could ultimately turn Nix against Pilgrim. Right now though, it's just important to see them united as siblings as they continue to support their leader in this new land.