Sunday, May 6, 2018

REVIEW: 'Into the Badlands' - Sunny and Bajie Enter the War Zone While Tilda Returns to The Widow in 'Leopard Snares Rabbit'

AMC's Into the Badlands - Episode 3.03 "Leopard Snares Rabbit"

Sunny and Bajie go undercover on The Widow's frontlines, seeking passage to a possible cure for Henry. Tilda confronts The Widow.

Across three seasons, Into the Badlands has proven to be a fascinating meditation on power. Those who crave it seem unlikely to hold it for a long period of time. Meanwhile, those who wish to overthrow the current system find immense resistance along the way. And those in power have the influence to completely change the course of thousands of people's lives even if it's not for a worthy cause. This has always been an incredibly violent and lethal show. Every season has only increased the body count. But now, there is actual war in the Badlands. It's a war to determine the future of this place. Baron Chau is fighting to maintain the status quo even though she is the last baron standing who believes in that way. The Widow is fighting to unify the land and make everyone free. But she functions as a baron just like everyone else who brings a regent onboard and has people dying for her selfish and altruistic reasons. That doesn't make her wrong in this conflict. But it has also become clear that she craves power just like all of the other barons. She has outlasted so many of them because she has proven herself to be the most capable warrior. She has the training to survive this brutal landscape. And yet, it also seems inevitable that she will one day fall without realizing all of the sacrifices she was forced to make. She has always been able to rationalize every cruel decision she made because it was in service of the greater good. She betrayed Veil even though that effectively turned Tilda, Sunny and Lydia against her. But now, she's forging new alliances in the hopes that the future will be brighter. Meanwhile, everyone else is only aligning themselves with her because they believe they were survive this conflict and new world order for much longer than The Widow will. They are the ones not craving power while knowing that they need to act in order to help the people of this world grow and survive as well.

"Leopard Snares Rabbit" opens with The Widow's forces attacking the Iron Rabbit and her troops. Tilda's crusade to bring supplies to the refugees has been noble. It's her actually giving back to the poor and impoverished just like The Widow said she always wanted to do. Here, it seems like this attack is such a personal betrayal. Tilda can effectively wipe out a number of The Widow's soldiers. But she is really no match for Nathaniel. He is able to overpower her in so many ways without even having to resort to the new tricks from his new prosthetic arm. She still manages to survive. She lives because Odessa decides to take her place in becoming the latest prisoner of The Widow's. This attack seems like a personal betrayal because it's clear that Lydia is the only person who could have told The Widow about where the Iron Rabbit was hiding. Of course, it's more complicated than that because she also sent a note by bird telling Tilda she needed to run now. She is playing both sides of this conflict. That's incredibly dangerous and could possibly spell doom for her this season. And yet, she is forging these new relationships with people with the confidence that she'll survive because she has endured so much in this world and is somehow still alive to forge ahead with life while her tormentors are dead. Her family is gone. She can form her own identity now. She wants to believe she can do more good for her refugees by acting as a viceroy for The Widow. She believes she holds a position different than all of the previous barons. But now, she's also right back where she started. She has returned to her family's home. But now, her colors are what will fly as she will formulate new ways to ensure that her people survive for as long as possible while getting the supplies they desperately need.

Lydia justifies this new alliance with The Widow by saying that the ones who survive need to make deals and compromises that verge on crossing the line but never do. She sees that as The Widow's greatest flaw from last season. She pushed her morals over that line and damaged her most personal relationships. She was able to replace Tilda and Waldo with Nathanial. He's committed as her regent because she has promised to get him the revenge he seeks by killing Sunny. That's a goal he may be closer to achieving than anyone could have expected too. She has that support as well as an army willing to fight and die for her. But this conflict remains brutal and has the potential to become even more tragic and depressing the longer it drags on. She believes she's doing this for the good of all people. But Tilda sees that she's doing this out of her own self interest. That's what got her to turn against her mother last season. She felt indebted to The Widow because she freed her from her servitude and taught her how to fight. But that action only lead to a new form of servitude for her. She realized that after awhile. She's starting to see the world for what it truly is. It's never as simple as one would like it to be. Life is messy and complicated. Lydia understands that all too well because of the crazy and traumatic life she has lived. It has given her newfound confidence to know just how to navigate this new world. She is able to give the advice that Tilda needs to hear right now. It may not be bad to make a deal with The Widow. She just has to ensure that she gets something beneficial out of the arrangement as well. That appears to be Odessa and M.K.'s safety. Right now, that is still enough for Tilda even though it means she'll be working for The Widow once more.

Elsewhere, Sunny and Bajie travel to the front lines of the war. It's the only way to possibly get to the healer who can cure Henry. She just happens to reside on the other side of the war. That's dangerous because it's navigating through The Widow and Baron Chau's territories. Neither one of them are friendly to Sunny or Bajie right now. Both of them are wanted because of the value and information they hold. Of course, times of war also lead to a ton of confusion on the battlefield. Sunny is able to go undercover as The Widow's new regent. He is able to show up at the battlefield in that outfit with a supply truck and everyone just believes him. None of them have interacted with Nathaniel before or know that The Widow even has a new regent. If they did, they are probably dead by now. The troops on the frontline aren't the most inspiring bunch. It's a war zone that has grown tired and weak because of the lack of supplies and a no-man zone that has popped up in this conflict. The only way for Sunny and Bajie to break through this war zone is by defeating the archer who is sitting perched at the top of a building ready to fire at anymore who dares to walk through the street. The surrounding buildings are wired with traps. The arrows are laced with poison. Of course, it seems unlikely that the shooter has an unlimited supply of arrows up there. But it's also unclear just how many shooters there actually are until Sunny and Bajie journey out there. It's only then that Sunny realizes it's only one. He just happens to be very perceptive and skilled with a crossbow. Sure, Sunny is still able to fight his way through. This one person is all that is standing between him and getting his son cured. He is willing to risk it all for Henry. But it's also worth pointing out that this isn't Sunny's war he is fighting.

Sunny is able to blend in with The Widow's troops. He is able to give orders as a regent once more and have people listen to him. And yet, he's not trying to aide troops on either side of this conflict. He is focused solely on Henry. Bajie is just along for the ride. Sunny doesn't want to kill the shooter tormenting the soldiers. He just wants to subdue him so he can travel through. He is content knowing that this guy can just be held as a prisoner of war. And yet, the young commander sees things differently and is eager to kill this nuisance in order to prove his worth and loyalty to The Widow. Sunny notes that it is essentially young children fighting this war. It's the young who are passionate about this conflict. That's notable and understandable. The show also has the condescending view of believing that none of them really have the experience to know any better. That this is all just senseless killing propped up by this vicious world. It's the only world they have ever known. It's always been this bloody. Yes, The Widow is fighting to change the system. Some are quick to get caught up in that message. But she isn't as noble as she pretends to be. She is just as selfish and demanding as the other barons. She's disappointed that M.K. has been uncooperative throughout this entire process of trying to restore his gift. That mostly just creates a new enemy for her to worry about. All of this is so incredibly sad and tragic to Sunny and Bajie. They hope that the world can one day become better. Right now though, it remains a whole lot of pain and suffering. That can be difficult to sit through as some of the injured just wish they were dead instead of being asked to survive with these new limitations in a brutal world.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Leopard Snares Rabbit" was written by Michael Taylor and directed by Toa Fraser.
  • I can't say that Pilgrim and his troops were missed all that much this week. This episode focuses exclusively on characters the audience has already known for awhile. As such, it allows the conflicts to feel more potent and personal. Pilgrim and those characters will probably become very important soon in this world. There still needs to be resolution to Cressida's vision. But right now, it's still better to spend time with the characters we know.
  • Bajie meets a young woman on the battlefield named Ren. She stands up for herself and is ready to run into battle with Sunny when the time comes for it. In the process though, she is injured and is dying. Ren and Bajie form a connection because he is completely honest with her. He just wants to end her pain and suffering. The only way to do that is to amputate the leg. He gets her through that surgery only to realize his decision only causes her more agony upon the realization that she'll live with this new disability.
  • It really is important to question Tilda's motivations as the Iron Rabbit as well. She claims that she's fighting for the refugees and asking for nothing in return. She is stealing from the people who still want to control them. And yet, she is also exclusively hitting The Widow's supply trucks. So, it could also just be a normal teenage rebellion in a super messed-up way. She will probably continue to rebel even though she's now in The Widow's orbit once more.
  • M.K.'s life was in peril last week because he was overdosing on opium. That led to the apparent realization that Sunny actually killed M.K.'s mother. But it didn't restore his gift. That occurs this week after he is continued to be tortured. The Widow does that mostly to teach him a lesson for squandering all of his potential for greatness fighting alongside her. But in the end, he does get it back and only stops from killing her because Tilda tells him to. 
  • Nathanial came back to the Badlands to kill Sunny. That's his sole goal as The Widow's regent. He travels to the battlefield and learns that Sunny is already there. He has the chance to kill the man who took his arm. And yet, he's also willing to restart his relationship with Lydia. She pushes away saying that love and his service don't mix. And yet, it's also likely she rejects him because she knows exactly where Sunny is and what he is up to.