Sunday, May 13, 2018

REVIEW: 'Into the Badlands' - Sunny's Past Actions as a Clipper Return to Haunt Him in 'Blind Cannibal Assassins'

AMC's Into the Badlands - Episode 3.04 "Blind Cannibal Assassins"

Sunny and Bajie face off against a deadly new foe with a dark connection to Sunny's past. Chau enlists her brother in the fight against Pilgrim.

Are Sunny and Bajie the slowest travelers in the Badlands? It seems like a very legitimate and pressing question to ask. Right now, there is immediate urgency in their story. They need to find the Evil Witch in order to cure Henry of the disease that is now plaguing him. And yet, they are making such slow progress with that journey. They are at least in the right territory where the people they meet on the road actually know about her and how unlikely it is that she'll actually help them. But it also feels like the show is taking a much more episodic approach to Sunny and Bajie's travels. Every week they are simply faced with some new obstacle in their path that delays finding the witch for another week. Sooner or later the show will need to provide some sense of resolution to this story. It can only delay the meeting for so long. Sunny and Bajie need to be moving just as quickly as the other characters. With the rest of the ensemble, it's clear that the show has a lot of story they want to be telling. As such, it's perfectly fine for them to be moving at a much quicker pace. In the time since Sunny and Bajie left the refugee camp, Lydia and Tilda have made separate journeys to The Widow's new palace and returned to the camp. And now, The Widow and Lydia are traveling to Pilgrim's new sanctuary where they are trying to determine if he is friend or foe. Baron Chau has the same mission as well but sends her brother, Gaius, to eliminate this new threat to her way of life. Moreover, M.K. covers quite a bit of ground as well. Sure, it doesn't pull him any closer to actually confronting Sunny for killing his mother. Instead, it seems much more likely that he is about to be pulled into the ongoing drama with Pilgrim and his followers - who still hold so many new answers to the Gift that possess so many of the characters throughout this world. It's clear that a lot of story is happening. The characters keep moving around the board. And yet, there is also some rich thematic work that ensures that all of these separate journeys are connected with the characters always trying to evolve and not make the same mistakes as they did in the past.

It appears that a reckoning is coming for all of the horrible and cruel actions that were done in the past. Right now, the Badlands is at war over the ideology of this land. Baron Chau is fighting to preserve the system that puts people into specific classes and demands that violence must be faced with more violence. Meanwhile, The Widow is saying that the people deserve to be free. She just has to play along with the violence in order to achieve her objective. Then, there are the actual characters who want to be done fighting and just settle down into their happy lives. It's a huge question whether or not these characters can ever stop fighting. This is such a cruel and unforgiving world. Even the newcomers to the Badlands are trained in battle and can easily fend off Gaius' sneak attack. They bring new skills that make them powerful and special in this environment. But right now, Sunny and Tilda are talking about the need to break the cycle of violence. They are facing their respective pasts where their actions only further contributed to the chaos and destruction. They are dealing with the fallout of being blind and loyal servants to people who abused this world. They want to establish peace and beauty. But right now, their actions speak so much larger than their words. Their past actions are overwhelming to their identity. For so long, Sunny has been seen as the best clipper in the Badlands. He defeated the man with over a thousand kills. He's the only person to beat Nathaniel in battle. He did so dishonorably too. Sunny doesn't believe in maintaining the traditions of this world. He just wants to save his son. But now, the further he goes on this journey the more he is confronted by his past. Some are recent mistakes like creating a new vengeful enemy in Nathaniel. Others extend far back to just his early days as a clipper where he didn't know any better.

Last week Sunny and Bajie were on the front lines of this war leading troops who were just kids into battle for a war that they didn't really understand. Sunny and Bajie have the wisdom and experience to know that this world is messed up and asking people to risk their lives for nothing. There's no guarantee that the world will ever change even if The Widow emerges victorious in this war. And yes, that still seems likely because this has been such a one-sided conflict. The show has spent more time building up these new characters with Pilgrim instead of making sure that both sides of this war are nuanced and complicated. The show has simply spent more time with the characters on The Widow's side. Baron Chau is still just a recurring face who doesn't really have any notable or nuanced characteristics. Of course, the introduction of Gaius here proves that she has complexity as well. She wasn't afraid to have her own brother arrested for betraying her rules. Now, she must rely on him to get this mission done. That will earn him his freedom. It's the world these two have always known and continue to play within. Sunny hopes that there is a better world out there somewhere. A world where everyone has the potential to make whatever they want happen in their lives. He wishes he can have a paradise in this world and not in the next. It seems like he could really be drawn to Pilgrim's message. Right now, Pilgrim is preaching the belief of Azra being real in this world. The people just have to know where to look in order to find this new paradise. He believes the trinkets he has collected through his journey will lead him there. He's asking his followers to believe as well even though the Badlands is far from paradise.

Of course, Sunny and Bajie are still completely oblivious to these newcomers in the Badlands. They don't know that Pilgrim has led his forces into the country with the intention of preaching a new message about Azra. Again, that could distract them from their current mission. Right now, they need to be absolutely focused on finding the witch. That means they're growing further and further apart from the rest of the ongoing stories. As such, it seems a bit random whenever they pop into yet another dangerous situation for an episodic adventure. Here, the two find themselves prisoners of blind cannibals instead of the war. They are enemies that Sunny helped create. When he was just a young clipper, Waldo was tasked with hunting down a group that betrayed Quinn. He wanted them kept alive but blinded. It was a punishment for their lack of loyalty. It also proves that Quinn was always a sadistic monster and made his clippers act as such too. His influence is still being felt in this world. Sunny is just now the one dealing with the consequences. Quinn and Waldo aren't dealing with these blind cannibals who have formed a community out of their suffering. Sunny just has the unfortunate timing of landing in their secret bunker where Henry has been taken. It's a trap. But it's a trap that Sunny is able to navigate his way out of. Not even Nathaniel can stop him. In fact, Sunny is able to use Nathaniel's new arm to his benefit. He is able to reunite his family and continue on this mission. Of course, the audience should also wonder if things reach an anti-climatic conclusion with Nathaniel's quest for vengeance against Sunny. He wanted to kill the man who wouldn't kill him. And now, Sunny is unwilling to fight and Nathaniel won't strike him down because he doesn't want Henry to grow up without a father. It's random and somewhat out of character. It just means these characters have their confrontation before going back to their separate places in the world. If Nathaniel is no longer seeking to kill Sunny though, then why will he continue to serve as The Widow's regent? That could be a huge concern moving forward.

Elsewhere, Pilgrim is making his influence known throughout the Badlands. He is able to release tons of fliers that point the people to where they need to go in order to hear his message. He believes that everyone must follow him or die. It's such an extreme relationship that he is promising. The Widow goes to him in order to figure out if he is just another false profit who is distracting the workers when they need to focus on the harvest. Lydia goes along as well. She does so mostly because The Widow demands it of her. Lydia is still just biding her time until The Widow is killed and peace can finally be returned to the Badlands. She sees the pain and suffering of this war. She believes she's making a difference. She believes she has more access after accepting this new position from The Widow. And yet, she's also questioning what she believes in when she is confronted by Cressida. Lydia's father was a man of faith. Religion has come up before with Lydia. It has created tension with her in the past because she was cast out of her community for seemingly going against the wishes of the gods. And now, she's being presented with an offer that faith can lead to paradise in this life. One doesn't have to simply give up everything in order to be rewarded in the next one. That seems like a message that could be appealing to her as well. It's more damaging to The Widow because she believes she is making that peace in the Badlands. She just has to embrace violence to do it. Violence shades her first meeting with Pilgrim because they have to face Gaius' troops. And yet, they emerge victorious and are able to forge a tenuous alliance. Of course, The Widow does so mostly because she's intrigued by Pilgrim's ability of controlling people with the gift. That's a skill she may be looking to exploit in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Blind Cannibal Assassins" was written by Michael Taylor and directed by Toa Fraser.
  • M.K. continues to come across as a whiny teenager who is upset that people don't understand why he is so angry at the rest of the world. He keeps pouting and living in the past. He believes in his connection with Tilda even though she and the show have moved on from that. And yet, that also makes it seem as if Nix exists solely to be the new women for M.K. to be fascinated by for no good reason other than he's attracted to her.
  • Of course, Nix may play into that narrative as well. Right now, she exists solely as a person worried about Castor dying. Of course, Castor can still take out a number of Gaius' forces simply by using his gift. He can still protect Pilgrim when Nix goes off on her journey to find the next dark one. This group seems to exist with the idea that there can only be two saviors with the gift at a time. They will serve as siblings who must protect Pilgrim no matter what. However, M.K. will operate differently from them because he no longer needs to cut himself to use his gift.
  • It's also clear that Castor doesn't have complete control of himself when he uses his gift. He is simply one of the gifted who is untrained with his power but has found a purpose. He understands the severity of the situation and must protect Pilgrim. But he is also perfectly fine attacking anyone in the building and not just the incoming threat. He goes after The Widow and that proves to her that Pilgrim knows how to control this gift. That's worth exploiting in the future if she wants hers back.
  • Sunny has proven to be very open and honest about the reckoning he deserves for his past actions. He didn't need to tell the cannibal's leader that he was the young clipper who blinded her. He simply felt the need to in order for her to be given a full picture of who he is. Yes, he's the man trying to save his son. But he's also a man who viciously ruined this woman's life and led her to such a depressing and horrifying lifestyle.
  • The show wouldn't just introduce Gaius only to promptly kill him off. His relationship with Baron Chau is significant. This episode spends time setting up their tense dynamic and how he needs to be forced into doing this mission for her. Of course, he does suffer an injury as well. He is stabbed in the chest. It just seems likely that he'll survive and be able to provide information to The Widow about his sister.