Sunday, June 10, 2018

REVIEW: 'Into the Badlands' - Sunny Demands Answers from the River King About His Past in 'Dragonfly's Last Dance'

AMC's Into the Badlands - Episode 3.07 "Dragonfly's Last Dance"

Sunny works with the River King to secure passage to Pilgrim's Fortress. The Widow faces mutiny from discontented troops.

"Dragonfly's Last Dance" could be a very frustrating or very rewarding episode depending on how you're viewing it. It has become quite clear that the first half of the season is building to Sunny meeting with Pilgrim for the first time and the war between The Widow and Baron Chau coming to an end. At times, those have both felt like goals that should have been completed by now because it's important to see what happens in the Badlands after they occur. As such, it could be frustrating to see the show continue to utilize stalling techniques in order to keep those plot points from happening. And yet, it's also important to get both Sunny and The Widow to logical points in their character arcs so that the story told once Sunny meets with Pilgrim and The Widow ends the war are actually rewarding to all involved. Last week I said that it was very likely that Sunny's meeting with Pilgrim would be delayed for another episode even though the River King could lead Sunny exactly where he needed to go. That's ultimately what happens here. However, it never feels like a waste. The show is delaying this meeting for a reason. A lot has been said about the importance of Sunny and Pilgrim coming together. They are kindred spirits who could unlock the true mysteries of this world. That's exciting. But Sunny needed to get some more answers about his past before this meeting could occur. That way he had some semblance of just how special and important he was. He needs to have more of a stake in working with Pilgrim than simply needing him to heal his son. Furthermore, The Widow needs to be truly challenged with her ideas of bringing freedom to the Badlands. The season began with the mother of a fallen soldier claiming that her daughter wasn't free. She just moved from one baron to another and blindly followed orders. As such, it's important for more cogs to step up and voice their own opinions. That's the world that The Widow aspires to create. And yet, it also forces her to reckon with her own actions and question if she has become the monster she wishes to eradicate from this world.

There is absolutely no reason for Sunny to trust anything that the River King says. As such, the audience has to be very suspicious about everything that happens in that moment where the River King is very forthcoming with information. It's more important that he is providing clues as to what happened on Lily's boat before she got it. Sunny knew that he had been there before. But he has no memories of that trip. He needs to know what happened and what makes him so special in this world when he just wants to be left alone to care for his son. It's easy for the River King to point Sunny in the right direction to find Pilgrim. Maps were literally spread out through the Badlands to bring followers to him. Pilgrim wanted to be found so that he could lead the people of this world to Azra. Instead, it's more pressing for Sunny to piece together what happened during his childhood. He only really remembers his life after being found by Waldo and trained as a clipper. He has regrets about the actions that he took during that service. He is still forced to pay for those heinous actions as well. He doesn't want to kill anymore. But now, a new group of people are actually hunting him down. The River King tells Sunny the tale of this ship going missing for a couple of days. When it finally emerged from the mist again, everyone onboard was dead. Except the Captain survived. He would be permanently crippled because of the attack and written off as nothing more than a mad man by the world after taking an ax to the head. But he survived in order to give an account of what happened and how Sunny can learn even more about the life that he once lived and these new strangers who are hunting him for some mysterious reason.

Of course, all of this has to tie closely into whatever Sunny's relationship will ultimately be with Pilgrim. And right now, Pilgrim is pretty much a monster who lashes out whenever someone dares question his promises or actions. Nix is growing more and more frustrated with him because she saw the bruises on Castor's neck. She knew that his death wasn't the peaceful one that he was promised. And yet, she is all alone in this world. She is afraid of what Pilgrim might do to her. And she is still just getting to know M.K. who wants to forge a deeper bond with her even though he has his own fair share of problems going on. And then, Cressida is just teasing the importance of this meeting that will finally allow Pilgrim to access Azra and lead everyone to salvation. It remains a lot of cryptic teasing that doesn't ultimately go anywhere or surprise the audience with new information. The same could also be said of the River King ultimately betraying Sunny. Now, the audience is made aware that this threat is coming early on in the hour. The River King made this promise that no harm would come to Sunny or his companions. But it's understandable why he doesn't abide by his word. Sunny tried to trick him once. And now, he is a wanted man by numerous people who all wish to exploit him and his powers for some reason. That leads to the introduction of the Black Lotus. Nothing is really known or revealed about them here other than they wear red and black armor while having the fighting skills that could actually rival Sunny's. Of course, Sunny still prevails in battle. He even kills the River King because he has lied and deceived too many times to ever be trusted with telling the truth ever again. However, does that make Sunny a monster because he broke the promise he was determined to keep? He didn't want to kill again. He killed the three soldiers from the Black Lotus because they were trying to kill him. But killing the River King is a choice that Sunny makes because of just how untrustworthy he has always been. And that is a significant action.

Meanwhile, a mutiny occurs amongst The Widow's forces. Before that happens though, the leadership is arguing amongst themselves about the best plan of attack. They are now realizing just how draining this entire war has been. There has been absolutely no movement on the front as of late. It still remains at a stalemate. The two sides are both losing so many soldiers. As such, it's easy to understand why some of the people on the frontline are confused about what they are fighting for to begin with. When Ren and Arnold were first introduced earlier this season, they were the bright young soldiers who were willing to fight for their freedom. They bought into the message that The Widow was delivering. They wanted to help create a better world. It was so personally destructive to Ren when she survived a fatal injury but only lost her leg. She saw it as her losing her chance to fight. It felt like a sentence to return to a life of servitude. Meanwhile, Arthur was the young man placed with so much responsibility to hold the line because all of his superiors had died. He was eager to kill and prove that he was just as lethal and serious as all of the other soldiers of the war. But now, they have become disillusioned by all of this fighting. Lydia questions it as well. She sees it as such a risk for The Widow to consolidate all of her forces on the weakest portion of Chau's army. The Widow sees it as a surprise attack that may turn the tides of this war. Lydia sees it as The Widow being willing to send even more young soldiers to their deaths for no reason other than The Widow needing to defeat Chau no matter what the cost. As such, it's fitting that Lydia is the one who ultimately decides the outcome of this story. Ren and Arnold are able to quickly take over the sanctuary and make The Widow and Gaius bend to their will to end the war. They are fighting to stop the fighting. It just means going against their former master who they were willing to die for. Lydia is the one who goes unnoticed in the sanctuary and positions herself as the person necessary to make peace actually occur.

And yet, it's questionable why Ren and Arnold simply don't kill The Widow when they have the opportunity and use her death as leverage to become barons themselves in the world that Chau will want to build up in the Badlands again. That seems like the much more effective strategy. It doesn't seem to cross their minds at all. They are young and only looking at the immediate problem in the world. They just want to stop the fighting. They don't ultimately care what the world will look like once peace has been struck by both sides. They just want all of the dying to stop. They no longer want to risk so much to get so little in return. But again, it's lame that they keep The Widow alive for no reason whatsoever. They know just how deadly she can be. She is a ruthless leader who has been able to defeat so many opponents in battle despite the odds. Keeping her alive just makes it seem inevitable that she will escape from her confinement and be able to kill everyone involved in this mutiny. Sure, the numbers are against her. But that just provides an opportunity for her allies to actually come together and decide to save her. Again, it would be so easy to kill The Widow hoping that those left behind could build a better world. Lydia doesn't believe in the message that The Widow embodies. She simply sees her as yet another baron who won't last in this world. And yet, she still chooses to save her alongside Nathaniel and Tilda. They may not like doing so. But they still make that decision. And more importantly, The Widow has to reflect on her recent tactics. Her army is dealt a crushing blow here. She is able to stop this mutiny completely. But she will now have to think about whether she has led the right way when so many of her soldiers were willing to turn against her after this war has dragged on for months. She may start to question her own leadership qualities and being able to deliver what she has promised. She may be genuinely worried about that now which is very intriguing.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dragonfly's Last Dance" was written by LaToya Morgan and directed by Paco Cabezas.
  • Everything that happens between Bajie and Lily this week is completely extraneous. It's mostly just giving them something to do while Sunny goes off on this mission by himself. It also explains who is watching over Henry. And yes, it is amusing seeing Bajie in charge of that responsibility while also having no clue what he's doing. But it's also just an excuse to push the two of them to almost have sex but ultimately don't.
  • After two episodes, there still isn't much to Bajie and Lily's dynamic that seems all that exciting. It's a story that the show felt like trying. But so much of it was just too forced. She made her decision to team with Bajie and Sunny at the end of last week's story. But now, she continues to be working deals with them because she is eager to get rid of them. And yet, she does come out ahead of all of this by essentially replacing the River King as the ruler of the water.
  • M.K. believes that Nix is upset and distant from him because of whatever Castor told her about the warning that The Widow gave to him. He is just perpetually worried that someone will reveal the true horrors of his past to this new community where he has found a sense of belonging. And yet, the situation has absolutely nothing to do with him at all. In fact, his story almost doesn't matter to any of his new friends. They just want him to be the dark one who serves Pilgrim.
  • From the moment that Gaius was shot with an arrow while in the prison cell, it seemed pretty obvious that The Widow would use that weapon in order to mount her escape. It's still such a brutal and vicious moment seeing her stab the arrow through Arnold until it comes out of his mouth though. But that then makes way for another epic action sequence where The Widow and Gaius team up to expertly deal with these new enemies.
  • Of course, the coolest action moment this week comes in Sunny's fight where he uses a ladder to fight off three soldiers with much more impressive weapons. That's such a badass moment. And yet, it never distracts from the point of that scene where Sunny wants answers but the Black Lotus soldiers would rather die than reveal his importance. Plus, his search for answers regarding his sister should fuel a lot of interesting story moving forward.