Sunday, June 17, 2018

REVIEW: 'Into the Badlands' - The World Completely Changes Once Sunny and Pilgrim Meet in 'Leopard Catches Cloud'

AMC's Into the Badlands - Episode 3.08 "Leopard Catches Cloud"

Sunny and Bajie arrive at Pilgrim's fortress, only to face an angry M.K. The Widow enlists Gaius. Moon and Lydia rally the troops.

So many big developments occur in "Leopard Catches Cloud." One can really tell that it was designed to serve as the midseason finale. There are no more delays to Sunny and Bajie's journey to Pilgrim. At the top of the hour, they are just at the fortress ready to find the cure for Henry from this mysterious prophet who has enamored so much of the Badlands with his message. And elsewhere, the war between The Widow and Baron Chau comes to a conclusion - in a shocking way as well. Into the Badlands always places so much emphasis on its season finales. That has always been when the big developments occur. As such, it's fitting that a lot occurs in this hour. The only thing that is really missing is the shocking death of a main character - though things could certainly end that way for either Nathaniel or Lydia based on their injuries here. Also like the previous finales, there are many things to like about how the show creates new story for itself while also being a little lackluster with how it decides to resolve some of the stories that have been ongoing for the season so far. The ending for the war that destroyed the Badlands in particular feels rather anti-climatic. Of course, it's all in service of the plot needing to come together to focus on one big threat that has been looming this entire time. The audience has had the debate over whether or not Pilgrim is an effective leader who inspires his followers into action by believing in Azra and the grand world they can create together. Instead, he has mostly felt like a tyrant who has only showed compassion to a select few while also growing very upset whenever someone disagrees with his orders. However, he also presents a way to answer some key questions about Sunny's past. Here, the two of them reunite and Pilgrim is able to tell Sunny all about his upbringing and the special powers he can unlock in this world. It's very freeing and forges an immediate bond. And yet, it's also important to point out just how sinister all of this is with Sunny feeling like he has no other choice than to be cooperative.

For this entire season, Sunny has been motivated into action by the need to cure Henry from the disease that is currently plaguing him. The witch was only able to delay the inevitable. And now, the baby is once again suffering from the disease. It's fortunate that Sunny and Bajie have finally made it to Pilgrim. They are here for personal salvation. They are here solely to find the answers to the cure for Henry. That's all that they really care about as well. Sunny wants answers about his past. That gets him to stay around because Pilgrim can talk about knowing Sunny and his sister when they were young. They were the chosen of Azra who were deemed worthy to control the world and the great powers that were unleashed upon it. That explains why Pilgrim has been able to calm those with the gift. It's a power that Bajie and everyone else has never seen before. It once again presents as a valuable resource once M.K. decides to attack Sunny for killing his mother. Pilgrim told his newest follower and protector that no harm would come to Sunny. And yet, M.K. still let that personal vendetta dictate his actions. He was proud to show off that he had access to his gift once again. It's also important for Sunny to become aware that M.K. is mad for Sunny killing his mother and not simply leaving him behind to be a prisoner of The Widow's. Sunny doesn't even dispute that accusation either. He doesn't remember it. But M.K. does. I still don't completely trust that memory because it seemed like nothing more than a hallucination in order to fuel the gift's return to the surface for M.K. It could have been a complete fabrication to make M.K. even more angry and personally betrayed by this world. But it's also the action that is fueling so much of his decision making lately. He is willing to attack without allowing Sunny the chance to talk about what happened. And in the end, Sunny is remorseful only because he needs to know if Pilgrim can be trusted. In that regard, M.K. vouches for him even though Nix has had her doubts as of late. But that's all Sunny needs to know in order to trust Pilgrim completely for whatever is about to happen.

Bajie has a different experience in this new community. All he sees is a cult that people are foolish to follow blindly. But that only fuels the curiosity of why Bajie made the call to them in the first place. He was looking for Azra. And instead, he brought this new army and threat to the Badlands. He didn't know exactly what he was doing. But he was a part of the fate of bringing Pilgrim and Sunny back together. Bajie only sees that as a bad thing. He sees the big discovery in the ground below as the machine with the capabilities of giving someone the gift. He learns the history of the destruction of the world. The old world fell because no one knew how to control these powers. That's why Sunny and Pilgrim were created. And now, they have to fulfill their duties of becoming gods and ruling over all. So, it appears that Pilgrim is just chasing power and wants to control an army of the most deadly soldiers the world has ever seen. He can make everyone who fights for him strong with the gift. Sunny is the key to unlocking this power. That appears to be all that he can do as well. Him touching this machine isn't the simple solution for Henry that Sunny was expecting. Instead, it takes Pilgrim channeling that energy and doing something within Henry to actually cure him. It's still a good thing. Sunny is very appreciative of that. He is willing to risk the destruction of the world to save his son. Bajie believes there has to be another way in order to heal Henry. There isn't according to Sunny. It just means unlocking this new threat within Pilgrim. He appears to grow even stronger because of this discovery. That's very daunting and ominous. It also leaves Sunny and the rest of the protagonists at a severe disadvantage. Sunny is still hailed as the catalyst of this new world who can rule as a god alongside Pilgrim. But it should be very interesting to see if he ultimately agrees with what Pilgrim has planned for this world especially since Sunny has been on a path for redemption and consequences this season.

It's also just fascinating to see the division of stories here in regards to their importance. The Widow makes the plan upfront that the best way to end this war is to just storm Baron Chau's fortress by herself. She only wishes to take Gaius and Tilda with her. Everyone else will be focused on creating a distraction at the front line. It's not a meaningful distraction. Nathaniel and Lydia just have to lead the troops into a big battle that will require some of Chau's forces to abandon her home and protection detail. That's it. There isn't any genuine worth to this fight. The Widow made this decision because she wanted to stop the killing. As such, it's peculiar that the show devotes a significant amount of screen time to this battle where Nathaniel seems to single-handedly be doing most of the hard work. Of course, the audience has come to expect that from him. He is the most deadly clipper for a reason. He has killed over a thousand people. Now, he is willing to kill more in order to serve his baron. But it also just feels like a story to give Nathaniel and Lydia something to do. Yes, Lydia is already planning for the future by making sure that the troops will see her as a viable leader should The Widow die during this confrontation. Meanwhile, Nathaniel wants them to be rational with the likelihood that they could die during this battle. That gives them the freedom to have sex with each other once more. That fuels the big moment where Lydia saves Nathaniel on the battlefield after it appears as if he is going to die. But so much of that sequence is built around these slow motion action moments where it seems like Nathaniel is about to be cut down. He prevails every single time. It's impressive. The show always fairs better with close combat fight scenes. War just allowed the show to spotlight its increased budget this year. But is it all that exciting that Nathaniel and Lydia both end this episode with significant injuries that could kill them? If the show wanted them dead though, then there probably wouldn't be much ambiguity left here. As such, it feels likely that both will survive to fight another day.

But the most pressing question has to be: did the show ultimately resolve the war between The Widow and Baron Chau in a satisfying way? Again, it has to be said that Chau was never much of a character. Gaius has had more focus this year even though his romance and devotion to The Widow has been somewhat forced and quickly added onto the narrative. It shows that there is potential for her life and story outside of all of the fighting. That's exciting. But the narrative is still primarily centered around fighting and The Widow trying to lead this cause. She is willing to die with the understanding that her cause will survive because it has inspired people into action. It must be larger than one person in order to ultimately succeed. But the odds are incredibly against her in this battle. It's strange how Tilda is just sidelined completely right away. She takes care of the first initial group of guards. Then, she doesn't really appear again. That mostly highlights how The Widow and Gaius are the ones with the personal stakes in this conflict with Chau. They are the ones who must confront her right now. But it's really thrilling when Chau leads The Widow into a room where a dozen archers are targeting her. It's a very cool moment when all of those arrows stop mid-air and then turn around and strike everyone else in the room. It's cool and effective. But it also means that The Widow wins this war by default and not because of anything that she actually did. Instead, it was The Master who put an end to this conflict because she needs The Widow to be focused on the greater threat to the world. It's exciting that The Widow possibly has her gift returned to her now. But it's also just lame that The Master had the ability to end this war and does so very efficiently here despite never being important in this story at all. It will be exciting to see the two of them working together to deal with the threat from Pilgrim. They could team up with the Black Lotus to mount an even more impressive army. But it also makes the war from the first eight episodes seem like nothing more than a stepping stone to something bigger and more important later on.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Leopard Catches Cloud" was written by Matt Lambert and directed by Paco Cabezas.
  • M.K. has only begun his training with Nix teaching her how to awaken her gift without having to cut herself. Of course, it's still laughable to think of M.K. as capable of teaching anyone about anything. He is still a petulant and foolish teenager himself. He's still just rebelling against the world because of his personal vendettas. He isn't even able to get very far in his lesson before Sunny arrives. But he does pass on the one piece of information that will probably be the most important thing.
  • Pilgrim and Cressida are now referring to Sunny as Sanso. That is the name that they have always known him as. Before now though, he was mentioned as The Catalyst who could help them along this mission. Their story was played as them having no clue who he was but that he was important to the prophecy. And now, this whole backstory has been concocted that shows that everything is more connected than it initially seemed.
  • There is such a divide with Pilgrim having such a respect for the old world and their desire to remember their own history and the personal achievements of many with the idea that he wants to rule over all of civilization and kill whomever doesn't follow him. He's already very focused on his legacy and the story that people will tell about his rise to power. As such, that makes him a very dangerous adversary.
  • Meanwhile, Bajie goes from just casually dismissing Pilgrim as someone who doesn't deserve the amount of attention he has gotten to being absolutely afraid of him and the plans that he has for the world. He was even willing to blow up the machine that will unlock all of the grand secrets of the gift. He can read the scripture outlining what's to come from all of this. He understands that things are about to become very dark. And yet, he's powerless to stop Sunny from aiding Pilgrim.
  • The direction makes a point in saying that there is a severed arrow in Baron Chau but that she isn't dead yet. When The Master turns the arrows against Chau's forces, it is done with the assumption that they are all lethal shots. She ends this war in order to get her ally back. But Chau is still alive at the moment too. As such, that could be an ongoing threat - especially if The Widow and Gaius just walk away and don't check on her.