Action and adventure lovers have seen a lot of different trends emerge over the past decade. However, one that’s been particularly noticeable is that the kind of action we’re seeing on the small screen these days has to come to equal that of the big screen – and in some cases, even outright surpass it. And one series that’s unquestionably leading the way in that regard is AMC’s “Into the Badlands”. From its debut in November 2015, the series has blended a mesmerizing cocktail of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”-style wire-fu with the intensity and unapologetic bloodshed of “The Raid” movies.
Season three would ultimately see a major uptick in scope and scale by expanding to a whopping sixteen episodes, a significant expansion from the six-episodes of the first season and the ten-episodes of the second. For season three, however, “Into the Badlands” is taking a somewhat more novel approach. The show kicked off – no pun intended! – on Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 and aired its first eight episodes through the spring and into the summer, with the latter half of season three set to arrive on AMC this year.
Of course, we wouldn’t want to head into the remainder of season three without diving into all the wild, action-packed exploits of the first half, now would we? So strap in, readers, and make sure to have a trusty Clipper by your side – we’re going to venture once more “Into the Badlands” with KFK’s impressions of the first eight episodes of the show’s epic third season!
Season three opens with the nefarious Minerva, better known as “The Widow”, setting her plot into motion to take down her rival Barons and consolidate her rule over the Badlands once and for all. The Widow also brings some of her former enemies into her inner-circle with the promise of wreaking vengeance on their common enemy, Sunny – once the Regent of the former Baron, Quinn, and the most feared Clipper in the Badlands, now running from his previous life of bloodshed and devoted only to protecting his newborn son, Henry.
Meanwhile, the charismatic Pilgrim leads his people to establish a new society in the lost land known as Azra, but the journey there isn’t going to be an easy one with The Widow joining forces with Sunny’s old enemy Nathaniel Moon in her quest to dominate the Badlands. With The Widow also having Sunny’s young ally, M.K. in her clutches, she’s also determined to unlock his dormant supernatural abilities in order to have the ultimate weapon on her side, and in the midst of attempting to escape The Widow’s clutches, M.K. uncovers a disturbing secret from Sunny’s past.
The fact that season three carries the greatest number of episodes of the series thus far is very emblematic of the overall trend of “Into the Badlands”, namely how much the show has expanded its scope and scale with each subsequent season. This might seem like just a natural by- product of an ongoing series, at first glance, but “Into the Badlands” has truly stepped up its game with each season.
The first martial arts battle of the season’s first episode, “Enter the Phoenix”, pitting The Widow against Nathaniel Moon is one of the most elaborate the series has ever produced. The two combatants start off at ground level before sword-slashing their way up a hundred-foot tower. The camera captures not only the meticulously assembled action in all its glory, but also the gorgeous ocean and mountain scenery of Ireland, where the series has been produced since season two.
The shift in filming location from Louisiana is one that’s exploited to its fullest in broadening the scope of the series. Ireland certainly owes any recent increases in tourism it’s received to “Into the Badlands”, with the show making dead certain to showcase its new filming location in beautifully rendered detail.
Heading into season three of “Into the Badlands”, Emily Beecham still continues to prove herself arguably the greatest villain on episodic television today. Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of The Kingpin on the Marvel-Netflix series “Daredevil” is the only one to really rival Ms. Beecham’s performance as The Widow for small-screen villainy – eerily calm, calculated, poised, and perfectly happy to crush all who stand in her way. Nick Frost also continues to inject plenty of dry humor into the show in his portrayal of Bajie. Indeed, he’s so good in the opening episodes of season three, especially after re-uniting with Sunny, that in hindsight, you almost wish he’d come aboard in season one, as he’s quickly proving Bajie to be almost as integral a character to the series as Sunny himself.
Which brings us to the action, and as if it hasn’t been said enough, “Into the Badlands” is the show to beat for action on the small screen! The aforementioned opening fight between The Widow and Moon in the season’s opening, kicks season three off nicely, but of course, the show is only just getting started. Furthermore, the series continues to sit-by-side with Yuen Woo-ping’s “True Legend” as the best examples of hard-hitting, impactful wire-fu action. Whilst blending the punishing hits of that film’s wire-driven action into the mix, “Into the Badlands” also continues to bring the kind of unhinged bloodbath seen in “The Raid” films into the parameters of a television series.
The show also brings an ever-increasing degree of complexity to the types of environments and situations it sets the action within. Sunny’s defense of Henry from a duo of assassins inside the confines of a trailer gives a solid follow-up, and pleasing environmental contrast, to the season’s opening fight. It’s in the first two episodes that we also get signs of season three clearly incorporating a ninja influence into the series with the season’s intro of The Widow’s teenage daughter, Tilda.
In fact, episodes three and four, respectively titled “Leopard Snare Rabbit” and “Blind Cannibal Assassins” (which somehow has never been the name of a heavy metal band) take the season even further in that direction, as well, one that might best be described as “Ninja meets Wuxia”. The wire-fu utilized in these two episodes, carries a more “Crouching Tiger”-esque vibe of graceful gravity-defiance to it, as opposed to the “True Legend” influences seen elsewhere on the show. Meanwhile, the ninja elements, which have previously been hinted at earlier this season, make their mark on the Badlands in the form of hordes of masked assassins pouncing on our characters from the shadows at regular intervals through the first eight episodes. Although “Into the Badlands” takes its cue from the Chinese classic, “Journey to the West”, the series seems ever eager to draw off of all Asian cultures in season three à la “Avatar: The Last Airbender”.
Stunt veteran, Lewis Tan is also the most welcome new addition to the series, first arriving in the season’s fourth episode as the somewhat reluctant assassin, Gaius Chau and makes dead certain every viewer gets what they came for. Indeed, Tan makes such an impression throughout season three, that it just about makes up for his role in “Deadpool 2” consisting largely of a horrific parachuting accident. Sherman Augustus also delivers his most memorable portrayal of Nathaniel Moon yet, a man with a vendetta against our hero who re-thinks his mission in the Badlands without truly forgiving Sunny. Now armed with a metallic hand to replace the one he lost from Sunny, he wields it in battle as if it were a literal sword – which it frequently is thanks to the retractable blades inside. His enmity with Sunny reaches a head in the fourth episode, with Moon driven to reclaim his honor after his previous encounter with Sunny. However, it wraps up with both a sense of closure and open-mindedness, and sets Moon off on his own mission along with The Widow, while Sunny and Bajie form an uneasy alliance with Pilgrim to rid his infant son of his dark gift before it destroys him.
Both Sunny and Moon’s respective missions set season three off on two parallel stories that come to a head in episode eight, titled “Leopard Catches Cloud”. Sunny discovers the hard way that M.K. has uncovered the dark truth from Sunny’s past, and barely holds his own against the supernaturally gifted M.K. in one of the two most suspense-filled smackdowns of season three.
The other also comes in episode eight, in a mass battle sequence with The Widow and Moon leading their forces against the rival Barons. Arrows and sword wounds are powerless to slow Moon down as he slices his way through one foe after another with Mozart’s “Dies Irae” playing on the soundtrack.
Swap out the bombs and machine guns in the opening of “Saving Private Ryan” for swords, and Moon’s one-man rampage is what you get, and rest assured, it’s a sight to behold. Of course, as we saw in season one, “Into the Badlands” loves to end on a good cliffhanger, and season three does just that in its first half when Sunny, despite Bajie’s suspicions and blinded by the need to save his son’s life, discovers all too late that Pilgrim’s motivations have been less than pure. And by the time he and the audience learn the sinister truth about the ancient technology Pilgrim has unearthed, season three has already set itself up to completely blow the lid off in its second half!
Eight episodes into “Into the Badlands'” third season, and the series continues to amaze at every turn. The cast new and old is as engaging as ever, with Nick Frost having such strong buddy chemistry with Daniel Wu that his portrayal of Bajie may one day eclipse his big-screen collaborations with his fellow comedian, Simon Pegg. The martial arts’ sequences get more elaborate and eye-popping with each episode, particularly any involving Lewis Tan, and the series remains THE bar for action in episodic television, as well as continuing to blend wire-fu with the kind of gravity and power of more down-to-Earth action.
As cliché as it sounds to say, an ongoing franchise will never be the same again, but with how things stand at the midway point of its third season, that’s most certainly the case for “Into the Badlands”!