“Into The Badlands” Episode Review “Hand of Five Poisons”

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Cung Le in Into The Badlands.

Into The Badlands Season 1, Episode 6: “Hand of Five Poisons”
Original airdate December 20, 2015.

Synopsis

Sunny tries to buy passage for himself, Veil, and M.K. by bringing a false head to the River King. He’s supposed to kill M.K., but kills a lookalike instead. They have to leave that evening, but Veil confronts Sunny about her parents killing, confirming that Sunny stood by and did nothing as Quinn killed them. Sunny’s disloyalty is outed and Quinn locks him up, using him as a card to convince M.K. to be loyal to him, especially because Quinn has seen M.K.’s special powers in action in the previous episode. However, the Widow, Quinn’s son Ryder, and the skilled clipper Zypher move to kill Quinn and the other Baron Jakoby so they can take over. Quinn uses M.K. to fight them, but Quinn is killed by Sunny, who had been released by his old mentor from the jail. Also, a group of mysterious monks show up and collect M.K., making a mess of Sunny to get to him. In the end, M.K. is being taken away by the monks, and Sunny is kidnapped, too, but by the River King who plans on trading him into slavery somewhere down the river.

The Good

Cung Le is in this episode! Okay, for me, it’s always a positive to see a real MMA fighter in a movie. It’s nice to see them get roles in action films and television and bring some of the martial arts skills to the screen.

Of all the characters, I feel like the Barons are the most solidly built ones. Quinn is consistently evil, but his motivation is clear, he lives on a survival of the most brutal creed. He’s not totally evil, but he will do what he needs to do to get the job done.

The Widow, too, is a pretty clear character, too. She did start off seeming kind of brutal, but the revelation of her true motives, that she’s sort of a violent feminist matriarch, is revealed, and like Quinn, she lives on being able to be brutal to survive, but she shows more love for her underlings and for the well being of innocents than Quinn does.

I mention the consistency of these two characters as a plus, because such consistency is rather lacking in the other characters.

The Not So Good

A few loose ends were tied up in this last episode. For example Quinn tells Veil that Sunny killed her parents in the last episode, which is a lie, but when Veil confronts Sunny about it, she does confirm that although he didn’t kill them, he did stand by and watch and did nothing to stop Quinn from killing them. She is of course very upset at this. Sunny just stares at her dumbly in response. So I was really annoyed at Sunny’s cowardice in episode 2, not protecting her parents, but even with this closing of the psychological plot, I don’t feel satisfied. I think it’s because when Sunny tells Veil about her parents being killed, there wasn’t a sense that he was hiding anything, and he told it to her like the fact that he was there just wasn’t an important detail to share, not that he was being lily livered, even if that’s what the situation suggested that he was being a coward. Then here, when confronted with it, his lack of response doesn’t seem anguished or anything, it just seemed like he was too dumb to put two and two together. So as a character, Sunny seemed to be demoted from being a cowardly jerk to a moron. What happened?

I feel like it’s a problem that is pervasive to many of the characterizations of the characters. There seems to be a lack of continuity of the presented psychology of the characters. Maybe something needed to be done to make clear Sunny intentionally didn’t tell her he was there when it was done, which would make clear that it wasn’t just a detail he overlooked but something he willfully did because he’s a jerk.

Another example of incongruent character psychology is Veil’s suggestion to Tilda to kill The Widow. My reaction was like, “What? Why would you do that?” Veil’s supposed to be a healer, and she’s gotten all upset over how Sunny is a killer, and yet here she is offering for Tilda to kill her own “mother”, The Widow.

There are constantly moments of characters acting out of character, which makes them all confusing and hard to believe in or care about. It feels like all of the characters are just puppets going through the motion of a story without any sort of sense of agency. It seems like the plot is fine, but the fundamental problem is in characterization.

Further, although having Cung Le come in is awesome, they finally fully reveal that there are people who have this extra-super powers where their eyes go black and they go berserker, but some, like Le, can control it. So there’s something mystically about the universe in Into the Badlands, but there are two main problems with this.

First, this wasn’t made clear enough early enough. At the beginning, there’s the hint that M.K. has some sort of special power, but it’s not clear how far it extends. He sort of punches some guy really far, but maybe he just goes into berserker mode and doesn’t feel pain, which is why he can exude so much force. However, in episode 5, he shows that there’s a sort of qi or mystical power behind it, when he releases some sort of invisible force that blows away iron gates. In episode 6, Cung Le and friends show up as these monks that can control this special power, and they do all sorts of high flying action. At this point, though, it really is too little too late, because the confusion has already set in as to what sort of physical universe we’re in. Further, Sunny and other skilled clippers, including the Barons, are able to do some high flying action already, so it’s like, does everyone have a bit of this power and some just have more of it? So confusing.

Second, the post-apocalyptic nature of the Into the Badlands universe is confirmed in episode 6, when Quinn shows M.K. a model of the United States Congress, saying how these “enlightened rulers” left them a broken world to survive in. So, if these people exist in a world that’s our dysfunctional future, how is there all this mystical power? The set up of a post-apocalyptic world, especially one tied to our own current world, makes it either a realistic fiction or a science fiction, not FANTASY. So which is it? Maybe it will all be explained in the end, but irreparable confusion has already set in for the viewer.

These all make the high flying action of the martial arts just laughable because there’s no basis for it.

I couldn’t help but be especially disappointed when Cung Le started *dancing*. No disrespect to him, guy’s just doing his job and playing his role, but I got that same feeling when Donnie Yen showed up in Blade II and was killed by lower mutant vampires in the sewers. I was like, “What? No way!” To add insult to injury, we didn’t even get to see him actually get killed, just the shadows of him being overwhelmed by the mutant vampires. Cung Le was being swung around on wires, WIRES for crying out loud! This is CUNG LE we’re talking about! The horror! I’m sure not many other people out there care about this like I do, but to get a sense of my horror, imagine Superman showing up at a fight wearing a bullet proof vest. RIGHT?

Conclusion

With the whole first season done and told, the plot is constructed well, but the characters are not. Neither is the setting, which seems to be unsure of which genre it wants to present itself to the audience as. Overall, I think the show is rather disappointing, and the problems with the characterizations and other confusions in the show is possibly preventing other viewers like myself from fully investing in the characters and their stories. Still, hopefully it gets a second season to see if it can fix the problems that were in this first one. Some crock pots need to cook longer, and maybe a different chef is needed. The premise is good and I want to support martial arts on TV, but what could have been awesome has sadly come off kind of corny and confusing instead.

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About tinabot

Tinabot is a writer, teacher, and ninja. She and her students write and publish their work. Her debut teen kung fu romance novel The Legend of Phoenix Mountain is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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