[This is a review of the series premiere of Into the Badlands. There will be SPOILERS.]
Cable network AMC has come a long way since the introduction of its highly acclaimed and beloved series Mad Men back in 2007. The New York advertising executive show may have garnered an endless supply of Emmy's, but its ratings never soared to meet the likes of the zombie infested juggernaut The Walking Dead. With its latest entry into the genre-based realm, the network hopes to catch fire once more with Into the Badlands.
Smallville alums Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have created a beautifully realized world where seven barons control an area called the Badlands. This post-post-apocalyptic setting seems to have a semblance of order, but at a cost. For their protection and shelter, the barons insist on the people living under them to be subservient. The two options given to you are to work in the poppy fields for the rest of your life, or become a Clipper, which is a kind an enforcer and assassin all wrapped into one.
Our hero's name is Sunny (Daniel Wu), an orphan with a mysterious past. He is the best Clipper in the Badlands, and is seemingly fine with being a good errand boy until he rescues a young captive named M.K. (Aramis Knight) who recalls a time when he was outside of the Badlands in a great city. Most people believe the outskirts are uninhabitable, or simply nothing exists out there. From the very beginning it's obvious that Sunny and M.K.'s destiny are entwined.
If this pilot has one issue, it would have to be its lack of subtlety, but perhaps that's that point? Nothing in the show's premise stands out as unique except for the fight choreography, which is exceptional. There are two main action sequences where swordplay and blood fill the screen. If you're a fan of this over-the-top action, like in The Raid film franchise, then this is going to be your cup of tea. However, if you favor the more subtle approach to storytelling from a writer like Mad Men's Matthew Weiner, then you should watch AMC's Halt and Catch Fire. Into the Badlands is unapologetic in its approach and knows exactly what kind of show it wants to be. This is in-your-face drama with everything on the surface.
The characters that inhabit this new civilization are equally as bombastic as the blood-soaked sword fights and are a joy to watch. Daniel Wu has been around the block in the world of acting and will be featured in Legendary's new Warcraft film. His portrayal of Sunny is sometimes too stoic for this reviewer's liking, but his eyes reveal so much more. You can tell he's a man trapped between two worlds. He is first and foremost a Clipper for the most powerful baron in the Badlands, but he also has a girlfriend whom we learn is pregnant. After his encounter with M.K., Sunny wonders if there is a better life away from his current station. After all, he now has more than just himself to think of.
Then there's M.K., who apparently has special powers where his eyes turn white and he suddenly becomes a great fighter. Knight's performance is the weakest of the ensemble, but it's important to note that this is only the first episode, so he could improve as the series progresses. AMC ordered 6 episodes, so it will be interesting to see if a second season will be in order, and for how many episodes. 'The Fort' moved at a pace that makes this series ideal for binge-watching.
It's still early, but it appears that the villains of the show are the barons. Sunny's boss is named Quinn (Marton Csokas) who apparently rescued the famed Clipper at an early age. He is ambitious, but also highly intelligent. Sunny means a great deal to him and is aware that his allegiance may be wavering. Near the episode's conclusion, Quinn asks Sunny to move away from the barracks and closer to the family home. Quinn is no saint, so it's safe to assume that the baron suspects something and is not doing this out of the kindness of his heart.
Another character of note is the lovely baroness who is simply named The Widow (Emily Beecham). She knows about the city outside of the Badlands and also something of Sunny's past. Quinn refuses to give her credit, due to the fact that she killed her husband to claim his title. While Quinn may possess the best Clipper in the land, The Widow is an opponent who should not be underestimated. The series should be a fun ride as we see how all this plays out over the next 5 episodes.
What did you think of AMC's new "genre-bending" action adventure story? Were you invested in the story, or just there for the fights?
Into the Badlands continues with 'Fist Like a Bullet' next Sunday @10pm on AMC. Check out a clip from this episode below: