At the start of its final run of episodes, AMC’s Into the Badlands wastes no time in setting up the series’s endgame: a conflict between Sunny (Daniel Wu) and Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay), whose growing army of “gifted” warriors promises a future that is sure to be far worse than any under the thumb of the various Barons who’ve been largely scattered to the wind over the course of two and a half seasons. As far as conflicts go, Sunny’s upcoming battle with Pilgrim certainly raises the stakes of the series, putting the already dubious future of humankind into a sort of supernatural peril, one where unimaginable power must be wrested from the hands of a group operating with a staggering level of conviction seen only in the most extreme zealots.
Unfortunately for the world of Into the Badlands, Pilgrim’s zealotry is backed up by a very real display of power, one that’s not only impossible to deny, but any attempt to combat it seems hopeless. Despite the increased emphasis on supernatural powers — which actually works quite well with the show’s wuxia-style brand of marital arts — the threat of Pilgrim, Cressida (Lorraine Toussaint), and their devotees — which includes MK (Aramis Knight) and Nix (Ella-Rae Smith) — isn’t too far removed from what the series seemed to be about when it first began. The world of blood-thirsty Barons and their highly skilled warriors may have been supplanted by an almost absurdly powerful force, but somehow Into the Badlands doesn’t feel as though it’s lost sight of the kind of series it wanted to be when it first began.
If anything, this current storyline — or, the final storyline — is more in keeping with the spirit of the show and its highly stylized aesthetic and creative fight choreography — which affords viewers the amazing sight of Nick Frost engaged in balletic martial arts battles complete with high-flying wire work — as it lets the series be as weird and outlandish as it pleases. But it also has paired the overarching narrative down to three main threads, that of Sunny, Pilgrim, and the Widow (Emily Beecham), though the latter is somewhat distanced from the other at the start of the season. That culling of characters and plot threads makes things far more manageable as the show’s writers steer into what will be the series finale. And while Sunny’s arc of trained killer on a quest to redeem himself — complete with a retro engineered backstory that benefitted from the character’s memories having been toyed with — pits him against a man with whom he shares a complicated history, the Widow finds herself in a much more overt battle between the light and darkness within herself.
Like Sunny, the Widow’s story seems to have been re-engineered somewhat in order to better complement the needs of the story — thematic and otherwise — but it works in large part because the character still functions as a reminder of what the show was built on before MK and the other “gifted” characters (the Widow included) began to dominate and redefine the larger narrative of Into the Badlands. That’s particularly evident in the first two episodes of season 3B, ‘Chamber of the Scorpion’ and ‘Raven’s Feather, Phoenix Blood,’ which will air on consecutive nights as the series moves to its regular Monday night time slot on AMC.
While much of the focus is on Sunny and Bajie (Frost) escaping from Pilgrim’s compound with Sunny’s child (now free from the gift, apparently), the episode is also concerned with the Master (Chipo Chung) reconnecting with the Widow and forcing her to choose which side of her own psyche will rule her moving forward. It’s a bit like watching Christopher Reeve battle himself in a junkyard in Superman III, but because the show doesn’t dwell on the choice she has to make — and because it’s so evidently a part of the actual text of the episodes — the outcome puts the series on firmer ground as it careens toward the finale.
For the most part, finding its footing and being unambiguous about where things are headed is the goal for the first two episodes. In a sense, it feels as though Into the Badlands is doing a lot of table setting, and, frankly, it is. But it’s the sort of table setting that’s necessary in light of the show coming to an end. Alternatively, it’s easy to forgive the deliberate arrangement narrative details on account of how many lengthy action sequences the show manages to pack into a single hour, and still find time to move the story forward in a way that seems meaningful to the characters’ ongoing development and potential for finding closure when the series actually does come to an end.
Although it has quite a lot of heavy lifting to do in order to get itself on a path toward finding that closure, the start of Into the Badlands season 3B begins with an assured confidence that not only does it know where it’s going, but that it won’t loose sight of what makes this series special as it journeys down that particular path.
Into the Badlands continues Monday, March 25 with ‘Raven’s Feather, Phoenix Blood’ @9pm on AMC.