“Into the Badlands” Season 2 premiere is a masterclass in inclusive TV

Daniel Wu as Sunny (Antony Platt/AMC)

It’s already a cliche to say this, but Into the Badlands Season 2 showed up Iron Fist in nearly every way possible. If there Hollywood needed an example of how to make an inclusive martial arts-based action show that doesn’t appropriate cultures but actually respectfully melds cultures together into something new and original, then Into the Badlands is that much-needed example.

Did that sentence confuse you? Let me just break down what I’m trying to say in some bulleted points while telling you what you need to know about the jaw-dropping Season 2 premiere.

• The beginning didn’t linger. 

 

I hope you had your Into the Badlands DVDs or On Demand players handy to catch up on the first season, since the show didn’t waste any time jumping back into the story and the action, and that’s great, because while the show’s story is fantastic, the biggest selling point are the extensive, thought-out, creative fight scenes.

We’ve  dropped in on Sunny (Daniel Wu, who is also one of the show’s executive producers) after being transported to a slave colony to work in the mines. Gone are the days of being a Clipper (aka an upper-tier slave), and now, all Sunny cares about is getting out of the mines and back to Veil (Madeleine Mantock) and his new baby. And hopefully to get back on the right terms with Veil, since his role in her parents death is…dubious.

(Look, let’s get this out of the way right now in this huge aside; Sunny didn’t kill Veil’s parents. BUT, he did stand by while Quinn (Martin Csokas) killed them with Sunny’s sword. BUT, Quinn also threatened to kill Sunny. BUT, Sunny can totally take down Quinn, and he didn’t. BUT, Sunny was just waking up to the system as it is and he didn’t realize he was a slave until he realized he wanted more for his life, particularly because of his relationship with Veil. As you can see, the circular argument can go on and on. But bottom line is that he didn’t kill Veil’s parents, but he didn’t stop Quinn due to self-preservation and, to be blunt, selfishness. He wanted to be around to be with Veil, and he didn’t really think enough about Veil’s parents to realize he needed to stop Quinn from killing what could have become his own extended family. However, how did he think he could go explain this to Veil??? Not to be glib, but he didn’t think the “I’ll stand by like my hands are tied” thing through at all.)

At any rate, Sunny wants to get his family back and find his redemption. Right now, it seems like he could and he couldn’t; his new bunkmate frenemy Baijie (newcomer to the show Nick Frost) sold him out in order to try to secure his own freedom, but Sunny already had a plan before Baijie ratted him out; Sunny wants to try to take out the big wrestler of the group in order to become the new head of the slave food chain and, possibly, get his chance to escape.

HOWEVER, before we even get to Sunny making a plan, we immediately see Sunny try to escape from the first few minutes of the show. IT WAS INTENSE! THIS IS HOW YOU START AN ACTION SHOW!

• The diversity and badassery of the Into the Badlands‘ women

I can honestly say that this is one show that treats its women with respect. (Except for that one woman Baijie straight-up punched unconscious just to get a ring to buy his freedom. Baijie should know better than that.)

Overall, the women on Into the Badlands have thoroughly impressed me, even more so this season. One criticism that some, including Mediaversity Reviews, pointed out is that despite the presence of Veil and the awesomeness of The Widow, the show was centered around white feminism. (Li of Mediaversity Reviews also breaks down just how diverse the main cast is, which is that it’s pretty diverse and more multicultural on an individual-by-individual basis than I initially gave the show credit for. For instance, Mantock is black, Hispanic, and white, not just black as I alluded to in my recent Into the Badlands article. My bad.)

However, one of this season’s mission statements seems to be to correct that oversight, since this season, we’re seeing a much more diverse range of women, including The Master, played by Chipo Chung, who is Asian and black and the most powerful person on the show, period. As many online have noted, the show seems to be a masterclass for Marvel on how to 1) create a show with a POC Iron Fist and 2) how to simultaneously make an Iron Fist with Asian heritage and a proper female Ancient One that doesn’t appropriate the culture she’s supposed to be a part of (and, again, is an Ancient One with Asian heritage). She’s everything we wanted both Iron Fist and the Ancient One to be.

Chipo Chung as The Master  (Antony Platt/AMC)

And Tilda (Ally Ioannides), who was just The Widow (Emily Beecham)’s daughter, has now been elevated to Regent. And her crew is also amazing.

And another upcoming new baron, Baron Chau, looks like she can f*** some people up good-fashioned. I can’t wait to see her fight scenes, especially if she has fight scenes against The Widow. (She’s got to have some fight scenes against The Widow.)

• A diversity masterclass for other shows

Yes, the show’s Season 2 premiere had a serendipitous moment by coming on during the same weekend as Iron Fist‘s premiere, simultaneously one-upping it and showing it how it’s really done when it comes to the martial arts game. But the show is a masterclass for any new series looking to infuse cultures together without appropriating or otherwise offending its audience.

This is something that was taken seriously last year, as evidenced by the whole spiel Wu had about rewriting Romeo Must Die through Sunny and Veil, but this year, the crew has taken their commitment to diversity even more seriously than before. We have the examples of the women above, but we also have just the worldbuilding in general. In every scene, you have a multicultural world which reflects the show’s multicultural audience. The world itself doesn’t particularly rest on whiteness as a default or as a power play, something I originally thought the show was using in the first season with Quinn’s family, coupled with the fact that Quinn and The Widow were the only barons we saw until the introduction of Edi Gathegi’s Jacobee (I still wish we saw more of Jacobee).

We’re also getting yet another baron; along with Chau, we’re also getting Baron Hassan, and the two of them together have opened up the baron game in the vein of Jacobee; anyone can be a baron, and knowing that anyone can attain that kind of power is refreshing, and in its own way, subversive, since the power everyone’s battling over is the same original sin that started America in the first place–slavery. It’s interesting that even though the America Into the Badlands inhabits is a post-apocalyptic type of America, it’s still a country that wrestles with the concept of power through owning others.

• Surprises on surprises on surprises

We had the surprise of the Master being who she is, the surprise of The Widow upping her game this season (her big set piece was amazing to view, and I could watch that over and over again), and the surprise of Veil finally having her baby. But the biggest surprise was seeing QUINN AS VEIL’S CARETAKER! What kind of Frankenstein nonsense is happening right now?! We all thought he was dead! What is he doing with Veil and Veil’s baby?! Also, is he trying to seek redemption as well, or is he trying to regain his power to take on his son Ryder (Oliver Stark), who is now the new baron?

Overall, I’m PUMPED! I can’t wait to see where the rest of this season is taking us! What did you think of the first episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

  • Ray

    That was great and you were so on point. I just love this show even more. I just love the diversity of this show. Other shows need to take note.

  • Jeff Winger

    Well said. Although to be fair, when it comes to fight scenes, badlands has a huge advantage because it has the most respected (and most expensive) fight choreography crew is the world. The same people who did The Matrix and Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon.

    And let’s give credit where credit is due. It’s the most pro-feminism show on TV. It might also be the most diverse show on TV. And it was created by 2 white dudes. Those 2 show-runners need a round of applause.

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  • Todddd

    you are obsessed with race. It’s boring.