What an episode “Enter the Phoenix” was! As the inaugural episode for Into the Badlands’ third season, I couldn’t be more pleased with how they advanced the story and handled the Veil situation. Before I go any further, if you don’t want spoilers, then I don’t know why you clicked this article, TBH. Go away if you don’t want to know what happens, and then come back when you’ve watched.
All right, with that said, let’s just address the elephant in the room.
No, Veil isn’t literally a walking ghost (which maybe could have been cool in a way, but also tremendously sad). But rather, her spirit seems like it’s going to be baked into this season in a way I was hesitant to hope for, but glad it’s actually come to pass. If you know my site by now, you’ll know I talked to Al Gough about last season, particularly about Veil’s death. Veil’s death was a big issue for me, and to be honest, I’m still sad we don’t see her standing alongside Sunny. BUT WITH THAT SAID, I’m glad the show isn’t running from it by time-jumping, something shows often do when they don’t really want to deal with the aftermath of a person’s death. Instead, Into the Badlands seems to be taking Veil’s death head-on, particularly with how it’ll affect Sunny throughout this season and the rest of his life.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about fridging women in TV shows since my talk with Gough, and at least for this episode, I’ll say that I think the magnitude of the hole Veil left in Sunny’s life is being addressed as tastefully and as meaningfully as possible. One of the aspects of fridging I hate the most is when the male character gives a monologue along the lines of, I’m going to be stronger for her! or I’ll avenge her death as a way to assuage my guilt and fight evil! It’s easy to have a character think this way, since it puts less of the emotional focus on the sad parts and more focus on the good, happy parts. However, it flattens the character who died and oftentimes, the emotional aftermath surrounding their death isn’t gone into near enough detail.
To use the trope definitions from TV Tropes, the man who was involved with the fridged woman usually goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, to avenge and to do anything possible to not deal with his unresolved feelings of guilt and culpability. Eventually, the person will turn into the Crusading Widower, who will always fight justice for the sake of their lost loved ones and others like her.
Thankfully, none of that has happened with Sunny. He’s not out for revenge, he hasn’t taken up anyone’s crusade, and he’s not even out to do the right thing so to speak; all he wants is to do right by his kid, and it seems like he feels like he’s even failing at that, especially when he realizes his boy has The Gift. Instead, his inner monologue is something along the lines of I’m guilty; she died because of me, and even though I love my child, Veil will always haunt me through her. It’s pretty clear to me that he’ll never be able to look at Henry without seeing Veil and weighing his own soul–he knows he’s filled with sins, and he’s made his peace with those, but the one sin he can’t bear is not being able to save his woman. At one point, I believe he says to himself, “It should have been me.” I guess what I’m saying is this–yes, Veil’s death has been used to develop Sunny’s storyline, but unlike other fridging stories, in which the woman’s death is treated as a catalyst for the hero to become a Hero, Veil’s death has made Sunny even more confused about his place in the world, and he’s no closer to being a traditional hero than he was when we first met him in Season 1. He’s dealing with emotions he’s never dealt with before–loss, fear, the instinct to protect, even distaste at killing (i.e. when he hesitated to kill the young deer in the presence of its parent). He’s truly a man without a cause, just trying to survive long enough to see his kid become a man.
Sunny doesn’t know who he is anymore, and it’s going to take him a long time to come to grips with his new life and new responsibilities. We’re finally seeing a Sunny deal with real life issues, including the multifaceted state called grief. Would it have been cool if he could realize this without Veil being gone? I’m not going to lie–I would rather that be the case. But as it stands, I think Into the Badlands has made lemonade out of lemons by deciding to go deeper with Sunny’s slow-to-process way of handling Veil’s death (as it often looks like he’s constantly cycling through the shock, denial, and bargaining stages of grief in real time). In my view, her memory is being treated with care (and the right amount of anguish); we see that she did mean something and continues to mean something after her death.
It’s a colorful world once again on Into the Badlands. If having a white cast was Gough’s fear for Season 3, then he and the crew soundly trounced that fear by hiring the likes of Babou Ceesay as Pilgrim, Lorraine Toussaint as Cressida, Belle Williams as Avon (or as I called her on Twitter, the doctor with no bedside manner), Leslie Kunz as Coral (the woman Sunny initially takes Henry to), Ella-Rae Smith as Nix (one of Pilgrim’s Gifted fighters) and the return of Sherman Augustus as Nathaniel Moon, Sunny’s respected foe. Soon to come is Lewis Tan as Baron Chau’s brother Gaius.
First, I think the new cast members help open up the show’s borders as it were. For two seasons, we’d been stuck in just one part of the Badlands, and finally, we’re expanding further into the world and into the lore behind Asra. Also, the new blood provides more opportunities for storytelling; again, we can advance beyond the world of the Barons and get into some new territory. For instance, Pilgrim and his band believe themselves to be gods due to The Gift. Pilgrim is infiltrating Chau’s patch of land in order to gain disciples. Yes, we have been introduced to religion and spirituality in this world, but Pilgrim’s angle is one we haven’t yet seen. Furthermore, we don’t know yet what role Moon will play in The Widow’s plan for world domination. To me, he could very easily become someone who’d turn against her and side with Sunny, if only because the enemy of his enemy would be his friend.
Couple all these changes with Lydia heading her father’s religious camp and Tilda and Odessa acting as thieves, M.K. still at the mercy of the Widow (who has waged a probably-pointless war with Chau) and Bajie doing whatever when it suits him, this season is shaping up to be one with a lot of moving parts at play. If this episode is anything to go by, this could be an exciting season indeed.
Poor little Henry’s got The Gift. The Gift is still one of the most mysterious things in this show, which is chock full of strange things. Why are people born with it? What does it mean? For Sunny, all it seems to mean is added headache and more dismay; he’s already floundering as a dad, and now he’s got to figure out how to care for a son with The Gift? Sigh.
But this is where the Journey To The West comes back into play. Asra is the place where all can be revealed, including the mystery of The Gift, and Asra is the place that comes to the forefront of Sunny’s mind once again. For him, his only goal now is to get his son to Asra where he can be safe. To go back to my point about Veil’s death, Sunny’s mission of safety bucks the tradition of men channeling their guilt and sadness into revenge and anger. Instead of becoming a Hero and fighting for a righteous cause, Sunny’s focus is much more localized; he doesn’t care about the rest of the world, all he wants is his son–the last vestige of his wife that he has–safe. He could care less about his own life, just as long as Henry is alive and well.
It’s important to remember that Asra was initially Sunny’s goal when he was hopeful he’d be able to save Veil and take her and Henry away. What will probably be foremost on his mind is that he failed that goal. That makes the stakes to find Asra even higher, because now his son relies on him to make what seems to be impossible happen.
We’ll see how Sunny fares throughout the season, but so far, I’m intrigued about where the series might go.(Forever RIP to Veil; you’re sorely missed.)