A TV series that defies every existing genre, Into the Badlands was inspired by Journey to the West but the result is a mind-blowing blend of The Matrix, wuxia and Mad Max. Jaw-dropping fight and battle scenes, gorgeous costumes and unforgettable characters.
In case you’re wondering, yes, there is a lot of violence and gore. But what would you expect in a setting where warlords (barons) are fighting over the meagre resources left after a great war that ended life as we know it?
That’s the basic premise of Into the Badlands — there was a great war and modern civilization ended. In a region called the Badlands, the barons rule. They hold the lands and control the supply of basic commodities like fuel and — don’t raise your eyebrows — heroin.
The barons have private armies called clippers and each clipper force is headed by a Regent. Regents are banned from marrying and having a family to avoid divided loyalties.
The poppy fields are worked by slaves called cogs.
The most powerful of these barons is Quinn (Marton Csokas) whose clipper force is headed by his Regent, Sunny (Daniel Wu). A former cog, Quinn is brutal and demands utmost loyalty.
Sounds like feudal times? It is. But set in a post-apocalyptic world with visuals that remind the viewer of the grandeur of cotton plantations and the exploitation of slaves in the American south before the Civil War. The cogs are properties of the barons and, for the most part, women are subject to the authority of men. Of course, there are exceptions.
Minerva, The Widow (Emily Beecham), was the wife of a baron. When her husband died, she took over. Her all-female clipper force is called Butterflies. Although she is nominally tolerated by the other barons, she is not treated as an equal. And unlike the other barons whose main agendum is to preserve their way of life, The Widow seeks (or so she says) to free all cogs.
And then, there’s Veil (Madeleine Mantock), an orphan who was given by Quinn to his cog and personal doctor, Vernon, and his wife, Hannah. Although technically a cog herself, Veil can read and has had sufficient medical training as a doctor from her adoptive father.
When Season One begins, Veil is in a relationship with Sunny, pregnant with his child and imploring him to leave the Badlands.
Beyond the characters that make up the social structure of the Badlands, there are those that live on its fringes and beyond it including the Nomads, bandits who survive by stealing the barons’ cargoes. M.K. (Aramis Knight) was traveling from the legendary city of Azra when he was captured by Nomads, saved by Sunny and brought to Quinn’s territory to train as his Colt (clipper-in-training). M.K. possesses a dark power that turns him into a killing machine when he is cut.
Into the Badlands is both familiar and unfamiliar. You might have seen dozens of wuxia, post-apocalyptic and dystopian films before and think that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Well, not like this because Into the Badlands is wuxia, post-apocalyptic and dystopian all in one. The visuals are simply stunning. From the well-choreographed fight scenes to The Widow’s badass costumes to the vast expanse of poppy fields being worked by the cogs.
Into the Badlands is a feast for the eyes. But it is a feast for the emotions too. The characters and their relationships are so vividly alive, and you can’t help but develop affinity for some and abhorrence for others. There are characters that, almost as soon as you meet them, you wish them dead and the sooner the better — Ryder, Quinn’s son, for instance.
A feast for the intellect, Into the Badlands is not. You go and watch The Matrix to get that kind of fix.
It was my daughter, Alex, who suggested that we watch Into the Badlands. We tried the first episode of Season One and we were hooked. We’re great fans of The Matrix where the fight scenes were also largely influenced by wuxia. Season One was one hell of a ride but Season Two could not hold by undivided attention. Ironically, on Rotten Tomatoes, Season One holds a rating of 54% while Season Two enjoys a 100% rating. How strange.
The third season premiered a few days ago. It didn’t quite hit me the way the first season did and I found the first episode even less exciting than all of Season Two. But, perhaps, it’s too early to pass judgment. So, yes, we’re going to continue watching it to see where the story takes us.