TV review: Into the Badlands
Filled with high contrast visuals, fast paced action sequences and political intrigue, season 1 of Into The Badlands showcases strongly written characters fighting to survive in a place called the Badlands, where safety is almost non-existent and trust is never realised. Set in an almost theatrical environment where almost everyone is at war, the series paints a grim picture of a post-apocalyptic world in which only the strongest come out on top.
Directed by David Dobkin and Guy Ferland, the series follows a Clipper called Sunny (Daniel Wu), a loyal advisor of Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas) and assassin trained in martial arts from a young age to ruthlessly kill in service of his Baron. Quinn is a powerful unopposed Baron whose power becomes fought for or challenged with the rise of a new Baron called The Widow (Emily Beecham) who has an army of female warriors she refers to as her butterflies, trained to be ruthless in killing and to use their femininity to their advantage.
The rivalry between the two Barons Quinn and The Widow revolves throughout the series, not only in relation to land or political control but around the obtainment of a young boy named M.K. (Aramais Knight) who has dark powers that both parties believe can be used to their advantage. The objectification of the boy as a weapon for war leads to Sunny forming a bond with M.K. and they seek to escape the Badlands and challenge the power of the Barons.
Set in the harsh American Midwest in a feudal society governed by rivalling Barons controlling pockets of land and people though forced justice and merciless killing, the Badlands is a place of corruption and deceit best described as a Western without guns in which evil has triumphed over good. The vast landscape of the badlands reflects the brutality and almost isolative nature of a society always at war, where loyalty is questioned and fought for.
Inspired by Hong Kong-Style Martial arts sequences complete with wirework and elaborate swordplay, Into the Badlands is an impressive, highly choreographed action series from the producers of Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction resulting in a violent, Tarantino-like production whose style – loosely inspired by Asian martial arts films – almost desensitises its viewer to the violence portrayed onscreen. It’s a little disconcerting to state, but the over-the-top merciless killing and highly stylised visuals of the series almost encourages viewers to support violence as enjoyable and acceptable because on screen violence feels distant from reality. The ultraviolent fight scenes include swift swordplay splattering contrasts of red cut from the swift execution of clashing blades against a harsh backdrop of fertile greens from a ever abundant poppy field and monochromatic blacks and whites that cast shadows upon the uncertainty of the series and the characters within them.
‘In the Badlands… It’s not about the colour of your skin or your gender, it’s about how well you can fight.’ Alfred Gough Executive Producer/Show runner/Co-creator of the show states, seeming to justify the disregard for a person’s physical appearance as hindrance to character casting and scripting within the series.
At first, Into the Badlands seems a little difficult to follow, with the story feeling a little cluttered due to the appearance and motivation of characters. It is almost unclear who everyone is and the setting feels like a hodgepodge of mismatched elements of action films and television shows that is based on and borrowed from both Eastern and Western cultures.
Into the Badlands makes you aware of culturally enforced stereotypes that have been engrained in our viewing culture in which we are taught to perceive characters a certain way based purely on race or gender rather than their actions. It is almost as if the show flips this on its head, focusing on action by rewriting characters as strong, intelligent and highly complex people that challenge gender and race norms. The existence of a strong female lead such as The Widow is inspiring in a genre that seems predominantly male-focused. The show doesn’t seem to exploit or objectify characters based on their appearance, attempt to sexualise or portray characters as weak or degrade them in anyway without reason or motivation. Vulnerabilities or weaknesses are used in the show as strengths and this opens up discussion within audiences as to what it means to be in power or control.
At times the show felt a little hard to follow, the characters hard to understand, and the violence a little excessive but overall Into the Badlands is a show that seems fun to watch purely for its highly dramatised onscreen violence and beautifully choreographed fight scenes.
Into the Badlands is out now on Digital and on Blu-Ray & DVD December 7.
Words by Addy Fong.