Into the Badlands: Season 1 Review


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Smallville creators and writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have been at it again, this time with AMC. Far from the comic books and a plethora of source material, Gough and Millar have begun to make their mark with their unique creation, Into the Badlands. With a second season wrapping up and a third season already confirmed, it’s time to take a look back at the first season of the series with a review!

Into the Badlands is an eccentric blend of styles and genres that is almost indescribable. It is a series about a dystopian future that almost feels contradictory with its flavors of the past and present leaking into it. It could be likened to Game of Thrones, but in the same breath be compared to Mad Max. There’s sometimes the feel of a Georgia plantation or an Old West town, but the movers and shakers of the world all seem to know Kung Fu and appear to have been shopping at a steampunk convention. With such a description, it would be easy to assume that the elements of the show are at odds with another, but the incongruity is somehow brought together into a cocktail that mysteriously works! In truth, the genius of Into the Badlands is that it takes pieces of other genres, alters them slightly for its purposes, and then adds them to the mosaic of the story. When every other young adult novel set in a dystopian future starts to sound the same, and every sci-fi show set in the future seems to deal with the same problems, Into the Badlands cuts from a different cloth and brings a new style of its own to life from opening to close of the first season.

The most unfortunate thing about the first season of Into the Badlands was that it was only six episodes long. The incredibly short season posed an obstacle for the show in more ways than one, and might ultimately be found as the cause for the flaws found within the first season of the series. For example, when creating a world that borrows so freely from multiple genres and blends them in a creative twist, a show needs to have adequate time to build the world. If it does not have that time, a viewer may be left feeling as if the television show universe they have dropped into is confusing with its hodge-podge methods. Into the Badlands has the opportunity to develop a deep mythos with a nearly never-ending supply of legends and stories to be tied into the story. Season one did a solid job of establishing a world. However, without the time, the first season of the show could only tease at the mythos behind the world, lacking the time to fully explore it.

The characters of Into the Badlands also suffered in the first season of the show, likely attributed to the short six-episode span. With a new world bursting with layers ready to be revealed, the characters could sometimes be lost in the mix. This is, in part, due to a fairly large cast of characters. With so many cogs turning in the complicated machinations of a dystopian future world, it leaves the figurative machine open for more opportunities to fall apart. When some characters shine, others fall flat. Many characters of season one of Into the Badlands felt one-dimensional. This is not to say they lack potential, because the characters were solid and unique and definitely have room to grow. But with such a short time with each of them before the season wrapped up, it was difficult to explore the other dimensions and get invested in some of the characters.

Although some of the characters may appear to lack depth in the first season of Into the Badlands, the faces behind them are a reason why the show is relevant to the times. A highlight of the series is the diversity of the cast! In a world where a majority of the shows on television display a Caucasian male in the lead role, with a majority of the remaining supporting cast also being Caucasian, or male, or a combination thereof, Into the Badlands stands apart. Daniel Wu stars as Sunny (and also executively produces) and his casting in the lead role breaks the mold and may pave the way for other East Asian Americans in Hollywood. There are strong women operating in different capacities within the story as healers, fighters, and more, and they aren’t playing second fiddle to anyone! (I recommended the show to a male colleague and the first thing he texted about the show was about how badass The Widow was. I count that a small success in the movement toward equality in popular media.) Representation in media and pop culture may be a small part of the struggle for minorities today, but it is perhaps one of the most salient, given that media is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Into the Badlands absolutely takes a step in the right direction and the team behind it should absolutely be commended for their efforts!

On the subject of The Widow’s badassery, Into the Badlands sets the bar incredibly high for fight choreography (in a television series or even a movie)! In fact, it was the standard to which Marvel’s Iron Fist was held to on more than one occasion. The comparison is for good reason. Every episode of the first season of Into the Badlands had at least one fantastic fight sequence and the quality of work for a show released weekly was unbelievable! Like any good Kung Fu sequences, you have to suspend your belief in the rules of physics, especially that pesky die hard, gravity. But if you can do that, the beautiful artistry displayed is a testament to the dedication and hard work put in by everyone involved in the show. The expertly handled fights pretty much absolve Into the Badlands of any other flaws that it might have. (They’re THAT good.)

In general, the first season of Into the Badlands may have lacked potential character development and strong story movement, but it did an amazing job world-building. With only six episodes, the show suffered in its ability to help us form an attachment to characters and the tale, but it did an exemplary job of setting up the world for a second season in which expansion then becomes possible because much of the exposition is out of the way. An interesting world created with sets and costumes to highlight it, punctuated by stunning fight choreography, makes Into the Badlands entertaining, fun, and worth investing in. The first season subtly promises that there is more story to tell, and they will have the opportunity to do so with a second season (and a third). Into the Badlands is a pleasure to watch and comes exactly as advertised.

Season one of Into the Badlands will wrap its 10-episode season in May 2017, and an expanded 16-episode season three will be next down the chute. Catch up on season one, and jump into the excitement of season two on AMC!

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