Into the Badlands: Season 2 Review


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

AMC’s Into the Badlands suffered the consequences of a short six-episode first season. But with a second season – this one ten episodes – came great rewards, remedied mistakes, and a blossoming story. What did the sophomore season of the kung-fu drama bring to the table? Read on to find out!

The second season of Into the Badlands was all about expansion; everything was bigger and better. Settings, characters, and stories all grew, allowing the show to begin to come into its own. That expansion began with production leaving New Orleans and moving to Ireland for filming. Once restricted to the territories of the barons and their headquarters, the story was then able to move into other areas of the post-apocalyptic former United States, providing a scope to the story that had not been seen in the prior season. Sunny’s (Daniel Wu) journey to get back to his family allowed the audience to traverse a wild land with the character and see just how the world had really changed in the distant fictional future.

The scope of Into the Badlands didn’t get bigger simply because of a location change. The increased number of episodes for the second season and the foundations laid down in the first season provided an opportunity for the story to move forward in a way that had honestly been hampered previously. Season one was focused primarily on Sunny as a protagonist, with some subplots at work amongst the barons. As badass as Sunny is, his role as a protagonist was severely limited, due largely in part to a lack of motivating forces around him. The forces meant to push and pull him weren’t up to the task when faced with such a formidable character. However, season two presented a goal to Sunny, a focus that had been lacking before. Driven forward to act in sometimes rash and violent ways, the desperate character came alive on the screen and gave the audience someone to root for.

Sunny wasn’t the only character to grow in the second season of Into the Badlands. As the stories grew in complexity and intrigue, the characters began to be fleshed out. Dimensions previously unseen were revealed through the course of the season, adding depth to the personalities and motivations of characters forging their paths. Perhaps one of the biggest triumphs was the story of The Widow (Emily Beecham) and her fight for power throughout the season. Aligning herself whenever and wherever she could was apropos, but upon learning the end goal The Widow was hoping to achieve made her “means to an end” attitude understandable. Right and wrong took on the shades of gray that make a story interesting, and connecting with The Widow brought about a certain unexpected sympathy.

Another character shout-out that is well-deserved is that of Veil (Madeleine Mantock). Being taken away from the protection of Sunny and forcibly immersed in the world of Baron Quinn (Martin Csokas) served as a catalyst for the character to display vulnerability and, paradoxically, fortitude in an impossible situation. If there was ever a clear protagonist to side with, she fit the bill in season two of Into the Badlands. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, the closure of her story was…abrupt and perhaps unnecessary. (Only time will tell.)

Meanwhile, Quinn continued to maniacally make and carry out plans in season two that only a mad man would understand. In truth, even after a second season, Quinn has never quite felt like he fit into the world of the show. Perhaps it’s the actor’s portrayal or maybe it’s the brain tumor and declining health of the character, but no matter the cause, Quinn has been a superfluous character that has been forced into a story, but feels like nothing more than a blunt tool to move the story forward. As season two provided backstory for other characters and explained their goals and motivations to make them relatable, Quinn persisted in simply being the crazy cause of chaos. Creating an insane character for the sake of insanity might look good on paper, but in execution, only elicits a “meh” reaction from viewers. The character was not created with finesse or subtlety, and the growth of other characters only made Quinn feel all the more irrelevant as the season progressed.

Redeemably, the introduction of Bajie (Nick Frost) was an unexpected stroke of genius. A self-serving character with a surprising past and a wealth of knowledge necessary to navigate the world created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, Bajie was a breath of fresh air introduced into the second season of Into the Badlands. Bajie provided much needed comedic relief in a show that is otherwise fairly grim. To tell the truth, the character often felt like the only normal one of the bunch, hailing to an era long gone – our time!

There is still some concern with some of the actors’ portrayals of characters. The issue is that the performances seem wildly inconsistent. For example, where The Widow and Sunny shine, characters like M.K. (Artemis Knight) and Tilda (Ally Ioannides) fall flat. The younger cast members come across as stiffer and rehearsed than their older counterparts. It’s difficult to determine if the issue is due to actor performances or an unknown quality missing in the writing (which is often overly expository and simple). However, the inconsistency between the characters is something that season two didn’t necessarily improve upon.

Season two brought about expansion of characters, their backgrounds, and their futures, but Into the Badlands also expanded its overall story. While the power-struggle of the barons – reminiscent of Game of Thrones – certainly piques the interest of some audience members, the supernatural element is another factor that other audience members craved more of. The first season presented a strange gift in M.K. (Knight) and a mysterious city, but left the audience wanting more. Season two delivered on that front. M.K.’s journey into a Buddhist-like commune, of sorts, with fight training and the mystical arts let us know that the writers didn’t forget about that tasty morsel of fun. With the exploration of the gift, the stories of various characters became entwined and the mystery deepened. Lurking on the outskirts, the concept has yet to really be brought to the forefront, which leaves a lot of unanswered questions. However, with the fast pace of the other action of Into the Badlands, a slow-burn mystery feels like a good balance struck in the second season.

Into the Badlands did nothing to improve the quality of special effects in the second season. There was still a bit to be desired on that front, especially for a cable television show. However, the kung-fu of Into the Badlands is unmatched in quality. Beautifully choreographed and always fantastic, the fight sequences of the show are presented in breath-taking fashion. Speaking of fashion, the hair, make-up, and wardrobe departments of Into the Badlands make the characters look incredible in all scenes, whether fighting or talking. The show is deceptively creative, undefinable in its outside-the-box story-telling; the behind-the-scenes teams did an amazing job with helping the characters fit into the world, genre-blending flawlessly. The second season of the show maintained the high standards established in the first season, setting the bar high for gorgeous viewing eye-candy!

Overall, the second season of Into the Badlands improved upon the first. The writers and showrunners refused to repeat the mistakes of the premiere season and instead chose to take all the things that were good about the first season and make them better! In a laudable effort to grow, Into the Badlands proved to be a viable show for AMC to continue. Some flaws still remain, but the confirmed third season might be just the thing Into the Badlands needs to turn out a polished product the creators and network can continue to be proud of!

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