Into the Badlands: Fist Like a Bullet

If the first episode of Into the Badlands came down too far on the side of worldbuilding for your taste, rest assured: the second episode, “Fist Like a Bullet,” more than makes up for it.

The Widow — also known as Minerva — walks into a bar. The good news is that despite whatever happened in this world to destroy civilization, there is still a thriving bondage gear industry. The Widow bypasses the bar and the performers to talk to a nominally sinister-looking former employee. He once ran off with some of her money, but she seems willing to let bygones stay gone, as long as he comes back to help her in her quest to overthrow Quinn. The guy seems more than willing, but unfortunately all he has coming to him is a hatchet in the face from the assassins who have just arrived to take out the Widow. Assassins sent by Quinn’s son, Ryder, and quickly dispatched by the Widow.

The show’s greatest strength is far and away in the fight scenes. The combination of wire work, practical effects, and standard kung-fu acrobatics look phenomenal, even if the scenes themselves tend to run on a little. If there is a real weakness to this portion of the show, it’s in the cartoonish CGI blood sprays that accompany every kill or maiming. Blood spurts are all well and good when your characters deal in death and dismemberment several times per episode, but they could at least look as realistic as the rest of the show.

After the credits, we catch up with M.K., who’s crossed some kind of boundary fence (with stone posts lined up the wrong way for the rail slots to be effective, but they do look pretty). After wandering a bit, he creeps at a girl about his age, who whips a butterfly shaped throwing star at a squirrel with impressive accuracy. She also manages to sneak up on M.K. where he’s peeping from behind a tree, but that’s less impressive. A herd of wildebeest could probably sneak up on this kid. The girl says that her name is Tilda, but she’s wrong! Guys, this is really clearly Tina Belcher and Into the Badlands is one of her erotic friend fiction stories. I will stand by this conclusion for as long as it takes the show to naysay me!

Tilda Belcher smolders at M.K. until when they hear Quinn’s hounds baying in pursuit. Tilda Belcher takes M.K. to her house to introduce her to her mother, the Widow, who looks intrigued by this wandering boy.

Quinn interrogates his son and Sunny about the boy’s amulet and escape, and about the attack on the Widow. Sunny pretends he’s ignorant of everything that happened in the past day or so. Ryder brats that of course he had nothing to do with anything, and Quinn praises his son’s loyalty in a transparently disbelieving tone. Boy, it is just liar central up in here. Lydia, wisely, drinks her wine. She probably doesn’t even like that vintage. Everything is lies. Everything!

At the Widow’s, Tilda Belcher tells M.K. to drop trou and hop in the bath. She has to supervise, obviously. Vitally important. But after M.K. sinks down in the water, she disappears and the Widow appears instead, to rub a washcloth on the kid and make literally everyone watching the show so horribly uncomfortable that they miss most of M.K. lying about being the boy she sought. I’m sorry, I mean me. That was me. I am the whole audience, eyes averted. Please let’s not do this again, show.

Quinn and Sunny venture outside the fort on horseback. I wonder if fuel is so dear, or if Quinn is just too enamored of his whole lord-of-the-southern-manor schtick. Are the other territories as backward and Dixie-loving as his? Or is this an affectation he puts on and everyone else rolls their eyes at? The Widow certainly seems to be drawing much more influence from the early 20th century America with the standard genre “generic Asian” flair. Quinn’s whole conversation on horseback is about how he rose to his position through ruthlessness after his father was kind of a disappointment, so I wouldn’t be surprised if all this neo-antebellum aesthetic is his own deliberate construction.

Back at the Widow’s, a group of nomad leaders are in negotiation with her. Once her regent was dead it looks like she wasn’t left with many more options. These guys aren’t part of the original Really Lost Boys but they’re wearing about the same amount of eyeliner. Their spokesman, Poor Man’s Danny McBride, laughs at the Widow’s offer of riches and a barony — who would want to side with a bunch of girls? He’ll only do it if Tilda Belcher can beat one of his men in combat, which she does easily by kicking him in the nuts and breaking his neck. As if there was any other possible outcome. Maybe a little less time sneering at girls and a little more training your men, PMDM.

Sunny and Quinn arrived at a large house, where the doctor and his wife live. They’re greeted warmly, and when Quinn goes in for his exam, we learn why: these are Veil’s parents. Her mom knows about — and is happy about! — the baby, which Sunny thinks is ridiculous. She seems undeterred by the dangerous situation, which I think is ridiculous.

The doctor tells Quinn what probably everyone suspected from his first headache last week: brain tumor. He might live to see the winter. Quinn shakes it off like it’s no big deal, but once outside he tells Sunny he has to go back in and kill the doctor and the wife. There can be no witnesses to the baron’s weakness, especially not when he’s in a vulnerable position with the Widow breathing down his neck. Sunny refuses, because Sunny is not a monster (yay!), so Quinn takes his sword and marches back inside. The show does us a relative kindness by only making us listen to the carnage and see the baron’s bloody face afterward. He tells Sunny to torch the house. The last we see of Sunny is him walking up to the front door and collapsing to his knees and the bloody horror inside.

Later, Sunny cleans the blood from his sword and thinks about Veil. He takes a gift to one of his fellow Clippers, Waldo, an older man who seems to be in love with a pigeon and is confined to a wheelchair. They talk about birds and responsibility and birds and freedom and birds. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” Waldo sings. Well, no, actually I’m singing it. I don’t think they have Janis Joplin in the badlands. (They should!) Waldo reminds Sunny that the baron will come for him if he tries to leave.

The Widow tells Tilda Belcher that she thinks M.K. is the boy she sought, and the only way to know for sure is to get him all riled up and bloody. Tilda agrees. I think she probably has some interesting ideas about how to rile him up that the Widow didn’t intend. They bring M.K. into a room straight out of Wonderland, where Tilda goes on the offensive. She’s crouched over M.K.’s prone body (erotic friend fiction, remember?) with her knife centimeters away from cutting his face, but he convinces her he’s harmless. Instead, Tilda cuts herself, wipes the blood on his cheek, tells him to scream, then cuts his cheek. I’m … not really sure why she cut herself if she was going to cut him? He runs from the room — clearly not in the bloodlust berserker mode we saw last week — and Tilda turns to find the Widow watching.

Veil mourns her parents and asks Sunny which of his fellow Clippers murdered them. Sunny tells her the baron did it himself, possibly because he’s dying. Which, okay, great job, Quinn! Clearly your secret died with the two people you butchered! Sunny embraces Veil and tells her he’s working on a way to get them out of the badlands.

In the first truly surprising reveal of the show for me, we find Ryder with a sex worker who removes a prosthetic on his foot, showing us what’s probably the biggest reason why Quinn has so little faith in his son. The sex worker offers Ryder some of the big black opium cake she has. When he freaks out about how she could afford it, she tells him that a bunch of nomads have a contraband pile of it in a nearby warehouse. Then she hangs a conspicuous piece of clothing out to dry in the rain on her balcony, and a hooded woman on the street below looks satisfied and turns away.

M.K. sneaks into Tilda Belcher’s room and wakes her to ask if she’ll help him escape. She immediately agrees, for whatever reason, and tries to help him find a secret passage out of the house. When they hear voices approaching, Tilda takes the most logical option open to them and full-on smooches him as the Widow and Poor Man’s Danny McBride walk in. The Widow’s so scandalized she immediately kicks M.K. out of the house. But no worries! PMDM will take him. That’s probably best for everyone, especially PMDM’s purse, since Quinn’s offering a big reward for the boy’s return. Another of the Widow’s daughters pops in to announce that Ryder’s “taken the bait.”

At Quinn’s, Ryder tells the baron and Sunny that his impressive interrogation skills have netted a solid conspiracy! Nomads are skimming their shipments. It’s all totally legit. He isn’t falling for any transparent traps, which becomes immediately obvious when Sunny and Ryder travel to the warehouse to find a bunch of empty crates. Surprise! At least a thousand nomads come pouring out of the walls — I’d think Sunny would be more aware of his surroundings? Poor Man’s Danny McBride taunts them both before Ryder is strung up to the ceiling on a huge chain, where he slowly strangles while Sunny fights about two thousand nomads with hatchets.

The cartoonish blood sprays are in full force, but supplemented with a great practical effect reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Despite his amazing skills, Sunny doesn’t have the stamina to take on all five thousand nomads plus PMDM. Luckily, after he cuts down Ryder, he’s saved by the miraculous intervention of M.K., who managed to escape from PMDM’s trunk in the parking lot just in time.

M.K. comes clean to Sunny: he does know how to get out of the badlands. He’ll show Sunny how, but Sunny can’t leave without Veil. Instead he offers to train M.K. to fight and use his power, if he’ll take Veil with him when he goes. M.K. agrees.

Somehow, Ryder is still alive when they arrive back at Quinn’s, furthering my suspicion that he might be a vampire. Rather than worry about his son, Quinn threatens M.K., tries to find out who helped him escape, gets bullish about meeting the Widow’s attack head-on, and carries on in fantastic Rickmanian scenery-chewing fashion. And then we’re done until next time!

Photo Courtesy of AMC

About Lisa Shininger

Lisa Shininger spends way too much time thinking about fictional characters but, somehow, it's never enough. She co-hosts Bossy Britches, and yells about pop culture at lisashininger.com and on Twitter @ohseafarer.