If you were unsure what type of show AMC’s Into The Badlands was going to be, the first few minutes of the season premiere, “The Fort,” make sure there’s no mistaking what this show is: a ludicrous, fun, silly, violent marital arts drama that boasts the DNA of The Matrix and The Hunger Games. While the opening exposition is a little convenient, setting up everything we need to know right off the bat — society as we know it is dead, it’s now run by seven Barons using a feudal system, and there are no guns — the opening action is what counts.
Because really, Into The Badlands has no pretense about what it is. It’s a martial arts show, for better and worse. “The Fort” opens on Sunny, a Clipper (essentially, an assassin who kills for his Baron), riding his motorcycle on a dusty road that winds through bright red poppy fields. As he rides, he comes upon an overturned truck and a number of dead bodies, all tied at the wrist and chained at the ankle.
Except there’s one shackle that’s open, one survivor who seems to have escaped. Using a spyglass he spots smoke in the distance. Hopping back on his motorcycle, Sunny finds his way to a camp of Nomads whom he believes raided the truck and took what was inside. Sunny doesn’t really care what’s inside, but the truck belongs to his Baron, so, as he informs the Nomads, he’s going to have to take it back.
Thus, we get our first martial arts fight scene, and it’s pretty glorious. There’s a lot of bone snapping and wire-fu, with bad guys flying through the air after a single punch or kick from Sunny. He also pulls a guys legs behind his back and plants his ankles near his ears, creating a human shaped like the number zero. Oh, and he flips the main bad guy onto a spike after busting his jaw. Note: Sunny is a badass.
When he examines the trunk they stole he finds a teenage boy inside by the name of M.K. After hesitantly introducing himself, the boy tells Sunny that the Nomads were hired by The Widow, another Baron, to hunt down and capture M.K. Sunny, after burying all the bodies, takes M.K. back to his own Baron.
Back at Sunny’s home base — a giant, gated section of land run by a Baron named Quinn — he gives M.K. the lay of the land. He shows him where the young recruits train to become Clippers. After seeing the brutal sights, M.K. is loaded in with the rest of the recruits and Quinn shows up to welcome them all. Quinn is quite the character, with a villainous moustache and an oversized Southern accent. He’s basically a stereotypical plantation owner, which seems to be the vibe actor Marton Csokas is going for.
That introduction includes some kind words for Sunny, who it’s clear has been with the Baron since he was a child and molded into a killing machine. If that wasn’t clear just from the words being spoken, Quinn orders Sunny to take off his shirt. On his back are long black stripe tattoos, each one representing a life he’s taken.
Back in the yard, there’s a clear pecking order to the recruits. A typical bully named Ajax attacks M.K., but they don’t get to throw too many punches before Sunny steps in. The fight is caused by Ajax taking a medallion from around M.K.’s neck. It clearly means a lot to M.K., and when Sunny takes it for safekeeping, he sees the emblem of a city imprinted on it. Recognition flashes through his eyes. What could this city be? And what does it mean to Sunny and M.K.?
NEXT: What happens when you bleed?[pagebreak]
During a brief flashback, it seems that Sunny inherited a similar medallion from a dying man, perhaps his murdered father. In fact, there’s a lot of mystery to Sunny. He rides into some sort of town for a rendezvous with a lover who then informs him that she’s pregnant. “You can’t keep it,” he says. His reasoning? “It’s punishable by death.” That’s a solid reason if I’ve ever heard one.
When Sunny comes back to Quinn’s stronghold, he finds M.K. and Ajax fighting again. This time though, Ajax has cut M.K. which causes something to happen; and by “something” I mean his eyes go red and he gets super strength. He launches Ajax back into a mirror, catches a piece of shattering glass, and then throws it into Ajax’s eye. Seriously.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
Recovering in Sunny’s room after his rage-out, M.K. explains that he doesn’t know what happens to him, but that it happens every time he bleeds. With no further explanation provided, the two start talking about the medallion with the city imprinted on it. The city is called Azra, and it seems to be a mystical place outside the Badlands that nobody is quite sure exists. We learn that M.K. got the medallion from his mother and has been looking for her, and Azra, ever since, but Sunny refuses to share any more about the city.
Instead, he heads back into that strange town to find his lover from earlier, only to stop short of the door and turn back. He doesn’t get too far though before he’s ambushed by a number of men, which is a great excuse to have a fight in the pouring rain. It’s a classic martial arts scene, with Sunny expertly handling everyone that comes his way. And there’s some inspired direction to boot, as the camera moves inside a nearby car and shoots outward, framing Sunny and his enemies through the window. This fight is all for show though; it’s orchestrated by The Widow. She tells him to bring the boy to her or there will be consequences.
Back on Quinn’s land, M.K. is determined to get his medallion back. He sneaks into a room that turns out to be occupied by Ryder, the son and unsuitable heir to Quinn’s title as Baron. Ryder catches him stealing the medallion and hands it over to his mother, who clearly also recognizes the imprint of Azra.
When Sunny returns, and hears that M.K. is being held underground in a cage for his attempted thievery, he decides to set him free. He tells him that he never got a chance to choose freedom, so he’s giving it to M.K. He takes him outside and sends him down a tunnel underground that leads to the other side of Quinn’s fortress, and M.K. runs into the night. The catch? The Baron’s wife witnesses the whole thing. Something tells me it won’t be long until Sunny and M.K. see one another again.