Into the Badlands premiere react: 'Tiger Pushes Mountain'
A lot of shows coming off their first season would spend most of their second season premiere easing back into the story, catching up with each character, seeing how they’re coping with the revelations of last season’s finale, and just generally beginning to build up new conflicts. Into the Badlands isn’t that kind of show, though. Across six episodes last year, it laid out a vision of ruthless violence and efficient, propulsive storytelling. Hardly a moment was wasted; after all, there’s no time to be wasted when there are so many necks to snap and bones to crush.
Thus, the season 2 premiere only waits about 90 seconds until it dives head-and-fists first into a beautiful, brutal fight. It’s six months later, and we see Sunny is imprisoned in a labor camp, recently arrived and given a harsh introduction to the life of meeting daily mining quotas. Of course, Sunny doesn’t just become a prisoner willingly. Despite his head and hands being made immobile by a pillory, Sunny does his best to fight off his captors, maneuvering around the tight space and taking down nearly every single guard. Eventually, two other guards get the upper hand, and Sunny is forced back into chains and into the bunks along with the other “workers.”
There, he has a vision of Veil and their unborn child, all before being rudely awakened by none other than Nick Frost. Okay, his name is Baije, but it’s hard not to see Nick Frost, especially as he plays the affable, jovial sidekick to Sunny’s brooding protagonist. Baije is here to help Sunny get through the day-to-day in the camp. He shows him the ropes, tells him about meeting his quota, and even recognizes that he’s a Clipper. It’s more a forced friendship based on circumstance than anything else, but it seems like Sunny could really use just about any friend in this place.
So, what’s everyone else up to? Well, M.K. is deep into his training with a bunch of other kids who share his powers, and he’s still being a little s— about everything. He’s grumpy that The Master hasn’t seen him yet, he’s angry that he can’t just use his powers when he wants, and he’s eager to leave his training and go find Sunny and Tilda and make his way to Azra.
M.K. makes a break for it one night, only to wander into a room and find the compass with the embossed outline of Azra that once belonged to Sunny. He picks it up but is stopped from taking it by another hand. He turns and comes face to face with… someone. Initially, he seems to dismiss this woman — that is, until she asks him to catch a broom and it sends him flying across the room. “You’re The Master,” he says. Subtlety isn’t exactly a strength of Into the Badlands.
The interaction between M.K. and The Master isn’t all that insightful, but it does give us a sense of what role she’s playing in his life. She knows everything about Sunny, Tilda, and Azra, and it’s proven that she has great strength when she stops a provoked attack from M.K. That doesn’t come without some punishment, though, as she rolls back her sleeve to reveal a broken forearm, the bone popping through the skin. Luckily for The Master, she just waves her hand over it and everything is healed. Still, if M.K. has that kind of power right now, just imagine what he could do if he focused on a single goal.
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While the story lines of Sunny and M.K. are perfectly fine — even through the first season, they were often the dullest characters with the least interesting arcs — the season 2 premiere really hits its stride when it focuses on everything still happening in the Badlands. The disappearance/death of Quinn has left a vacuum of power in the Badlands. Sure, Ryder is now controlling the territory, but there are rumors of chaos everywhere.
That chaos is just getting started. After checking in with Ryder and Jade and seeing that they’ve moved on from the family’s plantation to Jacoby’s place, we learn that the economy in the Badlands, what little there actually is, is suffering. Namely, Ryder’s clan depends on trading oil, but the political and social upheaval has impacted the business; cogs (i.e. workers and slaves) are fleeing the harsh working conditions and, rumor has it, being given sanctuary by The Widow.
Ryder’s confused. The Widow hasn’t been heard from in months, he says. That’s the cue for Into the Badlands to have The Widow show up at the oil refinery, all in slow motion, and kick some ass. Along with Tilda, the Widow storms the refinery, seeking to not only show that the workers can be free but also reclaim the oil as her own. She wants her land back from Ryder, and she’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.
Tilda and The Widow lay waste to the refinery. Tilda is certainly a force, but it’s The Widow who absolutely lets loose. During a thrilling chase up a flight of stairs, she cuts through one attacker after another, the episode indulging in one final confrontation as she slices her last attacker over and over again. It’s brutal, in that “hell yeah!” fist-pump kind of way. That brings The Widow to Jade. She doesn’t want to kill her, though; she wants a message delivered to Ryder. That message: These oil fields are once again hers, and if Ryder tries to take them back, more blood will spill. “And most of it will be his,” she adds as punctuation.
While the violence is certainly the show’s draw, season 2 seems to be digging into the idea of class a bit more: quite the timely thematic addition, too. When The Widow visits the people who have all been freed and are now working toward a revolution of sorts, there are Clippers who refuse to be part of it. “System’s treated me well enough,” they say, and it’s no accident that they’re all men. So, they’re allowed to leave freely because that’s The Widow’s philosophy. That makes their comeuppance later, at the hands of Tilda and her army of badass women, all the more satisfying.
“Tiger Pushes Mountain” is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the season 2 premiere of Into The Badlands. There’s plenty of action, a betrayal in the form of Sunny’s new best friend, and a new rising power in The Widow. Those stories set up threads to follow for the remainder of the season, and that’s even before the big reveal at the end of the episode. As a closeup shows Veil having her baby — a boy — the camera turns and reveals the man who helped with the delivery: Quinn, alive and well. If that doesn’t get you to tune in next week, I don’t know what will.
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