I was pretty excited for Into the Badlands when I first saw the commercial for it during one of my Sunday night family viewings of The Walking Dead. I was particularly intrigued by the tagline “in a world without guns…fighting is an art…” being a longtime advocate for sword-related fighting; Into the Badlands looked to serve the high octane, complex fighting style that is so under delivered in most TV shows. All it needed was a strong storyline to follow and I would be locked in. After watching the first two episodes I can say Into the Badlands gets at least one of those things right, and does it ever get it right.
Into the Badlands is set in a dystopian world (aptly named The Badlands), very much resembling the American south. No one knows what exists beyond the Badlands, and many believe there is nothing. In a world gone mad, harsh drug-lord rulers, known as The Barons run the show. Each Baron has his/her own army of super warriors called Clippers. The Clippers live to fight and kill for their Barons, obeying their every command under fear of death. The show begins with Sunny, played by Daniel Wu, a legend to all even among the Clippers.
.Upon clearing out a group of suspicious bandits who raided a cart belonging to his Baron, Quinn played brilliantly by Marton Csokas, he finds a young boy named M.K. stowed away in a trunk. M.K., played by Aramis Knight, claims he knows of a life outside the Badlands, which sparks Sunny’s interest, but he also has a dark secret within him: at the sight of his own blood, he becomes a kung-fu demon, defying the laws of reality, possibly killing anyone around him. The Baron’s want to use him for their own nefarious ends, but Sunny want’s to protect him to see the life outside the Badlands he and his lover have always dreamed of.
The plot is definitely the weakest element of Into the Badlands. While not bad by any stretch, it feels like something that’s been done before. It doesn’t so much feel like it’s own unique story, and rather a mash up of some of the more popular shows that aired within the past few years. So it feels a bit like Breaking Bad with drug lords, but it’s a bit like The Walking Dead with its (sort-of) post-apocalyptic setting, but it’s a bit like Game of Thrones with it’s clashing of the different Barons, and the in-fighting within the Baron’s own holds (both with their families and some of the main Clippers), that almost plays out like a bad anime. Although the semi-feudal era setting is pretty interesting, and reminiscent of Firefly.
It’s the fighting where the show is really worth watching. Beautifully choreographed and expertly performed, the fights embark a sense of the classic kung-fu genre, perfected by masters like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Intense, fast-paced and pulpy, they’re definitely the highlight of the show.
I think Into the Badlands has the potential to be a great show. At this point, it’s very ok. I think it’s problematic that the show’s fight-scenes are more its hook than its plot, which at this point feels like a watered down Game of Thrones mixed; made safe for primetime TV.