Last year was the year of the most iconic feminist leading lady in action/sci-fi, arguably the most in cinematic history: the one and only Imperator Furiosa played be Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Thanks to a fellow NOC, I have finally finished the way too short first season of Into The Badlands. Following Furiosa and a long history of leading women in Hong Kong action cinema with better acting chops and doing more roundhouse damage than their male co-stars (Michelle Yeoh will be back soon as Yu Shu Lien people!), Into the Badlands also introduced us to strong heroines whose stories I hope to better understand in more detail in a second season. More than Wu’s Sunny, more than the avatars, even more than my man Cung Le, it was Emily Beecham’s show-stopping performance as The Widow that locked me in.
I couldn’t help comparing The Imperator and The Widow. While the looks are different, both are stuck in post-apocalyptic suffocating patriarchies where they fight and resist sexism every minute. Can we get these worlds to collide somehow and have them team-up? Please?
Once we learn more about her Butterflies and their loyalty to her cause “…fighting for a world where girls don’t get dragged into dark rooms and have their innocence torn from them.”, who wouldn’t want to join the House of Flying Dagg… Butterfly Shuriken?
Beecham’s range from sexy and calculating, to maternal and caring, to enraged and brutal, sometimes within the same episode, is excellent. For me at least, she owned her scenes regardless of who was around her.
Finally, and reason alone for continuing the show: what happened to The Widow? Once upon a time, she too was an avatar for the dark chi, but somehow she lost the power. How? More please.
There’s also the little fact that along with her character development and acting skill, unlike Wu, Le, or even Marton Csokas (Quinn), Beecham had no prior martial arts training before getting the role. One can understand the time and dedication she put into the work. Her skills look badass on screen. Out of all the great fight scenes we were treated to, this knife-based one is the most memorable for me:
Then there’s the one where she and Sunny go head-to-head with whatever weapons they get their hands on in Quinn’s dungeon. Again, no prior training:
Madeline Mantock as Veil deserves an honorable mention as another strong woman in the Badlands that fights with her brilliant mind instead of her limbs. She’s Sunny’s partner, Quinn’s doctor, Jade’s childhood friend, and a new friend of M.K.’s. Not to mention she saved the lives of her questionable patients Quinn and The Widow, when she could have let them die; like a Doctors Without Borders surgeon in a war zone. Between barons, wives, clippers, and cogs, Veil is the centerpiece connecting them all. Veil has an air of mystery and there’s a lot of room for her character to develop.
Can she read the book? I kind of hope there is some tie to Azra in her past. What about all her medical contraptions? Could she turn them into weapons and end up like Sunny or The Widow’s right-hand woman for combat? Is it a stretch for Veil to get trained by the The Widow for debt payment and get a fight scene? Probably, but please prove me wrong with more episodes AMC.
The world of the Badlands is such a weird and interesting mélange of feudal Japan, the antebellum South, Steampunk, and more all captured with great directing and cinematography. Some of those shots outside in the poppy fields are just gorgeous and burned in my memory. The wuxia-style fight choreography from Stephen Fung, Master DeeDee, and Daniel Wu, who clearly put their hearts into it, is fantastic and not to be missed by fans of martial arts flicks.
With the highs, there are some lows. The acting and writing could use a boost. It’s around or better than The CW level, but it would be nice to see it get closer to Netflix or HBO. That said, Wu — who already broke ground as an Asian American lead in a dramatic series — does a good job flexing his acting chops showing he’s more than just another action hero.
There are also all of the plantation/slavery overtones none of the characters have really addressed and the question of how it all ended up like this remains unanswered. These can be easily solved with more episodes. I don’t know if AMC is being coy, but it’s over-fucking-due to announce RENEWAL FOR INTO THE BADLANDS SEASON 2!! And if they pass, Netflix, I’m looking at you.
Many of us came for the action, but stayed once we saw how Into the Badlands would throw many genres and sources into the blender and make it all work with great creative and technical teams. Add a diverse cast and something unique for TV was born and now needs some room to grow. The characters are also doing their part to keep momentum moving forward for better representation and inclusion of POC and women on the small screen in the nerdy genres.
Hopefully we’ll continue to see The Widow slicing and dicing the patriarchy in the Badlands. Oh, and finally: it appears a certain lady rocking a particular outfit could easily be a test reel for a new Badlands character. Queen of the barons. All bow down.