So another week has passed, and here we are, at the second episode of Into the Badlands. While the first episode didn’t exactly impress me, I was looking forward to this week’s installment. After the satisfying town fight scene in “The Fort,” I was confident in getting more good and corny action. However, I was less confident in getting a solid story and actors who haven’t recently undergone lobotomies. Despite my reservations, I still went into this with a hopeful mindset, so now I can talk about how “Fist Like a Bullet” didn’t raise my hopes much.
Action is this show’s forte, and episode two at the very least gave me more reason to say that. The first fight scene involves The Widow (Emily Beecham) fending off several minions in what I can only assume is a strip club. The Widow has an agile ninja fighting style, so much of the fight focuses on her dodging her brutish opponents and using her environment as a weapon. She jumps on top of the bar and kicks bottles at her enemies, and she swings around a stripper pole, kicking everyone around her. It all flows naturally, even giving it a unique pole dancing feel to it.
The scene does lack the interesting cinematography shown in the town fight from episode one, but that’s saved by The Widow’s flips and her marksmanship with her throwing knives. The fight also maintains a tongue-in-cheek tone, which saves it from the return of the hilariously bad blood effects. All of the problems from the first episode’s attempt at gore are preserved here. At one point, The Widow repeatedly slices a guy up, and with each swipe of her blade, the same paint looking blood from last episode splatters. All of it looks goofy, but since the fight itself features a dress-wearing ninja pole dancing her enemies to death in a strip club, goofy isn’t out of place.
Sunny, once again, gets the spotlight in the second action sequence, and it’s very reminiscent of the first one from “The Fort.” It’s Sunny against a bunch of outclassed thugs, but now in a warehouse, which isn’t winning any awards for set design, but it’s better than generic woods. The fight is oddly serious save for one visual gag. The tone was especially hard for me to take, because the gang leader reminded me of Paul Giamatti.
The theme of the fight is a race against time to save Ryder. After he is hung by the neck from the warehouse ceiling, he slowly begins to suffocate, and Sunny must clear the room full of baddies to get to him. This setup doesn’t really add much to the fight though, as Sunny still takes his sweet time fighting and making sure he looks cool while doing it. When the scene first starts, Ryder takes out a weapon as well, which got my hopes up that I’d get to see a team up between him and Sunny, but he’s strung up immediately after the fight begins. The choreography has gone up considerably for Sunny. Despite still being mostly Sunny walking all over everyone, choreography still manages to be entertaining. There’s a few interesting set pieces present here as well, including a fight on a series of steel girders and Sunny cornering himself in a small tunnel. Again, the gore effects are present, and are still bad, especially the scene where Sunny chops a guy’s arm off, and we get to see the stump. The more serious tone here does clash with the effects more than The Widow’s scene, but it’s still not a deal breaker.
Outside of the fighting, this episode did much better at keeping my attention than the last one. The plot was mostly more well paced, and I never felt the story was rushing as much as in “The Fort”. However, the characters must see something in M.K.’s “amazing” ability to emote that I simply don’t. Once again, M.K. manages to convince someone he’s just met, who’s supposed to be trained from childhood to be loyal to their baron, to directly risk their stations and/or life to help him. In this case, it was Tilda, played by Ally Ioannides, who falls to M.K.’s alleged charm. Within the first few seconds of the two making eye contact, it was obnoxiously obvious that the two would develop a thing for each other, although “develop” is a poor choice of words here. The overall M.K./Tilda plot line is a revisiting of sorts of the Sunny/M.K. plot of the first episode. The two meet, one is an outsider, the other is a baron’s loyal assassin, and the assassin brings M.K. back to their respective baron to be brought into their ranks. Then it ends with said assassin letting M.K. escape against their baron’s ultimate wishes due to a poorly developed relationship. So basically, if Sunny had made out with M.K. in “The Fort”, half of this episode would be the same.
The B story of the episode follows Sunny’s further disillusionment with Quinn. As Quinn faces the realization that a tumor will soon claim his life, he becomes paranoid to the point of asking Sunny to kill the doctor who diagnosed him and his wife, as they are the only two who know of his impending death. Sunny refuses, forcing Quinn to commit the atrocity himself leaving Sunny to watch helplessly. This causes Sunny to commit himself fully to escaping The Badlands with Veil, who’s parents happened to be the two people Quinn killed.
This does unfortunately lead to the worst scene in the episode, where Sunny asks his friend Waldo about escaping. Waldo proceeds to spout nonsensical, philosophical mumbo jumbo that tries to explain that because living beings tend to desire to have a home to sleep in, they don’t actually enjoy freedom. The plot line itself continues many of the problems I had with Sunny’s relationship with Quinn in the first episode, but amplifies them. There’s a conversation between the two where Quinn tells Sunny about how the first time he felt alive was when he snapped someone’s neck, and Sunny looks surprised and horrified at this revelation. Last episode, Sunny had a conversation with the tattooist who marks each of Sunny’s kills on his back about becoming desensitized to murder, so why is Sunny now so affected by Quinn’s tale? Sunny’s lived with this man for almost his entire life, it’s not like Quinn is secretive about how callous he is towards human life, so why is Sunny being surprised by Quinn being Quinn as usual? The entire point of Quinn even mentioning the event is basically only to give Sunny more reason to hate him and hasten Sunny’s arc. The show’s difficulties in balancing it’s characters with it’s action makes it questionable that this episode introduced even more major characters.
The Widow was a fairly interesting character, part political schemer and part ninja. Her motivations are simple enough, kill Baron Quinn, but she also has interest in M.K.’s hidden power, and seems to be a bit more kind than Baron Quinn. She’s protective of her daughter, uses negotiation instead of brute force to expand her influence, and is capable of acting on a much more intimate level than Quinn. She also benefits from being played by probably the best actor in the show so far. While still not great, Emily Beecham provides far more genuine emotion than pretty much anyone else in the show. After finishing her fight in the strip club, she interrogates one of her assailants, and she is noticeably flustered. It shows us that she’s able to let her emotions come to the surface in high stress situations, even though she normally keeps a collected demeanor. Most of the episode is spent watching her engaged in negotiations, so we don’t get to see much more than her poker face, but there’s nothing seriously wrong with how Emily portrays the character.
Ally Ioannides is less than stellar as Tilda. She is, like Sunny, supposed to be a trained assassin, however she comes off as a hormone stricken teen whenever she’s talking to M.K. The material Ally is given doesn’t really help her in that image, as most of her dialogue is meant to establish a forced relationship between the two, and it’s hard to make an endearing relationship happen with another lifeless character. She gets a few chances to show her moves as a fighter, but in each, she never looks or sounds like a fighter. Though doubtful, I hope to see the M.K. and Tilda relationship put to the side, or at least not be romantic, so that Tilda can develop more on her own.
Despite largely taking place in a new domain, much of this episode still carries the southern plantation aesthetic. The Widow’s HQ looks similar to Quinn’s, even though The Widow herself doesn’t fit the look. Her minions wear eastern style uniforms, but this simply clashes with the environments we see them in. If The Widow fancies eastern attire, it would make sense for her to also make her living space resemble that interest. The strip club from the beginning of the episode was a good change of pace, if only for the dancer with the saw. As the series continues, and more of the world is shown, I hope to see more variety in the sets.
“Fist Like a Bullet” is an improvement over “The Fort”. It has better action, more compelling plot, and has a focus on The Widow, the most interesting character so far, but it also does nothing to solve the last episode’s problems. Sunny’s relationship with Quinn still makes little sense and M.K.’s clear James Bond-esque mystique still eludes me while he uses it to charm everyone around him. Into the Badlands still has a long way to go if it wants to achieve more than just decent TV.