Two warriors’ paths converge.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
One of the big takeaways from Into the Badlands’ Season 1 finale was that even the mighty Sunny isn’t the most dangerous fighter in this post-apocalyptic world. The mysterious Abbots wield immense supernatural power, and unlike M.K. they actually know how to control it. The long-awaited rematch between Sunny and the Abbots was just one big development in an all-around eventful new episode this week.
“Leopard Stalks in Snow” picked up right where last week’s episode left off. It opened with a strong, silent sequence where a helpless Lydia recovered from Quinn’s booby trap and came to the horrified realization that she was about to become the prisoner of the man she had come to kill. The reunion between Lydia and her husband was easily one of the more memorable scenes this week. As usual, Marton Csokas’ intensity mostly makes up for his goofy accent. For her part, Orla Brady managed to channel that complicated mixture of fear, hatred and longing she feels for her husband. Their interaction also played nicely on the lingering trauma of Ryder’s death. Quinn is tormented by the fact that his son wasn’t strong enough to defend himself, and seeing Lydia again is a reminder of just how far that particular apple fell from the tree.
Do I but that Quinn’s magnetic charm was enough to make Lydia abandon her mission and fall in love with him all over again? Not really, but it’s debatable what Lydia is actually trying to accomplish here. Like Veil, she may simply be trying to keep the monster happy and waiting for her moment to strike.
The Widow and Tilda may well be the two most compelling members of the cast this season. Both are going through difficult struggles this year. Widow’s is doing her best to press her advantage and eliminate the competition without compromising her principles. As she was reminded this week, it’s one thing to position yourself as the noble, egalitarian answer to the rest of the Barons, and it’s another thing entirely to actually live up to your promises. Quinn is perhaps the perfect ally in terms of strategy. But can she maintain the loyalty of her Butterflies when she makes a deal with the devil? Does she even deserve to?
There’s an ambiguity to Widow’s character arc this season that’s proving very enjoyable. That paid off nicely at the end of this episode, as she was forced to use Veil as a sacrificial pawn in order to cement her alliance with Quinn. She may well have damned herself with that act. And it’s safe to say Sunny won’t be happy if he ever finds out. But he clearly has his own problems at the moment.
Widow and Tilda’s storylines offered a very interesting contrast this week. While Widow was in the process of compromising her principles for the greater good, Tilda was busy making an impassioned case for her mother as the one worthy leader in the Badlands. Tilda’s big scene didn’t entirely work for me. I’ve talked before about the recurring problem this show has with its younger actors and awkward line delivery. That was a definite problem during Tilda’s revelatory monologue. It certainly added new depth to her background and her relationship to her mother, but Ally Iannoides’ delivery was too stiff and unnatural. Iannoides is skilled at subtle facial work and making the most out of silence, but less so when it comes to natural dialogue.
M.K.’s storyline has been one of the few weak links this season, mainly because it hasn’t been unfolding at the same steady clip as the rest of the show’s conflicts. That finally changed this week as M.K. and Ava hit the road and tried to seek a new life away from the Master’s all-seeing eye. These two featured in another of this episodes’s stronger scenes as they sat amid the ruins of an elaborate Christmas display and pondered the mysteries of the civilization that once was.
It wasn’t long before Sunny and M.K.’s paths finally converged again. Even better, Baijie gained significant new depth with the revelation that he was once an Abbot. It became clear that his jovial, hedonistic personality is mostly an act, one that allows him to bury the hardened warrior that still lurks inside his bulky frame. Nick Frost was especially strong this week, particularly during the scene where the conflicted Baijie struggled over whether to run or help Sunny fight the Abbots. It seems Sunny has been a a bigger influence on him than Baijie would like to admit.
One little moment did stick out during the build-up to the final battle, though. Why would the two Abbots not think to check the bathtub where Baijie was hiding? How dumb and/or lazy do you have to be to just turn around and walk away?
This episode was another case of the show focusing on quality over quantity when it came to the fight scenes. It’s always a pleasure to see Daniel Wu’s Sunny and Cung Le’s Cyan pummel each other. Le is such an intimidating presence. He genuinely looks like one of the few people in the Badlands who can give Sunny a run for his money in the martial arts department. Their brutal clash was a lot of fun to watch. The fact that you had two other Abbots, M.K., Ava and even Baijie joining in on the chaos made it that much more entertaining.
Granted, that fight did reveal the limitations of Nick Frost’s casting. Frost may do physical comedy well, but he’s no martial artist. It was a little more obvious than usual when Frost was replaced by a stunt double, particularly in a shot that featured Baijie only from the shoulders down. But apart from that flaw, the battle this week was every bit as epic and stylish as fans have come to expect from Into the Badlands by this point.