Following Sunday night’s zombie apocalypse as depicted by the latest episode of The Walking Dead, AMC presented badass martial arts mayhem with its season premiere of Into the Badlands.
A lot of strange words with no context were tossed around–Clippers, barons, and the Colts–but swift sidestepping, bone snapping, and karate whooshing distracted the brain and glued the eyes to the screen.
At least for a little while.
Wearing “cool guy” sunglasses and riding a motorcycle in a blood-red trench coat, Sunny (Daniel Wu) hits the trail to brighten nomadic and hostile gangs’ days by snapping their wrists and impaling them with rusted skewers or wielding his ever shiny katana.
Evidently, once upon a time, Sunny was one of the aforementioned Clippers, assassins who “just show up, kill people, and leave.” But beneath all his ink, which records each of his many kills (404 and counting), Sunny is supposedly just a nice guy who made a bad career move. Now he’s about to rewrite his job description, as we shall soon see.
So, for the sake of argument, let us join Sunny and go into the Badlands, this post-apocalyptic world with vast meadows of roses. Early on, after effortlessly wiping out about a dozen dudes without breaking a sweat, Sunny rescues M.K. (Aramis Knight), a teenager he finds trapped in a chest. It turns out that M.K. can unlock a mysterious power of ass-kicking whenever he bleeds, making you ponder the consequences if he ever accidentally nicks himself. And so, on top of motorcycle-riding assassins armed with Japanese Samurai swords, we also have magical teenagers.
The Badlands are also occupied by the sickly Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas, The Lord of the Rings), his eighth wife-to-be (Sarah Bolger), his jealous wife (Orla Brady), Sunny’s pregnant lover (Madelein Mantock), and primitive boys training to become cold, heartless Clippers–and follow in Sunny’s footsteps. Figuring out their names was less concerning than trying to understand why all this cliché drama littered the background of a show loosely based on “Journey to the West,” a 16th century Chinese novel.
It all was so odd yet so familiar…
Apparently, there was something about Sunny’s martial arts skills that piqued the interest of the Baron–who decided to put it to “good” use–and will supposedly keep us enthralled in the journey ahead.
But after Sunny brings M.K. back with him inside the high-walled doors of The Fort, where Baron Quinn runs his adolescent training camp, the drama within turns silly and mundane, and the more obvious it becomes that Into the Badlands is nothing more than an excuse to watch Daniel Wu flex his well-oiled muscles.
And then it hit me. After tons of dull dialogue, the closing shots flashed on-screen with the song, “Lead Me Home,” by Jamie N Commons. The tune turned a knob in my brain, opened a door, and flooded out memories dating back to February 2013.
“Lead Me Home” also concluded an episode of The Walking Dead (“Clear”, season three), when the protagonist Rick Grimes parted ways with an unhinged underling, Morgan Jones, for the second time in the series.
This is another post-apocalyptic world. Humans coping with everyday drama are simply trying to live their lives in an environment that won’t let them. It’s the same formula with a new skin. Even AMC’s promotional commercials of Sunny’s martial arts abilities had shot-by-shot similarities to Walking Dead’s Michonne, Daryl and Morgan’s katana slicing, kicking, and stick wielding against the oncoming zombies. The cable network labeled its Sunday double-bill, “Twice The Fight.”
Was AMC trying to make another Walking Dead out of Into the Badlands? Sure, there were no zombies lumbering through the Badlands’ rose meadows, and the characters were a lot more settled in, but paralleling the two shows explained all the out-of-place drama.
Each commercial break started with these words, “Coming up on Into the Badlands,” leaving viewers hanging with a suspenseful action scene, as though AMC knew the risk that many (myself included) might change the channel if their curiosity weren’t aroused. Almost 20 million viewers tuned in for The Walking Dead’s season six premiere in October, so it’s no surprise that AMC hopes to draw those numbers with the five remaining episodes of its new series before the show enters the real badlands of low ratings.
And that might prove the match for a prized martial arts champion like Sunny no matter how many necks he snaps.
(Photo credit: AMC)