Spoiler Warning: If you haven't watched the Season 2 premiere of Into The Badlands titled "Tiger Pushes Mountain," you might want to turn back now. Besides, as we all know: No one escapes the Badlands.
Into The Badlands is back! The second season of AMC's sleeper hit series premiered on Sunday night; it's been six months (in-universe, that is) since we last left some of our favorite characters, and the show wastes no time in getting right back to the best of the action. (If you're looking for reasons to start watching, I've compiled a handy-dandy list that will get you started in catching up on season one.) I'll be your friendly neighborhood recapper for this show, which has effectively hooked many of us over at Fangrrls -- and with good reason.
We open on a pretty grim-looking situation for our wayward former Clipper, Sunny (Daniel Wu) -- although props to the show for its excellent use of the song "Human" by Rag'n'Bone Man in this scene (which was also recently used to thrilling effect in a trailer for the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda; great minds think alike!).
The music choice might be awesome but Sunny could be better; he's been sold into menial labor working in mines far away from the Badlands as a “picker”, under the management of a grimy overseer (Stephen Walters). One of the other laborers begins to cough up blood, but before he’s executed for exhibiting signs of sickness Sunny intervenes, fighting his way through several guards brandishing swords - and all while still locked in the stocks. Even shackled, Sunny is seriously not someone to be trifled with. Although he manages to hold his own for a hot minute, he’s eventually taken down by a set of ropes around his ankles; guards hoist him up into the air with no means of escape. “If your journey brought you here, this is where it’s gonna end," the overseer says to Sunny, shortly before knocking him out. “No one gets out alive.”
After the opening credits, we see M.K. (Aramis Knight) in a set of novice robes practice fighting with staffs against an older student, an Abbot named Ava. Although he manages to hit her, turns out the point of the exercise is not to make contact. There’s mention of a nameless “Master”, and when M.K. inquires whether or not he’s going to ever meet him the student cryptically replies that M.K. will only meet the Master when he’s ready.
Sunny dreams of his pregnant lover Veil (Madeleine Mantock), and she brings his hand to her swollen belly. “I’ll find you. Both of you, I promise,” he whispers. Unfortunately, Veil’s face dissolves into Sunny’s bunkmate - Bajie (Nick Frost, a new cast addition). He apologizes for waking Sunny up but admits he needs all the sleep he can get, and then proceeds to introduce himself. Understandably, Sunny’s not much of a chatterbox but Bajie’s happy to do all of the talking for the both of them. When Sunny finally speaks up, it’s to ask Bajie about finding a way out. As far as Bajie knows, the only way out is by way of a body van - which, more or less, means death. He advises Sunny to start digging instead.
Back at the temple where M.K. is training, he and another male student are woken in the middle of the night by a strange howling from outside. M.K. rationalizes it as the wind, but it’s clear that both young men are left unsettled. When M.K. confesses that he wants to stay until he can control his powers, the other young man reveals that his power had put him on the level of a god in his Nomad clan back home. Apparently not everyone is as terrified of the dark energy as perhaps they should be.
M.K.’s still feeling restless, so he gets up to wander, eventually stumbling across a room filled with small origami animals as well as a compass bearing the symbol of Azra, his home. When he’s caught by a woman holding a broom (Chipo Chang), he tells her he’s looking for the Master - and she uses the broom to toss him across the room. Turns out she's the Master, and when she invites him to sit down with her over a bowl of rice he tells her he doesn’t have any time to waste. He has to get back to his friends. The Master agrees, but on one condition: he has to make it past her origami bird without unleashing his power. She propels the bird across the room with enough force to cut his cheek. Sure enough, drawing blood is the trigger for M.K.’s dark side and he immediately rushes her. The Master stops him dead in his tracks by blocking his punch and then delivers a series of pressure point attacks to take him down. Clearly, M.K. still has a long way to go - but the Master doesn’t appear to be doing so hot as well; the force of stopping M.K. has broken her forearm, and after M.K.’s escorted out of the room she manages to heal the injury with a glow emanating from her fingers before sinking to the floor with exhaustion. As previously established - the more one uses their power, the faster it kills them - so maybe the Master isn't long for this world.
Back at the mines, Bajie notices all of the tattoos on Sunny’s back and inquires what a Clipper could be doing in a place like this. Sunny starts to choke him out right up until the minute his shacklemate eventually guesses he was under the service of Baron Quinn. Balie tells Sunny not to worry, though: his secret is safe. Over chow, Bajie fills Sunny in on the happenings in the Badlands; now that Quinn has gone MIA (after Sunny running him through, natch), things are definitely in a messy state. Before Sunny (and we) can learn more, the overseer makes an announcement; since the mines had a record-high haul, the pickers are being treated to a fight night. As Sunny and Bajie watch unfortunate pickers get beaten to the death for this so-called “entertainment”, Sunny asks Bajie to get him one thing: a map of the mines and the surrounding area.
At the now-abandoned fort, Ryder (Oliver Stark) is going through his childhood things. In a scene of exposition, Jade (Sarah Bolger) fills us in on everything that’s happened since Quinn died. Apparently, everyone thinks Ryder was the one to kill his father, and now he controls not just two but three territories - not to mention that, as the new Baron, Ryder and Jade don’t have to keep their love affair secret. In fact, their new relationship is downright legal by Badlands standards.
That being said, things aren’t going swimmingly for Ryder; cogs have been deserting his factories and production is at an all-time low. There are whispers that the Widow (Emily Beecham) has had something to do with it, whispers that turn to shouts the moment that the Widow, her daughter Tilda (Ally Ioannides) and the Widow’s Butterflies show up to cause a little chaos of their own. In the midst of all the epic sword fighting, Ryder and Jade are separated from one another - and Jade is ushered off by a security force with the Widow in hot pursuit. She seems intent on killing Jade - but why? By the time the Widow catches up with Jade on the rooftop, filleting and dicing men all the way, it’s not to kill her after all but to deliver a message: she intends on taking her oil fields back from Ryder, with bloodshed if necessary. (And, as she’s quick to specify, most of the blood will be his.) One would think slaughtering about twenty dudes would be enough of a message, but you’ve got to admire the Widow’s thoroughness.
Meanwhile, everyone’s digging away in the mines when Bajie delivers on what Sunny asked of him: a map. While Sunny isn’t even sure of its accuracy, Bajie says it’s at least earned him the favor of Sunny taking him along when he inevitably escapes. Another picker finds a ring in the rubble, but Bajie knocks her out and takes credit for the find. It’s only enough to earn him a 24-hour reprieve from digging, but the opportunist manages to ask one question that will have the overseer’s ear: “Have you ever heard of a Clipper?”
The Widow reveals her big plan for the Badlands to her followers: to crush the system, literally. As far as she’s concerned, she wants to reform society into a place where there are no Clippers or cogs, dolls or Barons. Every man or woman will be free, with the ability to stay in her employ or go as they please. By the way some Clippers react to that statement, it seems as though bucking the established hierarchy may be a little more difficult than the Widow would like to believe. While the Widow might be quick to let restless Clippers go their separate ways, Tilda and some of the Butterflies aren’t as willing to suffer deserters. And it’s not just because they’re leaving; it’s also because there are dolls (in essence, prostitutes) who were abused at these men’s hands. “This is payback,” Tilda coldly informs them, before giving the Butterflies the signal to move in and swiftly end their lives.
Ava and M.K. are sparring again, though their session is soon interrupted by the Master - who informs Ava she’ll be taking on M.K.'s training personally from now on. “Are you ready?” she asks. “For what?” M.K. responds. “The hard part," is the Master's matter-of-fact answer.
Sunny’s escape isn’t going to be as early as he’d planned; now that Bajie has ratted him out as a Clipper to the overseer, it looks like he’s going to be forced to participate in those fight nights after all. And meanwhile, in a place far away from where Sunny is toiling for his life, Veil gives birth to their son - with the child safely delivered into her arms by none other than Quinn (Marton Csokas). Seems he’s alive and well after all - and as creepy as ever.
That’s it for this week’s episode! What did you think of the return of Into The Badlands?