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Into the Badlands: “White Stork Spreads Wings”

Season 1, Episode 3
Written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Justine Juel Gillmer
Directed by David Dobkin

“A baron’s home isn’t a sanctuary; it’s a battlefield.”

This pissing contest between the Widow and Baron Quinn is turning into an eternal blood feud. In the last episode, Ryder tried and failed to assassinate the Widow. She retaliated by setting Ryder and Sunny up for an ambush, which Ryder only barely survived. Now, as episode 3 opens, Quinn launches a clipper attack on the Widow’s compound. Quinn and the Widow battle one-on-one while the Widow’s daughters (still not sure if that term is literal) escape through a secret passage. Although they are pretty evenly matched – at different times, they both watch the other’s blade miss their faces by millimeters – Quinn succeeds in getting her down, only to collapse from the pain of his brain tumor before delivering the coup de grace. Sunny arrives in time to save Quinn from the Widow’s final blow, but she also escapes into the passage. Meanwhile, M.K. disobeys orders to steal the Widow’s special book from her study – the one with the picture of Azra on it.

At the Fort, Lydia and Jade sit in vigil by Ryder’s bedside, as he lay in a coma. They exchange the teeth baring you’d expect between an older first wife and a younger second wife in a polygamous marriage. Lydia does not appear to know that hubby’s second wife is doing the nasty with her son, but since Lydia seems to know pretty much everything that’s going on, that appearance may be deceptive. This episode showcases what must be Lydia’s worst day ever (at least I hope so): she sits by her dying son while her husband gets it on with the new wifey in the next room. With all the doors open. That’s his response when Lydia needles him for some of his strategic decisions.

Well, it turns out I was dead wrong about Sunny’s girlfriend Veil. I was afraid she would be relegated to a minor role as a perpetual potential victim. Instead, she’s a doctor, and performs freaking brain surgery on Ryder and saves his life. Later in the show, we find out that she makes artificial limbs she calls “mimics,” also not a bad line-item on a resume. Lest her good deed and excellent surgical skill should go unpunished, her services attract the notice of Quinn. He now expects her to save him from his terminal brain tumor somehow, too. No pressure there.

Another good deed receives its requisite punishment; as agreed, Sunny starts training M.K. as a colt, and M.K. rewards him by behaving like a total brat. M.K. is a sullen, unwilling student, so Sunny takes him to Waldo, Sunny’s predecessor as Regent and also Sunny’s former trainer. Waldo uses a wheelchair, we don’t yet know why. There’s never a shortage of interesting fight scenes on this show, but this one may be the most unusual yet: Waldo kicks M.K.’s ass, from the wheelchair, over and over again, and without even getting out of breath.

Though it may seem that Sunny could find new meaning in his life by teaching M.K., M.K.’s attitude and Sunny’s growing desperation to get Veil out of the Badlands prevent any sense of satisfaction. When Sunny stops bothering to tattoo his ever-increasing body count onto his back, his tattoo artist comments that everyone wants to be Sunny, except Sunny.

Waking after surgery, Ryder reveals that the prostitute named Angelica set him up for the Widow’s ambush. The Widow sends Tilda to save her, but Sunny gets there first and tries to capture her. Like everyone else in this god-forsaken place, Angelica is a fighter, and even succeeds in cutting Sunny. She fights to the death – her own. When it looks like she will be defeated, she jumps from a balcony so as to fall on her head.

During a conversation with her son, Lydia reveals a little of Ryder’s backstory. Apparently he was kidnapped and held by Nomads for 73 days, during which he acquired the amputations and what look like burns on his left foot. Lydia admits that Ryder, changed by that time, doesn’t possess the qualities necessary to take over as baron.

Baron Quinn needs allies against the Widow, who remains in hiding. He decides to court Baron Jacobi, who seems most amenable to an alliance. Jacobi’s regent Zephyr has some sort of “history” with Sunny, so he must approach her with Quinn’s offer. I guess the only thing this show needed was a beautiful blonde female killer. Now we’ve got one in Zephyr.

The Widow knows something is up between Tilda and M.K. She asks what happened to her special book, the one with the picture of Azra, which Tillda knows M.K. stole. Tilda lies for M.K. He takes the book to Veil for her to read for him, since he is illiterate, but the book is written in a language unfamiliar to her. It will be interesting to see where this storyline goes – will the book reveal Azra to be the hoped-for paradise, or just a different ring of hell?

“White Stork Spreads Wings” (each episode is named after a martial arts move) leaves open the main conflict between Quinn and the Widow for further development, but adds details and a new continuing character. For instance, the Widow’s female minions fight well, and also learn to paint. There’s a room with multiple easels arranged around a room, as in an art class, which gets trashed in the big fight scene between the Widow and Quinn. We learn that maybe Ryder wasn’t always such a schmuck –very maybe – and that Jade actually loves him. And we see that the décor and clothing styles and even the weapons comprise a hodge-podge of leftovers from different eras. This culture recycles and reuses objects from times past, rather than developing new designs. That suggests that war and the feudal land owning structure have created a static society, kind of like the Dark Ages. The only innovation I see is Veil’s steampunk metallic prostheses. A society that does not progress is doomed to regress. Perhaps this war between Quinn and the Widow will catapult the Badlands even further backward.

Grade: B+

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Amy Anna was raised by wolves. She spends all her time eating and watching movies while lying on the couch . Her animal totem is the velociraptor.

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