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“The time has come to finish our crusade, and cleanse the Badlands once and for all.”
Heading into a final third season, it’s difficult to feel like Into the Badlands’ previous run of meandering, twisty plotting isn’t somewhat the work of production companies scrambling to imitate the success of similar fantasy shows. With its feuding factions, ever-growing threat to humanity, magical overtones, and large-spanning world, Badlands might just be the victim of bad luck, having a final season airing at the same time as HBO juggernaut Game of Thrones.
While AMC’s smaller, martial-arts focused show has always been subject to patchy writing and odd pacing, its third season pulls together as satisfying a conclusion as can be hoped for. Pilgrim’s rise and the war that follows is the overarching story, with everything beneath it steadily leading towards the final episode. The plotting is often still limp and tedious, with characters taking two steps back for every step forward at least once an episode, but as ever, what Badlands’ does well, it does very well. That’s showcased perfectly in the final 15 minutes, with simultaneous fight sequences concluding the inconsistent drama on a high note.
The fight scenes and use of simple weapons (and, basically, any object that could conceivably be used as a weapon) are utilized to great effect, with as many multi-opponent, multi-level fights as could be hoped for. Even after 32 chapters, AMC’s kung-fu epic still finds ways to amaze and astound – and kill. Sonny (Daniel Wu) is still a brooding killing machine (think John Wick entering Westeros), but spends a lot of the season rediscovering his past and what it might take to stop Pilgrim. With Sonny off meeting quirky strangers, and then killing them, the heavy lifting in the Badlands is left to Emily Beecham’s ever-brilliant Widow. Finally given the spotlight she deserves, Minerva is the face of the rebellion against Pilgrim’s army of dark ones – and not a moment too soon.
Aramis Knight’s easily-swayed M.K. continues to head down a dangerous path. Embracing his abilities and standing by Pilgrim in the hopes of building a paradise, he spends the season angrily staring at anyone and anything before engaging his powers and causing mayhem. Undeniably underused, M.K. remains interesting and believable after his life is uprooted once more, but his characterisation never quite convinces anyone he’s turned on our heroes completely, leaving him in a limbo of two-dimensional characterisation.
This remains the same across all the major players; even with all the twisting plots and surprise revelations (there are many, and they become redundant very quickly), Badlands’ filmsy characters are likely where the issues begin. To use an awkward, but inevitable, comparison to Game of Thrones, it’s clear that three-dimensional characters really are the key to epic television, and smooth over any number of faults. Luckily, Badlands does some smoothing by itself, continuing its signature use of colour (mostly red, of course), excellent wire-fu, and attentiveness to what the audience is hungry to see. Face-offs between major players are regular and deeply rewarding this season, making even Nick Frost’s terminally irritating Bajie seem like a big deal.
Overall, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s feudal epic remains consistent in its strengths throughout success and failure, ensuring that the hardcore fandom will not be disappointed by more of the same. Badlands is somewhat the victim of bad luck, arriving at a time where fantasy TV is dominated by HBO, but is equally the victim of a terribly paced increase in size and scope, being forced to squeeze so much material into awkwardly sized seasons. Unable to really gain a foothold, it’s disappointing that a show with so much to offer, and so much style, went so under-the-radar.
Into the Badlands Season 1 to 3 are available to watch online exclusively on Amazon Prime Video UK, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.