December 20, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Into the Badlands”


The first season of AMC’s INTO THE BADLANDS felt entirely predigested.  It was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by way of Game of Thrones by way of every post-apocalyptic Chosen One fantasy you’ve ever seen.  The Matrix was in the mix, and so was Star Wars, and Mad Max, and The Wizard of Oz, and so on.  Sometimes these contraptions can work–several of those influences above were pasted-together combinations of prior works as well–but they require the special sauce of inspiration that Badlands has so far lacked.

The sense of assembly rather than vision extended to tonight’s season finale, written by series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar along with Consulting Producer Michael R. Perry, and directed by Guy Ferland.  The entire season being just 6 hours, the finale’s climaxes felt rushed as well.  It appeared as though Big Bad Baron Quinn (Martin Csokas) was finished off by his chief lieutenant (whom he’d lately imprisoned), the Samurai-ish hero Sunny (Daniel Wu), but in a show like this, you never know.  Sunny himself was abducted by a ship’s captain he had attempted to swindle into passage out of the Badlands, and was being sailed off to an unknown buyer when last seen.  Sunny had acted to protect the show’s Chosen One, supernaturally gifted apprentice warrior MK (Aramis Knight), and we last saw him being transported across the Badlands, also to an unknown destination, by a group of similarly gifted warrior priests.  (It also turned out that Sunny and MK shared a link to a mysterious city so far seen only in illustrations.)  Meanwhile, Quinn’s antagonist The Widow (Emily Beecham) found her fate in the hands of her daughter Tilda (Ally Ioannides), who knew that her mother had betrayed her, and also knew which bottle of medication given to her wounded mother had a healing potion and which had poison.  Meanwhile, Quinn’s current wife Lydia (Orly Brady), framed for attempted murder by his new fiance Jade (Sarah Bolger) and banished by Quinn, was taken in by her ascetic father Penrith (veteran action star Lance Henriksen).  Lydia and Quinn’s treacherous and petulant son Ryder (Oliver Stark) also may or may not be dead.

It wasn’t that all of this made less sense than similar twists have made in similar genre efforts, but that here it was all so sketchy that there was no emotional commitment behind any of it–you could still see the marks of the writers’ scribbles on their office whiteboard.  A great genre epic like Game of Thrones makes its twists feel shocking yet, in retrospect, necessary, but on Into the Badlands, the cliches show through.

The series has been made with a certain amount of style, but it’s been hurt by functional dialogue that sometimes felt like it had been transcribed from subtitles.  Much of the acting was flat, although Csokas ingested as much scenery as he could swallow, and things always improved when Stephen Lang (as a wheelchair-bound, wily Yoda-type) was around.  Wu and Knight, however, were mostly blank in the most important roles.

Although Into the Badlands lost the bulk of its audience when The Walking Dead departed as its lead-in, the rating that was left probably justified a renewal.  Perhaps a Season 2 can provide some personality to match the show’s style, and either come up with new wrinkles in its genre mix, or at least hide its seams more effectively.  For now its lands are more bad than otherwise.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."