Into the Badlands has always had a habit of giving its episodes long and elaborate titles, but rarely as they as accurate as this week’s. Yes, “Blind Cannibal Assassins” was, believe it or not, about blind cannibal assassins. It was a typically pacey episode with some superbly-choreographed action, but it also abided by the third season’s new rule of deploying a healthy amount of actual character development and philosophical pondering, too. All is well in Badlands. Well, not if you’re one of the characters, I suppose, but if you’re me things look good.
Anyway, Sunny and Bajie find themselves in the clutches of the eponymous villains, who nab young Henry. Those are big stakes, and if the acting in this episode doesn’t entirely sell them as such, I at least appreciated the effort to tie the blindness of the blind cannibal assassins back to Sunny’s dubious life as a Clipper – or, in this case, a Clipper-in-training. Yes, it turned out little Sunny was the one who blinded them in the first place, for what I found to be quite nebulous reasons. But despite being a recurring motif, I always feel like it works for Into the Badlands to tether its present to its past; if we’re supposed to buy Sunny as a tortured antihero who prospered under a violent and tyrannical regime, might as well have him doing some violent and tyrannical stuff.
Meanwhile, Nathaniel Moon catches up to his quarry and finds himself similarly captured by the blind cannibal assassins. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that they all work together in order to facilitate an escape, but it might come as a surprise that this turning point occurred so early in the season. This was, after all, supposed to be a major point of character conflict and tension. So, what happened?
Moon’s quite sudden face-turn won’t sit well with some, but I had no real issue with it for two reasons. The first is that Sunny’s speech to him actually hit a lot of important notes, mostly about the self-defeating cyclical nature of violence begetting violence, but also because he rather adroitly pointed out that Nathaniel was being a bit childish about the whole thing. What, you’re mad that I didn’t kill you? Grow up, Nathaniel, and shove your go-go-gadget hand up your arse!
I might be paraphrasing.
The second reason is that this hopefully sets up Nathaniel as a kind of hero figure; with no real reason to continue serving the Widow and with his lusty feelings for Lydia not entirely buttoned down, the speedy resolution of his arc with Sunny puts him in a potentially interesting spot. I guess we’ll see.
Besides, the Widow has her hands full forming tentative alliances with the Pilgrim and the cult of Azra, which got a fairly concise explanation this week. I was thankful for it. It’s an intriguing angle, what with the Widow losing allies left and right, and I’m sure it’ll somehow culminate in her coming out on top because frankly, could Into the Badlands really exist without Emily Beecham? The answer, needless to say, is no, but if the Pilgrim and his army of gifted zealots are going to function as the fourth season’s antagonists, I’d rather we got a bit of juicy info about what it is they’re actually up to.
It might seem a bit haphazard, but “Blind Cannibal Assassins” really represents the most narratively ambitious and complex this show has ever been. The stuff that has always been awesome about it continues to be awesome, and I have no doubts that it’ll remain awesome as long as the thing lasts, but these more intricate machinations are pretty new. I’m down with it. I find myself, for the first time, really pondering the potential outcomes of this story, not just in terms of who might survive them, but also in what they might mean for the Badlands; for the state of this weird dystopia dotted with eccentric religious factions and a not-insignificant number of ordinary, innocent people. What’ll happen to them? We’ll have to wait and see, I suppose. But I’m excited to find out.