“Cobra Fang, Panther Claw” proved to be one of the best episodes in the show’s history, with multiple long-awaited showdowns and a truly ballsy ending.
This Into the Badlands Season 3 Episode 12 recap for the episode titled “Cobra Fang, Panther Claw” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Into the Badlands has a certain swagger and confidence that most other shows simply can’t match, and rarely has that been more evident than in “Cobra Fang, Panther Claw”. While you might expect Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay) and M.K.’s (Aramis Knight) raid on the monastery to be the big climactic end to an episode, here it’s just a pre-credits kick-off sequence, which even includes the long-awaited face-off between Pilgrim and the Master (Chipo Chung). It didn’t disappoint, even if it concluded rather tragically — although I must admit I’m here for Pilgrim busting through walls like the Kool-Aid Man.
Meanwhile, road trip! Bajie (Nick Frost), Sunny (Daniel Wu), the Widow (Emily Beecham), Nix (Ella-Rae Smith) and the Mad Witch Ankara (Clare Higgins) are on their way to the monastery, but they’re being held up by simmering beef between Sunny and the Widow, and the unconscious mutterings of Ankara, which keep overheating the engine. On their trail, meanwhile, are the Black Lotus, away in the wilderness somewhere are Tilda (Ally Ioannides) and Gaius (Lewis Tan), debating the merits of matricide, and back at the monastery, Pilgrim reveals to the captured Abbots what the Master does with those who can’t control their gift — props to the show for still maintaining the idea that Pilgrim is a charismatic leader who can sway people to his cause, because it has been easy to forget in the last few episodes, as things have consistently gone wrong and his grip over his followers has continued to loosen.
I think we’re all in agreement that this has been the best season of Into the Badlands, and Pilgrim is a large part of why. Ceesay is wholly convincing in his despotic holy crusade, but he might have met his match in the Master, who knows how to stoke his anxieties and fears. He wasn’t born with the gift; he took it by force, and he can feel its incompatibility with him. As he becomes more physically powerful, he becomes less faithful, less secure in his divine purpose because he can sense things happening in a way he didn’t imagine them. It’s a compelling arc for a villain.
Tilda and Gaius are captured by Baron Chau’s (Eleanor Matsuura) Clippers and taken to her silly funfair hideout for a spot of interrogation and torture, while the Black Lotus close in on Sunny and company as they take temporary shelter at a disused Abbot safehouse to fix the car and hopefully find some drugs to keep Ankara docile. They manage to find some needles that stop her doing glowy-eyed magic, but once the Widow removes one, Ankara shows her the current predicament of Gaius and Tilda. Compelled to help, she sets off with Nix to do so, thus helpfully splitting the party up once again for convenient plot-related reasons.
They are in need of rescuing, though. Baron Chau reasserts herself as a formidable villain in “Cobra Fang, Panther Claw”, gleefully torturing Tilda and her brother, still convinced of her own superiority even with decimated forces and a wacky carnival homestead. There’s a nice scene in which Tilda protects Gaius by confessing to the murder of his mother, and a thoroughly excellent one in which the Widow arrives to dispense more unfiltered Emily Beecham ownage. I don’t know where the showdown between the Widow and Baron Chau ranks in terms of the show’s overall best, but it was certainly one of the most memorable.
Pilgrim and M.K. (man, I hate M.K. — is there a more despicably smug character on TV right now?), having found a way to revive the sleepers, are able to expand their devoted army further still. “Cobra Fang, Panther Claw” does, I think, a reasonable job of highlighting that despite the Master having presumably made her decision to render her problematic students comatose for the right reasons it nonetheless caused a great deal of suffering. Pilgrim and M.K.’s belief that their cause is righteous is more credible here thanks to the testimony of a newly-woken sleeper who described the experience as feeling as though he was being buried alive — and all because he wanted to protect his family.
With the Black Lotus virtually on the doorstep, Ankara, sure of her own impending death, sees that the monastery has fallen, and reveals that it was her fault that the Black Lotus attacked Azra in the first place. She also explains that defeating Pilgrim is impossible; there was once a great power inside Sunny that could have rivaled his, but it was locked away to protect him from the Black Lotus. The only person who might be able to unlock it is his sister, and his sister is dead — isn’t she? No time to ponder. Despite being teased by the prospect of some Clare Higgins martial arts, the Black Lotus are too quick and too clever. Their leader, it turns out, is Ankara’s old friend and betrayer Magnus, who promptly kills both her and Bajie. Nuclear heat has been earned! All of a sudden, Into the Badlands has a new villain who instantly jumps to the top of every long-time fan’s hit list. “Cobra Fang, Panther Claw” pulled no punches, and its ballsy ending left the show in perhaps its most interesting position yet.