Film Crit Hulk, one of the Internet’s greatest, greenest thinkers once wrote “the ending is the conceit.” After all the world building, all the logical follow through of the Badland’s politics, the ending should hit the nail straight on the head—and hard. The season one finale of Into The Badlands goes the opposite route, clouding its theme in obfuscation and introducing new plot threads. “Hand Of Five Poisons” largely fails and it does so where last week’s episode managed to finally pick up steam. Little is resolved on either story or emotional levels and it hurts the whole of the season.
Admittedly, Into The Badlands has never had a particularly solid through line, but we at least had Sunny’s desire to leave with Veil and M.K.’s evolution as a superhuman warrior guy. These twin storylines are two sides of the same coin, a desire to escape and embrace a destiny.
Sunny, it seems, forgot to tell Veil that he was right outside the house when Quinn sliced up her parents. Quinn let her know and she’s pissed that Sunny didn’t intervene. Logically, she must know that wasn’t possible given Sunny’s position, but she (understandably) takes it out on him anyway, just as Quinn intended when he told her. “The Baron said, ‘We are slaves to our nature and I’m beginning to think he’s right.”
Sunny is a killer, because he doesn’t know any other way. Killing is the only currency he has and Quinn has blinded him to any other option. But now Sunny has a chance to escape, to leave killing behind. Into The Badlands sets up a deal with the devil, M.K.’s head for Sunny’s escape, but doesn’t have the balls to follow through on it. He trades in a fake head (or something) and is granted a ride out. But none of these things come to pass. All the stakes the show set up are left abandoned for easier moral answers (imagine if Sunny had at least tried to kill M.K. and the betrayal that would come from that). But no, instead, Sunny is stripped of his rank and locked up, which according to all previous evidence is exactly what Sunny wants. He wants to leave Quinn’s grasp, to stop killing. Ryder selling out Sunny solves the protagonist’s original dilemma. Now, he has no reason to stay (assuming he can escape, which he does).
It turns out bird man was the one letting in The Widow to the Fort. He gives a dumb speech about wanting to blow the whole thing (the baron system, etc.) up and start over. It’s not very convincing and the scene mainly serves just to provide Sunny with story information. He also gives Sunny back his city pendant that he says was found on him as a kid. Again, it’s not clear why he does this except to advance the story.
Far more egregious is the reveal that there are a whole bunch of other M.K’s out there. While it was assumed, they had never been shown and, like only seeing Godzilla’s feet, this was far more mysterious. But a few super monks show up to beat the shit out of Sunny and carry off M.K. The fight scene is slick enough, going full Crouching Tiger, but M.K.’s power is what made him special and the interesting part of his power is his inability to control it. Seeing a whole band of mystical warriors dampened the impact of little M.K. Instead of expanding the world, it shrunk it. Similarly, finding out that this world used to be our world, Capitol and all, closes a lot of doors. And on top of all of this, The Widow reveals that she used to be special. It’s too much new information and it doesn’t work here.
Sunny finally gets his revenge on Quinn, but given his trajectory this season, it feels like a defeat. Even though he says it will be his last kill, it’s still another kill for a man trying to find the way of peace. Once again, Quinn has forced him to kill. This would be fine if it was played that way, but it’s played as a pure hero shot.
There’s a lot of talk about the characters getting away from their nature, and this is seen often in this episode, with Jade almost certainly poisoning herself to get rid of Lydia even after last week’s hugs and handshakes. Ryder thirsts for power. Veil heals despite her distaste for her patients. While it’s nice to see clear characters, there were no turns. No character did something unexpected in “Hand Of Five Poisons” except the bird man and that’s mainly because his relationship was largely unknown. Despite all the reveals, there were no surprises.
This episode, instead of playing with the pieces already on the board, introduced new ones. The characters in play followed their ascribed tracks with little deviance. It all made for an ending that felt wholly dissatisfying, which is doubly disappointing after the success of last week’s episode. Into The Badlands is not a good Game Of Thrones clone, but it could be a good show of its own. It just wasn’t in this finale.