Into the Badlands season 3 has finally premiered, and it mostly serves as a way to catch up with all our favorites and set up the events to come.
This article contains spoilers for the Into the Badlands season 3 premiere.
There’s been six months between the end of season 2 and the beginning of season 3, which means Into the Badlands 3×01, “Enter the Phoenix,” has to pull double duty and remind us where everyone has been and hint at where everyone is going.
For the most part, this episode does its job well. I’m interested in each character’s journey this year, though admittedly some more than others (M.K.!?). It’s a little frustrating to only have a snapshot of each player to look at before we move onto the next, but it’s also smart to build a foundation before you try to erect a whole tower that may or may not be host to death-defying fight sequences.
You want to make sure that base is nice and strong to avoid casualties.
Luckily, no one important suffers any major casualties (to themselves, at least) in the premiere, though we still burn through plenty of exposition. If that’s not your jam, then this episode may have fallen a bit flat. As for myself, I enjoyed reuniting with each and every single one of these characters, though I do hope episode 2 kicks off the main arc of the season in a way that episode 1 did not.
So, what did actually happen in Into the Badlands season 3, episode 1, “Enter the Phoenix”? Here’s a recap of the events of the episode, broken down by character.
The episode opens up with the war between The Widow and Chau’s armies. It seems like The Widow is winning, until the sky is filled with arrows and several of her warrior Butterflies are killed. This forces The Widow to track down Nathaniel Moon, the man who lost his hand and his honor to Sunny in season 2. After an epic battle on top of a cliff-side tower, they reach a stalemate with their swords, but The Widow is able to use her words to convince him to become her Regent by promising him his revenge.
That doesn’t change the outcome of the war, however. At least not yet. We get a scene between The Widow and one of the fallen Butterflies’ mother that’s eye-opening for both the audience and Moon. The Widow is not unaffected by the toll this war is taking on her people, which just might be her only saving grace at this point.
The Widow can be a cold, calculating leader who’s willing to kill one for the sake of the many, but she’s not heartless. She cares for those she leads, and her taking the time to comfort a grieving mother is a smart move. Whether that was a power play or not is up for debate.
Much of Sunny’s initial story sees him traveling by himself, just trying to survive off the land and take care of his son, Henry. There’s a sweet (although impractical) moment where he refuses to kill a mother deer once he sees her faun, and it’s at this point we realize Sunny’s entire being will center around the fact that he’s a father now.
We also realize that the show will honor Veil’s memory at every opportunity. Rather than forgetting she existed for two seasons, we feel the impact of her death in several moments throughout this episode. As hard as it is to watch, I hope it’s a theme that carries on over the course of season 3.
It’s clear that the loss of Veil is taking its toll on Sunny, who’s hitting the bottle (or, rather, his flask) a bit hard. He’s still coherent enough to take out three Nomads with nothing more than his fists and a tea kettle. But this is just the precursor to two major revelations. One, someone put a bounty on Sunny’s head, and two, Henry is sick.
But as we learn later, Henry hasn’t just come down with a fever. He has the same dark power as M.K. I have quite a few thoughts about this, but my main one is that this seemingly proves that Sunny, who, as we already know, is from Azra, also had this power when he was a child.
One character who comes exploding back onto our screens is Tilda, who is now the leader of a rebel group called the Iron Rabbits (which also includes Odessa!). She’s got a new look and a new mission, which is namely to make The Widow’s life as miserable as possible. After attacking one of her former Baroness’ transports, she discovers Bajie has been made a prisoner.
It’s a sudden, unexpected reunion, but one that’s truly delightful. These characters haven’t spent a lot of time in each other’s presence, but trying to escape The Widow’s grasp tends to cultivate a bonding experience.
But this is Bajie we’re talking about. His main loyalty is to himself, so he’s unwilling to help Tilda in her own personal war against The Widow, much to her annoyance. It’s clear there’s a lot anger in Tilda now, and the only way she knows how to dispel her ire is finally getting revenge on the person she used to call Mother.
But The Widow is a formidable opponent, and I’m worried the price of Tilda’s vengeance will be high.
This is the character I am, hands down, more excited about than anyone else at the moment. We meet M.K. in a glorified jail cell, with two girls in his bed and a pipe in his hand. There are scars running up the back of his arm, which indicates The Widow has been testing out numerous ways to get his powers back — but to no avail.
This is a much darker M.K. than we’ve ever seen before. He’s always been a boy on the cusp of manhood, someone who’s a little too naive for his own good but who has been lucky enough to have people like Sunny in his life to take care of him. He doesn’t have that luxury now that he’s The Widow’s prisoner.
Their relationship is contentious, at best. A quip about Tilda and Waldo leaving her is enough to have M.K. feeling the point of The Widow’s blade. But after everything he’s been through, he’s unafraid. You can see it in the dark circles under his eyes. This is an M.K. who has lost his boyish nature, who is no longer naive about the horrors of the world. He’s been tortured for months, and he’s ready to let go of all his pain.
The Widow, however, will not be the one to deliver that salvation. At least not yet.
With her father walking with the gods in eternity, Lydia is in charge of the Totemist camp, which has turned into a safe space for refugees of the war between The Widow and Chau. Unfortunately, their resources are running out, but Lydia refuses to turn anyone away. It would be signing their death warrant.
This is when we learn that the Iron Rabbits are working to supply the camp with food, which Lydia is grateful for…until she isn’t. When she learns that it’s actually a prisoner transport, Lydia asks Tilda and her Rabbits to steer clear for a little while. It’s a harsh request after everything they’ve done for the refugees, but Lydia’s main concern is for her camp. She doesn’t want to draw any attention from The Widow.
Bajie, who never has trouble saying what’s on his mind, warns Tilda not to trust Lydia. She is an ex-Baroness after all, and she’s complicit in a lot of what Quinn did to the people of the Badlands. Whether or not she can be forgiven is up for debate, but it’s unlikely anyone will ever forget what she’s done.
While I do think that’s a fair sentiment, I feel for Lydia. As Orla Brady stated in her interview with us, Lydia has lived her life according to her husband, her father, and her son for so long. We haven’t seen what she’s like when she’s able to be her own woman. Now that all three of them are dead, however, we’re going to get that chance this season.
Now we’ll finally know what kind of person she truly is.
Bajie is as Bajie as he’s ever been. When Tilda comes crashing back into his world, he knows he’s found another opportunity at his feet. He escapes The Widow’s prisoner transport, but has no interest in helping the girl carry out her vendetta. When Lydia tells him he must leave camp by morning, Bajie has no problem following orders.
But first, a drink is in order. And a game of (I believe) Mahjong, in which Bajie just can’t help but cheat. It would be fine, of course, if he hadn’t been caught. But luckily, Sunny has just entered the camp looking for a cure for Henry, which means when it’s time to throw down, Bajie’s got one of the best on his side.
We see that Bajie still has Sunny’s compass, which will undoubtedly play an important role now that Pilgrim is in the picture. Bajie also learns of Veil’s death. It’s a rare moment of true emotional vulnerability from this character. He may be a lying, thieving, double-crossing son of a bitch, but he’s still got a heart.
Pilgrim and Cressida
At the end of the episode, we see that Bajie’s call has not gone unanswered. This season’s antagonists, Pilgrim and Cressida, arrive with a caravan of followers. Pilgrim has a compass of his own and believes they’ve arrived in the Promised Land. We still don’t know how the compass works exactly, but it does seem like Bajie’s signal is leading them right into the Badlands.
But first, Pilgrim has to get through Baron Chau’s checkpoint. Luckily for him, he’s got Nix and Castor, who both have the dark power. What follows is an incredible sequence where we get to see both these teenagers climb up scaffolding and absolutely decimate the border guards. I’m so excited for these two characters, and if this is any indication of the quality of fights we can expect from them this season, then I won’t be disappointed.
One note of interest is when Castor’s powers falter for a few seconds. Nix saves him from a soldier, and his powers return, but from the character’s bio, we know this will be a problem for him this season. What I want to know is why it’s happening, if there’s a way to fix it, and whether or not this will make him expendable in Pilgrim’s eyes.
Pilgrim’s final words have been used for the tagline this season. The leader of the border patrol is allowed to live, as long as he delivers a message: “Join us or die.”