Life after Supernatural: The First Pretender To The Throne is…
The lesson from our first pretender to the throne is… don’t make promises you can’t keep. Beautiful and violent, my love affair with Into The Badlands was as intense as it was ultimately disappointing.
We all have biases. It’s a fact of life. Cats or dogs. Coffee or tea. Morning or evening. Original content or yet another remake… I’m not here to judge you. My particular bias is that I want to see beautiful, diverse people doing badass things with their beautiful, diverse friends to thwart their hopefully also beautiful, diverse adversaries. I like it a lot when some of these people are black women. It’s a thing.
That’s why this one really hurt
Starring Daniel Wu, Into The Badlands followed prodigious assassin Sunny and his trainee M.K as they tried to make their own ways in a post-apocalyptic feudal world. The show promised us a lot upfront: action, magic, mystery, adventure and even diversity.
Yes, they really wanted us to know how diverse they were, and wow, did we love it! This show stood tall on the shoulders of fans who’d been burnt many times before by tokenism, stereotyping and generally terrible storytelling and said “We’re not like that! We promise!”. And like hopeful children who have no idea what a workhouse is, we walked right in.
As you may have guessed – it ended poorly, with Sunny’s lover and baby mamma dying a stupid death for incredibly stupid reasons. She also happened to be the only core cast black woman at the time. How many ways can one hit hurt, I ask you.
If you feel generous, you could interpret the showrunners’ ensuing efforts to reach out to disgruntled fans and their subsequent introduction of other characters as a good faith gesture – they genuinely had no idea how contrary it was to scream from the rooftops about how they weren’t going to bait-and-switch us with usually underrepresented characters and storylines and then go and do exactly that. I felt less generous, so I decided to spare myself the heartache of hope and just move right along.
See, we’ve been here before…
Way back in Season One of Supernatural, we met Dean’s ex, Cassie Robinson. They met when he came to do Family Business in her area, had a hot a passionate fling then broke up when he told her what he really did for a living. Then her dad died and she called him because something smelt like sulphur. In the end it turned out – I’m not making this up – a racist truck killed her dad. How can you not love this show?!
I know, it seems really odd to be a fan of Supernatural, who’s other fans were so toxic and racist the show had to pretend Dean never promised to come back for Cassie and subsequently remained about as diverse in colour as the outfits at an All White party but… that’s a thing that happened. See, Supernatural never lied to me. It promised me two brothers, their family drama, saving people and hunting things.
My personal fan theory is that Dean really did want to keep his promise and come back. but realised that Cassie was better off without him and his monster-magnet ways. In my version of that universe, they even kept in touch and became as close to friends as one can with a Winchester and not end up dead. That time that he settled down with another ex and disaster ensued only served to reinforce that staying away was for the best. I will die on this theoretical hill.
Is it Supernatural’s fault that it’s fans were reprehensible? Possibly. Does it suck? Absolutely! Does the show’s prompt return to Pleasantville constitute a breach of trust? No – because Supernatural never promised me representation. Into The Badlands did, then they stumbled at the first hurdle.
How ceaselessly disappointing.
Ending in its third season, Into The Badlands, for me, is a taste of what life should be like for a 21st century fangirl. Immersive storytelling, beautiful set design, great acting and characters you can love and hate and sometimes love and hate at the same time… It failed to fill the Chevy Impala sized hole in my heart, but it was a great ride. One day, I may even watch the final season.
VERDICT: I encourage people to watch Into The Badlands because right up until they got it wrong, they were getting it so beautifully right. The action sequences alone will make what you know is coming worth it.