Written by: Monique Jones
This post contains heavy spoilers
Here we are, recovering after the Season 2 finale of Into the Badlands, and we are in mourning. How could the show let Veil, Sunny’s love, die? Yeah, she took out Quinn as she killed herself, but in the end, was it worth it? Was anything that happened in this season worth it?
After seeing the finale, I mulled over what went down, read fan reactions, and even posted a couple of my own before calling it a night. Now that the sun has risen on a new day, I have some reflections to make.
1. Why has the season’s buildup been the damsel-in-distress story if the damsel doesn’t get rescued?
From what I’ve learned about writing rooms over the years of covering Sleepy Hollow, the writing team usually has most, if not all of their season beats worked out. This means that the writing crew already knew that Veil was going to die by the end of the season. So, why make the entire season one big tease that she’ll get rescued in the end? Why have her gone through the physical and psychological horrors of being trapped with Quinn if she wasn’t going to get her happy ending? At the end of the day, it just seems like Veil’s treatment veers on the side of torture porn. At the very least, it seems like Veil’s treatment is punishment just for being a nice person—remember, she had a chance to kill Quinn, but didn’t take it because, as a doctor and as one of the few people with morals in this world, she didn’t have the heart to take his life.
I’m sure there are fans out there who will say that there was foreshadowing of Veil’s demise throughout the season—there were several times earlier in the season when there were callbacks to Quinn and Veil’s Season 1 conversation about what was or wasn’t in their natures; clearly killing people wasn’t in Veil’s nature, otherwise, Quinn would have been dead already. Later on, there was Veil’s conversation with Tilda, in which Veil states how both she and Tilda didn’t have the heart to kill the people who were holding them hostage. When Veil did kill someone and tried to make a break for it, she found her way blocked. When Veil was finally able to escape Quinn’s lair, she was taken back to him by The Widow. For some fans, these moments of storytelling justify Veil’s ultimate end.
But they don’t. As far as I and many other fans were concerned, the push-and-pull of Veil fighting for her freedom seemed like the ultimate tease for Sunny’s triumphant return to save his woman and child, with their next stop being the mythical Azra. To have Veil make the ultimate sacrifice after all of her tribulations has given fans if you excuse the crudeness, blue balls. Why go through the trouble?
2. Are Black women always going to be the mule of the world, even in the future?
Another thing to add to the argument against Veil dying is that two other women escaped death in the same episode. Interestingly enough, both of those women—Tilda and Lydia—are white. Lydia even dug her own grave and still was able to escape death. Sure, both Tilda and Lydia have the fighting skill, but we’ve seen that Veil can fight, too, when push comes to shove. And if I’m reading the characters right, Veil is just like Lydia in the sense that she has had to learn how to fight without any training. So, if Lydia—who isn’t a trained fighter—can still escape her own grave, how come Veil couldn’t have done something awesome to save herself and kill Quinn in the process?
You know what sealed Veil’s fate as far as character actions go? It was when Sunny gave Lydia his other sword. As he was doing that, I was thinking “Why, though?” I know it was both for her protection and as a thank-you of sorts, but if Sunny had some forethought, he could have given Veil that sword, with which she could have stabbed Quinn in the head as he was holding her at sword-point.
But regardless of whether or not Veil had a weapon, it isn’t right that Veil, like too many Black women characters before her in other shows, was once again the sacrifice for the better good. It’s doubly painful in a show like Into the Badlands, which has been praised for its focus on diversity and inclusive writing. Adding insult to injury is part of the origin of Sunny and Veil’s relationship itself—Daniel Wu’s urge to rewrite Romeo Must Die into something that respected both Black women and Asian men as desirable romantic leads. To be fair, it wasn’t as if Wu wrote this episode—it was writer Matt Lambert and showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar who did—but still, doesn’t an ending like this undercut that original intent behind the characters? Doesn’t it still paint the picture that 1) POC interracial relationships can’t work out because they aren’t seen as “normal” and 2) Black women can’t be the damsel in their narrative? I mean, Wu might not be a writer, but he’s still an executive producer. I’m sure there’s something he could have said, right? I mean, Wu’s my dude, but I’ve got to be real and called stuff how I see it.
At the end of the day, I don’t see why it was Veil’s duty to be the one to take Quinn out. Sunny’s the master marksman; couldn’t have lobbed off Quinn’s head while holding Henry? Or better yet, couldn’t he have beheaded Quinn when he was laid out on the floor? Such a rookie mistake for someone with 444 or so kills on his back. But somehow, fans were treated to shades of Abbie Mills when Veil sacrificed herself to save her family. Does this always have to be the narrative for Black women on television? Haven’t Black characters suffered enough? Didn’t Veil suffer enough from Season 1, after Quinn killed her parents? Of all of the characters, she deserved her happiness with her man and her son. But it seems like out of all of the women who have suffered hardship on this show; Veil is the only one that has to die to find some relief. Meanwhile, Jade, Tilda, and Lydia are out in the wilderness somewhere finding themselves and living life. Not fair.
3. Regardless of race, Veil’s death is a continuation of the fridged woman
If there’s one thing I can say about Veil in regards to comparisons to Abbie is that at least the quality of Veil’s characterization didn’t diminish as the seasons wore on. There was no “Katrina-Ichabod Power Hour” equivalent to increasing fans’ bitterness. But no amount of characterization or care can make up for the fact that, like Abbie, Veil is another fridged woman meant to serve the male character’s emotional journey.
Let’s take out the racial component for a second because the devil’s advocate rebuttal to Veil’s death would be that Black women characters have just as much of a chance to die as white women characters do. In a democratically-written show, this is very true. However, if we take out the racial component, we’re still left with another woman who had to die for there to be “emotional depth.” Couldn’t there have been emotional depth built with her still living? I understand that the writing team probably wanted this season to be one where Sunny comes face to face with the types of horrors his life of clipping can bring, but there could have been other ways for him to deal with those demons other than Veil dying, right? I mean, he was dealing with his demons when he was near death; he could continue to deal with them throughout the rest of his character arc instead of for just one episode.
The fridging of Veil reiterates how much of a misstep this is for a show that has been praised for its commitment to telling stories a different way. Throughout two seasons, there hadn’t been an egregious fridging of any woman. If anything, we’ve seen the fridging of a man—Ryder—at the expense of Jade’s emotional growth, a remarkable gender role reversal. But Veil is the first woman to receive this extensive treatment, all to further Sunny’s hero’s journey as well as the building anticipation of reaching Azra. And again, she’s also a woman of color, whereas all of the other women who have been able to survive are white (or, in the case of Baroness Chau, Asian). If we’re going to fridge women, did the only fridged woman have to also be a woman of color? Let’s be equal in our annihilation of female characterization, at the very least.
4. The season finale undercuts Sunny’s story as well
I mentioned Romeo Must Die earlier; I must also add that the decision to kill Veil not only undercuts the idea of Black women being allowed to be damsels to be rescued, but it also undercuts the notion of Asian men being heroic and winning the girl. The whole point of Sunny as the leading man is to showcase that Asian actors can helm a show, be a sex symbol, and get the girl in the end. That’s what I took away from it if I’m going by what Wu himself has said about the role. So, doesn’t Sunny losing his girl during his valiant fight undermine that entire thesis? By losing Veil, it continues a precedent Hollywood has set for leading Asian men; you can fight and be the star, but you can’t have love. A character like Sunny can go through all the motions of heroism, and still lose in the end.
I’m not an Asian man, apparently, but from my perspective, that’s what I got out of Sunny’s failed heroic journey. Again, you could say that this was foreshadowed by Moon’s story of his loss, but when Sunny said he wasn’t going to let that happen to him, we believed it wouldn’t. Sunny thought it wouldn’t, and Veil believed Sunny would save her. Doesn’t the decision to kill Veil undermine the trust the two characters had in each other? Wouldn’t it make us as fans, who were rooting for them, feel like we’ve been disrespected?
Veil deserved so much more than this ending, and frankly, so did Sunny. He’s been through hell as well, trying to get back to the Badlands. Is this the kind of ending that does his character justice? I don’t think so.
From what I hear, there are going to be tons more women of color coming to the third season of Into the Badlands. However, many Twitter denizens say they could care less about the third season since they won’t be watching it. Again, like with Sleepy Hollow, they feel like the heart of the show has been cut out. They also feel mighty disrespected by a show that has taken on the hashtag #ColorMeBadlands as a mark of honor. A hashtag created by an online community supported by Black women. The consensus is that a show can’t decide to utilize POC hashtags for marketing if they’re just going to kill off the characters that represent a good chunk of its viewership—Black women. It happened to Sleepy Hollow, and it’s happening to Into the Badlands now.
The only concrete way the show could get viewers back is if they rewrite the upcoming season so that Veil, somehow, can come back. Maybe Azra is a place where the dead can be revived. Maybe some necromancer comes along, stumbles upon Veil’s grave, and brings her back. Something, anything, as long as Veil is back in fighting form. Hey, Dragonball Z, another show based on Journey To the West like Into the Badlands, has folks coming back from “HFIL” all the time, and Into the Badlands has folks with powers and stuff. Why not go that extra step?
In any case, when it’s all said and done, Into the Badlands got too cocky this time and treaded where it need not tread. You goofed, Into the Badlands.
Monique Jones is an entertainment blogger/journalist. She’s written for Entertainment Weekly, Black Girl Nerds,Racialicious, and many others. She runs JUST ADD COLOR (originally called COLOR) and has introduced a new online magazine, COLOR BLOCK Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @moniqueblognet and the official Twitter for JUST ADD COLOR and COLORBLOCK Magazine,@COLORwebmag.