Two of the most defining pieces of postapocalyptic storytelling from the last decade are Mad Max: Fury Road and Death Stranding; one imagines a future of vehicular mayhem across a desolate desert, while the other is a strange exploration of just how important home deliveries will be at the end of the world. Black Knight, a new action series on Netflix, is what happens when you smoosh those two worlds together. It doesn’t reach the heights of either, but it does present its own distinct take on our climate change-fueled future — one that just so happens to be a blast to watch.
Black Knight takes place 40 years after a comet collided with the Earth, poisoning the air and turning the Korean peninsula into a bleak desert. The small number of survivors are divided among strict class lines. The rich live in a domed city with free-flowing air and plant life, while the equivalent of the middle class resides in unending rows of concrete houses. Everyone else, dubbed refugees, is forced to eke out a life in the desert.
Keeping things together are the couriers who bring much-needed food and oxygen to people’s homes. It’s not only a necessary job but also a dangerous one, as the delivery trucks are constantly under attack from raiders out in the desert. This combination turns the couriers into modern-day folk heroes, risking their lives for the good of the rest of society. One, known simply as 5-8 (Kim Woo-bin), has achieved a legendary status after fighting off entire gangs of raiders single-handedly. It seems obvious that you should not mess with 5-8, but the raiders never seem to learn their lesson.
The story follows two main threads, which, naturally, intersect by the end. 5-8 is soon joined by Sa-Wol (Kang You-seok), a refugee who idolizes the couriers and will do whatever it takes to become one and help those stuck out in the desert. Meanwhile, the Korean government and a megacorporation known as Chun-myung Group are working in tandem to relocate citizens to a new larger enclosure but are at odds as to how to proceed. The biggest issue is Chun-myung heir Ryu Seok (Song Seung-heon), who has a disdain for the poor and hopes to turn this new city into his own particular vision of a perfect society.
Black Knight is at its best when it focuses on action and personal stakes. There are some great shootouts and an excellent, deadly race that feels like what would happen if George Miller played Blur. 5-8 is basically indestructible, for reasons that are never really explained beyond him just being that strong and skilled, and it’s a lot of fun watching a good guy defeat impossible odds while also delivering oxygen to the elderly. The show also has a great cast of characters. Sa-Wol is a goof, but an earnest and determined one, and his friends from the desert have a lovely, heartwarming relationship. 5-8 has a kind of stoic big brother vibe, while Ryu Seok is an absolute dick, the kind of classic evil suit that you love to root against. His disdain for pretty much everyone is a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, it does get off track at times, trying to cram a few too many ideas into a short runtime. The conspiracy theory behind the big relocation plan keeps the story moving with a strong momentum, but it gets derailed by threads about mutants, kidnappings, and vaccines that are either underdeveloped or just plain unnecessary. Thankfully, at only six episodes long, Black Knight doesn’t have enough time to get too far off the rails. By the time the ending rolls around, it’s back to tense white-knuckle action and striking character moments.
It’s not a show that will likely be remembered as fondly as its inspirations, and I wish it were both more focused and made a bigger deal about the machinations of climate change (instead of putting the blame all on a comet). But Black Knight still manages to rise above being yet another story about the postapocalypse and become something that feels surprisingly fresh — and it should make the wait for Death Stranding 2 a little easier.
Black Knight is streaming now on Netflix.