Before we get started: this is a show in which a grown man proves his identity by separating the brown M&Ms from the rest of the colors in the bag. It was the moment I knew the show was for me. It might mean that this isn’t the show for you, though, and that’s okay.
It’s most definitely not Jessica Jones, Daredevil, or Luke Cage, and, from what I can tell, if you loved the dark, gritty atmosphere and brutal fight scenes of those shows, you aren’t going to be happy with their lighter, brighter sister show. If, like me, you found Daredevil too dark and slow to get through, and grew tired of Jessica Jones using filmmaking tricks to replace storytelling, this might be the Netflix Marvel show for you.
(I haven’t been able to get myself to try Luke Cage yet, though I did enjoy the character in Jessica Jones, which I watched all the way through. I only watched a few episodes of Daredevil, up until the Russian brother gets his head smashed in the car door. I liked the Russian brothers.)
I’ve watched the first three episodes of Iron Fist. It’s not all fun, but the story is easy to follow and makes sense. It’s not trying overly hard to be artistic, but there are some nice touches, which I think other reviewers are missing in their haste to condemn it because it doesn’t put style over storytelling like Jessica Jones, or have intense, brutal violence like Daredevil (at least so far). Like its protagonist, it’s easy-going, laid back, and has a sense of humor, but there’s more to it than you realize at first, if you pay attention.
Danny Rand has a tragic back story, but he doesn’t walk around NYC with a broody cloud of angst surrounding him, so neither should his show. He’s an optimist, and a fighter. He Does Not Give Up. He lets people underestimate him. I don’t quite understand why our culture thinks being laid back and happy equals being weak and/or boring, but I suspect this show is exploring that, at least a bit. I’m not sure which one people think is worse at this point. He’s not actually well-adjusted, that’s made clear with his continuous flashbacks to the crash and his time away, and his reactions to being aggressively touched. He’s continuously triggered from being back where he grew up.
But he’s not an addict, or an alcoholic, or a rage monster, or giving in to depression. He’s been taught healthy coping mechanisms, and he fights to use them in even the most dire situations. That’s refreshing to see, and it allows him to run in circles around the people who see him as only a naive idiot, which he also is. But he’s learning quickly what he needs to do to survive in his new environment. I really hope he maintains his uniqueness, and doesn’t turn into a typical brusque, cynical, angsty New Yorker. Marvel has enough of those. I am once again looking at you, Tony Stark.
Let’s move on to the recap of episode one!
The episode begins with an opening credits sequence, which features a martial artist doing moves in slow motion while leaving an inky path behind. There it is, guys. They told you right from the start that the fights weren’t going to be fast, and were going to focus on an acrobatic look. It’s all done in a monochromatic blue-gray tone that’s associated with cityscapes, and there’s a city skyline in the background.
Cut to feet on a busy city street, and a pair of dirty bare feet, owned by a guy wearing dirty white pants, a surfer hoodie, with blonde curly hair and an unkempt beard, carrying a backpack. He looks up at a skyscraper and says, “That’s my building.” The guy next to him says, “You should sell it and buy some shoes.” Welcome to New York, Danny.
Danny runs into the lobby of the building and approaches the receptionist. He tells her he’s Danny Rand, son of Randall Rand. He’s there to see Harold Meachum. She tells him that won’t be possible, but someone will be right out to see him. Security ushers him out. He ushers himself back in. In the first fight of the season, he quickly takes down four security guards, plus managing a nifty toe kick elevator button push.
Danny continues to slip by security as he makes his way to the offices of the top executives, looking for Harold Meachum. Two things are important to remember here. One, he ran around this building as a child with indulgent parents who owned the place. It’s not that weird that he knows everything about it. Two, this is the Legends of Tomorrow of the Marvel Netflix group. They told us from the first shot that we weren’t in reality when they asked us to believe that someone could survive New York in bare feet without having their feet sliced up by broken glass and/or quickly developing a foot disease or chemical burns. Sit back, enjoy the ride, and let your need to be extremely picky about logic go. You certainly had to do that if you made it through Jessica Jones. Don’t get me started on those lab scenes.
Danny makes it to the executive floor and checks out the offices, looking for Harold Meachum. Harold isn’t there, but Danny realizes that he’s looking at his childhood friends, Harold’s children, Ward and Joy Meachum. He introduces himself. They aren’t happy to see him. They tell him that both he and Harold are dead, in fact. Harold died of cancer 12 years ago. Danny suggests they go somewhere to talk. The Meachums would prefer he not touch anything, and leave with security. It starts to get tense and threatening. Security is pissed that he beat them up in the lobby. Danny’s escorted out at gunpoint.
Danny has flashbacks to the plane crash that killed his parents while he’s in the elevator. The head of security is unsympathetic.
Danny takes a walk to the house he grew up in. The key is still hidden above the door, but the locks have been changed. He makes a couple of leaps to scale the side of the building so that he can climb in a second flood window. Inside, a pitbull growls at him, but he makes a mystical gesture at it to calm it, and closes it in the study.
Danny wanders the house, consumed with memories. He remembers playing Monopoly with Ward and Joy on the roof. Ward cheated, threatened and bullied him. He said, “Dad says rules are for pussies.” It’s safe to say that Ward hasn’t improved any. The question is, has Joy gone over to the dark side or not?
Later, Danny finds a cosy tree to call his own in a small park. He takes out an iPod to listen to music, and a book that’s written in Chinese to read. A homeless man named Big Al stops to talk. He asks if Danny wants him to look up anyone on his iPhone. Danny has Big Al look up himself and Harold Meachum. Big Al tells Danny about a shelter where he can get shoes.
The next day, Danny stops Joy outside of her front door. She is hostile, threatening to call the police, get a restraining order, have him locked up forever, etc, and calls her armed security guard/driver. The Meachums are in no way soft and fuzzy. They follow a one strike policy, then it’s straight to nuclear annihilation. No walking around with a body-guard for Joy, in order to protect herself, and innocent bystanders. Danny, who seems to have been someplace with no exposure to Western culture, assures her that he’s safe for her to be around, and is confused that she’s so vicious. Guess he doesn’t realize how often the rich are stalked, or kidnapped for ransom.
He blurts out childhood facts about himself to convince her that he’s legit. When he points to his house, she says it’s her house now. He mentions that her dog is scary, and she realizes that he’s the one who broke into her house the day before.
Before Joy gets very far into her “No Stalkers in the House” lecture, Danny backs into the street. He’s almost run over by a cab (it’s NY, of course they don’t even slow down), but does a back flip in the air over the car, Winter Soldier-style. (Bucky did it better, but he had a bigger budget, and the Russos.) He and Joy look at each other in shock, then he sprints away.
Danny is standing by the sidewalk in a park going through his tai chi postures*. A Chinese-American woman walks by and drops some money in a cup for him, assuming he’s busking, then begins stapling flyers to a nearby kiosk. Danny follows her and tries to give the money back. She tells him to keep it. He notices that the flyers are for her martial arts school, and introduces himself. He asks if she is Colleen Wing, the woman who runs the school, and she says yes. He speaks to her in Mandarin. She replies in kind, but after a minute of conversation, tells him to speak in English or Japanese, because she hasn’t spoken Mandarin since she was a kid. He wants to work for her, but she tells him she has a janitor, and walks away. Presentation matters in the real world, Danny.
Meanwhile, at the top of the Rand skyscraper, Joy tells Ward about her latest encounter with Danny. Ward says, “Great, he’s an insane, homeless acrobat. Call Cirque de Psychopath.” Which is a really great comeback.
They finally get around to the real issue. If Danny is really Danny, he owns 51% of the business, a controlling interest. No matter how they felt about him when they were kids, they now have an overwhelming reason to stop his claim in its tracks. Their father also had a very good reason for destroying the Rand family’s plane. With no surviving Rand family members, the money and assets clearly all went to the Meachums.
Joy wonders if they should investigate Danny’s claim further. Ward thinks this is a set up, some kind of corporate sabotage to make the company look weak.
When Ward goes to his car, Danny is there, and drives away with Ward in it. Ward pulls a gun, but Danny disarms him, points the gun at Ward for a moment, then tosses it aside. Danny just wants to know what happened to his parents and their company. He doesn’t care about money. Ward tells Danny the basic, publicly available story about the crash, and insists he doesn’t know any more. He insists again that Danny can’t be who he says he is, and that there’s no way Danny can provide proof of identity. Danny replies that he was only 10, he wasn’t fingerprinted, and he has no living relatives to check DNA against.
Danny says that Ward is as much of a dick as he always was, and goes through a litany of the abuses Ward perpetrated on him when they younger. Ward denies it all, and wonders what it’s like in Danny’s crazy head. Danny decides to oblige him. They’re still in the parking garage tower. Danny starts driving round the circles at top speed, all the way to the top, saying this is what it felt like when he watched his mother die in front of him. They are about to crash into the wall of the garage head on at top speed
and become Travelers when Danny makes an abrupt turn and tries to stop. They still have a sideways collision with the wall. The fight goes out of Danny, and he apologizes. He goes to get out of the car, but Ward grabs his arm and tells him it isn’t over. Danny says he knows.
Back at Danny’s tree for the night, Big Al brings Danny a Chicken Parmesan sandwich scavenged from an Italian deli. He tells Danny a bogus story about how tall and long-lived people were when everyone was a hunter gatherer in prehistoric times. He’s been listening to too many people trying to sell him on the Caveman Diet, but that’s an argument for another day. He’s stayed true to his purpose, and still lives as a hunter gatherer.
Danny also lives according to a purpose. He is dedicated to protecting K’un-Lun from all oppression and honoring the sacrifice of Shun Lao the undying. Danny may seem like another aimless millennial, but he’s got some ambition.
Colleen’s dojo looks like it’s seen better days. As she finishes a class, she tells her students to take some flyers. She needs more students, or she’ll have to close. Danny walks in and Colleen suggests he leave again, either for coffee or shoes, but down the street, either way. He responds that he’s never had coffee, and brushes off the shoe suggestion.
He asks to challenge the master of the dojo. Colleen is the master, and refuses the challenge. He asks if she has kung fu lessons, and she says no. He tries to talk her into letting him teach some, but she throws him out, threatening him with her practice sword. Danny is mildly insulted that she thinks the practice sword would phase him, but he goes. On his way out the door, Colleen hands him a pair of shoes that someone forgot.
He sits down on the sidewalk to put on the shoes. As he finishes, the security team from Rand shows up to beat him up, shoot him and probably kidnap him. Colleen hears the commotion outside and follows.
Danny disarms the various attackers and runs away, into a Chinatown celebration, complete with masks, bubbles, dragons, dancing and music in the street. He grabs a mask to blend in. Eventually, the leader of the attackers catches up to him. When Danny has him down, he asks who sent the security detail. The answer is, “Ward Meachum.” Only naive Danny is shocked.
Ward is eating dinner when he gets the call notifying him that the attack on Danny failed. He makes a phone call to notify someone else that there is a situation, and they need to talk about it in person. That person summons him immediately.
He goes to an elegant residential building with freakin’ gorgeous art deco lobbies. He takes a public elevator, then a flight of stairs, then presses his hand against a biometric security device, so that he can finally go through a sealed automatic door into a penthouse made of thick concrete. It’s built like a bomb shelter, but it’s a penthouse, which defies logic and is intriguing as h*ll.
Inside the penthouse is Harold Meachum, supposedly dead for 12 years. He faked his own death, but why? Harold doesn’t bother to say hello, he starts right in on criticizing Ward. Ward notices the Bob Cratchit-like employee at a small desk in the hall who’s always there. Harold explains how to
buy cultivate loyalty in one’s employees. Harold learned his method from Wendell Rand, Danny’s father, but something essential likely got lost in translation. Ward doesn’t bother to listen. Loyalty will undoubtedly be an ongoing theme, since comic books love it, the MCU loves it, and this is clearly a set up for betrayal. Bob Cratchit Kyle knows everything, but he’s not treated well. He’s paid well, but he won’t hold up to torture, or a better offer.
Harold asks about Danny. He reminds Ward that the first rule of war, or business, is to know your enemy. Ward hasn’t bothered to find out anything about Danny, and dismisses the possibility that he’s the real thing. Harold says, “Stranger things have happened.”
This is a comic book show: No Body = No Death
Harold goes through and asks all of the pertinent questions that Ward and Joy should have asked. Who is he? If he’s Danny, where has he been? Why come back now? What does he want? If he’s not Danny, who sent him? What do they want?
He asks the questions out loud, and explains to Ward that they need to know these things in order to figure out a strategy going forward. That’s why they shouldn’t just kill Danny. Ward still isn’t really listening. He doesn’t give a f*ck about what the old man thinks.
They agree that if it’s really Danny, he can’t be allowed to go public.
Danny finds Big Al dead next to their tree. He has a hawk tattoo on his arm, and a syringe sticking out of a vein. Probably not the accidental death someone wants us to think it is. Could be it’s a set up for The Defenders.
The next day at the Rand building Danny sneaks in again, because the building security ultimately sucks. He finds his way to Joy’s office and tells her that Ward tried to have him killed last night. As per TV show protocol, she knows nothing about her brother’s nefarious activities. She doesn’t believe Danny, because the girl sibling is always too good to be told what the family business is really about. There is probably a TV Trope about this, maybe I’ll add it later in a magical edit.
Joy pretends that she’s willing to have a long conversation with Danny. She serves them each a cup of tea. She doesn’t drink any of hers.
Joy: “My brother’s a very black and white kind of guy. Something’s either true, or it isn’t. I’m a little more open. You look like Danny Rand. Danny Rand is dead. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.”
Danny: “If you wish to know the truth, then hold no opinions.”
Joy asks Danny to tell his story:
“We were in our jet, flying over the Himalayas, and things started to go bad. We were flying too low. The plane started to come apart.”
At this point, Danny becomes disoriented and unable to speak, then collapses on the floor. The tea was drugged. Ward comes into the room, and both Meachums look down at Danny. In his mind, they turn into the monks who found him after the plane crash. He still equates the Meachums with safety and family. They could give a f*ck about him, though.
The next time Danny wakes up, he is in a mental hospital, heavily drugged, and strapped to a bed. He remembers the moments surrounding the crash explicitly. He was belted into his seat. His mother got up to comfort him, and was sucked out of the plane right in front of him when it began to break apart. His father stayed belted into the seat, but told Danny, “I love you, Danny.” After the crash, a radio was lying on the ground, still playing. It was the only sign of life.
I don’t trust Ward Meachum. He’ll turn on his father or sister if it comes down to them or him. Which means it probably will.
Harold’s mistake is in turning to Ward as his heir. Joy is much smarter, more strategic, and willing to learn. But Joy doesn’t seem to know that Harold is alive.
Is everyone named Ward evil in the MCU? Grant Ward and his entire family on Agents of SHIELD, now Ward Meachum?
Harold is played by David Wenham, who played Faramir in the Lord of the Rings movies. It pains me to see him turn into a bad father. This dimension has corrupted his fine character.
Seriously, why is the bomb shelter 30 or 50 or however many stories in the air? It doesn’t make sense. I can let everything go but that.
The Rand family plane was definitely sabotaged, probably by Harold. It was never found because Harold didn’t want it found. Planes don’t just fall apart in midair like that. Danny didn’t even describe a bomb, or smoke.
Danny hasn’t matured since he was ten. Wherever he was, it was all about the warrior training, and not so much about teaching him to be a person. Plus, how did he get from the Himalayas to NY without anyone telling him he had to wear shoes in public places, or introducing him to Google? The internet existed 15 years ago. So did newspapers and magazines. It’s basic common sense to check on the state of the company before storming the offices. The writers just thought it was more charming to make him ridiculously naive. But how did that guy figure out how to buy a plane ticket or a fake passport?
I did love the running bit of everyone telling the homeless surfer dude to get some shoes. It was kind of sad when Danny stopped dressing like a homeless surfer dude. I kind of just wanted him to become a clean homeless surfer dude. Like that was his superhero costume. And then he meets Tony Stark and won’t let Tony make him anything, but does let Tony introduce him to all of the different types of food and alcohol he’s missed, so it’s okay. Maybe Tony eventually talks him into a specially made pair of those barefoot minimalist athletic shoes. Flesh-colored, of course.
*If I’m wrong about this, please correct me. I know absolutely nothing about the martial arts in the real world, so this was just a guess based a tiny bit of TV knowledge.