The first time I watched through the entire season of Iron Fist, I thought the second half of the season was not as good as the first half. The second time around I realized that the show became better and better as the season went on, as they warmed up to poking fun at themselves, the genre, and the stereotypes of our culture, sometimes to the point of parody. It seems some people agree with me, since the show ended up being popular on Netflix. Good to know that there’s room for lighter MCU fare on TV in addition to Agents of SHIELD.
Sadly, I doubt the show will continue to have the same mood in season 2, with the change in showrunners. It seems to be the current trend for shows to hire showrunners who’ll think outside the box for season 1, then replace them with someone safe for season 2 and beyond. So many series are amazing in season 1 and average after that (I’m looking at you, Daredevil), or they can coast on the ideas the creator left behind for another season or 3 (see: The Walking Dead), then rapidly decline in quality.
Not that Iron Fist doesn’t have major flaws. Danny is portrayed as remarkably immature and untrained. No one can blame Davos when he goes on his rants about Danny stealing his birthright and Lei Kung making the wrong choice. But replacing the showrunner with someone known for average TV series and martial arts movies, and replacing the entire writers room in order to make the series more “grounded,” says to me that we’re going the way of Daredevil season 2. The complex characterizations and social commentary will give way to cardboard cutout characters, especially the few women who are allowed to remain. The violence will increase and become gratuitously intense. Everything will be violence and plot driven. Daredevil started out at such a high level of quality that season 2 could withstand the shift and still be watchable. I doubt Iron Fist, with its uneven moods, characterizations and pacing, will withstand the shift.
I can’t think of Danny as anything other than a fallen angel and holy fool. How many times has he literally fallen out of the sky? He fell out of the plane, he was pushed off of the penthouse bunker by Ward, he came down out of the mountains of K’un Lun. Didn’t he hide up in the ceiling of the dojo at least once?
Danny spent several episodes trying to get back up to the top of Rand tower and fighting to be allowed to stay up there. He lives in the sky again now, in his penthouse apartment with its floor to ceiling views, but he spent most of the season down on the ground, in the dojo with Colleen. He did rise to heaven on earth again at the end of the season, when he and Ward won the epic rooftop fight with Harold/the devil. But he’s locked out of true heaven/K’un Lun, so he remains fallen, with work still to do here on Earth.
Danny, as we were given his character this season, starts out as a pure soul who is repeatedly exposed to the harsh realities of the world outside of K’un Lun. He’s faced harsh reality already, as a child celebrity with very little privacy, watching his parents die in a plane crash and being virtually held hostage by the monks who found him (listen to his description of his early days in K’un Lun again), losing everyone and everything he’s ever known and having to learn an entirely foreign culture and language, as an apprentice monk in a rigorous, unforgiving monastery, and as a penniless homeless man when he left K’un Lun and had to make his way back to NYC without even an official identity.
We as viewers have a tendency to downplay his hardships because of his race, gender, and overall wealth, but the reality is that his life has never been easy and he’s faced it with optimism and good humor, for the most part. That lack of anger allows us to overlook his suffering and dismiss him as a privileged white man.
In fact, he and Colleen have remarkably similar stories, absent Danny’s underlying wealth, and the Hand not keeping Colleen isolated in one of the most remote parts of the world for 15 years. Both lost their parents at a young age, spent time in foreign cultures, were raised to be ultra-loyal warriors in cult-like compounds with strict rules and charismatic teachers, were expected to be loyal to those organizations for the rest of their lives, and weren’t given the full truth about their situation. It’s no surprise that they ended up clinging to each other and only trusting a few other people.
Logical thinking and long-range planning aren’t Danny’s strengths. He’s going to need to develop a team to fill in those gaps. But he hit on what he can do well when he decided to focus on using the fist as a light in the darkness as much as a weapon. He has the goodness inside him to point out injustice and inspire people to do something about it. He and Colleen together could be great leaders.
But first, Gao is right. Danny needs to strengthen his inner core of self-knowledge. Right now, he doesn’t know who he is, believe in himself, or feel the conviction of his beliefs. He mouths the words and goes through the motions that were taught to him, but he hasn’t thought them through enough to either make them his own and apply them to his own experience, or reject them and find something that works better for him. Until he does that, he’ll remain an inconsistent, weak Iron Fist. Once he does, I suspect that he’ll be able to discover many of his powers on his own.
He needs a good old-fashioned coming of age story. Season 1 was Ward’s coming of age story. He killed Harold, as was his right, and freed himself from his past. Danny will need to face Lei Kung, or his surrogate Davos, in order to fully process who he wants to be. He began the process by declaring to Davos that he’s both Danny Rand and the Iron Fist, and by choosing to stick to his own convictions instead of taking Harold’s bait on the rooftop, walking away from Harold and giving Ward the opportunity Ward needed more. But he has much further to go in order to understand who Danny Rand and the Iron Fist are together out in the modern world and what they want to accomplish.
Colleen Wing is the best thing about this show. Jessica Henwick is charismatic and lively in the role. Watching her fight is a joy. She goes at it with such gusto and enthusiasm.
Her character was a bit uneven, starting out serious, then becoming a bit wide-eyed and goofy when Bakuto was around and when she developed feelings for Danny, then moving back toward seriousness once she realized the truth about Bakuto. I’m putting it down to Bakuto lacing the food at the compound with small amounts of drugs that encourage cooperation and submission. She still has that learned response within her and reacts to him as if the drugs are still in her system.
I wanted more scenes of Colleen and Davos running around bantering back and forth at each other. It’s a shame they gave most of Davos’ humorous scenes to Claire, because the old and new sidekicks learning to get along is always fun to watch. Bucky and Sam bickering were some of the best parts of Civil War. Sacha Dhawan played Davos with that perfect inflexible seriousness that also has a slight underlying twinkle. Colleen is the opposite, quick-to-smile twinkle with underlying seriousness, making them fantastic comic foils for each other.
Colleen might be gaining a different partner next season, so maybe some snappy banter will come out of that. Her dojo seems to be out of business, since it was always struggling and will no longer be subsidized by Bakuto. Maybe she’ll develop a new career with her new partner. 😉
Ward had the best character evolution, from shallow villain to complex sidekick. Please tell me he’ll continue to have a large role in Season 2. I’m haunted by the way he turned Harold’s portrait around in his office at the end of episode 13. Is Harold really gone? How will his legacy continue to affect Rand and the Meachums?
Even a dead father can become his son’s reason for living, with him constantly asking himself what the father would do or want. (See Oliver Queen and his little book of names, for example.) Dead mothers, wives and daughters must be avenged, or possibly rescued from death, but they rarely influence their children with their philosophical wisdom.* (See Frank Castle and Barry Allen.) We know that the first time he died, Harold left a will that constrained his children for the rest of their lives. What will his post-mortem wishes look like this time?
Harold and Ward might be my favorite father-son pair in the entire MCU, maybe in the entire father-son-obsessed comic book world. They take the toxic masculinity of the traditional father-son dynamic to its logical extreme of psychological and physical abuse, even murder. Ward acts as Harold’s puppet, watched by Harold at all times to make sure Ward follows Harold’s orders and is formed into the perfect Harold replacement.
This is what happens when you get rid of the mothers and take the sister-daughters out of the loop. Sheer madness. Comic books put way too much emphasis on mothers and daughters as possessions to be loved, protected and avenged. Fathers and sons are extensions of each other, never reaching true independence, other than through death or insanity, but female characters don’t register as full humans in the family dynamic when the father-son relationship is given primary status. Although Harold and Ward both seemed to put Joy first at times, they were actually using her as a pawn to be batted back and forth between them in their never-ending games. It was never about Joy as a person in her own right and what she needed or wanted. She was infantilized by Harold and turned into a shrew around Ward.
Joy and Davos both had predictable evolutions based on their positions as the less favored children, but I’m interested to see what they can accomplish as a team, under Gao’s mentorship. Gao has been trying to get one of the young people to really listen to her wisdom since the Netflix MCU started. Joy seems like just the woman for the job. Smart, analytical, always looking at the big picture and thinking long-term, and in desperate need of a mother figure who will appreciate her talents. Be good to her, Madame Gao. Be a good brother/lover, Davos. She’s been through a lot, starting at a very young age.
Joy is desperate for allies worthy of her love and loyalty. So is Davos. They are the two forgotten children, forced to become rivals rather than companions to their favored siblings. Joy and Davos have now given up on getting love or recognition from their birth families and are building new families of their own instead. The Hand probably isn’t the best choice, but then again, Gao has endured for centuries, maybe millennia. She has much she could teach them, if they can stay on her good side. She also seems like she takes care of her own and inspires fierce loyalty.
Grade for the season= B