Hello all, I’m Caleb and I’m going to be your reviewer for the last four episodes of Iron Fist. Since I’m jumping in midstream I’ll just say that generally, I enjoy the show. I think the critics largely have missed the things that the show does well, but the criticisms also make some sense. For me, the show is more or less an average Marvel Netflix collaboration, but not one of the better ones. That said, I’ve really enjoyed the show and looked forward to each episode. Also, as a reminder, we will have FULL SPOILERS in this review for all things that occur in or before episode 10, “Black Tiger Steals Heart.”
Generally, this episode continues to divorce Danny’s story from the Meachums’, as has been the case for several episodes. While the interactions between Danny and Colleen have been fun to watch, the show seems to lose some steam when they break it into two storylines running concurrently. Viewers are left wondering, in the extended scenes between Joy and Harold, “Why are we talking about these people again?” The Meachums early on were compelling as the danced in and out of the title character’s life, but when they become less connected with the main thrust of the plot they feel a bit like B-plot filler.
Harold’s resurrection has been a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the character has an instability that instantly adds tension to the show. Like Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave or Heath Ledger‘s Joker, the character could at any moment do something shockingly violent. As a result, all of his scenes are charged a bit more. Unfortunately, unlike those examples, the role just isn’t acted as well. More importantly, the writers aren’t nearly as clear on Harold’s motivations as the writers of the examples. While an unhinged character does add some emotional electricity to a scene, they are far more interesting when they have some sort of internal logic, instead of mere capricious outbursts. Harold Meachum as the show goes on is sort of a death-causing rage zombie with little understandable motivation. Most problematically, we can never really tell if he actually loves his children or not, which makes it hard to interpret all the scenes with Joy.
Returning to the eponymous hero, Danny and Colleen have escaped to some sort of Stepford-esque college campus that pretty quickly is revealed to be a recruiting and training HQ for the Hand. The suddenness of the reveal, or how obviously wrong the situation is, seems a missed opportunity. For one thing, Ramon Rodriguez has the kind of charisma that had me wondering for about two minutes if he actually was a good guy. Convincing the audience he was helping Danny and then slowly showing his charisma become manipulation is something the actor seems capable of, but he shifted very quickly to villainy. The twist is less significant if viewers never believe the original premise. Also, the transparency of the Hand’s operation is a major problem for the characterization of Jessica Henwick‘s Wing. She is suddenly not as capable or intelligent as we thought if she fell for the cult leader bologna that the Hand is selling.
This brings up a subject of a lot of importance to the overall discussion of Iron Fist as a show and the controversies that have come with it. Until this point in the series, Henwick has been incredible. The chemistry between her and Finn Jones are the most believable of any of the Netflix romances, save for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. (The multiple ham-fisted attempts to make Claire and Matt Murdock romantically entangled are major blunders for me.) She was independent and strong and loyal. But all of that good work is basically undone by turning this fierce woman into a lap dog for an evil ninja cult. It calls all her decisions and actions into question and largely undermines the things the show did well with the character. Given the controversies over diversity in casting, it seems a major political and storytelling mistake to transform the one person of color lead on the show into an easily manipulated fool. That’s not a way to prove your critics wrong.
Creating multiple facets of the Hand, assuming both Gao and Bakuto are in fact part of the Hand, is smart and interesting. In the same way that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. slowly unraveled HYDRA into various streams, this development makes the organization seem richer and more real. Large organizations or religions invariably have diversity in their ranks. It’s just hard to get thousands or millions of people to all agree on everything. A more friendly faced, youth-oriented branch of the Hand is a good twist. Introducing a different version of the organization also sets up a precedent so that the organization can morph into different things for different stories. Such plasticity keeps the writers from being stuck in a corner as this show (and others) moves on.
The introduction of Davos is predictable but in a good way. Creating a sense of kinship between he and Danny, while also showing the stress between them ideologically, makes a lot of sense. It seems to be stealing a page from the Mordo and Strange dynamic in Doctor Strange. Much of the action in this episode is good. The escape scene was enjoyable and had some stakes to it. Fans probably will get a jolt out of seeing the Iron Fist and Steel Serpent fight back to back. The dynamic also continues a longer running story which viewers need more information on. What exactly happened in K’un Lun? Why did Danny leave? How tied are his powers to that place and its protection? What were his connections to the people there? This is an interesting thread that the show should pull on more.
As far as performances go, Wai Ching Ho‘s Madame Gao continues to be a stand-out of all the Netflix characters in the MCU. While she clearly has her own criminal concerns at heart she also has her own honor code of some kind. She might manipulate Danny but she is more honest than Bakuto. There is a disdain in her voice when she thinks about Bakuto’s methods. Honest drug dealing is preferable to dishonest university administration in her mind. As twisted as those ethics are, they also tend to work for her. The worldly wisdom of Gao in conversation with the youthful naivety of Danny is a great dynamic to watch. Sadly, the other half of that is too often over-acted in this series. Jones does a wonderful job of conveying earnest kindness as Rand, but his angry face just doesn’t work. I have a lot more to say about how the show deals with emotion and control, particularly within the context of Buddhist thinking, but this review already is pretty long. We can save that conversation for another day as I don’t think the issue will resolve quickly.
Four 1940’s Fists out of Five. Further exploring the Hand and their various constituencies is interesting. The Wing twist was a bit of a surprise. It seems the episode is an important launching pad for things to come not only in this series but in The Defenders. The fight scene was enjoyable. All that said, the Meachum storyline went nowhere, and the damage to Wing’s character seems egregious and unnecessary.
- At some point is the terrarium going to start to smell with the ice cream red shirt in there? Given his propensity for killing people, why didn’t Meachum install some sort of body incinerator into his lair?
- “Oligarchies” got name dropped. The line between topical commentary and trying too hard to make topical commentary can be thin.
- Anyone else notice all the lighted “exit” signs in the guest house where Gao is held? What exactly is the deal with the location of Hand University? Are fire marshall’s inspecting their building? And why could Davos enter the compound, but not exit? And why are Danny and Davos safe once they leave the premises? Aren’t these the same Hand who chased Stick across NYC in Daredevil Season Two? The mechanics of this secret, you-can’t-leave school in the middle of the Big Apple just seemed really plot-hole filled.
- Anyone sad that the Board member who ousted the Meachums got shot? Yeah, me neither. Impressive how the writers have convinced me to cheer for the Meachum’s despite not liking the Meachums.
- I’ve often complained that the finale of Daredevil Season Two didn’t have enough ninjas. Finally, we got a hero fighting off a dozen Hand ninjas at once (!), albeit in sporty apparel.