Iron Fist‘s reception so far has been overwhelmingly negative. General complaints include weak action, slow pace, and even the race of the actor portraying Daniel Rand (Iron Fist’s secret identity). While fans have shown their support of the show, it is always good to learn from criticisms to allow a show to evolve in the second season. Someone may declare it the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to its low ratings on RottenTomatoes and Metacritic, but that does not mean there is no potential that can be uncovered. If there is anything Marvel has proven, it is their ability to evolve and adapt, which is why a second season might be able to remedy some major issues that were pointed out for the first season. Here is a pitch for what direction the show can take moving forward to not only evolve as a show but also work on some criticism points that were pointed out.
A warning before you continue reading on. The next points will feature heavy spoilers from the end of Iron Fist. Continue reading at your own risk!
A Story Beyond New York City
The first few seasons building up to The Defenders were hampered by the fact that they center around New York City. It makes sense as all four characters spend most of their time in this city. Most notably, this is Danny Rand’s hometown with the Rand Corporation tower like a monolith in the middle of the city. It makes sense that in his first season he wants to find his place back home considering that his family’s death left behind a legacy he wanted to reclaim. The grounded NYC probably takes Iron Fist away from the element most people know him for, the more mystical aspects that tie him to K’un-Lun. This became a major factor while the show is considered boring, as it focuses more on a corporate story rather than the mystical aspect.
The first season aims at a more grounded origin for Danny Rand. It is less a story about Iron Fist, but more a personal fish-out-of-water story for the man known as Danny Rand. He left behind his responsibilities, as he is unsure which of his personal ties, Rand Corps. or K’un-Lun, are more important to him. This direction allows for a follow-up season to pull him straight back to a responsibility he left behind, as another was fulfilled. He is declared the true enemy of the Hand, and that story will resolve in The Defenders probably. The mystic city is not quite done with him, as he has many responsibilities that force his hand to leave a city behind. Yet, at the end of the first season and leading into the second season, Danny does try to return and ends up having to face the consequences of his desertion. K’un Lun has vanished and he is left behind without any answers. After the end of The Defenders he suddenly finds himself confronted by a mysterious figure that reveals to him more about what he truly has become a part of.
Tournament Among Tournaments
This mysterious figure informs him that K’un Lun is still out there, and hints at his role as the Iron Fist is more than just the enemy of Hand and protector of K’un Lun. As he slowly uncovers more about the history of his lineage, he is suddenly called in for a tournament that he as the sworn protector must participate in. He uncovers the corruption he had seen at home, and why his hometown has just suddenly gone and vanished. It also forces multiple characters to collect at the tournament, maybe the Hand will throw in some competitors themselves, which would force some to return. It also could be used to introduce an important character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi, as one of the strongest fighters Danny will have to face. Even fighters like the drunken Zhou Cheng or the Bride of Nine Spiders.
The tournament effectively allows for a much stronger pacing, as each episode can be focused around build up towards an important fight. Instead of dragging out politics, we can see Danny training and learning how he could potentially defeat his opponent. It also gets rid of the issue that there is a lack of fights in early episodes, as the entire point of the show is about these confrontations. Allowing the opponents to work off of each other building up to their inevitable clash. Also, Kung Fu and Martial Arts are heavily about strategy rather than just pure fighting, something that fits more to a character like Daredevil. It is about slowly figuring your enemy, which forces directors to give time and space to fights. There is a real challenge while fighters measure out each other over the course of the fight. We see Danny actually strategize and focus on his own actions. It also gives side-characters more development by working off of Danny, especially allowing people to evolve over the course of a fight. This isn’t just storytelling through dialogue but through actions and confrontation. He is not the core focus of the show anymore, as it becomes more an ensemble. This becomes even more important if you consider the theme this story can hold.
A Theme of Legacy
Every good story needs a theme, and nothing works better than an arc about legacy. Danny meets a man whose title was passed on to him and learns about the long history the Iron Fist’s have left behind. In the tournament, he uncovers the legacies of these mystic cities and their role in the world at large. The first season focused heavily on the legacy of Rand Corporation, but there is more to this theme within the general franchise. It can build upon each character by giving them intervening stories and maybe highlighting that Iron Fist is not just Danny Rand, but a title that imparts the bearer with strength and heavy burden. We received a small glimpse of an Iron Fist from World War Two, who had much more control over the powers that Danny is still learning to control. Using the powers that came before him, he uncovers the truth of his title.
Ed Brubacker and Matt Fraction created one of the most iconic Iron Fist stories and it involved a tournament between the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. We got many glimpses of that storyline in the series, such as even Bride of the Nine Spiders appearing in the show. Danny Rand is trying to enjoy his life back at home after fulfilling what he believed to be his purpose until he meets the man who held his title before him, Orson Randall, the man he saw in a video. The curse of the Iron Fist symbol gives him control over his Chi but also prolongs his life as long he is required. Being that he fled to help during the war, he was ousted by K’un Lun and scrapped from their history. Through that, Danny became the first outsider to hold the name, but only to those that don’t know the truth. This also forces Danny to look deeper into the history, what else has been kept a secret.
This element enforces one of the most important characters in the franchise, Davos. We have met him in the first season, seeing how much he struggled with how he was deserted by his friend after having to yield the position to him. He once wanted to become the Iron Fist, and his tale is much more intertwined with the title than anyone else. Seeing his story unfold will force Danny to confront something he never wanted to, the legacy he will leave behind. It is an important element in Eastern and Western culture, showing the stark differences and similarities could build bridges between them. Enforce their meaning through very distinct views that could also show the darker sides that such a weight can carry.
The Many Iron Fists
Another great element of this theme is that the title does not have to change. It is a show about Iron Fist, not just Rand but rather the many people that held the title. Highlighting the diversity of the various Iron Fists could give a much stronger look into what it means. The title stays the same, but the character is expanded beyond just one single man. Highlighting the weight Danny carries on his shoulders, but also why this title is passed around. It would be nice to see the great dragon Shao-Lao in a creative way that highlights his role in passing this title on. Maybe we could see the current Iron Fist see the egg of the dragon preparing himself for whoever would follow in his own footsteps at some point. Forcing Danny to accept his own mortality and the legacy he could leave behind while holding that very symbol.
From a production side, it would be interesting for Netflix expand their approach to shows. Imagine not just the typical Iron Fist episodes, but also short mini-episodes in-between that gives us a creative look at characters that once held the title themselves. Maybe use animation similar to that what was used in the opening sequence of Kung Fu Panda 2, or just get creative with it depending on what character’s past is being explored. Short breaks in-between the action that tie into the overall narrative. They offer something interesting for fans of the comics, or those interested in the history that is Iron Fist. Visual updates also allow the great dragon to appear without having to animate him and be wary of the budget involved with that. It also allows Netflix to get more creative with their content, and how they present it. It would allow this show to be more than just “another entry” in the Netflix line-up, but allow it to stand out through a unique take on binge watching shows.
The Meaning of Iron Fist
The second season might try to move away from a singular character like the shows have up until now. It doesn’t even need to change its name, as Iron Fist is a title held by many and sought after by many more. The controversy surrounding Danny Rand being white could be used as a plot line to further showcase his imperfections. Davos, or the Steel Serpent, hates the fact that an outlander took over a role that he believes is rightfully his. This is not much different than the social commentary this show has received, and Davos might be the character to highlight people’s issues. Turning him into a rival rather than a pure antagonist highlighted the issue that these are two very different world views colliding. We got a glimpse of this in the first season as Davos was annoyed that the first outsider to get the title, a man he respected just left them behind. It isn’t to create a new debate, but simply highlight how views, or ideologies can clash. Two characters representing rather strong views give the show an impactful message that is risqué, but could lend itself to developing both of them more effectively and confront a controversy through the story. Naturally, this is sensitive aspect that needs to be handled carefully, but if done right may give the show more importance from a social aspect.
For this to work, Danny needs to be at his lowest point. While in the comics he loses the first fight quite fast, using each episode to focus on a battle would allow us to learn about the characters, force Danny to accept his true place among them and the role he carries. Fighting his way through the tournament, we get to see him truly interact with people from the other hidden cities, build friendships and rivalries. He becomes a character who knows he is just one of many. To truly understand what it means, he needs to know the history and learn from it, as well as those surrounding him. K’un Lun is just one of seven major cities that hold a history that goes beyond our understanding. Being a cog in a much bigger machine also carries over into an overarching plot that this season could follow.
Going back to Brubaker and Fraction’s storyline, the overarching plot was about the disappearance of K’un Lun and how the important characters from there play into the tournament. A corruption has infected the sacred monasteries that force their hand to intersect into the tournament. Fighting the evil while it is distracted. Keeping this plot line as the main storyline could potentially allow to audiences learn more about these strange mystic cities. We learn specific main players involved with the infiltration and could potentially have some stark twists and turns that keep it effectively flowing. Making this aspect more interesting would be the fact that Danny is not directly involved. He plays an important part by participating in the tournament, but his story moves away from him being just a saviour, but rather a participant who suddenly finds himself in a much bigger plot without realizing it. This would fit with his naive nature and stays true to his depiction as a more optimistic person confronted by reality.
Davos is the biggest threat they face but has nothing to do with the main plot line either. He is simply there for his own personal grudge, and his desire to destroy Danny for his portrayal. To do this he made a deal that cursed him to becoming the Steel Serpent, but a price that he is willing to pay to make his point. Both main characters’ story is only passively influencing the main one. Danny having no idea what is happening around him, as his naive nature simply makes him believe that everything is fine, he unknowingly plays a role in everything. His battle against the Steel Serpent is about their personal grudge and their legacies, while K’un Lun battles for the legacy of its own heritage. Both main players have a personal story with a bigger world changing around them. It would establish two arcs that both work with the overarching theme and commentary, while also giving us a deeper look into the characters.
In the end, we get a strong duality between Davos and Danny. K’un Lun and the history of the Iron Fist is explored in much more detail. We get a better-paced show filled to the brim with exciting action sequences thanks to the tournament-bracket style storytelling; a cast of characters that will be inevitably diverse; see Danny face tremendous tribulations while discovering a deeper sense of character within himself. It also allows a more complex exploration of culture as an aspect that defines us which would give the show the cultural relevancy the first season did not have. We learn from our mistakes, and Marvel is no exception to this. There is potential in this show, and in an Iron Fist second season, we have many new things to explore.