And we continue.
I’m not saying that “Long lost rich kid comes home, returns to his company, tries to mend their greedy corporate ways” can’t be a good show. I’m merely saying it is not the show we were promised. So when half of episode five is devoted to Joy dealing with a class action suit claiming their chemical plant causes cancer, I am already a little annoyed at you, Iron Fist.
After explaining to the opposing lawyer and grieving family members that even if their chemical plant did give all of those people cancer, they didn’t break the law… okay pause button. I’m no big-city lawyer, but in a civil suit, does that matter? OJ was sued, successfully, for wrongful death despite being acquitted of those murders. If a link can be found between the plant and cancer rates, isn’t that the ballgame? Does it matter if they operated within regulations? Does anyone know? I’m really asking.
Anyway. After responding to “Your plant gave my son cancer” with “Cool story, sucks to be you, brah,” Joy asks Ward if maybe they’re the baddies in this situation. Ward takes a break from blowing up orphanages and masturbating to the carnage– that is, refusing to care that Rand Enterprises may be involved in the distribution of synthetic heroin, to say “Nah, it’s just good business.”
Right, the synthetic heroin thing. We’re introduced to The Hand’s new designer drug as three lovely ladies with rollie-sample cases visit three crime lords with their new designer drug. That these drug peddlers are being presented in the exact manner as the stereotypical “hot lady pharmaceutical rep” you’ve seen on TV is actually a little clever. They draw a direct parallel between opioid pushers and Big Pharma. Maybe a touch on the nose one episode after Danny drew a line in the sand about overcharging for pills but I’ll allow it.
Danny received a package of said faux-heroin from the Triads, as a way of explaining what The Hand’s up to. Now, flooding New York with synthetic, extra-addictive heroin certainly makes a ton more sense than whatever the Hell The Hand was up to in Daredevil, with their giant mystery hole and thinking Elektra was the key to ruling the world, but it doesn’t really sell them as this big, giant, global threat. All gangs sell drugs. Drugs are great money makers. They basically sell themselves. The Hand could be anyone at this point.
So Danny’s solution to discovering that The Hand is using his company to ship a synthetic heroin (or unbeknownst to him, but tipped to us, manufacture it) so chemically different that it’s not even illegal is to snitch on them to Ward.
I mean, one solution might have been to say “Can we tinker with the formula, make it less addictive and deadly, sell it legally and put real heroin out of business,” but Danny is still gamely trying to be in a kung fu action show, so he wants to put a stop to The Hand’s mundanely sinister scheme. He tries to explain it all to Ward, who either does not or will not follow what Danny’s trying to tell him. But then his story starts with hatchet-wielding Chinese gangsters and ends with talking about a magic dragon, so… might not be entirely on Ward that he didn’t believe Danny just then. Even in a post-Avengers world, if someone tells you that the Triads gave them heroin that proves an evil ninja cult is infiltrating your company because it has a symbol that looks like the magic dragon that made you a living weapon… your first thought is not going to be “I totes believe that and have no questions.” Yeah he was more of a dick about it than he needed to be, but that’s his defining trait.
Anyway, Danny blows off work (if that’s something you can do when you technically don’t have a job) to investigate, accidentally takes responsibility for all that cancer, then misses the board meeting where they discuss what to do about it, as he’s planned an elaborate lunch to try and talk Colleen into helping him stake out the pier, and just hangs out at her dojo until dark.
And in doing so, he meets Marvel Netflix MVP Claire Temple, who’s taking private lessons with Colleen.
Colleen seems to actively resent being part of Danny’s story. Which, sure, I get. Why would she want to be Iron Fist’s token Asian sidekick. (Also, the monks of K’un-Lun apparently taught Danny origami in addition to kung fu. The Asian representation on this show feels really… generic. Like, I’m not sure they see, comprehend, or care about differences between Japan, China, or even India.) And given that she’s repeatedly refused to take Danny’s money, him buying her building so that he can cover her rent by not charging it feels really pushy. But anyway. She gets talked into backing him up, and they eventually head to the pier for some dark sneaking around.
Before that, Joy has to back her brother’s “Don’t settle” play to the board, at the meeting Danny was supposed to be at. While she disagrees with him, and the Board have some great points, she says “Ward has never given us reason to doubt him.”
She says this not knowing that Ward has been ignoring his father’s commands, taking a bunch of pills and knocking them back with bourbon, and eyeing that heroin Danny left in his office. He’s a train wreck right now, which makes my next point even more relevant.
Danny’s not out to Iron Fist his way through the drug dealers (nope, I’m just gonna keep using it as a verb and we’re going to try to ignore its other potential meaning). He just wants to get proof of what they’re doing so that he can show it to Ward. His faith in Ward to do the right thing is, at this point, mystifying. Ward tormented him as a child, has done nothing but oppose him at every step as an adult, and almost certainly has “Kill Spider-Man’s girlfriend in front of him” somewhere in his bullet journal, but somehow Danny still thinks he’ll come around with enough evidence. Boy is he going to be disappointed when he finds out Rand Enterprises doesn’t just facilitate shipping, they manufacture this stuff.
Because there are no drugs in the crates. Just a hidden room where Danny finds the chemist who created the synthetic heroin, and his one guard, who provides our single, solitary action beat. He does put up a bit of a fight, but at this point one random flunky giving Iron Fist a run for his money just feels weird. The chemist gets stabbed in the chest in the process, and thus does Claire get full-on dragged into Danny’s mess, with an appropriate moment of “How do I keep meeting these people and getting into these things.”
And at that point we surpass the ending of Luke Cage for peak “Oh my god, just call Daredevil already.” When Claire didn’t call Daredevil to help Jessica Jones, that made sense. Because he wouldn’t have actually been any help. When she didn’t call Daredevil when Luke Cage needed both back-up and a lawyer, that was egregious. When she finds out that Danny is fighting The Hand, the ninja army that attacked her hospital and which Daredevil hates, and goes from “You’re just some rich kid, you can’t handle this” to “I trust that you and you alone, well, you and my self-defence instructor, are the only ones who can stop them” in about two minutes? That’s character-breaking bad right there. When Colleen said she’d fight with Danny, and he tried to object, Claire should have been saying “You two figure that out, I’m calling Daredevil. You know, the vigilante who fights The Hand a bunch. I have his number, he’s ten minutes from here, you know what, just gonna order him a Lyft.”
Maybe if he’d Iron Fisted something in front of her it would have made more sense, but he didn’t so it doesn’t. If you don’t want Iron Fist to meet Daredevil until The Defenders, don’t create situations where it’s the obvious answer.
But that’s not the worst part. Daredevil’s Madame Gao investigates the container Danny broke out of while the guard explains what happened.
“He punched through solid steel with his bare hands,” he says.
“His hands?” she asks. “Are you sure it wasn’t… his fists?”
The guard fails to say “Well, I literally just used the word ‘punched,’ so… can’t rule it out.”
That exchange is so bad that it would have felt more natural coming out of the bad guy from a Kickpuncher movie. Also, Madame Gao is back, and part of The Hand now, I guess, because Asians are interchangeable and all in gangs or ninja doomsday cults. Except Colleen. So far.
In which the Asian stereotypes flow strong. By which I mean we meet an Asian assassin who’s just katana-murdered a room full of Asian men and is now singing karaoke.
After some mysterious “Bowl with a stick in it” message goes out to him, a woman doing spider-science (let’s all just assume I complained about lack of Spider-Man references), and two chefs, we immediately are thrust back into being asked to care about Ward “glad the Beatles broke up” Meachum’s drug problems. Which, sorry, ain’t happening. Although I begin to suspect that Harold has not filled Ward in about all of The Hand dealings, because he seems genuinely unaware of the whole mess.
Iron Fist is becoming one of those Marvel properties that actually depends on being part of a larger universe to tell its story. Just as The Avengers needed Captain America: First Avenger to establish the Tesseract, so too does Iron Fist’s plot only make sense if you watched season two of Daredevil. All of his claims that he’s destined to fight The Hand, how he’s trained his whole life for this purpose, would feel pretty hollow if we didn’t already have some sense of who they are. Not a great sense, because their arc on Daredevil was basically word salad, but still, we know they’re more than just cutting edge opioid dealers.
Danny continues to blow off the corporate drama at Rand Enterprises, as The Hand has the chemist’s daughter as a hostage. I don’t have a huge problem with that as a plot. A slight problem, sure, because this got old when it was “Oliver blows off running Queen Consolidated to deal with Brother Blood/Slade Wilson,” but my main concern is we don’t get to blow it off too. At first Ward invites himself along on Danny’s search for the hostage, refusing to believe it’s even real and merely intending to drag Danny back to the office for a meeting about this whole “Blowing their defence against the cancer lawsuit” thing, but when they find the severed head of the guard from last week, it all gets way too real for Ward, and we end up doubling down on his drug problem. Again… I do not feel bad for him, given that his defence in the lawsuit is “Eh, so what if we did give your kid cancer, we didn’t break any laws.”
Danny receives and accepts a challenge from The Hand: beat their warriors, get the girl back, and they’ll leave his company. In theory. Which means there’s finally some actual fighting going on. Not much Iron Fisting, no, not until the very end, but he does get to take on the chefs in a blood circle he can’t leave without losing, the spider-lady on the set of a music video for an 80s power ballad, and the karaoke assassin in the Dimly Lit Room of Many Weapons.
Seriously, Marvel Netflix, let there be light already.
While Ward tries to get drugs and Colleen and Claire try to keep The Hand from reclaiming the chemist from Claire’s old hospital, Danny fights his way up the ladder while having a conversation with his old teacher. Who isn’t there. This should be the first, big “Danny Rand kicks asses and takes names” episode… well, that actually should have happened well before now, but anyway… between hallucinating his mentor and being constantly taunted for abandoning his duty to defend K’un-Lun, it kind of looks like he’s just unravelling. Gao breaks the terms of the duel, saying she’ll kill the hostage unless Danny withdraws, and as he helps the hostage out of the building, he keeps muttering to his imaginary friend about whether he should have just let her die. Which she does not find comforting.
So is he just crazy now? Is he being haunted by an imaginary disappointed sensei? This is not making him more likeable as a protagonist, and he already had work to do in that area.
“My honour forbids me” is not an easy notion to hang a relatable decision on. “I’m-a magic punch the bad guys so hard the next doomsday cult is gonna feel it” is much easier. Thankfully, they don’t dilly-dally around and went with the second choice. Mostly. This show hoards the Iron Fist effect like Legends of Tomorrow hoards Firestorm.
(They don’t use it often. That’s what that meant.)
Stuff happened and junk, I guess?
We’ve reached the halfway point. This is where network shows might be coming back from hiatus and course-correcting if something wasn’t working at the beginning. Might. Not always. Gotham, if anything, over-committed to its flaws in the second half of season one. Netflix shows don’t have that option, since the whole show is released at once.
As it turns out, the halfway point of a Marvel Netflix show is when they start to hit pacing issues.
Iron Fist is no different. Which is problematic, because it already had pacing problems. As a result, this one was just, I dunno, there. It was on, things happened, a lot of them were hard to see because Marvel Netflix is allergic to lighting scenes properly. I didn’t like any of it, I didn’t hate any of it, it just… happened.
Frankly the opening of the episode sums it up, as Colleen patches Danny up from his duel against the Hand thugs, and they eventually have vanilla, passionless sex. They kiss a little, stop, stare at each other for a second, rinse, repeat… it’s generally dull and then it’s over.
What else… I literally just watched this one and it’s already evaporating from my mind… um… right. Danny tries to find out what the connection is between Madame Gao and his father, while also being pressured to apologize to the board for screwing up that cancer lawsuit. These things are complicated when Gao turns up in his office. Which is easy to do, because 1) he announces his real name to all of his enemies, wear a goddamn MASK, Danny, and 2) turns out she works downstairs on the 13th floor, where she runs The Hand’s drug trade, and has for some time. Danny steals an iPad with their entire distribution network, and takes it to Harold…
Blah blah asks the Hatchett Triad for help, yadda yadda worst lit scene so far, blabbity blabbity Gao has gotten the formula and taken it to the Chinese city the Rands were headed to when their plane crashed, big emotion or whatever, I just don’t… I can’t…
Other developments. Danny also tanks his apology, by instead calling Karen Page (who is somehow still a reporter despite spending months on a story and eventually turning in a junior high essay instead) and telling her that they were closing the cancer-causing plant but not firing anyone. The board doesn’t care for being stuck with this plan, despite his claims that it’s the right thing to do, and ousts Danny, Joy, and even Ward, who wasn’t even at that meeting. But maybe they noticed his massive drug problem. Or were looking for an excuse to get rid of him, since one look at his eyes and you know he’s thought about how to properly dismember a prostitute.
Which… fine. This may as well happen. It happened with both TV and comic book Oliver Queen: the story circles around “He’s going to lose the company” for so long that you just want it over with. Also… Danny wasn’t CEO. He had a Board seat as a courtesy, and used it to force some unprofitable moves, and the company’s run by the drug-dealing branch of a ninja doomsday cult, so they probably weren’t going to be on side with his more responsible vision.
Sad fact is the ninja doomsday cult part is largely superfluous from what we know about corporations.
Probable Holocaust denier and definite Jack the Ripper suspect Ward doesn’t know he’s fired yet, though. He was busy. See, at the top of the episode, his father had to kill some Hand thugs when they caught him conspiring with the Iron Fist, who he’d neglected to tell them he knew. So he called in Ward to help dispose of the bodies, which helped push a rapidly disintegrating Ward to the edge. And when Harold takes back all the money Ward’s been embezzling all these years, he snaps and kills his father.
And… sure. Why not. I’m honestly not sure where Harold’s plot was even supposed to be going. All of the Meachum stuff just feels like filler. And needing filler to pad out a man’s quest to bring down a ninja doomsday cult with his magic kung fu is not a great sign of your storytelling abilities, guys.
There’s six left. I think I can make it to the end. Probably. Won’t be easy, but I’ll give it a go. Maybe one of the plots will find second gear.