I have talked in the past about one of the primary divides between Marvel Netflix and the DCW/Flarrow-verse… the DCW-verse (post-Flash) embraces all things comic booky, like superpowers and time travel and alternate Earths and rampaging man-sharks. Meanwhile, Marvel Netflix runs as far from that as they can, working to be as grounded and realistic as shows about bulletproof black men or super-strong PIs fighting a mind-controlling psychopath can be. They’re so averse to seeming comic booky that their every Easter egg is delivered with a grimace from the characters, and people talk about “the incredible green guy” like they’ll get sued if they say “Hulk.”
In the past, I haven’t placed value judgements on either approach, understanding that superstrong hyperintelligent telepathic gorillas might not be everyone’s particular taste in whiskey. But in this case, I’m doing it.
If you don’t want your show to be too “comic booky,” maybe you shouldn’t be doing a show about a magic kung fu master fighting a ninja cult.
This is comic book Iron Fist.
He is a full-fledged superhero with a costume and, this is important, a mask. TV Iron Fist is that guy from college who got super into ultimate frisbee, smoked a ton of weed, did a semester abroad, and won’t stop talking about how it “changed his life.”
Arrow did the “I must save my company, but also I must save my city” plotline back in season two, but they did it better, as Oliver Queen actually cared enough about his company that it didn’t take him two episodes to find out they’d given him the boot, and had two identities he needed to juggle, one of which he tried to keep secret from his enemies. Danny Rand, meanwhile, strolls around his office building saying “Hey, anyone know anything about the evil ninja cult that’s using us to sell heroin?” and expecting to be taken seriously. He’s also meeting up with said evil ninjas, maskless, and saying “Hey there, I’m Danny Rand, yes, the one from the news, I’m also the Iron Fist, here to destroy you, and here’s my current address,” and then acting surprised that Madame Gao starts threatening his friends.
I know secret identities haven’t been Marvel Studios’ thing since Tony Stark ended his first movie by announcing his identity to the press. I know that they’re so averse to masks and secret identities and codenames as a concept that Sam Wilson has been in four movies but has been called “Falcon” exactly once. But it’s time they got over it. Danny Rand not even considering having a secret identity, then being upset that his friends are in danger because of him, just makes him look like an idiot.
You’re adapting comic books. Stop being ashamed of that and learn the tropes.
Anyway. On to the back six, which even on better shows have sometimes felt like a long road to the conclusion.
Our second way in which not being comic-booky is actively making this show worse: on a better comic book show, Ward “donkey punches are too vanilla” Meachum would be riding an experimental rocket sled and hurling around pumpkin bombs by now. Instead, a ragged-looking Ward comes to his father’s penthouse with the necessary equipment to cover up his patricide, and when he finds Danny there, acts surprised that his father is apparently dead, and not only lets Danny take the blame (or rather, take the blame for his theory that The Hand did it), but says everything he can to make it worse and drive Danny away.
And while he does have a point that his life has become increasingly worse since Danny showed up, it is really just his lifetime of non-stop assholery coming back to bite him. But we can’t expect a man who, in the words of John Stewart, survives on an IV drip of angel blood and panda tears to be self-aware enough to see that.
But let’s stop piling on human red flag Ward for the time being, and start piling on walking bad choice Danny Rand. His approaches to every problem are the solutions of a child. He tries to push around Rand Enterprises with all the understanding of stock price and corporate procedures that a tenth-grade education and 15 years of kung fu training can provide. Selling medicine at cost? Not so terrible, no. Closing a chemical plant without firing anyone? I’m as liberal as they come, pro-environment and anti-corporate, but even I know that’s beyond impractical. It’s more of a childish, simplistic pipe dream than Arrow’s recent, laughably vague, “Common sense gun control that respects ownership and safety” cop-out non-answer.
And as for fighting The Hand… even Ward is poking holes in his strategy. Ward, who is spiralling into some sort of blend of Lady Macbeth and the dude from The Telltale Heart, sounds more together and responsible than Danny when he asks why Danny thought an international criminal empire could be brought down by taking out one drug lab, or in Ward’s words, “breaking a few test tubes.” Danny sees his point, but when he meets up with Colleen and Claire, his new plan isn’t better… go to China, find Gao, and… grab her or something. He hasn’t really figured out his endgame, and Claire is fast to call him on every stupid call he’s making. Still, she and Colleen both insist on going to China with him, despite his lacking even 12% of a plan.
Claire doesn’t call Daredevil. Claire will not call Daredevil. I’ll stop complaining about it, but just know that I remain very, very cross about it. How about this… every time I get angry about Claire not calling Daredevil, I’ll just post a picture of a corgi.
Before we cut to them on the flight, we check back in with the Meachum siblings. Ward wants to sign the severance agreement and be done with Rand Enterprises (presumably to focus on his ongoing nervous breakdown), Joy wants to fight to stay in control… or so she tells us in a speech that’s so ham-fisted it’s not allowed within ten miles of a synagogue. There’s… there aren’t words. That speech was written an hour before they shot and everyone involved said “Eh, it’s fine, just shoot the stupid thing.”
Away from the corporate filler plot with no compelling reason to exist, and onto the plane, where Danny understandably freaks out about turbulence. Claire questions Danny about his and Colleen’s relationship, sensing that last episode they looked deeply into each other’s eyes and thought “Eh, this might as well happen,” before having the kind of sex movie characters have to indicate their lives are in a rut. This devolves into an argument over the ethics of killing: Claire’s “murder is always wrong” vs Colleen’s “Be less naive, bitch.” Well, that’s the gist of it. One turbulence-induced panic attack/flashback later, the trio is in a part of China that looks just like industrial New York.
Joy and Ward– I don’t care I don’t care I DON’T CARE these two are dead air when Danny’s not around… okay. Deep breaths. That’s only mostly true. Like, 80%. Joy wants to blackmail the board, Ward almost tells her about how their father has been dead for way less time than she thinks, but one more Lady M blood vision and he runs off shouting hurtful, asshole things. Classic Ward exit.
In China, we get our best fight yet, thanks not to Danny but to his drunken-master opponent, a Hand guard who sounds like he’s in a revival of Oliver Twist. “Cor blimey, I’m a servant of The ‘And, innit?” But drunk as he may be, he gives Danny a good working over before Danny spontaneously goes into a rage and beats him half to death.
Seriously, Danny’s inept as a hero and unravelling as a person almost as fast as Ward. Our protagonist, ladies and gents.
In the end he swallows his “She killed my parents” rage and takes Gao prisoner, with no legal status to do so, no plan, the tactics of an unbalanced four-year-old, and a big, fat, “fuck you” waiting for him at Rand Enterprises. (He values that place so much he hasn’t even noticed they kicked him off the board yet.) This should go great. This will all be fine. Nevermind the fact that when the villain is captured this far before the end it always, always blows up in the hero’s face.
Flash and Harrison Wells had a similar kill/don’t kill argument about Grodd a few weeks back. It worked much better than this one. Maybe because Claire’s “Killing is wrong” argument falls slightly flat when you consider that the rest of The Defenders franchise is watering it down to “Killing is wrong… unless it’s Kilgrave. Or the head of The Hand. Or if it’s Elektra doing it next to you. Or if Frank Castle’s doing it to someone you either really hate, or someone who’s Asian. Or if it’s Frank Castle doing it as the star of his own show in a year or two.” Throw in The Avengers and it’s exceptions for… everyone. Just everyone. The Avengers kill constantly.
Basically, Claire advocating against killing the bad guy feels hollow when Marvel Studios decided “Nah, killing is fine” over five years ago, and only one out of four Defenders-based seasons has successfully argued otherwise. I don’t think Iron Fist sparing Gao is going to put the genie back in that bottle.
(Sure, Oliver Queen has dropped his share of bodies, but at least they started giving him crap about that almost right away. Hell, the fifth season is about the damage his murder-happy past is causing.)
Also, half-hearted points for connecting to the other Defenders this episode. The character choice not to even try to involve New York’s leading Hand-fighting vigilante remains breathtakingly stupid, but Claire has been reading and re-reading a letter that’s pretty clearly from Luke Cage, and it’s heavily implied that Joy got her blackmail material from Jessica Jones.
Maybe now’s a good time to talk about what a failure Danny Rand has been as a hero and a protagonist. Or rather, elaborate. I know I just covered this but there’s more. The Hand have been quick to point out that the job of the Iron Fist is to defend K’un-Lun, which is easier to do when you’re actually in it. Danny fought to earn the position, then once he had it, abandoned his post to go back home. Sure, he is actually fighting K’un-Lun’s sworn enemy, but let’s not pretend he left the magical Brigadooning monastery to hunt The Hand down. He left for selfish reasons then just happened to trip over them in the process. That he is even vaguely fulfilling his duties as Iron Fist is merely blind, stinking, doodah luck.
And now we join him having renditioned Gao to New York with amazing ease (rich white guys aren’t known for being held up by customs, I guess), and tied her to a chair in Colleen’s dojo (which she meekly protests, “meekly protesting” being the sum total of her agency in this scene) so that he can interrogate her about his parents’ deaths. Gao, Colleen, and Claire all raise two very valid questions: 1) what exactly is his plan to make her talk, and 2) is there even a point. What will these answers accomplish. Danny does not have compelling answers to these questions, because that would involve Danny having had a single itty-bitty clue about anything he’s done so far. He doesn’t know how to make Gao talk (Claire suggests he steal truth serum from Rand HQ, because sure, they obviously have that lying around), he can’t tell us why this is so important right now, and when he bumps into Joy on the way he’s stunned to hear they’ve been ousted. He did precisely two things at Rand other than hunt evil ninjas, neither was popular, both were unprofitable, and yet he’s mystified as to how this happened.
He’s a giant bag of suck at this point. It’s episode nine. It’s past time for him to have done something, anything, to prove his worth as the central character of this show.
I’ve talked about Harold Meachum having “faked his death.” This is not 100% accurate. He did die, but made an arrangement to have The Hand bring him back, which is why he was under their thumb. I bring this up now because when The Hand resurrects you, afterwards you don’t die easily. As such, Harold is back among the living, but he ain’t quite right in the head. Sure he’s eager to make amends with Ward, but he’s also gotten a little crazier and murderier than we left him, as his faithful assistant Kyle finds out when he turns down on offer of fancy ice cream. Ward’s at his least dickish this episode (though still on the drugs), but Harold is becoming a problem. If this means Harold Meachum has a concrete role in the end of the season, I’m for it.
After Danny breaks into Rand HQ to steal drugs (again… our hero), things go pear-shaped at the dojo. Colleen’s been poisoned, Gao gets into just everyone’s heads, and some sort of military team breaks into the dojo to claim Gao. Guess The Hand is getting over ninjas. Danny, poisoned Colleen, and Claire fight off the soldiers, and Colleen’s sensei Bakuto shows up.
We’ve seen him once before. I didn’t mention him because he made very little impression. I can’t even remember what he and Colleen discussed. Turns out he knows more about Iron Fistery than Danny does. Guess Danny had a couple of lessons left when he decided to swan off and reclaim his company instead of doing his job.
So Danny happened to bump into someone in episode one whose sensei happens to be an expert in K’un-Lun and reveals this exactly when it’s most needed in episode nine. As coincidences go, this one is extremely weak from a narrative perspective. If Claire had called Matt Murdock–
–and Matt had called Stick and Stick had known enough about Iron Fisticuffs to help them from here, that makes sense, it builds the world, it gets us closer to Defenders. Colleen’s sensei, who we met precisely once, happening to be the exact expert they need? That’s lazy writing.
Anyway, Danny heals Colleen but is burnt out, barely able to stand, let alone Iron Fist. Claire is left alone…
…while Colleen and Bakuto drive off with Danny, and Bakuto’s people (who I guess he has?) take Gao.
And Ward gets arrested for having drugs in his car, right after meeting with the Triads to find out if his dad can be killed, and learning Harold will probably try to kill either Ward or Joy. Either Ward is right, and Harold planted actual heroin in the car, or the writers already forgot that the synthetic heroin is so chemically removed from the real stuff it’s not even illegal. Let’s be charitable and assume it’s the first thing. This paves the way for Harold to let Joy into his secret penthouse when she comes looking for answers. It is… an awkward reunion.
Also there’s a creepy guy stalking around Rand Enterprises and the dojo, clearly looking for Danny, who can make actually dangerous origami throwing stars out of tin foil. More on him next episode, but I want to flag something. We know he’s after Danny because he’s giving the side-eye to an issue of Forbes with Danny on the cover.
Danny has been back at Rand for a week and a half. And he has been in the office for maybe 12 minutes. When did he do a photoshoot for Forbes? At what point did Forbes decide this was worth a story, send a reporter to get said story, arrange a photoshoot with Danny, and make it to print? When he was hanging around Colleen’s dojo waiting for it to be dark enough to raid the pier? While he was recruiting the Triads to bust up a drug lab? Were they on the plane while he was extrodinarliy renditioning Gao? It makes no sense. Between this and Daredevil’s second season covering half a year despite only having three weeks of plot, tops, it’s like Marvel Netflix writers don’t know how time works on top of not knowing how big Manhattan is.
God damn this show is stupid.
Double digits. Home stretch. I can make it. I can do this. Deep breaths.
I’ve often said that when your characters are complaining about your plot holes, that’s not a great sign. Keep that in mind when I say that Danny pointing out that Colleen didn’t mention Bakuto for like seven episodes doesn’t make up for we, the audience, being blindsided by his arrival.
And it gets worse.
Turns out that Bakuto is also part of The Hand, just a different branch than Gao (who I guess is also in a different branch than Daredevil’s Nobu?). And Colleen has known the whole time, acting as a sleeper agent working Danny (well, it’s unclear when that started, so the ridiculous coincidence complaint may hold up). So in episode ten, Colleen and Bakuto become the very worst parts of Daredevil (Elektra goes from badass female character to pawn with no agency torn between the male hero and the male villain) and Luke Cage (Diamondback, ie. sudden betrayal from a supposedly important character who literally just showed up out of nowhere with no context).
Come on, Iron Fist, if you’re going to steal from your siblings, steal the good stuff.
There’s a very half-hearted attempt to convince Danny that these are the good Hand soldiers, as opposed to the bad ones that Gao was leading (no mention of Nobu but I’m past expecting it). He doesn’t buy it, and we who’ve known them as an evil ninja death cult since Daredevil last year certainly don’t buy it. So it only exists to accelerate Colleen’s slide into simpering pawn, a fraction of what her character once was.
Danny gets some help escaping from the guy who was stalking him last episode, who bursts to his aid, saying (accurately) “You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” It turns out to be Danny’s best pal from K’un-Lun, Davos. He’s come up a couple of times in Danny’s stories, which keeps him from being a second full-on Diamondback. The second thing that could do that is having him not betray Danny but I think we all know that’s too much to ask. He tells a wounded Danny that since he’s made zero progress against The Hand, can’t summon the Iron Fist (because he’s angry and confused and whatnot and it’s messing with his Chi), and has left an exposed K’un-Lun defenceless (save for its population of exclusively warrior monks), he is a complete and utter failure. He’s 100% correct in this, and it’s hard to react the way I think they want me to, since Danny hasn’t done one thing vaguely competently in ten episodes, so I’m just happy he’s getting called out on it.
He’s bad at being the Iron Fist, he’s bad at being the protagonist of a TV show, he should not have either job. There are three episodes left to convince me otherwise. I am not optimistic.
Oh, right, also Harold kills the board member who hates Danny and the Meachums, and makes it look like suicide (despite the wound screaming “homicide” to me), letting Joy (somehow) talk the remaining board members into reinstating her and Ward… and accidentally Danny as well. Don’t think she intended that. Harold sneaks out of admitting his role in the board member’s death (she only asks if he “had him killed,” not “did you kill him”), and tells joy they’re gonna have to go after Bakuto. Sure, why not.
Frankly, this “rival Hand” business only makes it harder to get a grip on who The Hand are, what they want, and why they do anything they do. And given they’re being set up as the main villains of The Defenders, that’s a problem.
Final note… a video Bakuto has shows that the Iron Fist of 1948 knew to wear a mask. I guess Danny skipped that part of his training as well. God this sack of patchouli is an idiot. the trick isn’t going to be having Davos decide Danny shouldn’t be the Iron Fist, the trick is going to be finding literally any way to make us think he’s wrong.
Three more. How much worse can it get? Guess we’ll find out.
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“You’re adapting comic books. Stop being ashamed of that and learn the tropes.”