And at last, we enter endgame.
I’ll take back a brewing accusation about Davos: he is not the new Diamondback. The big problem with Diamondback in Luke Cage was that while Diamondback the arms dealer had been foreshadowed, Willis Stryker, Luke’s childhood best friend/secret half brother/Spectre-style architect of all of his pain, had not. This supposed key figure to Luke’s backstory leapt up to shout “It was me all along!” out of absolutely nowhere, and seized the third-act reins from better, more compelling villains.
And that ain’t Davos. First of all, Davos has been teased throughout the season. He’s a key character in Danny’s happier K’un-Lun memories. And second, he’s the culmination of something that’s been brewing since Danny’s duel with Gao’s quartet of assassins.
That being, the Iron Fist has abandoned his post.
Davos is here to represent the fact that Danny is supposed to be guarding the entrance to K’un-Lun. It’s a dull and unsatisfying job, since for 15 years at a time there’s no way in, so it’s a lot of standing next to a pile of rocks near a sort of convincing backdrop (the brief glimpses we get of K’un-Lun this episode tell a story about why the show has taken a tell-don’t-show approach to Danny’s time there), but that doesn’t change the fact that he knew what the job was, went after it, and when it wasn’t super-satisfying he ran away the second that became possible.
Davos, who also trained his whole life to be the Iron Fist, is absolutely justified in being pissed off that the guy who beat him to it has gone AWOL.
I mean, we’re not supposed to think he should go guard a pass, we’re supposed to think his greater destiny is protecting New York and maybe being best pals with Luke Cage, but they are not making a case for this so far. Danny Rand barely seems qualified to guard a 7-11 in a nice neighbourhood, let alone a city. Or even whatever the people who have Daredevil saying “I just want to make my city a better place” and then keep him squared away in a two-square kilometre neighbourhood think a city is.
Now Bakuto, he’s more of a Diamondback. We had a perfectly serviceable villain in Gao and her Hand faction, then in the third act Bakuto pops up with virtually no set-up and steals the whole A-plot. We get three whole episodes to try to wrap our heads around what this Hand faction is and what they want, and this was already confusing enough when the original Hand story in Daredevil still makes no sense at all.
If The Hand are going to be the villains in The Defenders, the writers had better be putting some work into figuring out what the hell they even are or why they do anything they do.
Plus, we can add to the list of stolen plot points. They stole “ruin Elektra” from Daredevil, stole “last second villain with no context” from Luke Cage, and “No, that was a different Hydra” from Agents of SHIELD. Seriously now. Steal a plot that worked if you must steal at all.
Episode eleven in a nutshell… after Claire patches up Danny and has words with Colleen about how The Hand were a bag of dicks during Daredevil so why does she think they’re so great, Danny and Davos meet up with Joy and Harold Meachum, who have a plan… since Gao and now Davos haved been laundering all their money through Rand Enterprises, Joy can steal everything back and shut all of their accounts. Their money gone, Bakuto will come looking for it, at which point Danny and Davos will off him.
Joy does not love this plan. Neither the murdering nor her father’s newfound enthusiasm for murdering. Joy would have been happier turning Bakuto over to the SEC and being done with it. But she goes along with the plan because her twice-resurrected father hasn’t been taking “No” very well.
Colleen chooses not to give up Danny’s location to Bakuto, which gets he scooped up by her Hand-loyalist students when she tries to get Danny some anti-biotics. Bakuto expresses disappointment in her choices and commands her students to steal all of her blood. For whatever it is The Hand does with all that blood they steal. Resurrect Elektra to be their secret weapon or whatever, who the hell knows. Colleen escapes just in time to run past Danny so that he can see her and blow the whole “Stake out the compound until Bakuto shows up” plan, because the episode wouldn’t be complete if Danny didn’t screw something up.
Here’s what’s interesting.
This is the first time that we’ve really looked at why Danny is so catastrophically flawed as a hero and as a person. Why he’s dangerously impulsive, quick to anger, and sometimes flies off the handle faster than Wilson Fisk if you interrupt his dinner date. Or for anyone who somehow didn’t watch Daredevil but is still reading this, faster than Donald Trump if you block his Muslim ban. Why every time he remembers his past he grips his head like he’s having a grand mal ice cream headache, something most people who aren’t Rain Man aren’t known for doing.
As Claire learns from Davos, the monks of K’un-Lun are trained to repress all emotion. To take any feelings (like, say, Davos’ anger over Danny being chosen over him as Iron Fist and then bolting) and bury them deep down. Maybe in the ancient times this seemed like a good idea, but… Danny was 10 years old when his plane crashed and he watched his parents die, only to be taken to a monastery where his life involved being beaten with sticks by his new guardians. Danny is sitting on a volcano of trauma and suppressed rage that the monks of K’un-Lun have not only not given him the tools to process, they’ve pushed him farther from processing than you could get with a map and a mission statement. No wonder he’s spent the last few episodes on the verge of a psychotic episode. No wonder he’s so fixated on “avenge my parents” that the idea now ends “by wiping The Hand from the Earth.”
It’s an interesting revelation, and it explains a few things. However, like Bakuto, it is staggeringly late to the party. Danny’s been screwing up too long and too often for this to turn the tide here, right before the end.
(You’d think learning to express and release his emotions is what lets him re-access and properly wield the Iron Fist. Nope. He just, I don’t know, tries harder or something.)
Right off the bat things feel repetitive. Like episode two, someone is strapped to a bed in the exact same mental hospital (with, according to last episode, the exact same doctor, who seems awfully blasé about his last patient punching through a wall and leaving) with a story too crazy to be believed. But this time it’s Ward (turnabout being fair play), and his extreme withdrawal from the synth-heroin manages to make “My father isn’t really dead” seem even crazier than “A literal dragon gave me super powers.”
(I mean it’s post-Avengers New York, super powers are probably way more common than fathers coming back to life, but the dragon part did not help.)
(And no I will not call it post-“Incident,” that is an awful name for the Battle of New York and you cannot convince me Americans would use it. The BBC, sure, but not New Yorkers.)
Bakuto recruits Ward to kill Harold and trap Danny, and we cut to Danny, Davos, and Colleen, who have the exact same “She’s Hand, we can’t trust her” conversation that’s been happening for two episodes, and frankly even the cast seem to be getting bored of it. The whole “Take Bakuto’s money to draw him out” plan falls apart immediately, but not simply because Danny spotted Colleen and lost focus. No, Bakuto was already springing Ward “Remember when I was the biggest asshole on this show” Meachum from the asylum by then. It’s simply that the good guys are bad at everything and the bad guys can magically appear anywhere and do anything they need to.
In other words I’m not super impressed with how the episode is starting. Ward tries to get Joy away from their father, but even without withdrawal symptoms, Ward is incapable of acting like a calm, rational, non-garbage person, so the murder-happy lich father seems like the winning side all the way until Ward pulls a gun. Which is when Bakuto shows up, like Ward arranged, but before Joy is clear, which wasn’t the deal.
Ward’s deal with Bakuto falls apart immediately, as anyone but Ward could have predicted, and soon Danny’s turning himself in to Bakuto to save Joy and Harold’s lives. You know, my second least favourite plot device from last season. The hostage scenes were a little tiresome, because Bakuto is not pulling off “smug” the way a Tom Hiddleston or Neal McDonough would, and that’s all he’s being given to play with, but Harold spending what he thought were his last moments telling Ward he’s a piece of shit and complete disappointment were satisfying. Fortunately, Colleen and Davos ain’t having with this “surrender to Bakuto” nonsense, and come for the rescue the second everyone’s out in the open. Also Danny managed three whole seconds of Iron Fisting, enough to escape handcuffs then go limp trying to hit Bakuto. Insert fail trumpet.
We now hit a kind of problematically stupid sequence. Colleen fights and defeats Bakuto in a suitably over-dramatic rain-soaked duel, then immediately jumps on board with Claire’s “killing is wrong” philosophy and wants to turn Bakuto over to the cops.
There’s a scene in one of the Assassin’s Creed games, where after your epic boss fight against your greatest enemy, the man who had half your family killed, then installed himself as Pope, Ezio Auditore suddenly decides that he’s done with killing (he’s not, he has two more games left). Which… I’m not saying I don’t see his point, but… you have to kill like a dozen guards just to get to this fight. They are all still dead. Maybe this isn’t the time to rethink killing. Maybe that was several dead bodies ago.
I bring this up because Bakuto had a half-dozen bodyguards, and most of them are dead now. Sure, most of that was Davos, but Colleen came at them with a sword, her hands are not clean.
Fortunately for anyone who’s sick of Bakuto’s smug face, Davos doesn’t pick up what Danny and Colleen are putting down, and manages to casually stroll 10 feet, pick up a sword or knife, and shove it into Davos’ heart before anyone thinks to object. Unfortunately, Davos wasn’t around five minutes ago when Bakuto was explaining that you have to take off his head to kill him for good as long as Hand resurrectionists are lurking around, so there’s a non-zero chance he’s back in season two.
Although that can only hurt us if we’re stupid enough to watch it, I guess.
What follows is a surprisingly well-done fight between Danny and Davos with a surprisingly well done emotional conclusion (“surprisingly” because they’ve been consistently screwing both of those things up), in which Danny, in victory, apologizes for leaving Davos without saying anything, which is what he believes Davos is really upset about. Hey, if they wanted to commit to “Davos loved Danny as more than a monk brother,” I’m good with that. But forgiveness isn’t coming, as Davos reminds Danny that the pass to K’un-Lun is unguarded, and that will have consequences.
But is it? That place is filled with people who can fight as well as these two and it is a narrow-ass path, I feel like they could manage this without the Iron Fist for however long it’s open every 15 years. But whatever.
But in any event… Bakuto and Gao are defeated, the Meachums are safe, Danny can Iron Fist again, he a Colleen do a kata to hip hop music which makes them more endearing as a couple than their sex scene… everything’s good, right? Roll credits, show’s over, see everyone again for The Defenders in a few months?
HA! We should be so fucking lucky.
No, Harold sicks the DEA on Danny, having pinned the whole Rand Enterprises drug trade on him. You know, the one that was in full force when Danny was presumed dead and not affiliated with the company.
Because God forbid this show actually commit to a main villain. I know the Meachums haven’t exactly always been on the side of the angels, but there are 53 minutes left in season one, it’s a little late in the game to be pulling this. God damn it.
Fine. Just… just end it, Iron Fist. Just end it. Let’s move on to…
In which a horrific yet bland mishmash of a season attempts a satisfactory conclusion, but doesn’t.
So we have two things happening at Rand Enterprises. Danny Rand is being accused of using his company to traffick heroin, despite having a cumulative, maybe, 18 minutes at said company between being given enough influence to do this and having it taken back for making too many socially conscious decisions. Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t peddling drugs, lots of criminals can put on a friendly public face, but how would he have had time to set this whole network up? And how do they explain it going back more than two weeks if Danny’s behind it? Meanwhile, Harold is trying to take back control, despite having been legally dead for 13 years, which means the second he swaggers into a board room he ought to be under arrest for fraud and tax evasion. And that’s before he announces his plan to have the company sell both Gao’s synthetic heroin and Bakuto’s cure for synthetic heroin addiction, which… if that’s still happening, how would anyone at the DEA still think Danny was responsible for it all?
Remember in Luke Cage, when Diamondback put on a hoodie, killed a cop, and ran off screaming “I’m Luke Cage! Luke Cage, argle bargle bargle, Luke CAAAAAGE!” and it was the laziest frame-job ever? Well it still is but this one is really close and requires massive incompetence at the DEA to pull off. I mean, did they investigate this anonymous tip-off even a little before storming Colleen’s dojo to arrest New York’s most noble businessman? You know how much work it took to get Wilson Fisk into jail? And he was actually committing crimes!
Jesus this is lame. And we haven’t made it to the opening credits.
Let’s recap… at first, our obvious villain was childhood bully and adult asshole Ward “Rooted for the snobs in Caddyshack” Meachum. Then it was Gao and her drug-peddling Hand troops. Then from out of absolutely nowhere came Bakuto and his other Hand troops, because The Hand almost made sense for a second there. And now, in the end, it’s Harold Meachum, who turns out to be the real killer of Danny’s parents.
It is impossible to get a grip on this narrative. Everyone has been a villain at one point or another except Danny and Claire. Everyone has been an ally at one point or another except Dared–
Everyone but Claire has betrayed Danny, everyone has betrayed someone else for Danny. It’s like they pick their allegiance out of a hat at the start of each episode. And our one stable thing, our rock at the centre of this mess, is World’s Worst Superhero Danny Rand, who is still having psychotic breaks every time he even thinks about his origin story.
So our agonisingly slow last episode mainly deals with Danny, Colleen, Claire, and Ward taking on Harold while Joy decides she’s had enough of all of them. The obvious answer would be for Ward to turn Harold in for the above mentioned fraud and tax evasions, then helpfully point them to Harold’s safe when they subsequently conduct a legal search of his office and secret penthouse lair. But that’s not what we’re doing. Ward gets eyes on Harold, but gets clubbed for being on the wrong side, leaving Danny, Colleen, and Claire alone to break into Rand Enterprises…
…in order to find the evidence they need to clear Danny of the (mostly*) false charges against him…
*I mean he did assault some officers and resist arrest. That did happen.
…while Claire begins to be concerned that an unhinged Danny and ex-ninja death cult member Colleen might kill Harold in the process…
…sorry I can’t do it call Daredevil call Daredevil CALL DAREDEVIL WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, CLAIRE, THIS SHOW HAS RUINED YOU…
Well if you thought that little break was bad imagine spending half an hour with “ice cream headache” Danny constantly flipping out about his parents. Anyway. Big fight, some cool Iron Fist tricks we hadn’t seen yet, Danny beats but refuses to kill Harold (I mean he impales him on a metal rod but we all know that’s not lethal for Harold at this point), so Ward does it. Turns out that in addition to being beheaded, Harold can be killed through the traditional 80s Movie Villain Death: falling a long way onto something pointy. Big happy ending?
Well, let’s see.
Davos meets with Joy, claiming that Danny destroys everything he touches, and it’s his fault Joy’s life has gone crazy, so they should kill him. She’s not opposed to the notion. Someone rational might point out that her father working with a ninja death cult to sell drugs probably had more to do with it, and that if anything her family has been destructive to his, but that person is not at the meeting– well, they are, but it’s Gao, and she’s really just eavesdropping.
Ward has made a full 180 from where we came in, and asks Danny to run the company with him. Where has this halfway decent person been this whole time?
Danny begins to decide that maybe his purpose is fighting injustice out in the world, not guarding the path to K’un-Lun until he dies, which would put him on course to being Iron Fist the Less Terrible Superhero… but decides he should still go back and explain himself. He and Colleen make their way to the path… only to find dead Hand soldiers in front of a giant gap where K’un-Lun is supposed to be.
Danny immediately blames himself and begins a spiral into self-hatred, paving the way for a second season of Danny being utterly insufferable, and ensuring that nobody in The Defenders is “the fun one.”
Can we have one Defender not driven by sulky, broody guilt. Between the four of them, plus Flash and Green Arrow this season, it’s getting played out. That show is going to be moody, isn’t it…
It’s, at best, a very slightly more satisfying ending than Luke Cage.
So. Let’s sum up.
Iron Fist as a whole…
- Danny Rand is an absolute failure as a protagonist. He’s hard to root for, he does zero things well, he’s impulsive, his entire supporting cast can’t stop pointing out how bad he is at this and they’re always right… frankly, even if Tumblr had had its way and they’d cast an Asian, all that would have happened is that Marvel’s first Asian live-action superhero would be their absolute worst superhero. Is that what you want, Asian community? Maybe. I don’t speak for you. None of you would be on board with that.
- Their inability to pick a main villain makes for an extremely sloppy season arc. Is there even a season arc? Is there a through-line on this? There is no natural flow at all.
- Bakuto not only came from nowhere, he added nothing to this show except compromising Colleen as a character. The Hand was confusing enough without the whole “multiple factions” angle. Every other plot point could have been done as well or better by Gao, Harold, Davos, or leaving it out completely.
- Ward’s redemptive arc would have worked better if it had started earlier, because in episode 12 he was still a total putz.
- Did Claire and Matt Murdock really leave things on such bad terms? I’m going to need a scene in Defenders where she at least tries to explain what Matt did that was so goddamn bad she’d rather fight The Hand herself than call him. A week ago, Claire Temple was the best part of the Defenders franchise. Now she’s a stubborn idiot too proud to call in assistance. I’ll say it again for the kids in the bleachers: if you don’t want Daredevil to show up, don’t create circumstances where it’s obvious that he should.
- The Netflix model makes the above point worse. There are times on Flash and Arrow when “Call the other guy” seems like it would at least help fix everything, but at least both shows are happening at the same time: we can see what Oliver and Barry are busy with in their own cities. I have no Earthly idea what Matt Murdock’s been doing since season two that he couldn’t help out with Diamondback’s rampage or The Hand taking over Manhattan.
- The fights were too bad for too long, and there is still a serious problem with lighting, or rather the lack thereof.
- The Meachum family drama was dead air too often.
- Everything that happens in season one depends on characters making the worst choices they can, or the villains having magic plot powers that lets them pull whatever they need to.
- I’m not saying I needed an entire episode of flashbacks to Danny’s 15 years of training. Lordy did I ever not need or want that. But Danny entering a magic cave to fight a dragon to earn the Iron Fist? That you could have found time for. Maybe instead of a second entire episode of “No, you can’t be Danny, he died.” I don’t know what your budget went to that wasn’t that but come on.
- Between the above point, the lackluster and infrequent action, and spending more time than necessary on boardroom… and I use this word loosely enough to offend its people… “intrigue,” it feels like the showrunners were entirely ill-suited to the concept.
There were fleeting moments where you could see a better show struggling to free itself from the bland tomb it’s sealed into, but then Danny would think about the plane crash and have another rage-headache and we’d be stuck back in this show.
So in short…
It’s really quite bad.
You wrote a bad show, Scott Buck. Go to your room and think about what you did.