Sunday, June 23, 2024

Danny Rand turns Iron Fist into white male boredom

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For the past two years, the partnership between Marvel and Netflix gave us great shows, beloved by the public and professional critics alike. The quality storytelling often came with great representation and important discussions on subjects like racism, PTSD, or abuse. So after Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and two seasons of Daredevil, it was only natural to be hyped for Iron Fist.

Sure, there was the controversy surrounding Finn Jones being cast as Danny Rand. Sure, the early reviews confirmed our worst fears were true, plus some other fears we didn’t even know we were supposed to have. Sure, Finn Jones started talking and it was really ugly.

Should we lower our expectations? Could the show still become a problematic fave? Or were Marvel and Netflix doomed to fail eventually? That’s what I’m here to find out.

Episode 1: Snow Gives Way

We open the show with Danny Rand in New York, wearing ragged dirty clothes and heading towards his family’s company. He wants to see Harold Meachum and the receptionist is politely uncomfortable. She calls the security guards, but Danny knocks all of them out and enters the building anyway. When he reaches the top floor, he learns from Joy and Ward Meachum that their father Harold died 12 years ago. Danny treats them like old buddies and is slightly offended that they’re scared by the presence of a violent homeless person breaking into their office claiming to be their friend that died 15 years ago. The securities arrive and take him out, and Joy wonders if this could actually be Danny Rand.

Here’s my problem with this sequence: it’s shouldn’t exist. This seems to be the first thing Danny does once he arrives from Mystic Asia™, because he wasn’t even aware he or Harold were considered dead. Why come here first instead of visiting his old home or his parents’ graves or even a lawyer? If he wants “answers”, what reason he has to suspect that the accident that killed his parents wasn’t just an accident and Harold knows anything? We never learn. Why Danny doesn’t think about calling the Meachums first? I guess they didn’t have telephones in early 2000s when he disappeared. Can’t he see this behavior will freak everyone out? Why doesn’t he say anything that may allow Joy or Ward to identify him as Danny Rand instead of just being offended that nobody appreciates his violence against people who were just doing their jobs? If you wanna know the exact moment I told myself “oh crap, this is gonna be a long ride”, this was the moment.

Danny goes to his old home and realizes there’s somebody else living there. He decides to break in, because private property also didn’t exist in early 2000s. This is now Joy’s house and Danny uses an Asian Prayer™ on her guard dog so it doesn’t attack him. He also has flashbacks of himself, Joy and Ward as children so we can establish that Ward was evil. Danny leaves when Joy comes home.

At night, Danny is reading in the park. A homeless man called Big Al comes to chat and explains to Danny the internet, because a kid in early 2000s never heard of such witchcraft before and this is actual dialogue people would have. Danny confirms he and Harold are considered very much dead and Big Al tells him where to get shoes. I still don’t know why this scene existed, but I had to watch it so now you have to read it. Next morning, Joy is leaving her house and Danny shows up. He tells some facts about Danny Rand, which is the first thing he should have done, but they’re pretty generic so Joy isn’t convinced. A taxi almost hits Danny, but he backflips and Joy is impressed. We cut to Danny meditating in the streets until someone leaves him a few dollars. It’s Colleen Wing! He approaches her to return the money and notices she’s hanging posters for self defense classes. He introduces himself and starts speaking Mandarin and I burst craughing. I can’t see a reason why Danny would speak Mandarin at this moment other than to display all his Asianness™ to this Asian American woman. But Colleen doesn’t speak Mandarin so Danny has to speak English. He asks her for a job.

Joy tells Ward about her encounter with Danny and they wonder if this could be the real Danny Rand. It’s a timely moment for an imposter to show up, so they think it could be corporate sabotage. When Ward is leaving his office, Danny kidnaps him and his car, saying he didn’t know another way to contact him. He says he just wants answers, but Ward points a gun to him and Danny has to use his white fu. Then Danny complains he was met with nothing but hostility since he got home and I die a little. I don’t know, Danny, perhaps because you approached people that thought you were dead for years in a creepy way, beat their employees, invaded their homes, and kidnapped them and their cars? This show has Danny constantly acting like a dick and be offended when other people react accordingly.

Ward says he won’t get a penny and Danny says he doesn’t want that, he just wants answers. Ward says all he knows is that Danny and his parents died on a plane crash in the Himalayas and the bodies were never found, but Danny is convinced Ward knows more. We never learn why. Ward wants proof that Danny is Danny and apparently he’s a dick for it. Danny threatens to kill Ward, crashes the car, and disappears.

Back in the park, Big Al tells Danny his reasons for being homeless and Danny answers with a Buddhist quote. When Big Al asks him what’s his purpose, Danny says he wants to protect K’un Lun from oppression and honor the sacrifice of Shou-Lao the Undying. This is one of the first references we get to what I assume is the actual plot of the show. You should hold those very dear, because they don’t come often.

Colleen is teaching at her dojo and we learn this dojo needs money. Danny comes in after class and he wants to challenge the master because “it’s protocol”, except she is the master and she doesn’t accept his challenge. He then says the dojo should have kung fu classes to attract more students and she should hire him as a teacher, because he trained in K’un Lun. She wants him to leave and he eventually does, but I wish he would stop harassing people and start listening the first time they say “no”.

Leaving the dojo, Danny is attacked by a group of men. He recognizes one of them as the security guard from Rand Enterprises, but is surprised when they claim Ward send them. Colleen watches everything and is ready to help, but Danny defeats the bad guys on his own. Wards hears about this and tells someone they have a situation. He goes to a fancy penthouse and surprise, surprise, Harold Meachum is alive and hiding there.

Danny finds out Big Al is dead, says some Asian™ prayer and notices Big Al has an eagle (?) tattoo. This means something to him. Next morning, Danny breaks into Joy’s office saying Ward tried to kill him. Joy agrees to talk because she thinks he may actually be Danny and he answers with a zen saying. He’s telling her about the plane crash when he realises she drugged his drink.

Episode 2: Shadow Hawk Takes Flight

Danny wakes up restrained in a psychiatric hospital. He tries to leave, another patient pretends to be a doctor and tries to kill him with a fork, he’s sedated. Later he’s meditating and an actual doctor comes in. Danny complains the medication prevents him from focusing his qi. The doctor agrees to unbind Danny in exchange for his story and he tells what we already know about the plane crash, with the same flashback scene we’ve seen a few times before. He is saved by two warrior monks. Credit where credit is due, the show does right by focusing on Finn Jones here and I actually buy his performance. It would be a better show if they had emphasized Danny’s trauma like they did in this scene instead of giving him inconsistent motivations and random outbursts of violence and entitlement.

The doctor shows him a passport with Danny’s picture, convinced he’s just delusional about being Danny Rand and we’re in a more interesting story like Shutter Island or the pilot of Legion. Later Simon, the fork patient, shows Danny the place and says Danny will probably be here for a few years more than the 72 hours he expects to be. Another patient is randomly mean to Danny so he can white fu him and be restrained again. Simon helps Danny call Colleen for help, because he doesn’t know anyone else. Colleen is nice to him, but says she can’t help.

Ward visits his father and we learn Harold has cameras on Danny. Harry put his intern to research the Order of the Crane Mother and any monasteries near the plane crash site and none of that exists, but he’s starting to believe this is actually Danny. Harold sends Ward after Colleen to discover why Danny called her, despite the fact that the cameras recorded audio so he could have this information by just listening to that audio. But no, he has to make Colleen suspect something is wrong. So Colleen’s students are leaving when Ward comes to her dojo. Instead of pretending to be legit worried about this dude who could be his childhood friend, he acts in a way to raise the highest possible amount of red flags, offering Colleen money to sign some papers saying Danny is dangerous.

Danny’s doctor shows him a commercial of the Rand family and Danny reminisces about that day. The doctor doesn’t believe him, so Danny gets violent again. At night, the doctor still has the Rand commercial on his computer for some reason and decides to call Joy to check Danny’s story. He was telling the truth! There’s also a lot of scenes of Danny being restrained and sedated against his will.

Meanwhile, Harold Meachum decides it’s time to leave his secret penthouse and pay Danny a visit. A somewhat sedated Danny answers Harold’s questions repeating a lot of stuff we already know, but he says he became a warrior in the long line of Immortal Iron Fists and they’re sworn enemies of the Hand. Harold seems to recognize this name and Danny explains he’s the only one who can defeat them. I’m glad Harold asks all the convenient questions so Danny can give us all this handy exposition.

Joy is still thinking about Danny and says if this is the real Danny Rand they’re doing something pretty horrible to him. Look, I don’t want to enter the ethics of compulsory hospitalization because they deserve their own separate debate, but either what they’re doing is terrible regardless of the identity of the patient or it’s an acceptable course of action. The fact that this person is telling the truth about being Danny Rand doesn’t erase all the unstable, aggressive, and dangerous behaviour he exhibited so far. Again, I’m not judging what would be right to do in this case, I’m just saying Danny’s entire behavior should not be excused just because he was right about something else.

Joy also asks what other options Danny had and I wonder if “not beating, scaring, invading and kidnapping your way to people” is that preposterous. She has an idea that would make the creators of Batman vs Superman proud and sends him some and M&M’s. Danny starts sorting them, when Colleen visits him because of Ward’s suspicious behavior. They talk and he asks her to deliver a package to Joy. Turns out he separated all the brown M&M’s and Joy knows this something only the real Danny Rand would do, so now she 100% believes him!

Maybe her mother is also called Martha?

The doctor asks Danny where he studied and because he can answer that the doctor also believes him! Danny ruins this by saying how he’s now a warrior monk with magical powers acquired from another dimension, except he can’t use his superpowers to prove they exist. I know those guys live in a world where superheroes are a thing, but this isn’t really the best way to act around a person that was questioning your sanity five minutes ago. At least in the middle of repeating what we already know he says K’un Lun and our dimension can only touch each other every 15 years or so. At night, Ward sends some men after Danny, so our hero can finally invoke the power of Asianness™ and use his iron fists. He breaks the door and runs away from the hospital and its subplot.

Episode 3: Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch

The mooks from the pilot break into Colleen’s dojo and she kicks their asses. They’re after Danny and she pretends he’s not hiding in the ceiling. Colleen agrees to have him around for that night because part of the Bushido code is compassion. See, this sounds very different from Danny’s random references to Asian cultures. Colleen is of Asian descent, she’s a martial arts fighter and the master of a dojo. It makes sense for the character to know and follow the Bushido code.

Danny doesn’t understand the concept of night, so he stays in Colleen’s dojo for more time than she allowed and interrupts her practice with loud music. He decided to ignore her request because she got hit that one time last night, so he’s worried about her safety. They fight and of course Danny is better. But fear not! He explains every single movement he does, so she can learn to be as good as he is. I wish I was lying about this.

In the meantime, there’s a bunch of scenes with the Meachums trying to get a pier. Those two subplots meet when Danny is waiting for Joy in front of her house. It’s so orientalist only a screenshot can explain:

I’m glad Joy asks about the oranges and flowers, because then Danny can explain it’s a buddhist tradition.

She also wants to know what happened and he says it’s complicated and people don’t react well to the story. You should have started this way with the doctor, Danny. He proceeds to say Joy and Ward are the only links to the life he had and I wish the show could have emphasized this angle to make Danny a tiny bit more likable. But no, instead we have Danny referring to the monks as “the people where I’m from”.

Let me clear about this: I don’t think Asian cultures are forbidden territory for white people. A white person could meditate or learn martial arts or Mandarin. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way the show approaches those elements with the character of Danny Rand that bothers me. Danny wears Asian cultures like they were a pretty souvenir he brought from a trip. His dialogue is filled with random references that give me this uncomfortable impression he’s just showing off. He doesn’t try to learn from Colleen, he tries to show her what a great Asian™ he is. He doesn’t approach other cultures respectfully, but as if they were his for the taking. His character could be a great commentary on cultural appropriation or a great parody of white male superheroes, instead he’s basically this:

And this show keeps reminding me of what other shows I could be watching instead.

Joy offers Danny a deal where he gets money for his shares, but he has to give up the Danny Rand name. He says this isn’t about the money and leaves. He goes to his parents grave and realizes someone must be taking care of that. Enter Jeri Hogarth, to remind us we could be watching a better show instead. Jeri was an intern at Rand Enterprises and she’s been managing the Rand estate ever since they died. Danny convinces her he’s the actual Danny Rand in a few seconds, so I guess this means we’re over the “I am the real Danny Rand” subplot now. Glad we didn’t miss three episodes with that, right?

Harold Meachum is visited by Madame Gao just so we can be reminded there’s someone more evil than him, there’s a more interesting plot ahead, and there are better shows to watch. I don’t even like the Hand, they were one of the weakest aspects of the second season of Daredevil, but they sure look better than what we’re getting now. And It’s not like the show can get any more orientalist than this.

Colleen’s students are practicing, but they’re not serious enough for Danny’s standards, so he starts whitesplaining martial arts to them. They think he’s a douche, so he hits one of them to assure that he is, indeed, a douche. Listen to me: Danny Rand is a bully. He uses his power to assert himself as dominant over other people. He doesn’t teach them, he uses them as audience to show how great and Asian™ he is. He does that to Colleen’s students despite her request that he stays away from the students and despite knowing she needs those students to keep her dojo. He’s the embodiment of every entitled whitesplainer manchild I ever met and the show needs to stop giving me Douchebag Danny scenes if they expect me to care. At least this time Colleen calls him out and he seems actually sorry. He spends the night in a fancy hotel room while he remembers his training, thus we learn he was at the Waif School of Stick Beating.

Ward and Joy do business and he confesses sometimes he wants to leave Rand Enterprises. Apparently Joy doesn’t know Harold is alive and I wonder why. It’s almost unrealistic that Ward and his father kept the secret for so long if Joy is so deeply involved with the company and Harold seems to trust her skills so much.

Hogarth and Danny have trouble finding proof of his identity because the Meachums are destroying all evidence. Danny goes after Joy and Ward in a restaurant demanding to know why Ward is doing that. Ward says the Danny Rand he knew is dead and he wants it to stay this way, which prompts Danny to act violently again. Danny also says “you can’t deny what’s mine. What my father meant for me to have”, because this is clearly not about the money.

Before I fall asleep, we get Colleen in one of those illegal cage fights. I wonder if it’s too late for the Defenders to be Jessica, Luke, Matt, and Colleen. I guess it is, because she only wins her fight using the move Danny whitesplained to her. At least Colleen is a great character in her own right and the scene is cool. I wish this show was about her.

Jeri and Danny finally meet the Meachums. This is not about the money, I remind you, but Danny is now demanding a board seat. What happened to his holy purpose? What happened to the actual plot of this show? Jeri shows the Meachums a clay pot Danny made for Joy when they were kids. It has Danny’s fingerprints on it and it’s implied Joy gave them this evidence. Because, you know, if this was stolen then it’s illegally obtained evidence and can’t be used. At least that’s what I learned watching better shows.

Danny overhears Ward talking to Harold and suspects something is wrong. Because Joy has no clue her brother is hiding her father despite years working by his side, but Danny will solve the mystery after a couple of days. He follows Ward to the penthouse and Nate Drakes his way to the top of the building. He opens a window, but someone pushes him and he falls. This is a very exciting cliffhanger, because everyone wonders if the protagonist is really dead after three episodes.

Can you see how bored I am with this show? How it wastes time in subplots I don’t care about? How it repeats information I already know? How it reeks of orientalism, whitesplaining, and mansplaining? How the few attemps to make Danny Rand relatable get lost in this ocean of scenes where he’s stupid, violent, entitled, and condescending? I hope Iron Fist improves over the next ten episodes. I’m not sure it will. We’ll find out next week.

Images courtesy of Netflix

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