So we’re finally here, the last four episodes of Iron Fist. This is it, folks. The entire season lead us to this moment. The emotional climax, the payoff for all the time we spent with Danny Rand and co. Can it rise above the show’s mistakes? Can it make up for the lackluster season we got so far? Can it set an interesting hook for The Defenders and, who knows, for a second season of Iron Fist? Let’s find out.
Episode 10: Black Tiger Steals Heart
We open the episode with Danny waking up in bed with Colleen, as if they had sex recently. I’m trying to make sense of this scene, because the last time we saw Danny he fainted and got more or less kidnapped by Bakuto and his friends. Either the show decided to skip his reaction for some reason or he looks awfully nonchalant for someone who just woke up in a strange place in times of war against an evil cult. It’s another case of scenes that creatively made sense because the writers wanted them to happen.
The place they’re in is a school/monastery run by Bakuto to help marginalized kids. Danny is skeptical and questions Bakuto about his goals and Gao’s whereabouts. It’s refreshing to see Danny finally being smart. Bakuto shows him old footage of a former Iron Fist fighting, claiming this is who Danny could become. He admits he became obsessed with the Iron Fist after he saw this footage, so he can teach Danny what he learned.
At the penthouse, Joy is still absorbing the news that her father is alive. This should be an emotional trainwreck, the highest point for her character so far, yet it feels lacking. She accepts his resurrection so fast she could be a Northern Lord. Harold calls Danny, who apparently forgot Madame Gao’s words that Harold was her partner at Rand. Danny tells him that Gao is out of the picture and Harold wants to celebrate with Joy. His violent behavior gives Joy her first red flag that something isn’t quite right with daddy.
Remember that moment when Danny invaded Colleen’s class to whitesplain to her students and hit one of them? They thought it was awesome! At least we still have Smart Danny, who questions the students and discovers where Gao is possibly being held. He sneaks into the building and doesn’t beat anyone in the process. What show am I watching? Take that as a compliment.
When Danny finds Gao, she externalizes his internal conflicts and reveals that the entire compound belongs to the Hand. Danny tells this to Colleen, who confesses that Gao is right and she wanted to tell him the truth a long time ago. Danny understandably freaks out. Colleen insists that not everyone in the Hand is evil like Gao and that he was fed lies in K’un-Lun.
Bakuto introduces himself to Harold, promising what he wanted the most: a return to public life. It’s an interesting way to present Bakuto as a villain because he’s manipulating a character known for being a manipulator. Later that night, Harold kills Lawrence and makes everything look like a suicide. Lawrence was also quick to accept that Harold is alive, so maybe I’m the one too skeptical about resurrections?
For some reason, Danny is still at the compound and sharing a room with Colleen. I mean, who has never learned their significant other lied about being in a murderous ninja cult, right? Noises attract Danny’s attention, leading him to a surveillance room that collects information from places like Harold’s penthouse and the Chikara dojo. Danny destroys everything in anger, until Bakuto arrives and they fight. Some henchmen attack him too, but he is saved by the Tinfoil Shuriken guy, who turns out to be his childhood friend Davos.
Joy tells the board members that Lawrence’s suicide will be perceived as more instability at Rand Enterprises, making the stocks plummet. Their only solution is to reinstate the Meachums and the board accepts this flawless logic, ending another silly subplot. Joy confronts Harold about Lawrence’s death, but Harold swears he didn’t send anyone to kill the guy *wink wink*.
Danny and Davos try to escape the compound. There’s another bland hallway fight. Bakuto stabs Danny and this won’t matter until it’s convenient for the plot. Davos and Danny are cornered because Danny can’t use his Iron Fist to destroy the gate. Bakuto gives him a Jedi explanation that his anger and confusion are preventing him from using his powers. They all fight, until Colleen opens the gates, allowing Danny and Davos to escape.
Episode 11: Lead Horse Back to Stable
Bleeding from his wound, Danny has flashbacks of Davos finding him right after he became the Iron Fist. In the present, Davos is here to take him back to K’un-Lun, as the city is unprotected with the path open and no Iron Fist to guard it. Danny doesn’t want to go because the Hand killed his parents. Davos argues that Danny chose to be the Iron Fist (we’ll get back to this). Danny says he’s the sworn enemy of the Hand and the Hand is here, so he’s where he should be.
It’s a fair point, except his motivations for fighting the Hand are more connected to his personal vendetta than any holy purpose. Danny didn’t come to New York because he was tired of waiting for the Hand to strike K’un-Lun, he came to New York because he thought to himself “screw guarding K’un-Lun.” He promises Davos he’ll go back once this is all over, though.
Claire is back to fulfilling her two roles in this show: take care of Danny’s wounds and explain to Danny his romantic feelings for Colleen. Danny’s angry and hurt now, even though he spend the night with her after finding out the truth about her allegiances. Forgive me for not being invested, but the show is not giving me a lot to work with. But hey, have Davos being impressed by the internet and pizza and Claire’s skills as a “healer”. Don’t you love enlightening Eastern people of color on the wonders of Western civilization? The writers of Iron Fist sure do!
Davos tells Claire that the Iron Fist is a force that lives in the heart of a dragon until someone from the monastery claims it. This is the most interesting information we’ve gotten about Danny’s powers and the writers waited ten episodes to tell us. Claire asks if Davos is an Iron Fist too, and he tells her he trained to be, but there can only be one. Danny was the first foreign Iron Fist, because of course he was. Davos thinks this was a crappy decision and Claire defends Danny, saying he’s trying to do something good. Sure, but couldn’t he do that with his regular martial arts instead of stealing the power to protect a mystical city and subsequently showing the middle finger to said city? It’s not as if he uses his Iron Fist powers a lot anyway.
Colleen arrives looking for Danny, and I’m glad her confrontation with Claire is focused on Claire’s feelings. She tells Colleen to leave and Colleen leaves, but then Claire remembers they only have two episodes left to advance this plot so she calls Colleen back to see Danny. Danny and Colleen talk. Colleen continues to assert her #notallHand argument, while Danny insists Bakuto attacked him first.
Danny is now determined to destroy the Hand and takes Davos to the Meachum penthouse. Joy discovers that Bakuto is taking a lot of money from Rand accounts, so their plan is to stop those transfers to draw Bakuto to the penthouse. This would allow Danny and Davos to attack him when he leaves the compound. Joy wants Bakuto to be arrested and not murdered, but Danny is fond of the murder option.
Colleen wants antibiotics for Danny and coerces one of her former students to help her. The student snitches on Colleen, leading to her being captured by Bakuto and her former students. Bakuto wants to kill Colleen because she’s questioning their cause now. Before the students can kill her, Colleen defeats them and escapes.
Davos and Danny wait outside the compound. Danny says he didn’t let Davos drive because Davos doesn’t have a license. He doesn’t have one either, but it’s different because he’s rich. Those were his exact words. This was probably intended as a joke, but coming from a character who is always serious and angsty, who constantly gets away with things by sole virtue of his privilege, who poses as a champion of the smallfolk… Yeah, this is precisely what makes me consider Danny Rand an asshole. But wait, there’s more! We also have a joke about Danny wanting to see girls bathing without their consent. Don’t you love how this is played for laughs?
Davos confesses he always assumed that being the Iron Fist was his birthright until Danny stole it from him. He accepted because Danny was still his brother, then Danny ran away and he doesn’t understand why. Danny says he felt empty since the plane crash. He thought becoming the Iron Fist would help with that, but it didn’t. He was looking for a sign until he saw a hawk, indicating the path between K’un-Lun and our dimension was open. Davos points out that yes, this was a sign: a sign that K’un-Lun was vulnerable and needed its protector more than ever. He wants to know what’s keeping Danny in New York, and at this very moment Colleen escapes the compound. Danny finds her and she’s devastated that the Hand is not what she thought they were. Davos watches this and does not approve.
Episode 12: Bar the Big Boss
Ward is having nightmares about his father. He’s strapped to his bed at the psychiatric hospital, because of course he is. I’m sure this constant portrayal of the mental health care system as evil and ineffective does not impact popular perception or anything. Bakuto is there and he has an antidote for Gao’s super heroine. He wants to help Ward, including killing Harold, and in exchange he just wants Ward to be his friend. Seems legit.
Harold and Joy are bonding when Ward shows up. Joy is happy to see him, but he just wants to get her away from Harold and uses very bad methods to achieve this, including pointing a gun at everyone. Joy agrees to go with her brother, but Bakuto enters the game. He kills Harold’s henchmen and Ward complains this wasn’t part of the deal. He was supposed to leave with Joy first. Harold accuses his son of betraying the family and Joy sides with him. Bakuto wants Ward to stop the money transfers and implies the Meachums may not survive this night.
Davos and Colleen don’t trust each other and they fight like two middle school students. Later, Danny tends Colleen’s wounds, in a nice mirror of “Felling Tree with Roots”. Danny receives a phone call from Bakuto, showing images of the captive Meachums. Bakuto shoots Joy, saying Danny should be there in half an hour if he expects her to live. Davos doesn’t want him to go, but Danny says “I’m the Iron Fist, you don’t tell me what to do.” Charming.
Even though she’s dying, Joy still finds energy to defend Danny, saying he always did the right thing unlike her or Ward. Bakuto is ready to kill Harold when Danny arrives and agrees to go with him. Danny wants to know his plans for the Iron Fist and Bakuto basically wants a glorified henchman. Danny can finally focus his chi and use the Fist to break the handcuffs. You know, the powers he couldn’t use since episode nine, no matter how hard he tried. After breaking the chains he can’t use them again either, how convenient was that? You don’t need a Plot Armor, all you need is a Plot Fist.
This creates enough distraction for Davos and Colleen to attack Bakuto’s henchmen. Everybody fights. For a brief moment during the fight, the screen is divided and I’m puzzled why. It doesn’t accomplish anything, it makes the fight even more confusing and visually displeasing to follow. It’s also not a resource utilized in any other occasion in this show, before or after this moment. Amazing.
Bakuto runs away and Danny, Davos, and Colleen chase him. Bakuto insults Colleen, saying she was unworthy of the Hand. They have a cool sword fight in the rain. I’m happy the show recognizes this is Colleen’s moment. She defeats her sensei, but decides not to kill him because this would make her no better than him.
Davos wants Danny to finish him, but Bakuto uses his dying breath to externalize Danny’s inner conflict. Davos is 100% done and kills Bakuto himself. This prompts a fight between him and Danny. Danny defeats Davos and says New York taught him that the Iron Fist is not just for K’un-Lun. So that’s what I’m supposed to take from this identity arc? Apparently yes, because Danny can use the Iron Fist at will now. Davos leaves, reminding us all once more that the way to K’un-Lun in open and unprotected.
Meanwhile, Harold and Ward take Joy to the hospital. Harold thinks Ward was pretty ballsy for backstabbing him and trying to kill him again, so he’s willing to give his son a second chance. He also decides it’s time to get rid of Danny, because we only have one episode left. So, when Danny and Colleen are seducing each other through meditation, they’re interrupted by a text from Ward telling them to run because Harold betrayed them. Danny and Colleen are attacked by DEA agents, kick them, and run.
Episode 13: Dragon Plays with Fire
Harold is getting ready to work, and the background news informs us that Danny is wanted for using Rand to smuggle drugs. Ward tells Jeri that he knows Danny is innocent. Colleen and Danny are hiding from the DEA. Danny wants to contact Hogarth and Colleen suggests they use a messenger, so Claire arranges the meeting. Hogarth shows Danny the evidence the DEA has against him, and it’s all altered versions of the tablet files. Danny deduces it was Harold, and Jeri says he has three choices now: run away to K’un-Lun and never return, turn himself in and fight this in court, or get the original files if someone still has them.
Danny and Colleen return to the Hand compound and Colleen finds it strange that the place is empty. They confront Madame Gao, and she says she doesn’t own any copies of the files. She also updates us on Danny’s inner conflict and survivor’s guilt. Gao gives Danny all possible indications that Harold orchestrated the plane crash and the deaths of the Rand family.
You know what makes me mad at this scene? It’s not Danny’s stupidity played to its maximum capacity. It’s not that this dialogue doesn’t belong anywhere and it’s here only because the writers needed to move Danny from A to B. It’s because in the very first scene of this show Danny invades Rand looking for Harold Meachum, believing he has “answers” about the plane crash. This information was ignored after the pilot, but it doesn’t mean I forgot it. So when Danny is super shocked with this discovery, my only reaction is to channel my inner Community fan and say “duh, doy”.
Danny wants to kill Harold, but Colleen and Claire try to dissuade him. Colleen says she was ready to kill Bakuto, but she’s glad Davos did it for her because now she won’t spend the rest of her life wondering if she did the right thing. For that reason, she’s willing to kill Harold for Danny! Notice how we’re repeating the Elektra x Matt situation from Daredevil, with the Asian lady being totes okay with murder while her white boyfriend is not. Fortunately we have Claire, who reminds everyone they only need the tablet and nobody has to die.
Ward checks how his sister is doing, but she doesn’t want to see him. She’s Team Harold now, despite multiple indications that her father is violent and there may be some truth to what Ward is saying. Ward gives her a newspaper with the case against Danny. This prompts Joy to return to Rand sooner than she should and confront Harold. She knows Danny is innocent because she saw the contents of the tablet. Harold pretends he hid some of the files from her, but she doesn’t buy it.
Danny meets Ward and learns the tablet is inside a safe at Rand Enterprises, but Ward doesn’t know the combination. Danny, Colleen and Claire are ready to invade Rand and recover the tablet, when Ward calls to warn them that Harold has extra armed guards. Harold knocks his son out with a golf club, and Danny realizes something is wrong. He decides to go on with the plan anyway, leaving the car. Colleen leaves too, and Claire creates a diversion to draw away some of the security guards.
Danny is back to hitting security guards at Rand, but this time in a scene where it actually makes sense. Danny and Colleen fight their way to Harold. When Colleen is ready to attack him, he sees her first and points a gun at her. Danny Iron Fists the floor to save her. It conveniently isolates Colleen and Ward from Danny and Harold, but at least they get the tablet back.
Danny follows Harold to the roof. If you’re gonna watch this scene, do yourself a favor and watch it with no sound, because the dialogue is cringeworthy even for Iron Fist’s standards. Harold seemingly defeats Danny, but Danny has motivational flashbacks and kicks Harold, impaling him in with a metal bar. That’s what heroes do! Harold wants him to finish the job, but Danny has flashbacks with the dragon’s eyes (there was no budget for an actual dragon) and decides that nah, he’s cool. When he turns around, Harold de-impales himself, grabs the gun and shoots Danny. Danny deflects the bullet with his Iron Fist and before Harold can fire again, Ward shoots him multiple times. The impact makes Harold fall from the roof. Yes, that’s right: Harold Meachum’s demise involved getting impaled, shot multiple times, and thrown off a skyscraper.
Danny and Ward cremate Harold’s body. Ward is pretty shaken, but also relieved. They can’t locate Joy for some reason. Jeri tells Danny all charges against him were dropped and he’s a free man. Ward wants Danny to run Rand Enterprises with him, the way their fathers should have, but Danny admits he’s not a good businessman.
Meanwhile, Joy and Davos are having tea, while Davos is trying to convince her that Danny ruined her life and should be killed. Joy says she’s listening. We see Gao is sitting at the next table, listening too.
Danny tells Colleen he plans to return to K’un-Lun to finish his Iron Fist training, but also because he owes them a proper apology. Colleen says she’ll miss him and Danny says he was expecting her to come with him. They go to K’un-Lun together and Danny remembers the good stuff there, because the writers need us to care about this abusive place asap. Danny and Colleen arrive at K’un-Lun, finding a bunch of dead Hand warriors and no sign of the city. Somewhere in New York, Davos literally sips tea. Danny says this was all his fault and… well, yes, it was. The end.
The first season of Iron Fist is over and I can’t say I enjoyed it. It’s a matter of math, really: for every good scene or character that we got, there were several that disappointed. Nothing was really memorable and more than a few cringeworthy moments made sure the bad outweighed the good. In the end, Iron Fist is easily the weakest of the Marvel/Netflix bunch, and now I fear for The Defenders.
It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong because the entire show is such a mess. The writing is the most obvious culprit. The characters were so inconsistent I suspect the writers did not communicate with each other and did not read the previous scripts. Expository dialogue was used to exhaustion, and I can’t think of a single antagonist that wasn’t a tool to verbalize Danny’s inner conflict. Things that should be shown were told and things that could be told were shown. Entire scenes or subplots could be cut with no loss to the actual story. The pacing was a mess. Yes, I’m aware that all Marvel/Netflix shows have pacing issues, but nothing this bad.
The fighting scenes were boring. This is a capital sin for a martial arts show, especially because martial arts can make a paper-thin plot entertaining when done right. For some reason the show was very tame in exploring the mystical aspects of Danny’s abilities. But without them he’s just a regular martial artist. Actually, he’s barely that. Most of his fighting scenes are directed to conceal the fight rather than show it, in a way we can barely make sense of what’s going on or who’s hitting who. My best guess as to why? This is probably an attempt to disguise Finn Jones’s obvious lack of fighting skills.
Unfortunately, his character is the protagonist and leads most of the action scenes in the show. If you want to convince me that casting a white guy for the lead role wasn’t a terrible idea, please cast a white guy who can fight. So much in this story depended on us believing that Danny Rand is a martial arts master and I couldn’t buy it for a second.
I could even excuse the casting if Finn Jones had shined outside the fighting scenes, but this wasn’t the case. He didn’t bring much to the role aside from his lost puppy face and teenage angst, but truth be told I don’t think many actors could save a character as insufferable as Danny Rand. Sure, he improved a lot since his terrible beginning, but the damage was done.
For most of the show, Danny is a spoiled manbaby who doesn’t know what he wants because he never has to earn anything. He’s a billionaire, a superhero, and a martial arts master, but we have evidence after evidence that he sucks at all three, yet until the last episode we never see him putting any effort in sucking less. Danny doesn’t regret many of his mistakes and almost every time a character calls him on them, this character is: a) an antagonist; b) undercut by the narrative; or c) defending Danny in the very next second. Sorry, but I like my heroes assuming responsibility for their mistakes and doing their best to fix them. Danny only starts this path in the final episode, and not until a lot of people have payed with their lives.
I do appreciate the focus on Danny’s PTSD, because too many stories don’t explore the consequences of trauma. Yet we need more than airplane flashbacks and angsty faces to properly explore Danny’s trauma, and I’m not sure we got that. There’s no hesitation in Danny when he returns to K’un-Lun in the end, on the contrary. What happened? Did the revenge against Harold magically erase his symptoms? Danny’s trauma ended up little more than a plot point, or worse, an excuse for his bad behavior.
Danny’s central conflict over the identities of Danny Rand and Iron Fist is also poorly executed. What motivates him against the Hand or Harold Meachum isn’t the knowledge of the danger they represent, but revenge for the death of his parents. It’s great when the villain has a personal meaning for the hero, but it’s not very heroic when this meaning is emphasized above everything else.
One of the primary differences between Danny and his fellow Defenders is that he actively pursued becoming the Fist, while Jessica, Luke, and Matt had their powers forced upon them. As far as we can tell, Danny knew the price to be paid for those powers, so when he leaves K’un-Lun stealing the force necessary to defend it, he comes across as a jerk. Furthermore, the constant portrayal of K’un-Lun as an abusive and traumatic place makes it hard to root for the sacred city. It doesn’t help that we know very little about it: what is K’un-Lun, exactly? Why should I care if anyone attacks it? If Danny’s relationship with K’un-Lun is supposed to be important, I need to see more of this relationship than just the tale of a victim and his captors.
Speaking of Danny’s relationship with K’un-Lun, the random bits of Asian cultural appropriation are toned down as the show goes on, but other problems arise. Off the top of my head, these are the characters of color that are villains or in some way associated with villainous acts: Madame Gao, Bakuto, Davos, Colleen, Lawrence, the Bride of Nine Spiders, Scythe, Zhou Cheng, Hai-Qing Yang, most of Collen’s students and most of the nameless henchmen. These are the characters of color who are not: Claire. And the occasional Rand employees, I suppose. Can we talk about this?
Most of the antagonists in the show are people of color (and most of them Asians), even though we also have white antagonists like the Meachum family. Most of the characters of color are antagonists, even though our white protagonist borrows from Asian cultures to kick their mostly Asian asses. How could they not see the implications?
The side cast is still the show’s saving grace. Jeri and Claire prove once more they’re great characters, despite occasionally being hurt by the bad writing. Colleen brings charisma and actual fighting skills to the screen. Too bad most of her role was reduced to Love Interest™ in the end. Her cage fights were simply forgotten. Her conflicting views on the Hand could be a great arc for her, but the resolution was rushed and connected to her feelings for Danny. It was so easy to prove the Hand was evil all along that Colleen looks naive for never noticing that on her own.
Harold is a flat, mustache-twirling villain, but his dynamic with Ward was one of the most interesting parts of the show. Ward is the full “cool motive, still murder” package, but he was one of the few characters I cared about and one of the few to have a more or less consistent arc.
Too bad the same can’t be said about Joy. Oh, Joy. Poor Joy stopped being her own character a long time ago, becoming little more than motivation for Danny, Ward, or Harold. And what happened to her in the final episode? So far she was more or less a good person and consistently defending Danny, including when he didn’t deserve to be defended. The last time we saw her, she was willing to confront her beloved father because he was framing Danny for a crime he didn’t commit. Then we cut to a scene where she’s plotting with a guy she doesn’t even know to kill Danny. Why? We’ll never know. This is Underpants Gnome applied to character development, we just don’t see how she went from step one to step murder.
The last episodes were interesting in theory, but they required me to be emotionally invested in a show that did very little to deserve this. The lack of foundation became obvious: we were supposed to believe Danny and Colleen shared a much deeper love than the one we actually saw on screen, or that Danny was a much better fighter and person, or that his goals were more noble, or that K’un-Lun was worth saving. And, of course, we were required to completely ignore that in the very first episode Danny already suspected Harold Meachum’s involvement in the plane accident that killed his parents, to the point of accusing a 15-year-old Ward of knowing about this. Sorry, that’s asking a lot.
All things considered, Iron Fist is a forgetable show that you could skip entirely if not for its obvious ties to the upcoming The Defenders. The Defenders has finished filming, so maybe there’s no time to avoid the mistakes that plagued the adventures of Danny Rand. Some of them shouldn’t be too hard to prevent in future franchising choices, though.