Weeks in advance of Iron Fist’s premiere, Netflix provided TV critics with screeners for the first 6 episodes, and those critics gobbled them up and spit them out, emphatically declaring that the show left a bad taste in their mouth. “Iron Fist is Marvel’s first big misstep,” wrote THR, io9, Vulture, Vox and just about everyone else.
I’ve now seen the same number of episodes as those reviewers had when they made such statements. Were they right? Quite simply, is Iron Fist a bad TV show, at least based on the first 6 episodes?
I…I…don’t know yet. It’s certainly a poorly constructed show weighted down by a disappointingly weightless leading man, and unlike the other Marvel Netflix efforts it’s taking a frustratingly long time to figure itself out. The first three episodes were overly long and bland, forcing me to embrace scenes of Harold randomly speaking down to his intern because while narratively superfluous those scenes at least showed some life and showcased genuinely funny dialogue. The next three episodes, well, they got better.
Episode 4 – “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm”
Harold needs Danny to defeat The Hand. So, remember all the crap from the first three episodes about Ward and Joy’s mounting legal dispute with Danny over the company? Yeah, forget all of that. Under Harold’s orders, Ward drops everything and welcomes Danny back into the company. He, of course, uses his zen-like ways to navigates his way through his introductory press conference, but has quite a bit to learn about corporate living, from a proper understanding of cost/benefit to simple board room etiquette. He takes a particular interest in the pier which Joy helped purchase in episode 3, and while the two reminisce in his ginormous penthouse Triad thugs break-in and try to take her away.
Punch, punch, punch, kick, kick, kick…
You know, standard Marvel Netflix hallway fight scene, except once the fight relocates to an elevator the episode’s director decides to throw some Ang Lee at us with random side-by-side panels instead of simply cutting to another angle. This is the first and thus far only time the show has done this.
Danny drops Joy off at Colleen’s, where the two gals seemingly size each other up in the “do you have a crush on Danny?” department, and heads out to confront the Triad, who defend their actions as being retaliation for the hostile buyout of the pier they had been using. Then Danny says “The Hand” and, well, can an entire gang run away so fast that they leave a Looney Tunes-esque cloud-shaped cutout of themselves behind? If so, that’s what they did. With The Hand as cover, Harold later kills the one Triad member who actually punched Joy. Suddenly, Harold has some layering. The dude does genuinely love his kids.
Episodes 5-6 – “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus” and “Immortal Emerges from Cave”
And then something straight out of a Ryan Murphy show happens when “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus” opens with a montage of gorgeous pharmaceutical sales reps hawking a new completely legal, non-addictive version of heroin. It’s the liveliest sequence in the entire show to this point, yet it also oddly feels like it belongs in an entirely different show.
After that cold open, we see Iron Fist finally start to connect some dots and put more pieces into motion. Danny is siphoned off into his own mystery of hunting down the source of the new drug (it’s The Hand, and they’re pushing it into the city through that new pier they made Rand buy) while Ward and Joy have to deal with the corporate fallout of Danny innocently, but stupidly admitting legal culpability in an ongoing “your company gave us cancer” lawsuit against Rand.
These two plot points drive the action for episodes 5 and 6, setting Ward into a tailspin of prescription pill abuse and Danny and Colleen into a partnership (he needs her as backup while tracking down the drug shipments) and even tentative romance (he pulls a Christian Grey/Rey Palmer and buys her building after she repeatedly refused to take his money). When Danny discovers the creator of the new drug is a man whose daughter is being hold by The Hand he engages in a ritualistic trial by combat to free her from their clutches. Throughout the combat, Danny’s mentor appears to him either in the form of memories or as some kind of magical entity invisible to everyone other than him.
Plus, Claire shows up as one of Colleen’s students, putting her in their path just in time to be the third wheel during Danny’s quasi-date with Colleen. Later, Claire turns into a readymade exposition machine for all the backstory about The Hand from Daredevil season 2, and even gets to throw in an homage to her sort of boyfriend Luke Cage when she exclaims “Sweet Christmas!” before kicking some ass at a hospital.
So, to repeat, is Iron Fist a bad TV show? Is it intolerable to continually see Finn Jones quoting ancient proverbs with all the emotional depth of a college freshman? Does it actually enter into hate-watch territory when episode 5 seriously sees fit to have Danny respond to Colleen’s fancy sword play by saying “Check this out” and then showing her his sweet nunchuck moves? Is Ward, doting son whose entire life work has been thrown into disarray by Danny, kind of the most sympathetic character on the show at this point, even if his addiction angle has come out of nowhere? Why must Colleen be so rushed into looking up at Danny as if his mere presence gives her the vapors? And just how poorly developed has the “to truly be Iron Fist Danny must abandon everything he used to be” internal conflict been?
I repeat that it is not so much an outright bad TV show as it is a poorly constructed one with a crucially miscast leading man. For all the criticism I lobbed at the more corporate-centric first three episodes it’s actually disappointing to see Danny’s mounting legal fight completely dropped as if it never truly mattered and was never going to be followed through. That points to poor story construction. However, with that business behind the show its next three episodes at least gained a better sense of forward momentum, with disparate plot points starting to come together and the more martial arts-like elements of the story pushed more to the foreground. It’s still disappointing that most of the fight scenes are unimaginatively choreographed and filmed, but I got to see Claire say “Sweet Christmas” and then bum rush an ambulance drive. So, it’s not all bad.