Iron Fist’s first three episodes can be roughly summarized as follows:
Episode 1 –
Danny: Hey, everyone! It’s me, Danny, heir to the billion dollar company you’ve been running ever since I went down in a plane crash with my parents when I was 10. Well, surprise, I’m not really dead, and I’m totally homeless now.
Everyone else: You’re not Danny. Danny’s dead. Get out of here, asshole.
Danny: But, but, but..
Everyone else: In fact, we’re going to have you committed. Guards, take him away!
Danny: [Sad face]
Episode 2 –
Danny: You locked me up in a mental hospital? Dick move, guys. But, you’ve got to believe me, I really am Danny Rand.
Everyone else: Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t. If you are, where the heck have you been this entire time?
Danny: Funny story. I was off in a mystical other dimension becoming a kung fu master, but don’t go looking for this place on the map. It only reveals itself once a decade or so. Oh, also, when I get really mad my fists start glowing.
Everyone else: Uh-huh. [Makes following motion]
Episode 3 –
Danny: Look, I’m not staying in that mental institution any longer. I have wayward youth to school on the finer arts of white boy kung fu, much to the dismay of my new Asian friend.
But I’ll ask again: do you finally believe me? I am Danny Rand, dammit!
Everyone else: Fine. You really are Danny. Here’s a bunch of money to make you go away.
Danny: Screw all y’all [throws a fit in a fancy restaurant]. I’ve lawyered up with
Trinity Hogard from Jessica Jones. I’ll see you in court. Also, [shows off his world class pouting].
Now, the tone of my summaries would probably lead you to believe that I have nothing but contempt for these episodes and, by extension, this show. However, that would suggest Iron Fist is actually worthy of such outrage. It’s not. Beyond its obvious cultural appropriation issues, which have been debated ad nauseum well before the show ever premiered, Iron Fist isn’t so much objectionable or offensive as it is simply a bland exercise in life-less comic book storytelling, with the first three episodes struggling to mount much narrative momentum (Will Danny take that $100 million buyout on his company? Keep watching to find out, loyal viewer).
The blandness is apparent from the get-go with the show’s drab, black-tinted opening credits depicting our titular hero (animated as if he’s the T-1000 from Terminator 2) motioning his fists of fury around his body thus promising us a martial arts action fest when really what we get is a legal/corporate drama which just happens to have random fight scenes as well as one too many scenes of white boy Danny quoting Asian proverbs or schooling Asians and other minorities on the finer art of kicking ass.
The juxtaposition between martial arts fun and boardroom banter likely holds an appeal for some, as it foregrounds a top-down view of New York and its ruthless real estate tycoons thus positioning Iron Fist as the “this is corporate New York” arm of the Marvel Netflix universe. However, it also gives Iron Fist the feel of a show which is still searching for its own identity, unlike Daredevil (vigilante show 101), Jessica Jones (female film noir detective) and Luke Cage (modern day Blaxploitation) which all came straight out of the gate with a better sense of what they were.
Still, this is a vaguely new look for the Marvel Netflix universe (which, it must be noted, still oddly pretends like absolutely nothing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond The Avengers has actually happened). Daredevil and Jessica Jones gave us the street-level view of vigilantes, kingpins, corporate law firms towering over the little guys and the floundering power of the media as represented by newspapers and talk radio shows. Luke Cage offered up Harlem in all of its multi-cultural glory. Iron Fist , as The Guardian argued, almost does something nearly as interesting:
Opening episodes set our missing-presumed-dead hero on a collision course with the owners of his dead billionaire father’s business; brother-and-sister big-hitters Joy and Ward Meachum (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey). These two grew up with Danny but are now determined to deny his identity and birthright. Initially, penniless and sleeping in Central Park, Rand’s status as a virtual hobo makes him an unlikely symbol of the powerlessness of poverty in the face of corporate might.
Indeed, it’s not too far into the pilot that Danny finds himself homeless and discussing conspiracy theories with a local vagrant, potentially positioning him as a man of the people. However, what undercuts this and so many other parts of the show is the consistently subpar writing and creeping feeling that Finn Jones has been miscast, not just because he’s white (I know, I know – Danny is white in the comics) but also because he lacks any real depth, urgency or screen presence. After listening to this vagrant’s crazy talk (he strongly suggests pissing in shoes and anointing them with the blood of goat before wearing them) Danny laughs and remarks, “I’m guessing people think we’re pretty much alike.”
Is Danny insulting this nice, but mentally imbalanced man who just politely helped him look up vital information on an iPhone? Or is he attempting to bond, recognizing a kindred spirit?
It’s the latter, but there’s more uncertainty about it than there should be.
Admittedly, that is but one small moment, and it might not strike some as particularly egregious. However, moments like that it keep popping up across the first three episodes, and the show’s inability to edit itself (each episode is at least 57 minutes long when 45 minutes would have been more than sufficient) leads to monotony and eye-roll-inducing dialogue (seriously, how many times can Danny’s quasi-friend Colleen Wing say something along the lines of “I don’t need this shit, man”?).
What has kept me watching, though, is one specific scene which blew me away with its complete randomness and utter hilarity.
For thus far unclear reasons, Ward Meachum’s father Harold faked his death. He appears to need the occasional assistance of a hyperbaric chamber to survive, but he is otherwise alive and well, running the company from the shadows, barking orders to his son and generally treating him like shit. Imagine if Chris Cooper from Amazing Spider-Man 2 had faked his death and dictated everything to Harry from the shadows and became obsessed with Peter Parker for reasons Harry couldn’t understand. That’s what’s playing out on Iron Fist right now, likely laying the foundation for the eventual reveal of the season’s big bad since daddy Meachum seems to be living in fear of The Hand (aka, the source of Daredevil season 2’s too many ninjas problem).
Yeah, yeah, yeah…whatever. The truly fantastic part of this storyline is that Harold has an intern, a meek fellow at the start of his career who is being massively overpaid to promote loyalty. In the second episode, as Harold oversees secret footage of Danny in the mental hospital the following exchange comes out of nowhere:
Harold: We actually get a shrink who’s trying to help the guy.
Harold: Why are you always saying sorry to me? You’re like some scared little rabbit who’s always apologizing.
Intern: Sor…I’ll…I’ll…I’ll try not to do that.
Harold: I don’t give a shit what you do, Kyle. I’m just pointing it out. For your own betterment.
Intern: Thank you, sir.
Harold: See, what’s really interesting is I think this might actually be Danny Rand. And I have no clue how that’s possible. This guy here’s he’s not asking the right questions.
Intern: Sorry [gasps]
Harold: Ah, you can’t help yourself, can you? You know what my dad used to do? [Takes off his own belt, walks toward Kyle] Whenever I messed up, which according to my dad was pretty much all the time, he’d whip me [whips Kyle’s desk with his belt] across the back with his belt. And with each [whips Kyle’s desk again] I’d have to apologize for forcing him to exert himself. God, I miss him. But now I don’t apologize for anything. Kyle, get the car ready tonight.
Intern: The car?
Harold: Yeah, the thing with the four wheels.
Intern: Yes, sir, it’s just that you never leave the penthouse.
Harold: Oh, I’m thinking it’s time.
Yes to all of that. More of that. I want to see more of Harold’s random life lessons for his intern, seeing as how they’re mostly hanging out in that Penthouse together all by themselves. It’s completely extraneous to the show, and has nothing to do with Iron Fist. However, it’s the one part of the first three episodes which gave me any real joy and commanded my attention. Maybe when the episodes start to drag, which they so often do, they should cut to Harold and Kyle watching secret footage and offering their own colorful commentary. I can’t wait to see how Harold reacts when Kyle finally asserts himself.