Iron Fist’s first three episodes were bland and overly long. The next three improved by simply rising to the level of “watchable.” What about episodes 7-9? Has Iron Fist finally started to come together? Or is the season just as muddled a mess always?
I’d say it merely remains “watchable” even if the temptation to simply skip every one of Danny’s scenes is growing harder to ignore. From the start, this show has had its feet in two different worlds, a corporate boardroom drama with Shakespearean family dynamics on one side, a kung-fu extravaganza on the other, with ninjas and Triads and ancient prophecies, oh my. Episodes 7-9 only further that divide, thus greatly enhancing the pitfall of most ensemble shows where there are certain characters/storylines you simply do not care about as much. What sinks Iron Fist is that the part of the show which is increasingly less compelling is everything having to do with, well, Iron Fist.
For example, in a single park bench conversation with her brother in episode 8 Joy expressed more gripping internal conflict and believable emotions than Danny has throughout the entire season, which is both a testament to Jessica Stroup‘s performance and knock on Finn Jones’. Elsewhere in the season, Joy has been treated as a character who is allowed to express her sympathies for cancer victims in one sentence while also defending Rand’s lack of legal culpability in the next. Thus, she has proven herself capable of holding conflicting opinions on the same issue because she resembles an actual human being with layers. Of course, as a female character on a superhero show she must also be needlessly kept in the dark by men who are just trying to protect her. Not great, but it doesn’t completely ruin her as a character.
By comparison, Danny’s just so damn boring. There’s an idea that he is completely lost and in desperate search for family, pingponging back and forth between the conflicting world views preached to him by Harold, Joy and Colleen and finding himself unsure which path to follow. Moreover, he is not the Iron Fist master he thought himself to be, particularly when we’ve had 7 episodes of him talking bullshit about his 15 years of training and mental discipline and then he proves completely incapable of holding back in a fight in episode 8. However, there’s no getting past how weightless Jones’ performance is, and how much everyone around him pulls focus not so much because they are getting better writing (although they often are) but more that they are simply offering up superior performances. Now he’s dragging poor Colleen down with him since the two are an item and her journey as a character is now explicitly linked to his.
It’s inevitable, then, that the increasingly fraught relationships and nuanced opinions expressed in the Harold-Ward-Joy portion of the show trumps the gobbledygook in the Danny-Colleen-Claire half.
Episode 7 – “Felling Tree with Roots”
Two Hand agents try to kill Harold. Big mistake.
Danny and Colleen make sweet, sweet love in a surprisingly sedate sex scene. Big mistake? Or, you guys, awwww. Or, I had it right the first time, and it’s too soon to go there with these two. At the very least, their sex scene could have been so much better, playing more into the fact that he is breaking his vow of celibacy for her and has no experience with this whatsoever. Moreover, the sense of intimacy could have been enhanced by acknowledging the physical injuries they are both still nursing, especially since they just said he might have broken ribs (e.g., there could have been a tender moment of one of them grimacing in pain and the other offering a loving kiss to ease said pain). But, no, they went about as boring with it as they could.
Danny discovers Madame Gao conducts Hand business out of a secret floor at Rand corporate headquarters, and rejects her peace offer, since it mostly amounts to, “We’ll keep doing super shady shit, and you can just be a worthless playboy billionaire with a fancy chest tattoo.” He does manage to steal a bunch of data from one of those hot pharmaceutical reps, who are all apparently being coerced into working for The Hand.
Danny goes against Joy’s advice and refuses to apologize for admitting legal culpability in the ongoing cancer lawsuit. In fact, he demands that all of the Rand power plants in the disputed area be shut down until the cancer link can be definitively debunked. Until then, all the employees at the plants will still get paid. Plus, while he’s at, he also insists all of the assistants at the office get their dental plan back. Big mistake. The board quickly votes to throw Danny, Joy and Ward out of the company.
Earlier, Harold forced Ward to dump the bodies of the two Hand agents, presumably because Kyle the intern was off that night. Not great, but not too far off from how things normally go for Harold and Ward.
But then Harold took back the twenty-five million Ward had embezzled from the company, which he knew about this entire time but covertly covered up for his idiot son. Same old controlling dad, but Ward can’t be too mad. He probably would have been caught and imprisoned if not for the cover up.
Yeah, but Ward was going to use that money to fund his escape to Central America. Harold canceled that. Then he stood there and praised Danny in front of him. Big mistake.
Ward finally snaps and kills dear old, controlling dad, likely breaking poor Kyle the intern’s heart (if he was actually around anymore).
Episodes 8 – “The Blessing of Many Fractures”
More so than usual for Iron Fist so far, “Blessing of Many Fractures” is an episode of two completely unrelated halves. In one half, Ward and Joy debate Rand’s golden parachute offer, and actually take stock of what they want from life as well as from their own brother-sister relationship. In the other half, Danny, Colleen and Claire go to China to ascertain whether or not Madame Gao had something to do with the plane crash 15 years ago.
In the corporate side of the episode, Ward and Joy emerge as easily the most compelling and complex characters on this show, the two acknowledging they are now on divergent paths, him wanting out and to escape and start over, her determined to fight back and reclaim the corporate job and life she grew to adore. Plus, we get a vague reference to Jessica Jones as the drunk private investigator Joy hired to dig up dirt on the other board members.
In the China side, Claire overtakes both Danny and Colleen as the dominant personality carrying the majority of the drama as well as dialogue. It’s almost as if the writers leaned into Rosario Dawson’s strengths due to the realization that Danny just kind of sucks as a character (at the very least, his mission planning skills could use some work) and Colleen is so tethered to him that she’s also losing some of what made her so strong in the early episodes. Either way, the trip to China does at least give us Iron Fist’s adequate attempt at a Jackie Chan Drunken Master fight scene, and ends with the group apprehending Madame Gao after defeating her bodyguards. How exactly Claire held her own in the kerfuffle is a mystery, unless Colleen’s self-defense classes really are that amazing.
Episodes 9 – “The Mistress of All Agonies”
Funny thing about killing someone who has previously been resurrected by The Hand: they just keep coming back. Good to know for the future with Elektra on Daredevil. More pressingly, though, it means Harold returns from the dead…again…except this time his mental capacities have been impacted, leading to him wandering around the city, freaking out little kids, barfing mud in front of a street vendor. Hilariously, when he happens upon the Rand headquarters in the wee hours of the morning he mumbles, “Rand. I’m Rand. No, I’m Meach…Meachum. Why isn’t it my name?”
He finally regains his mental capacities when he tours the empty Rand offices and realizes both Ward and Joy have been fired. And then he calls Kyle the intern….
Okay. This Harold-Kyle mentor relationship is such an insignificant part of the episode and season. I really shouldn’t keep harping on it. After all, the rest of “Mistress of All Agonies” is devoted to Madame Gao pulling a Spike on Buffy season 4 or Angelus on Angel season 4 by being a verbal disruptor, i.e., a prisoner who rains down uncomfortable truths on their captors and delights in witnessing the ensuing emotional drama. As such, she tears Claire and Colleen apart using just her words, and then delights in watching Colleen slowly succumb to a poison she was exposed to in China.
Cool. That’s great…So, about Harold and Kyle. Reunited for the first time in what must be 7 episodes, the first thing Harold says to Kyle is, “You talk a lot.” And, then, in classic Harold-Kyle fashion the former belittles the latter in hilariously nonchalant fashion.
Harold then kills Kyle.
Whoa. Hold on. What? Yeah, it turns out the people who come back from The Hand cure come back wrong, increasingly so with each subsequent resurrection. Harold’s on resurrection #2 meaning he might speak of peace and mending fences but he can’t stop his increasingly violent impulses from taking over. So, when he offers Kyle fancy ice cream and Kyle asks if there is any vanilla he brutally murders him (it’s Iron Fist’s “No Wire Hangers!” moment). When Ward asks to be left alone Harold plants drugs in his car and has him committed to the same mental hospital Danny visited oh so long ago. Now, Joy has uncovered Harold in the penthouse and shared a tearful reunion. She has no idea how much danger she is in.
Oh, also, Danny uses his Iron Fist powers to save Colleen, and then she and her sensei take him away.
Fine. Whatever. Can we get back to Ward, Joy and Harold now?