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Iron Fist’s Season Finale “Dragon Plays With Fire”: Not With a Bang But a Whimper

Sigh. Not with a bang but a whimper.

That’s my instant reaction to Iron Fist’s season finale, which upends all the good work done in the latter half of the season and goes out in the most unimaginative way possible, with ho-hum action and the gall to pretend as if it is actually some huge shock that Harold is responsible for the plane crash 15 years ago.

In fact, I’m not going to do the full recap thing for this review. Instead, here’s what happens: Harold frames Danny and Colleen for Madame Gao’s drug ring. Madame Gao tells Danny Harold orchestrated the plane crash. Danny suddenly has anger issues he struggles to keep in check, something which had been referenced maybe once before. With Ward and Claire’s help, Danny and Colleen storm Rand to retrieve the information that’ll clear their names. Plus, someone’s going to kill Harold, and….oh, just jump to the end. Danny defeats Harold, but Ward delivers the killshot. With crazy dad out of the way, Ward takes over leadership of the company, and Colleen and Danny head off to K’un-Lun but discover it is missing, thus setting up the mystery (“where’s K’un-Lun?”)/potential villain (“who exactly led the attack on K’un Lun?”) likely to spill over into The Defenders.

The first Iron Man movie, Arrow season 1, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and various other superhero stories have included similar third act reveals where the character-defining tragedy which befell the hero was actually orchestrated by the dead dad’s greedy best friend. Iron Fist brings nothing new to the table in this regard, but even if this is the first superhero show you’ve ever seen Harold’s villainous twist is so heavily telegraphed (and thus easily predictable) that it only serves to make Danny look like an idiot. Again.

 

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Perhaps that’s the point. In fact, I’m relatively certain that is exactly the point. As Finn Jones told EW, “[Danny]’s craving desperately for family, for help, for guidance, for people to learn from, and for a team. But because of what happens in Iron Fist he’s very untrusting.” This is going to facto heavily into The Defenders in a big way, but it means were just stat through 13 episodes centered around a hero who was easily duped time and time again. Moreover, the way the season was structured often meant we were more aware of what was going on than Danny, with the only genuine surprise being Colleen turning out to work for The Hand. Even then, Bakuto’s time to shine as a potential peaceful replacement for Danny’s former sensei lasted all of 10 minutes since the show saw fit to let us in on his villainous side well before Danny ever caught on.

“You don’t belong in this world” is what Davos told Danny, and the evidence would seem to support him. Danny repeatedly proved himself incapable of truly coping with the cutthroat realities of corporate life. For example, he knows that his dad’s desk still has the stickers he put on it as a child, but from that desk he, on more than one occasions, asked, “Now what?” (as in “What do I do now? How exactly do I go about being a CEO?”) to a blank-faced Hogarth. He also didn’t quite know how to deal with the emotional complexities of simply maintaining friendships or forging romantic relationships, and seemed shockingly undisciplined for someone who spent 15 years studying at a monastery.

However, the point of the season was to position Danny as a bit of a lost soul who didn’t quite belong in New York but also never truly belonged in K’un-Lun. In the midst of this turmoil, Colleen emerged as his emotional anchor, the person he’d look to and say, “Wherever you are is home to me.” To buy that, though, you had to actually buy their romance, which is a big ask considering how quickly Colleen went from “This fucking guy again? Dude, just go away” to looking up at him with lovestruck eyes because, oh, he’s just so dreamy and such a magnetic fighter AND the Iron Fist.

Iron Fist finale

By the end, the show didn’t even seem to know what do with them, undercutting their relationship completely by giving Claire a mic-drop “you two both need serious psychological help” exit speech. Crucially, Colleen spent one of her final scenes more or less staring at the ground and looking sad as Danny announced his intentions to head back to K’un-Lun. She, of course, jumped into his arms when he invited her to go with him, but where was that fiery girl from the first couple of episodes who would have scolded Danny for running away or straight up told him how much she wants him to stay, well before he extended the invitation for her to go with him?

 

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It’s weird how few scenes these two had together in the entire second half of the season

 

Joy is similarly ill-served by the finale, severing her relationship with both her dad (once she discovers he has framed Danny) and Ward (even though she previously expressed sympathy for the impossible position he had been put in, and now realizes everything he said about their dad was true). She is nowhere to be found when Ward re-assumes leadership of the company even though she is the one who fought so damn hard to re-secure their positions on the board and she is the one who actually loved working there, not Ward.

Instead, she’s off at some Dark Knight Rises-esque café listening to a Madame Gao pitch about killing Danny. The fact that Joy responds to this suggestion with an intrigued “I’m listening” makes absolutely no sense considering her stated views in the prior episodes, such as her insistence that Danny not be allowed to sacrifice himself for her and outrage that her dad would frame him. But, yeah, she’s totally on board with getting rid of him now because he’s the source of all her problems. Sure. That follows.

Of course, it actually is true that once Danny showed up Joy’s life fell apart. The show ultimately seems to be trying to execute a role reversal where Joy and Ward have switched positions vis-à-vis Danny from the start of the season to the end. Ward now wants peace with Danny whereas Joy might want him gone (or has ulterior motives, such as only pretending to listen to The Hand in an effort to gain their trust). However, Joy deserves better than this off-screen change of heart.

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But maybe satisfying conclusions for the female characters is too much to expect from a male superhero show. It is called Iron Fist, not Joy and Colleen Get Shit Done. And in that regard Iron Fist is notable for breaking from the Netflix formula in that by the end of the season I don’t know if we can even say our hero has completely his origin story yet. Unlike Daredevil, Danny ends his first season nowhere close to wearing his superhero costume yet, and while he has achieved his vengeance (just like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage) he still hasn’t mastered his powers or even nailed down what exactly his mission is.

It seems insane that Iron Fist would really take nearly 13 full episodes before Danny finally did something truly awe-inspiring with his powers, yet here we are watching the season finale and finally seeing him punch the ground with such force that it lifts everyone in his vicinity into the air and causes all nearby glass to break. Pretty cool, yet by the very end we’re still left oddly wondering, “So, is he the full Iron Fist now or what?” And the “to become Iron Fist you must sacrifice everything that was Danny Rand” internal conflict, which came and went throughout the season, sure didn’t amount to much.

Perhaps that’s my out line, the perfect summation of this maligned show. Iron Fist: it didn’t amount to much. After a tedious start, it got better, and the side characters had some fairly amazing moments. But, in the end, Iron Fist proved to bes non-essential viewing, and can probably be skipped by anyone looking forward to The Defenders.

 

 

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About Kelly Konda (1824 Articles)
Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

12 Comments on Iron Fist’s Season Finale “Dragon Plays With Fire”: Not With a Bang But a Whimper

  1. I waffle back and forth between liking the idea of the show, and what the show actually is. Its completely uneven in terms of plot and pacing, and the focus of the entire season is entirely on the wrong stuff. I fully blame the writers (and Finn Jones) for all of that. Everyone else was bringing their top game.

    I never bought Colleen’s romance with Danny. She was in love with him because the script required her to fall in love with him. Its also one of those cases where the writers have no idea what to do with a woman once she falls in love with someone so they decide to make her act as if love has tamed her someone.

    I don’t even know what to say about Joy Meachum’s turn to the dark side.

    • “Its also one of those cases where the writers have no idea what to do with a woman once she falls in love with someone so they decide to make her act as if love has tamed her someone.”

      Couldn’t have put it better myself.

      “I don’t even know what to say about Joy Meachum’s turn to the dark side.”

      I’m willing to listen if her willingness to listen was a ruse of some sort, but otherwise the show’s writers utterly betrayed everything they had done with her to that point, likely just because they had always planned to execute a role reversal with her and Ward but never adjusted once that no longer made complete sense. Her turning to a darker side is not wrong, but doing so by singling in on Danny is just…well, it’s what they did. So, we’re stuck with it.

  2. I liked the show…I actually think that narratively speaking, it is the strongest of the Netflix show due to it taking the time of crafting characters with a lot of layers which are more in the grey area than most of the other characters in the Netflix world, which tend to be firmly on the good or the bad side, even if they sometime dabble on the other side of the fence. It is also better paced in having a narrative which ups the stakes step by step instead of starting strong and then dipping in the second half. This in mind, I am totally okay with Danny using his Iron Fist to great effect at the finale and not beforehand. Btw, I think his story is about accepting the role of the Iron Fist, but he still needs to learn to use all the abilities connected to it.

    To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the Romance between him and Colleen, even though I was originally very against the notion. It is a little bit immature, the result of two people who have no-one else in the world clinging to each other, but it is also genuine in an understanding they have for each other. After all, they both grew up in a cult.

    I reserve my judgement on Joy, simply because I don’t know yet where the writers want to go with it. The scene is kind of ambiguous. It is entirely possible that Joy is “listening” not because she actually feels ill will towards Danny, but because she just spend a whole season left in the dark and this is the opportunity to collect information herself. She said herself that uncovering the schemes of the Hand made her feel useful and alive, and I can totally see her going “undercover” so to speak. If they actually go for the “Joy suddenly wants revenge” route though, I agree that this turn was way too fast.

    Still I hope that Netflix will take some money in the hand if they want to do more with Danny. What the show really needed was one director responsible for all the fight scenes and a decent budget for enough training and some good lighting.

    • I said it in one of the reviews, but there’s much to actually like about Iron Fist if you can simply get past Finn Jones’ performance.

      All the strengths you pointed out – taking the time to craft layered characters, progressively upping the stakes, etc. – are absolutely there. Plus, while much of Iron Fist superficially resembles other superhero origin stories the show departs in one key regard, specifically that Danny is so hopelessly naïve about everything. There is an innocence and purity to him at the start of the show which is beaten down over and over again throughout the season, and by the end he’s somewhat wiser yet also still his dopey self, practically toeing the ground in front of him while asking Colleen to head off with him. This journey is harder to take because I don’t know that Jones has the right energy for the role, and it was kind of strange how often we were clued in on every big secret before Danny with “Colleen is Hand, the ninja star guy is Davos” being two notable exceptions which we discovered the same time as him.

      I don’t object to the Colleen-Danny romance. There is much common ground for their bond, as you pointed out. I just object to how quickly it happened. I take it we are supposed to retroactively understand the hastiness more when we realize Colleen is part of The Hand and has been ordered to coerce the Iron Fist to their side. However, I don’t know well that actually works.

      We’ll definitely have to take a wait and see on Joy. What’s odd for me is that Danny and Colleen are the ones who will cross over to The Defenders, yet Ward and Joy are the ones I’m most eager to see again. I have obviously joked a lot about the Harold-Kyle ice cream scene, but the scene of the season for me might actually be Joy and Ward talking to each other on that park bench, the sister taking one last triumphant stab at forming an emotional bond with the brother who is pulling away from her for entirely mysterious reasons. I don’t love that Joy fell into an almost Arrow-esque trap of being a female on a superhero show ergo all the guys have to lie to her about something to protect her. However, her ability to tell Danny to get lost to his face, and then tell Ward later that she doesn’t know if they’re doing the right thing with him and then do the same kind of public/private opinion thing on the cancer lawsuit instantly made her one of the more layered characters I’ve encountered in this Marvel Netflix verse.

      Lastly, I agree – they need to up their action game. Maybe poach some people from Into the Badlands. It’s insane to me that we reached the end of the season with the show never having settled on just how it wanted to film its action scenes, what with the odd Ang Lee-esque panel split-screen thing coming and going without warning.

      Ultimately, I don’t quite regret giving Iron Fist a chance. I don’t begrudge anyone who hated it or will skip it, but I found just enough to enjoy to keep me going. And, yes, a lot of the time that “something” was the ever-present promise of a fantastic line reading from the actor playing Harold.

      • I did love that scene of Joy and her brother just talking on that park bench. That actress just totally sold it and I really got into it. I see why you like the Meachums so much. Their drama was compelling for me too after a few episodes. I couldn’t latch onto anyone else in the plot, but Claire and the Meachums I got. I did kinda want to see more of Hogarth and her legal machinations too.

      • It is a bit odd the way the season set Hogarth up on this big legal case, and then, poof, Harold barks an order to Ward, the legal case is dropped, and Hogarth disappears until the finale. I guess that’s where Hogarth was just in this for an extended cameo and Carrie Ann Moss might have been busy with Humans Season 2 or something, but Claire was more or less a full-time cast member who just didn’t actually show up until (what was it?) the 4th episode.

      • At the end of the day, I am not too bothered by the bad reviews to be honest…Netflix has been skimping on those shows and a lot of people didn’t notice or were ready to overlook the fact because of flashy colours or use of music. Which is fine, but it was time for a reminder that you need to give a show a decent budget and time to develop. Giving the actors 15 minutes to learn a choreography is just crazy.

      • Iron Fist has always been the red headed stepchild in this Marvel-Netflix deal, the oft-forgotten one developing in the background as the masses rallied behind Daredevil, Jessica, Luke and even The Punisher. However, while all of those shows powered forward and triggered second season or spin-off renewals it always seemed as if Iron Fist was running behind schedule, struggling to nail down a showrunner, never quite knowing how to deal with the negative reaction to Finn Jones’ casting, pushing forward with no real release date, etc. In the end, it felt more like the completion of a contractual obligation than it did something they’d fully figured out and properly developed.

      • Still want to know more and I hope that there will be a second season with a clearer vision.

      • I am really curious to see how this is going to play out, vis-a-vis whether or not they get a second season. Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all got second seasons, but as I recall those renewals were not exactly instantaneous. No Netflix Original has ever been canceled after just one season, but some of them have to wait longer than expected to get an official renewal notice. Shows which the internet seems to collectively love and turn into trending topics will then be met with weeks of bts negotiations and a growing fear of “why haven’t they renewed that yet?” It happened with Stranger Things, most of the Marvel shows and is currently happening with Santa Clarita Diet. The difference here, though, is Iron Fist by no means has the critical and online support of the other Marvel shows which in those cases made a renewal in seem like a slam dunk decision, with any delay being due to a need to hammer out the contracts.

        Iron Fist, though, I’m not so sure. I could see them renewing it but changing showrunners. Or I could see them skirting around the issue by possibly folding it into Luke Cage and finally realizing Heroes for Hire. I want to see what happens with Joy and Ward, but I have no idea when I will or if it will even happen in something actually called Iron Fist. So, like I said, very curious to see how this plays out.

      • I think they will wait until after Defenders….if the fans like Danny, they will do another season for sure. If they like the pair up of Luke and Danny, hello Heroes for Hire. In any case, past defenders they need to allow more crossovers in the shows. So far they could hold off paying for one star appearing in the show of another star, but this is another thing for which they really need to take some money into the hand. Also, while the show doesn’t have that much support online, the rating on Netflix itself is fairly high.

      • Which is another reason I am among those who hate Netflix’s plan to do away with ratings and replace it with a simple thumbs up/thumbs down. Argh. But, more to the point at hand, I agree with your assessment of how this will probably end up going. They’ll firm up their Iron Fist plans after The Defenders, at which point all of this now slightly outdated business of these characters never interacting and any crossover references being kept as vague as possible (thus all the vague Luke Cage/Jessica Jones/Daredevil references in Iron Fist) might get a much needed update.

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