In the pantheon of superhero shows I’ve watched, Iron Fist is…well, it’s definitely the most recent.
High praise, right?
To be fair, Iron Fist isn’t terrible, or at least it isn’t after you get past the first three episodes. However, in the age of peak TV sitting through three episodes of anything before it starts to at least appear adequate is a big ask even if, historically, most normal TV shows take a while to find themselves. As such, there might be many of you who have decided to simply skip Iron Fist, especially considering the way the show has been plagued by bad press for months (over the casting of white boy Finn Jones to play the kung fu master…even though the character is white in the comics) and now suffers from dead-on-arrival reviews (just 19% on RottenTomatoes). Prior to Iron Fist’s debut there was some question as to whether or not it could be skipped by anyone planning on watching Marvel’s Netflix mini-series. The Defenders later this year. After all, this is the final Marvel Netflix show before the big Daredevil/Jessica Jones/Luke Cage/Iron Fist team-up. Surely Iron Fist directly leads straight into that mini-Avengers in some way, right?
Eh. Kind of. There are various easter eggs across the season, such as indirect references to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage as well as a direct reference to Karen Page. Plus, several characters we already know (Madame Gao, Claire Temple, Hogarth) and one evil entity (The Hand) factor fairly heavily into the season. However, other than the cliffhanger finale there’s very little about Iron Fist which could be said to be “essential viewing” for anyone planning to watch The Defenders. So, to save you the time here’s a cheat sheet of everything you’ll need to know about Iron Fist season 1 before The Defenders, which is due to premiere this summer:
1. Danny is justifiably working through some trust issues, but he is still desperate to find somewhere he belongs
Danny suffered a modified Amazing Spider-Man 2/Arrow season 1 tragedy as a 10-year-old when a plane crash killed his parents and left him stranded on a mountainside, where some mystical monks from an interdimensional holy realm named K’un Lun saved him and raised him as one of their own for the next 15 years. Once he came of age and completed most of his training he underwent trials to become the next Iron Fist, a magical force passed down from generation to generation, with each subsequent Iron Fist swearing to defend K’un Lun from The Hand. Danny then promptly ran the hell away, having no real clue how to use his new Iron Fist powers and spends the majority of the season ping-ponging back and forth between those looking to use him for their purposes. He keeps falling for it because he’s naïve and in desperate need of belonging and a sense of family, and by the end he has to defeat a deceitful father figure.
As Finn Jones told EW, this will directly inform Danny’s tentative approach to team-building with The Defenders, “[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.”
2. Danny has a girlfriend named Colleen who has recently been excommunicated from The Hand.
She also has some serious rage issues (as evidenced by her brief stint as an out-of-control fight club queen), but is deeply in love with Danny and similarly had to defeat a deceitful father figure before the season was done. She will be joining him on The Defenders.
3. Oh, yeah. There are two different versions of The Hand.
Madame Gao leads the more overtly evil branch which runs drugs and kidnaps family members to hold as leverage over important individuals. She represents the Daredevil villain way of doing things. However, the branch Colleen came from takes wayward youth off the streets, turns them into mini-ninjas and then sets them up with jobs and places to live. It’s how Colleen got her dojo. Sadly, though, this branch operates like a cult, with those who are sent back out into the world put into strategic positions where they can recruit new people, all in the name of eventually toppling the oligarchy and taking down the corporations which rule the world. That actually doesn’t sound too horrible, but, no, they’re still bad. Once Colleen gets hip to that she turns on them and chooses Danny instead, which obviously doesn’t go over well. She had to kill her sensei, and now her old branch of The Hand has disappeared, scattered to the wind or overtaken by Gao or a combination of both. We don’t know.
4. Claire can hold her own in a fight now.
As set up at the end of Luke Cage, Claire took Colleen’s self-defense classes, and got sucked into her and Danny’s various adventures. So, Claire was put into direct combat on multiple occasions and on each occasion she managed to survive and even taken down a goon or two of her own. Like Colleen, Claire will be in The Defenders, and she ended her time on Iron Fist regarding both Danny and Colleen as friends.
5. The mystical, inter-dimensional monastery where Danny trained for 15 years is missing.
That’s the big cliffhanger ending of the season. The path to K’un Lun only opens once every 15 years, and the Iron Fist is supposed to be there to protect the path. However, since Danny was AWOL in New York K’un Lun stood without its champion, and is now mysteriously gone. All Danny and Colleen found were four dead Hood soldiers on what used to be K’un Lun’s front steps. Could Sigourney Weaver’s villainous characte set to debut on The Defenders bear some responsibility for this?
6. Beheading is the only way to kill Hand-created immortals (suck it, Highlander!)
We never actually see anyone beheaded, but the immortal character who turns out to be The Big Bad is almost beheaded at one point. We are told it is the only way to kill him for good, thus confirming Stick’s Daredevil season 2 argument.
7. Hand-created immortals become increasingly unhinged over time and attack those closest to them
8. Danny isn’t remotely close to wearing a superhero costume yet.
Unlike Daredevil’s first season, Iron Fist didn’t delay a superhero costume reveal until the very end. Instead, it just didn’t do it at all, only briefly glimpsing archival footage of one of the prior Iron Fists in action and full costume. Danny is mostly content with going at it in non-descript, baggy clothing, and he has thus far made no effort to hide his identity as Iron Fist. He practically walks up to random people on the street to tell them the good news, although once he spent some time in a mental hospital he learned to be more discrete with that kind of thing.
9. In fact, Danny is kind of terrible at everything he does other than pouting, quoting proverbs and showing off some sweet nunchuck moves.
That’s as much a knock on Finn Jones’ performance as it is the actual way the character has been presented thus far. However, it’s not entirely fair of me to say because, well, he’s not a terrible fighter. He’s actually quite good, but he has barely begun to realize how much he can actually do with his powers (other than making his fist glow when he really needs to deliver a super punch) and barely has control of his anger. So much of what happens through Iron Fist comes back to Danny being too ill-prepared or too naive to properly navigate the increasingly complicated world he inhabits. He actual ends the seasons reasoning that he seriously needs more training, which he will likely have to get through The Defenders since K’un Lun is gone. When a frenemy remarks as follows we all nod in complete agreement:
10. Lastly, when someone offers you your choice of a wide array of fancy ice cream flavors DO NOT ask if they have any vanilla. Things will end badly for you.
Actually, you don’t really need to know this one. It has nothing to do with The Defenders, really. It’s just that tucked in the middle of Iron Fist’s first season is one of the all-time best scenes in Marvel Netflix history, a purely campy moment of one deranged character turning on another sweet and innocent character and brutally murdering them after a request for vanilla ice cream triggers a homicidal response. “It’s only ice cream!” aren’t the best last words to go out on, but, alas, it’s all poor Kyle the intern got.