TV Reviews

Iron Fist Is Trying to Transition Into Something Better. The Process Is Not Without Some Hiccups.

Yesterday, I offered my spoiler-lite thoughts on the first half of Iron Fist’s second season. Today, here’s my spoiler-filled take on the entire season.

In a recent interview on Todd VanDerwerff’s podcast I Think You’re Interesting, FX CEO John Landgraf lamented how the new binge model of television naturally trends toward individual episodes which are entirely transitional and of little actual merit on their own. There’s exposition and advancing the story, of course, but then there’s just pure gap-filling episodes – the ones you have to watch to get the full story, but will forget the second they’re over.

Other than the 8-part Defenders special series, Netflix’s Marvel shows have all been deeply guilty of committing this increasingly common TV sin. Iron Fist’s second season was supposed to solve this problem by committing to a reduced 10-episode order. Less screen time equals a more hurried pace and economical storytelling. Or so you’d hope.

Sadly, that’s not always the case. That is unless someone in the editing bay just didn’t read the memo arguing audiences don’t actually need to watch Alice Eve’s Mary record an entire message for her alternate personality Walker at the end of one episode only to then show us Walker watching almost the entirety of the same video at the start of the next episode. As a result of these continued indulgences, episodes continue to run longer than they need to and nothing much happens with the sense of urgency it should.

However, that’s also just the Marvel Netflix house style, and at this point, we’re all used to it.

What stands out more to me with Iron Fist: Season 2 is how showrunner Raven Metzner seemed to treat the entire season as one long transitional episode. This is so clearly a reduced-budget, reduced-episode-order, fan-catering audition for a far more promising third season. Metzner inherited a show with a strong supporting cast, woefully miscast lead, and creeping identity crisis. In response, he churned out something memorable mostly just for where it leaves everyone at the end and what that promises for a hypothetical third season.

Spoiler warning, Colleen is the Iron Fist now. Like Quentin Coldwater on The Magicians, Danny eventually realized he’s not actually the Chosen One of this mythical story; he’s just the guy put there to help the far more talented girl on her hero’s journey.

Next line: “But it’s the adult part of me, the part of me that understands how magic works, which keeps screaming it’s you, not me.”

This seems like the natural end result of literally years of criticism. From the moment Finn Jones was cast, there have been complaints from those who viewed this as a missed opportunity for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have its first Asian title character. Nevermind that Marvel was simply faithfully adapting the version of Danny from the comics, a 70s era, “white boy ninja” creation who arrived at a time when David Carradine was playing a similar role on TV’s Kung Fu, a part originally meant for Bruce Lee. Netflix and Marvel could have broken from that, but didn’t, putting a white face on the supposedly mystical kung fu portion of their little piece of the MCU.

All of that negative reaction came BEFORE anyone had even seen Jones in action. Once the actual first season arrived, the criticisms were renewed tenfold as Jones turned into a real let-down, hardly convincing as a martial arts master and lacking the edge of someone meant to be increasingly hardened by the actions of those he trusted.

Given the inadequacies of the character and performer as well as the events of The Defenders, Metzner’s team was faced with the task of finding a new purpose for the character. They chose to make that his central conflict. He spent the entire season searching for a new purpose, trying his best Daredevil impression, fighting to win back the Iron Fist mantle after its stolen from him, before settling on traveling the world with Ward and yielding the spotlight to Colleen. Yet, the last second, time jump twist reveals he’s picked up some magical mojo over in Asia and wields guns now, not swords. Don’t you want to know what that’s all about, you can hear the show screaming at you.

Yes, that’s a version of this show I would watch. However, I’m not signing up again to watch Davos lead a gang of wayward youth toward a community center to engage in some poorly staged fight scenes or for Colleen and other characters to just spell out their feelings in a “I learned something today” kind of way. Because that’s ultimately where season 2 took things.

This started out as a show which was embraced only by the most hardcore fans, and here at the end of its second season it remains that, delighting those who know the comics while remaining wholly inessential viewing for anyone who prefers Luke, Matt, The Punisher, and/or Jessica. Everything which once made Iron Fist unique among the Netflix Marvel shows was scrubbed clean throughout season 2, dropping all of the corporate drama in favor of gangs, glowing fist vs. glowing fist fights, and unending talk of dragons. All the lingering season 1 drama has now been dealt with, and the show is freed to go in a wildly different direction next season. Whether that will draw in new viewers, eh, probably not, but it will sure please those who just can’t quit this aggressively average corner of the Netflix Marvel universe.

On Davos…

I get Davos, like Danny, is a bit lost at sea without their ancestral home and essentially sought to remake it in New York, starting with the worst gangs-to-jobs programs I’ve ever seen. There were also plenty of flashbacks explaining his legitimate belief that he is the rightful Iron Fist, not Danny. But, in the age of peak TV I don’t need 10 slow-moving episodes to see that play out. Man, I was missing The Expanse and Outcast to watch this shit.

On Mary/Walker…

Seemingly dropped in from a different world, I found it occasionally difficult to square the more Punisher/Split-inclined show she was in with the rest of Iron Fist. Plus, her unfinished arc speaks to the general transitional feel of the season, but pairing her with Joy in the end could produced some fun results if the show comes back. Also, Alice Eve in badass soldier mode is a suitably scary sight.

On Joy…

As the season progressed, she had to work harder and harder to maintain her perceived moral high ground. The tipping point for me came when Ward opened up to about their father abusing him and how he hid that from her for protection only for her to react as if this news changed nothing, confirmed everything she was mad about even. There was a lot of good stuff with her claiming her anger and piercing through the inherent selfishness of her uninvited male protectors, but at a certain point it was just the same argument over and over and over again. Her turn toward trying to help Danny and pals, even without telling them, came a little too late for me. Damn, though – kudos to her resiliency for simply refusing to die, even from an Iron Fist punch.

On Ward…

Still my favorite character. Didn’t see the pregnancy twist coming and interesting choice to have the mother reject him. That lends his running away with Danny at the end a certain irresponsible feel, but one of the oddly consistent throughlines of the season is Ward and Danny’s bromance. His roughness pairs nicely with Danny’s naivete.

Is it just me or…

Was the dialogue atrociously platitude-heavy this season? “Money talks, bullshit walks” / “The wolves in sheep’s clothing are the ones you have to be the most worried about” are but two examples.

BOLD PREDICTION REVISITED

Danny and Colleen are splitsville (for now). Called it. These Netflix Marvel shows need to find a new formula for their couples. It’s getting too predictable. At least the cause of their breakup (he doesn’t think he’s worthy of her yet) is different than it has been for other couples or pairings in this little universe.

What about you? What did you think of Iron Fist’s second season? Let me know in the comments.

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4 comments

  1. Not sure if Danny and Colleen actually split…I mean, they are apart, but it doesn’t feel like they have broken up. The connection between is too strong and if they stay apart, I would be very, very upset.

    Regarding the DVD watching scene: Funny, I was initially thinking the same thing “are they really showing both sides of this”? And then I realized that it was important to see the perspective of both characters in order to make Walker to realize that there is a third alter ego (which, I suspect, is Typhoid?) and let the audience see the moment of realization. So in the end, I don’t ding the show for that…I ding it for then spending too many scenes on Walker confirming the existence of the third personality. I also ding it for having a few talks between Joy and Ward too many, a few scenes of Ward with his sponsor too many and not enough scenes with Ward and Danny. Frankly, those two together are the best dynamic in the whole show. I think in the end they could have told the same story with one episode less.

    But yeah, this was a transitional season. What makes me nervous though is that there was no reason whatsoever to not show more of the batshit crazy stuff from the last five minutes during said transition. Why sucking out moments like this, which were pretty much part of the first season (and easily the best part of it), only to then promise that we will get more of it next season?

    Still like the characters in Iron Fist the best though. They are overall the most interesting bunch of them all.

    1. Danny did leave Colleen a “Dear John” letter (“Dear Jane?”) and they’d been proaching the “Are we going to make it as a couple?” question for the final eps, but I agree that their breakup is not as permanent nor as traditional as it might be on other shows. Heck, before he gets on the plane to Asia he mentions something about wanting to become worthy of Colleen. So, clearly he’s thinking there’s a future for them, although how Colleen feels about that is less clear.

      “I ding it for then spending too many scenes on Walker confirming the existence of the third personality. I also ding it for having a few talks between Joy and Ward too many, a few scenes of Ward with his sponsor too many and not enough scenes with Ward and Danny. Frankly, those two together are the best dynamic in the whole show. I think in the end they could have told the same story with one episode less.”

      Fair and agreed.

      “What makes me nervous though is that there was no reason whatsoever to not show more of the batshit crazy stuff from the last five minutes during said transition. Why sucking out moments like this, which were pretty much part of the first season (and easily the best part of it), only to then promise that we will get more of it next season?”

      I wonder how much came down to budget. They really, really seemed to be working with less money this season, and that set they used for the Asian bar as well as Danny’s final special effects with his hands and guns looked rather low grade. But, if money wasn’t the issue then I agree they should have devoted more time to what is them doing a re-pilot, that Angel: Season 4 finale thing where they remake the show at the end in a desperate bid for the network to renew them.

      1. Well, it is not like the bat-shit crazy stuff is necessarily expensive. I mean if Danny fights a random guy or a random guy who happens to be drunk shouldn’t make a difference on the budget, right? They had a few surreal moments (like Colleen fighting in the kitchen while Danny was stalling outside, the stroke move and the notion of having some sort of charity casino organised by a crime leaders wife) but they kind of restrained themselves with them. And that was kind of disappointing. At the very least Davos could have been a little bit more creative in his killings.

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