Welcome back to our reviews of each episode of Netflix and Marvel’s Iron Fist. You can check out my reviews of previous episodes by clicking the links below:
Episode 5: “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus”
After some improvement in the previous episode, it was disheartening to see Marvel’s Iron Fist to slip back into another episode of frankly boring character interactions and a narrative that still lurches along rather than steadily progresses. We do get some progression, but the small amount we get, (The Hand’s drug smuggling scheme, Danny and Colleen’s nighttime foray to the pier) is broken up by scenes with characters stuck in neutral repeating similar conversations from throughout the series.
Writer Cristine Chambers and director Uta Briesewitz kick things off with a solid cold open that sees the Hand’s representatives meeting with potential distributors of their synthetic heroin. It’s an aggressively over-the-top sequence, but it’s welcome because it at least has some style and verve to it, as opposed to the low-rent bland noir aesthetic of the series to this point. This development of the synthetic drug about to spread everywhere throughout the city adds a welcome jolt of specificity to the involvement of the Hand. After four episodes of nebulous references to the sinister organization’s plots and schemes, it’s nice to see something actually happening that we can latch onto. And that Danny can latch onto as well.
It’s a good thing that Danny has this new mission to undertake, because a lot of what he does in this episode doesn’t make a ton of sense. First of all, the guy drives an expensive sports car, which makes sense for a rich kid. But makes absolutely no sense for a rich kid who has, since the age of ten, lived in some remote mystical temple. Does he have a driver’s licence? Who taught him to drive a car? When did that happen? Between getting his identity back, running a corporation, and fighting ninjas he’s been taking driving lessons? Danny gets some nice moments with Colleen in the episode, and the establishment of their bond is probably the best character stuff on display. But when he tries to equate Colleen’s trials as a non-white woman with money troubles to his own tribulations, it comes off as insufferable. If we as an audience had actually seen his trials in K’un-L’un by now, maybe we’d get what he’s talking about, but the mystifying decision to keep K’un-L’un almost entirely off-screen means viewers have really only experienced Danny as a billionaire dudebro who gets to drive crazy sports cars and wear pricey suits with sneakers. We only know that he’s suffered because he’s said so, but we haven’t felt his suffering at all. Seriously, the writing in this show just refuses to do their hero any favors at all.
Speaking of Danny and Colleen, a meeting between them also leads to Danny meeting one of her private pupils, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). Like Jeri Hogarth before her, Claire acts as kind of the main connective linchpin between these Marvel series. Introduced in “Daredevil” before appearing in both “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage”, Claire’s appearance here winds up feeling the most forced and unnatural out of any of them. I really don’t get why, at this point, Claire hasn’t just set herself up as an underground “Night Nurse” officially, so that bringing her in as medical care to the city’s vigilantes becomes more organic. The idea that she just happens to know Colleen who just happens to know Iron Fist is so contrived that even Claire herself has to comment on it. Don’t get me wrong, Dawson is reliably grounded in the role, bringing an understated common touch that is to the benefit of all of these shows. But it feels forced and as if an outside mandate is forcing the story to twist itself into knots justifying why she’s there.
But if we’re talking about contrivances and forced developments, we need look no further than the Meachums. We don’t see Harold in the episode, but we are forced to be asked to care about the dilemmas of both Joy and Ward, who continue to be thoroughly uninteresting. Joy is given a subplot involving Rand Enterprises having inadvertently (maybe? or negligently?) caused cancer through their industrial plants. We’re, I think, supposed to sympathize with Joy’s dilemma at representing her company vs giving children cancer. Except that’s pretty impossible to sympathize with. Those people are the bad guys in courtroom movies (and real life) for a reason. I’m not saying you couldn’t have made Joy’s dilemma gripping, but you’d have to spend a lot more care and attention on it. And the show continues to ask us to pity Ward, but he’s written so shallowly and portrayed so one-dimensionally that his self-destructive spiral doesn’t illicit any feeling from me at all. He remains both incompetent as a threat and unlikable as a flawed victim.
Danny convinces Colleen to assist him in investigating a shipment arriving at Rand’s recently purchased pier that he suspects is the Hand’s drug shipment. This leads to a couple of odd scenes that are designed to increase the romantic tension between the two characters, which isn’t unwelcome or unmotivated. Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick do have some chemistry, and the series has done a serviceable job of setting that up. There’s an awkward lunch scene with Claire, Colleen and Danny that kicks this off, where once again Danny gets to tell the audience about K’un-L’un without showing us anything (which could almost be a drinking game at this point). That leads to a sparring session between Colleen and Danny that is supposed to show their mutual respect for each other’s martial art skills, though the action is both brief and underwhelming, so it hardly leaves an impression.
Finally, this leads to the sole strong moment in the episode, the assault on the pier. Which is a pretty generous name to give it initially, as Danny and Colleen skulk around the pier and flirt while nothing seems to happen for longer than is wise for the pace of the episode. But this eventually leads to a decent and well-executed action set piece with Danny stuck inside a shipping container that is being driven on a truck while Colleen tries to follow and rescue him. The episode ends with a bang of action and a nice narrative lurch forward. But considering that the only other moment that held my interest in the entire episode was the cold open, the gigantic amount of filler in between these two bright spots results in Episode 5 being one of the weaker episodes of Marvel’s Iron Fist so far. 5.5/10