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:
Before we dive in, it occurs to me that in my last review, I mentioned Danny’s driving of a car. I just now realized that actually happened in this episode, not in Episode 5, so apologies for that, but my criticism of it still stands. I hope not to make any more mistakes like that, but it’s the pitfalls of having to review a bunch of episodes in succession! On we go!
Episode 6: “Immortal Emerges From Cave”
It’s taken six episodes, but thanks to a well-written script and the best direction on the series this far, Marvel’s Iron Fist finally has an instalment that fulfills the potential of the kung fu hero. A strong, well-structured narrative that both satisfies those yearning for solid martial art sequences combines seamlessly with an effective study of the show’s central character that also indirectly reveals more of his back story and a director that understands the kung fu genre and knows how to bring out its more successful attributes. The result is the first and only episode of Marvel’s Iron Fist yet to actually be exciting, engrossing and successful television.
The episode is directed by RZA. Yes, that RZA, from Wu-Tang. It’s clear that he’s long been a fan of the martial arts genre (if Wu-Tang’s name isn’t a tip off, he also directed a martial art film called “The Man With the Iron Fists”), and the passion and command he has of the genre is all over the episode from the cold open forward. That cold open features a series a martial arts master getting invitations to a challenge, with each getting their own vignette to establish them as threats. It’s an evocative, visually exciting, energized opener that tells you right away that there’s a singular voice calling the shots.
The script for the episode, by Dwain Worrell, has a similar strong voice. Danny himself has received a challenged as well, and the Hand is setting up deadly martial arts tournament to try and eliminate the Iron Fist before he becomes too much of a threat. For Danny’s part, he sees the challenge as an opportunity to destroy the Hand and fulfill his destiny, as well as a chance to rescue an innocent woman being held hostage by the Hand. Worrell’s script effectively establishes the main objectives and obstacles for the episode, keeping the stakes high, specific and well-drawn. Framing the entire episode around a clear, well-defined objective does wonders for keeping the viewer’s interest, and the script paces itself well, building up to the climatic battle effectively. The episode also uses the opportunity of Danny’s preparation for the battle to reveal his character more, and in an interestingly indirect but evocative way. As Danny meditates and trains, he is visited by his old master (Hoon Lee), who offers him advice, challenges his assumptions and cautions him against his flaws. It doesn’t feel like a warm relationship, but neither is it without value, giving Danny focus and providing us a better idea of what his prior life was like without a direct flashback. The episode is not clear whether this is simply Danny visualizing his own past in helpful way or something supernatural, or both, and that is to the story’s strength. Similarly, RZA keeps the master’s advice and presence spectral and undefined, so that the viewer can take it pretty much any way they wish.
The Grand Tournament itself is similarly handled exceptionally by RZA. Each combatant (at least two of whom are pulled from the comics themselves) is distinct and confronts Danny within a different setting with a different visual aesthetic. And each of them confront Danny not just with different physical tactics, but different mental ones, both of which Danny must overcome. RZA knows how to evoke the tropes and powers of the genre to their best effect, and even though I’d still not rank the fights of Marvel’s Iron Fist anywhere close to the level the concept deserves, the script and direction keep their focus fixed on the story of the fight being clear and supporting the internal narrative of the character. This means that as an audience we’re far more invested in the journey of the battles and therefore actual choreography matters less. Danny finishes the battle in a different place than where we started, he goes on a journey. Additionally, the plot of the series overall advances as a result of the tournament, and as a mid-point episode, this really works to make you feel as if things are ramping up.
There are still some low points, though. Not every issue disappeared. The big one remains the interminable Meachums. Ward continues to spiral out of control and into addiction, and I can buy that his character could fall apart like this, but I cannot buy that a man with this much power and resources would wind up nakedly trying to score drugs off a walk-in clinic receptionist. Nor do I buy that Joy would somehow be able to find him at said walk-in with no effort whatsoever. Does she have him lo-jacked? Each scene with them sees any momentum stop dead. Claire and Colleen meanwhile, spin their wheels trying to care for their injured patient, but the actors succeed in conveying some energy and investment.
But these diversions and cul-de-sacs matter a lot less when you have both a script and direction that grass what kind of series they should be making. And because this episode of Marvel’s Iron Fist does have those two elements working so well, we get an episode that finally embraces that this is both a Kung Fu show and a Comic Book show. And yet it still manages to achieve greater depth and insight into its title character than all five previous episodes combined. 8/10