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 8: “The Blessing of Many Fractures”
Hoo boy. I don’t mind telling you, faithful readers, this was a tough one to get through. I feel like I’ve talked a lot about the recurring flaws in the construction and execution of the series that aren’t getting any better, but this episode was like the perfect distillation of each and every one of them. From dialogue that was both too blindingly on the nose and yet cheesy enough to make you cringe, to problematic and uneven action, to a continuing and frustrating lack of pace or shape, this episode is definitely the worst of Marvel’s Iron Fist so far.
It opens with Claire reading a letter from an imprisoned Luke, and these call backs to far more engrossing and entertaining series may not be the wisest moves at this point. Claire is attacked in her home by the Hand, but is saved by Colleen. Danny heads to Harold’s apartment/lair and finds evidence that something bad and bloody occurred before Ward arrives to clean up his murder of his dad and has to pretend to be shocked.
But Danny’s got places to be and he and Colleen and Claire leave on the Rand jet to China. Meanwhile, back in a storyline that neither makes sense or illicit any interest, Joy and Ward have bene forced out by the board. Last episode implied Danny was out too, and I was pretty interested to find out how the board managed to oust the majority shareholder, a trick I think would be pretty much impossible without evidence of criminality. Also, I imagine Ward and Joy have some shares too, so wouldn’t their shares plus Danny’s make them pretty much untouchable? So, I was eager to hear how creepy Lawrence accomplished this. But looks like they’re not going to bother with any of that.
Also, as a viewer, am I supposed to want the Meachums to stay? The show has spent seven episodes illustrating that they are pretty much the worst, what with all the price-gouging and giving cancer to children, so why isn’t their ouster a good thing? Also, I may think Ward is an inept mash-up of Hamlet, Macbeth and Martin Shkreli, but even I can muster enough human feeling to see that this guy absolutely needs to take the settlement and run. He will be way happier in the Bahamas. And Joy hasn’t seemed like she has enjoyed an un-conflicted or non-compromised second in her professional life. So why should I want them to stay? I get it’s because the show runners think they’ve created complicated, nuanced characters a la “Billions” or “Breaking Bad” or even “Daredevil”, but let me assure you, they have not. Joy’s eventual solution of their dilemma is so out of left field and nakedly contrived that it amounts to nothing more than cheating, and a thoroughly cheap example of it at that.
Meanwhile, our three heroes jet their way to China. I know I’ve criticized this show in the past for prolonging conflict between character through the awful technique of simply not having people talk to each other in a recognizably human fashion, but this episode sees them committing the other sin the dialogue in this series is often guilty of; dialogue that is cliched, cheesy and insufferably on the nose. I know I’ve been pretty hard on Finn Jones, but I can honestly say that he is often given the absolute worst dialogue in this show, which is saying a lot. His response to Claire’s assessment that his plan to fly to China and confront Gao sucks is the stellar, “It doesn’t suck, okay?!?!?” There’s another line where he asserts, “I’ve spent the last 15 years learning to control my mind, my body, my emotions.” That is completely not true. This whole show has seen Danny alternate between surfer-Zen and tempter tantrums. I think they are trying to portray the character as both naive and impetuous, a big teenager, if you will. And that’s a reasonable approach, but where are the moments of charm, of sweetness, or of integrity that should come with that? And Danny’s continual petulance and refusal to think tactically about anything leads me not think him simply callow, but actually stupid. Not a great attribute to write for your main character. If he were charming or engaging, then his flaws could be an element we’d be rooting for him to overcome. As it is, I’m simply exasperated with his inability to grow up or smarten up.
The assault on the Hand compound in China (by the way, unless you are willing to put some work into making Brooklyn look like China, don’t set your show in China, folks) is again a perfect representation of Iron Fist’s continuing difficulty in constructing rousing action set pieces. Danny has to face off against Zhou Cheng, as played by Lewis Tan. I know Tan is making waves in the press about how he was in the running for the role of Danny, and based on his appearance here a lot of people are scratching their heads as to why Marvel didn’t choose him. He has Asian heritage, he’s studied martial arts for years, and he brings a ton of charisma to his appearance here. I’d argue that his character, a drunken rascally opponent, is much better written than Danny has ever been and that frankly there’s superficially more to Zhou for even a bad actor to latch onto. I haven’t seen his Danny Rand audition tapes, so I’m not going to comment on that. As a former actor, I can also say there is something a bit unprofessional about reading for a part, not getting it, then undercutting the guy who did. The actor who got the role won’t look good defending themselves, and you don’t have to back up your side of the story with anything, so I feel it’s a bit of a jerk move. But there’s no denying Tan showed skill and appeal in his short scene.
What I will say is that he is clearly much, much, MUCH more confident with the fight sequences than Jones. So much so, that their fight makes stunningly obvious use of a stunt double for Jones. You’ve got to feel really bad for Jones at this point, who has been let down egregiously by Marvel/Netflix not giving him adequate time to train, nor employing suitable innovative or effective fight choreography to support him and then giving him maybe the worst written character in the show. Colleen gets a sword-fight with a Hand guard that almost works, but it’s not allowed to go anywhere.
In the end, the whole episode feels just unnecessary, and I am willing to bet the next episode will see all the characters back in Manhattan which begs the question of why they went to China in the first place beyond simply stretching out a story they have too little of. This was the episode of Marvel’s Iron Fist that pushed me closest to giving up on the whole show, and frankly if I weren’t obligated to continue reviewing, I would happily skip the rest and wait for “The Defenders.” Hopefully, this is the nadir and things will improve as we move into the climax, but I’m frankly not optimistic. 4/10