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:
Our long national nightmare is finally over as we limp into the final two hours of the first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist.
Episodes 12 (“Bar the Big Boss”) & 13 (“Dragon Plays With Fire”)
The 12th episode is by far the better of these two halves, with a tightly focused narrative and lots of well-executed action. It’s still let down by the show’s perpetually sloppy dialogue and boring character interactions, however.
First of all, Ward is back in the picture. And look, I have been no fan of either the character as written or of Tom Pelphrey‘s performance. But, I have to admit, I like Ward way more now that he’s not drowning under a poorly defined and petulant father fixation. Or at least, a fixation on destroying/escaping Harold is better than the potpourri of vague emotional damage they had him going through before. Maybe it’s because I’ve found the Meachum storyline so terrible throughout this season, and therefore found any character admitting they are a dumpster fire and wanting to run away as fast as possible generating some empathy. Ward has made a deal with Bakuto, and the result finds him showing up at Harold’s penthouse and trying to convince Joy to leave before Bakuto shows up with his Hand goons.
Speaking of Bakuto, the show finally gave him something to do that makes him come across an an imposing antagonist. He marches into Harold’s place, slaps Ward around (and isn’t Ward the dumbest guy ever for not considering a double-cross), then proceeds to inform the Meachums that he’ll be retaining his control of Rand Enterprises, thank you. And he actually utilizes an effective plan in FaceTiming Danny and then shooting Joy and threatening to decapitate Harold. The only thing that can save either of them is if Danny arrives in 30 minutes.
Speaking of Danny, Colleen and Davos, they are in the midst of the most high-school nonsense ever seen on a Marvel/Netflix show. Basically, Davos doesn’t trust Colleen as she was a member of the Hand (fair) and Colleen takes umbrage at Davos’ assertions (not reasonable, really, I mean she did spend pretty much the whole show lying to everyone, and the Hand is unambiguosly evil). I think this fight would absolutely take place, but as scripted and performed it comes across not as adults dealing with betrayal and conflicting points of view, but as a tiresome slap fight between children. It’s just irritating and obnoxious.
Back at the penthouse, Harold stays gloriously true to form as he prepares to die, offering the most character-appropriate last words ever (seriously, David Wenham has wonderfully embraced how gigantic an asshole this guy is). but he’s spared when Danny turns himself over to the Hand and they leave the Meachums, who rush Joy to the hospital. In the elevator down, Danny admits to himself and Bakuto that’s he’s no longer sure he’s either Danny Rand or the Iron Fist. This, I guess, makes his powers return? Not sure why, but then again this show hasn’t really bothered to show us how anything works, so I suppose I can buy this contrived turn of affairs.
Danny starts taking on Bakuto and the had as Davos and Colleen turn up to help, and we get a pretty good fight scene. It’s reasonably lit, and there are some nice combos and a good story to the fight. They even use split screen for a second, a technique I think they ought to have been using throughout to give the fights more energy as well as a cool 1970s “chop-socky” retro vibe. The fight spills out into the city as our trio chase a fleeing Bakuto, which results in another solid sword fight between Colleen and her sensei, albeit one that is too brief.
Meanwhile, Danny and Davos’ conflict comes to a head and the two part as enemies. During the fight, I had two thoughts. First, it’s nice to see Danny come to some sort of proactive decision, deciding that he can be both Danny Rand and Iron Fist, that the choice isn’t binary. That he can decide the best way to serve, and maybe that isn’t as a murderer but as something more positive and inspiring. It’s a good thought, and I wish I hadn’t watched this character be a petulant, moody, unfathomably gullible and impetuous jerk for much of the moments leading up to this because maybe it wouldn’t feel like too little too late. My second thought was why exactly is Davos British? I know it’s because Sacha Dhawan is from England, but it seems as if Davos has lived in K’un-L’un his whole life, so where does his accent come from? Did he spend a gap year at Oxford or something?
The episode concludes with Danny and Colleen on the run, with the Hand’s plot averted, but Harold on the rise. The 12th Episode winds up being at least moderately successful in that it felt somewhat exciting and also felt like it resolved a lot for Danny’s journey this season (such as it was).
The 13th Episode by contrast is a letdown on pretty much every level. In the final analysis, when you consider all the issues that plagued Marvel’s Iron Fist (uninspired action, inconsistent performances, the “white savior” tendencies, its bland and boring production design) the single biggest thing that sunk this season was the writing. The show made bizarre structural decisions that sank it form the start, such as deliberately and stubbornly avoiding K’un-L’un, preventing viewers from getting a better picture of the dilemma Danny faced, his upbringing and what the stakes were, not to mention giving viewers an element that would have added some much needed distinctive elements to the series.
Then, the series refused to establish a central antagonist with presence, power and clear motivations. At first it was Harold and the Meachums, but they quickly became mired in “character development” and then were pushed to the back burner in favor of Gao and the Hand, who barely got going before they too were shunted aside in favour of Bakuto and his weird high school Bernie-bro version of the Hand. Then, after doing virtually nothing, they too were booted offstage so that Harold could return to the fore.
But none of this compares to the just terrible approach the series took to its main character, Danny Rand. I know I’ve been hard on actor Finn Jones in previous reviews. But the fact is that the writing of this character presented a challenge for any actor. I’m all for creating a central character that is flawed and who makes mistakes, but the writers of the show approached Danny with a sledgehammer and chisel rather than precision instruments. Every idea and plan he had was rash and impetuous and not well thought out. Every moment of emotion reinforced his temper and his petulance and bubbling rage. Why couldn’t he be funny? Why couldn’t he ever be charming? The guy became a billionaire over night, why couldn’t we get a scene of how kind of awesome that could be? Why couldn’t he have done amazing and charitable things with his money that weren’t immediately framed by every other character as a mistake or naive or rash? Why did he always have to seem like he didn’t have a handle on anything? I’m not saying Jones is Daniel Day Lewis, but in the moments where he gets to be a bit lighter, than he’s not terrible. In the closing moments of this episode, when he is relatively happy and confident I found myself thinking, I could follow this guy, he might work out. But I have no faith that the show runners, if they remain in place and get a second season, would be able to resist dropping Danny right back into some turgid and bleak dilemma once again. And that’s not where Jones’ strengths lie, nor do the writers know how to craft situations or dialogue strong enough to make that work. And I still cannot understand what the producers were thinking green lighting this series about the best martial artist in the world and giving him only three weeks to train for the part. That is a sabotaging of your own project that is frankly stunning.
So, as a result, we get a climatic battle between two characters who we don’t really care about. Harold vs Danny doesn’t feel that satisfying at all, and getting there is so contrived and flabby and anti-climatic anyways. We do finally, finally, FINALLY, get a great Iron Fist moment that is supposed to promise exciting action to come, but instead made me mad no one could have bene coming up with these kinds of moments prior to the finale. But it’s all in service to a confrontation that feels like an after-thought.
Were there good things in this final episode of Marvel’s Iron Fist? Sure. I liked the cementing of the Danny/Colleen (and Jessica Henwick has been the bright spot in the series throughout) relationship, which was sweet. I liked how the series set up a potential conflict for its next (and growing more improbable given this season’s reception) go-round. Sacha Dhawan has the chops to become a compelling big bad for the future, and I actually kind of liked where the series left both the Rand company and Ward at the end. But, “The Defenders”, which is where we’ll next see Danny Rand, better put a ton of effort into rehabilitating the character if anyone is ever going to want to follow the adventures of the Iron Fist into a second season. 5/10