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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 7: “Felling Tree With Roots”
One step forward, two steps back as Marvel’s Iron Fist returns to a middling episode following the burst of energy that was episode six. One of the things that makes this series so damn frustrating is that when things do happen, they aren’t bad developments at all, but it’s the execution that sinks everything. I’ve rarely seen a show take what ostensibly should be a suspenseful nest of intrigue and action and come up with a result that feels so sluggish and leaden.
This episode’s script is by Ian Stokes, and from a narrative point of view, there’s a lot going on here. Relationships certainly advance and the overall plot sees me twists and developments that push things forward. If I gave you a synopsis of the plot of the episode, you’d probably think that it sounded like a solidly entertaining chunk of television. So, given a pretty decent story construction, why does Episode 7 feel like kind of a slog?
The episode opens with Danny and Harold being forced to fight off representatives of the Hand sent to punish Harold. During the course of the battle, Harold kills the men, which shocks Danny, but Meachum succeeds in convincing Danny that he had to do it, and that Danny needs to aggressively find a way to cut the Hand out of Rand Enterprises. After Danny departs, Harold summons Ward to help him get rid of the bodies. Back at Rand, Danny has a sinister meeting with Madam Gao (Wai Ching Ho), New York’s leader of the Hand. She tries to convince him to abandon his destiny as Iron Fist and simply be Danny Rand. This conflict coincides with Danny and Colleen taking their relationship to the next level, even as it becomes apparent Colleen is keeping secrets of her own. As Danny and Colleen make an uneasy alliance to further their war with the Hand, Ward and Harold’s long simmering animosity comes to a boil.
So, based on the above, this episode should feel action-packed, with tons of interesting developments and conflict, right? Somehow, though, it feels completely de-energized. Director Farren Blackburn is a talented guy whose work I’ve enjoyed on both “Doctor Who” and “Daredevil”, so I’m not sure what’s happened here except to say that this problem with pace and in crafting peaks and valleys of suspense has been a problem with Marvel’s Iron Fist from the very beginning. Everything seems to be given the same level of importance, the same energy, and therefore moments that feel like they should have a greater impact wind up having the same value as a dialogue scene. It’s this that robs what should be a strong script full of new information of all its dynamism.
There are some good moments, though. For instance, the scene in Danny’s office where Gao shows up and tempts Danny in a downright Satanic way works very well. Like David Wenham, Wai Ching Ho knows just how to chew the right amount of scenery to make the dialogue come to life. Gao comes off as smart, arch and formidable, particularly playing off of Danny’s total lack of guile (which is beginning to get a little old, shouldn’t Danny be getting better at this as he goes along?). Her observation that Danny wouldn’t be in Manhattan if he weren’t inherently more dedicated to being Danny Rand than the Iron Fist rings true and therefore makes her observation feel like an effective tactic. Too often in scenes where the bad guy tries to tempt the incorruptible hero it comes off as stupid but in this case Gao (and the series perhaps) has actually touched a nerve in that Danny appears less substantial than a focused living weapon ought to be. It’s one of the best scenes in the episode and among the best in the series.
Then we get the love scene between Danny and Colleen. I like how Colleen, once she decides to take things to the next level, is clear about her intentions and sets about making things happen. I half expected this series to keep things to chaste flirting and long glances way longer than this, so initially I was pleasantly surprised to see them act like normal people who are obviously into each other and act on that. Jessica Henwick is charming and engaging in the scene, which is a good thing as Finn Jones doesn’t give much back to her. I am irritated in that we get yet another goddamn scene of Danny telling someone about K’un-L’un. CAN. WE. PLEASE. JUST. SEE. THIS. PLACE?!?! To have a monologue every episode where Danny talks about carrying water jugs or riding donkey carts or sneaking plum wine is just annoying. This isn’t a one-act play in a church basement, you can actually go to K’un-L’un if you want to, guys. Or keep it unmentioned. But pick a horse.
But to get back to the continuing weird tonal approach of this show, after Colleen and Danny hook up, she is visited by a mysterious man (Ramon Rodriguez) whom she obviously knows and they have a cryptic conversation about Danny. But the introduction of this man is handled in such a nonchalant way, and their scene is so casual, that I actually had to look back over my notes to see if in fact we had already been introduced to him before. The fight scenes have the same energy as the dialogue scenes, and expository scenes carry the same weight as scenes with big emotional stakes and/or revelations. In the case of this episode, the approach robs what could have been a fairly exciting chapter of most of its tension.
Marvel’s Iron Fist moves into its final half with this episode, and though technically I can see the disparate elements beginning to coalesce into a climax, the combination of sluggish pacing, continually uninspired action, and a charisma-challenged protagonist keeps this episode from ever taking off in the way the script clearly wants it to. It’s just been too much of these problems for too long, and my investment in the story overall has suffered too much. 5.5/10