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:
Episodes 10 (“Black Tiger Steals Heart”) & 11 (Lead Horse Back to Stable”)
At this point, as we start to move into what ostensibly should be the climax of the season, I find myself wondering what Marvel’s Iron Fist even wants to be about. Episode 10 has some material within its structure that seems to be some kind of swipe at capitalism and consumerism, a concern of the show that’s been hinted at one or twice but never examined or integrated in a meaningful way. But there’s also things in there about the dangers of ideology, particularly when it’s inflexible and dogmatic. But again, not really looked into specifically beyond the surface. And then there are the superhero elements, which the show doesn’t seems to want to fully commit to at this point, but neither is it innovative or bold enough to be a slightly supernatural badass martial arts story either. What the hell is this show supposed to be? It sure as hell isn’t an insightful or well-executed drama.
Each of the Marvel/Netflix shows that came before this, even with their flaws, had a certain distinctive quality. They had ambitions, whether it was crafting a superhero version of a crime epic (“Daredevil”), focusing in a feminist role within the genre and combining that with a look at survivors of domestic violence/assault (“Jessica Jones”), or attempting to examine the realities of being an African-American hero within the modern culture (“Luke Cage”) post-Black Lives Matter. Compared to those shows, Marvel’s Iron Fist is frustratingly bland, generic and diffuse.
We can talk about performances that don’t measure up, or action that fails to deliver excitement, or even bad dialogue and poor structure, all of which are on display in these two episodes. But the real problem is simply that Marvel’s Iron Fist doesn’t feel like it justifies a reason for existing beyond the fact they need him to round outage roster of “The Defenders.” And what’s so irritating about that is that it’s not like there isn’t an easy hook; super-hero kung fu. I’m not sure how you mess up so easy a concept, but apparently it involves also trying to tell a half-assed anti-capitalism story that you barely bother to do more than nod at.
There are some bright spots, particularly in Episode 10. The series finally seems to be clear in its approach to Danny. He’s supposed to be a terrible Iron Fist, apparently. The fact that this is becoming clear only now, in the 10th episode, proves what a gigantically fundamental mistake it was to keep K’un-L’un off-screen to the degree this show has. If we had been told that Danny is a pretty crappy Iron Fist in, say, episode 3, then he could actually have gone on a journey to fulfill his destiny over the course of the season. But to really understand that, we would have to have seen his training and upbringing to get where Danny is coming from. I’m really baffled as to why the show is so dead set on avoiding K’un-L’un, it’s such a weird idea. It would be like the “Doctor Strange” film starting with Benedict Cumberbatch showing up at Rachel McAdams’ hospital with the cape and everything and just telling her about 25% of the training he went through via interminable monologues. I guess we’d have avoided while-wahsing the Ancient one, but still…
The addition of childhood friend and possible rival Davos (a terrific Sacha Dhawan) does serve to finally clarify that Danny’s character flaws and lack of competence in his mission are deliberate and not entirely due to poor writing and performance. The problem here is that this is Episode 10, just a few episodes from the end of the season, when I want Danny to start seeming like he’s getting a handle on things. There’s also the problem with the introduction of a new form of central threat with this new configuration of the Hand. Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) isn’t really believable as the benign presence he initially appears, but nor is he imposing and compelling when his true nature is revealed. He doesn’t seem to have a compelling motivation, his anti-capitalist leanings seeming neither urgent, deeply felt, nor all that extreme. But the show doesn’t really try that hard to give him a nasty thirst for power, either, which would at least be entertaining. He’s just wishy-washy, as if they made a yoga instructor into a Bond villain. Danny grows more and more suspicious, and the revelation that Colleen has been lying to him all along is the nail in the coffin.
From there, Danny comes into conflict with Bakuto, who revels his true colors. This results in Davos making his presence known when he shows up to reduce Danny, and then the two old friends battle their way out of the Hand compound. But all of the betrayals and rage and fear have caused Danny to lose his ability to manifest his Iron Fist. And this is kind of weird, since Danny has spent the entire season alternating between temper tantrums and the smug platitudes of a guy who went to Thailand for two months and now thinks he’s n expert on Eastern philosophy, so it’s not like he was the most stable guy prior to this.
This leads to a stalling, wheel-spinning episode where Davos and Danny retreat to Claire’s to recover, and Colleen tries to decide whether to break free of the Hand, or follow Bakuto and try to obtain Danny as their weapon. Threaded through both of theses episodes is more tiresome Meachum/Rand Enterprises stuff, which sees Joy back in place at the company, reducing the whole ouster plot to nothing really, and Harold frustratingly relegated to ancillary villain. In fact, every bad guy here seems like a secondary bad guy. There’s no big threat to the series at all, as the season has spent its time shuttling between incompetent Ward, irrelevant Harold, the kind of effective Gao and now totally unimposing Bakuto.
The 11th Episode sees nothing of consequence happen that couldn’t have happened in ten minutes, and the fact that this is the 11TH EPISODE and we’re still having a filler episode like this is kind of astounding. The central dilemma of dealing with the Hand has no urgency, since Gao’s drug scheme is seemingly neutered, and this new Hand hasn’t been defined really at all yet. Bakuto is building an army, but why? He wants to take over Rand, but haven’t we spent a whole season demonstrating that Rand is kind of a shitty company run by sinister or morally compromised people, so why do we want Bakuto to be stopped? Is he worse? How? Danny’s got the dilemma of running from defending K’un-L’un, which I’d like to care about, but since I have no idea whether or not K’un-L’un’s worth being defended, I’m certainly not invested. Everything I know about it at this point paints the city as boring at best, hugely bleak and cruel at worst.
If there’s a plus, it’s that the fights are getting a bit better. And that Dhawan injects Davos with a great energy and presence as Danny’s brother/foil. He’s the best addition to the series, and Jessica Henwick continues to do as much as you can with Colleen Wing. Her stuff in Episode 11 is really great, and I’m way more invested in her story and journey than anyone else’s.
The next two episodes represent the finale of what has been a season of missed opportunities and poor execution. I really, sincerely hope that they in some small way offer this show a shot at redemption. Otherwise, the first season Marvel’s Iron Fist has a really good chance of being the single worst thing to come out of Marvel Studios since it reinvented itself with “Iron Man.” 5/10