I make no bones about disliking the first season of Iron Fist on Netflix. It was a sloppy mess, with poor writing, constantly changing character motivations for no good reason, lousy acting, bad martial arts scenes, and a main protagonist who was arrogant and obnoxious. It’s not a series I’ll ever watch again, and it fell off my radar.
So it was with surprise that my wife and I were looking for something to watch earlier this week and realized that season two of Iron Fist had dropped. I’d heard things MIGHT have improved, so we decided to give it an episode or two to see if they righted the ship.
Non-spoiler alert: They did, and it’s vastly improved. It still doesn’t rise to the level of Daredevil, season one, or Luke Cage, season two, but it’s a far better production.
Before I get into the spoilers, I’ll talk about the generalities. First, the characters have settled down and have clear motivations and arcs, with changes that don’t whiplash you from episode to episode (Ward hates Danny; Ward wants to help Danny; Ward wants to kill Danny; Ward makes up with Danny; Ward is weird; Ward is serious; Ward dresses up like little girls… okay, no, but still). They have real, defined arcs from start to finish of the season. The martial arts are vastly improved, though still falling far below the magnificence of the scenes in Into The Badlands. I’d like to see them take where they are and turn the dial up to 11, add some of the great wire effects that the best kung fu movies have used. The acting has improved, the writing, the casting, the plot… from top to bottom, the series is a good refresh and you can toss out season one entirely and take this as the foundation of Iron Fist.
Danny and Colleen have now settled into a semi-blissful domestic life. Danny has moved in, they’ve turned her former dojo into a nice apartment, and he’s even taken a job moving furniture to try and get in touch with real life and the people of the city, while Colleen is volunteering and helping in ways that don’t involve violence. But there are cracks in their domestic facade, most notably Danny’s late night sojourns to a maintenance room in the subway where he uses his magical glowing fingers to beat up furniture. It’s clear he has an addiction to his powers, one he can’t shake.
This is a nice touch actually. It mirrors Ward’s journey in the season. Ward is recovering from his drug addiction and going to meetings, where he’s met a woman he’s become intimate with. Ward still has huge problems sharing his truths, though, and is desperately to make it all right, to the point of annoyance. Ward’s journey through the season is painful but I felt it was honest to his previous choices and his addictions. He never quite makes the right choices, and we see a man who has been broken, but trying to keep his head above water. I still think he’s a slimy creep, but that’s me, not the actor or the writing. And I admire his journey and don’t mind seeing more of him.
Now comes Davos, Danny’s former adopted brother from K’un L’un, who believes only he is worthy of the Iron Fist and Danny has lost his vision. He’s working with Joy, who is still angry at Danny and Ward for “shit that happened in season one”, which to some degree makes sense I suppose. But I found her motivations for hurting Danny the weakest part of the first half of the season. It makes much more sense in the second half as she realizes what she’s done and moves to help fix the problems she’s created. She’s also hired a merc named Mary/Walker, a woman with multiple personalities played very well by Alice Eve (the woman Star Trek decided they needed to get stripped down to her underwear for a movie because reasons… I mean look, I’m a guy, I like seeing an attractive woman in her underwear, but seriously Star Trek, it made NO FUCKING SENSE). Alice Eve proved she has the chops to be a fine actor, and carried the Mary/Walker character aptly throughout ten episodes. I only wish she’d found some sort of mutant power residing in her to ramp her up to the next level.
Davos, Joy and Mary steal the power of the Iron Fist from Danny and Davos gives it to himself, using an ancient ritual and a bit of Hollywood hocus pocus. Now Davos is the force for justice, only his justice is to kill the cancer infecting the city. All of it. Even people who, out of fear of being killed, are paying protection money to the triads. Anyone who lies, anyone who doesn’t stand for righteous justice, has to go. Davos goes evil with power, but it’s never unbelievable and serves to highlight some of what Danny had to deal with as the Iron Fist. It’s a power than can be controlled, but can also corrupt even in the name of a higher purpose.
The back half of the season is all about Danny trying to get the power back. Then realizing he might not want the power anymore, that it’s a crutch for him, and he needs to find his real purpose before he can handle that responsibility. That leads us to some fine fight scenes, the final take down of Davos even without the power of the Iron Fist, and Colleen being given the Iron Fist to use for better purposes, with Colleen and Davos fighting it out with their magical glowing hands when the ceremony is interupted. I loved how they showed each persons’ chi led to a different result. Danny’s fist was yellow, Davos’ double fists were red, and Colleen’s is pure silver. Colleen, now realizing her potential as a Daughter of the Dragon (and the backstory written into the plot suggests she is a descendent of the first woman to ever defeat the dragon and wield the fist, and Danny’s path may have always been to bring it to her), takes on the role of defender of the city. She even figures out how to channel the power of the fist into her katana, which is …. woah, fucking awesome! I always knew there was more to that power than smashing walls and blasting people’s hearts through their spines! No, seriously, Davos does that, it’s… yuck.
Joy recovers from the whole experience, including being nearly killed by Davos. But Mary is still lingering around at the end of the season and might have plans that involve Joy’s money. Not good plans either, more like, you know, the creepy, killing, naughty kind of plans. Meanwhile, Danny decides to go back to Asia and find out more about the dead iron fist Davos used to steal the power, and to learn his path. He convinces Ward to come with him, seeing that Ward is broken as well and this might help him find himself. And, in Ward’s finest scene, set six months in the future, we see Danny and Ward in a Japanese bar late at night taking on some thugs… when they try to shoot Danny, he pulls two guns, channels the power of his TWO yellow iron fists into the weapons, and glowing bullets take out their bullet. Fucking awesome! I like this newer, more badass iron fist, and now I want to know what happened on that six month journey to reach that point! How did he get his iron fist back? When did Ward find a spine, let alone noble character? Whose guns are those, which the guys shooting them seemed to get pissed off about? What about Colleen and the daughter of the dragon, how is she doing?
I think the season benefitted from a shorter length. Many of these Netflix series have been 13 episodes, which I was led to believe was due to contractual obligations, but apparently those changed. Ten episodes felt like the perfect length and there wasn’t any padding to the story to try and meet some arbitrary length. Then again, the last Luke Cage was 13 episodes, and I wouldn’t change that either. Netflix and the writers will simply have to take each season of each series separately and decide what’s best. Stay lean without losing all the great character moments, and dont’ try and pad them to make them longer.
On the Reynolds scale of 1 for “Elektra” and 10 for “first Avengers film,” I’m going to give this an 8. They did everything they needed to do to right a sinking ship and put it back on calm waters, and I look forward now to season 3.
Just for god’s sake… stop having people say “I am the Immortal Iron Fist.” So. Much. Dislike. (no, it’s funny now, keep it in).