Marvel’s Iron Fist Season 1 Review: Episodes 1-4

Hello, and welcome back the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! My name is Dave Richards, and I was your guide in Criminal Element's look at the 2nd season of Netflix's television adaptation of Marvel Comics' Daredevil and the streaming network's 1st season of Jessica Jones. Now, I'm back to examine the latest Netflix Marvel series, Iron Fist, which lays the final groundwork for The Defenders series, where the stars of the four various Netflix shows will unite into an Avengers-style supergroup. 

In this piece, we'll look at the first four episodes of Iron Fist: “Snow Gives Way,” “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight,” “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch,” and “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm.” I'll examine the action and prominent characters, look at how the series knits together threads from the other Netflix shows, and offer up my perspective as a long time Marvel Comic reader and fan of the friendship between the comic book incarnations of Danny Rand and Luke Cage. So let's begin!

You may have heard that there was some controversy over the casting of the title character in Iron Fist. All I can say to that is representation matters, and the two most important facets of adapting Danny Rand's character for another medium are his status as an outsider and his proficiency with martial arts. Those aspects are way more important than how he looks.

In Episodes 1-4 of Iron Fist, it's clear that Finn Jones has one aspect of the character down pat and another clearly needs work. Where Jones excels is portraying Danny as an outsider. We get several scenes that show Danny has good intentions but shows a lack of understanding on how the world works. 

What Jones lacks is fighting and martial arts skills. Iron Fist is literally a kung-fu superhero, so you'd expect the fights in his show to be on par with, if not better than, some of the amazing battles we've seen in Daredevil. Sadly, they are not. Jones's fight scenes in these first four episodes are slowed down, with multiple distracting and sudden jump cuts. There is some improvement by Episode 4, but there's still a long way to go.

The fights with Jessica Henwick's excellent Colleen Wing are much more interesting, especially her cage battle against two opponents in Episode 4. The big problem in these four episodes, though, is that most of the time Colleen feels like she's existing in an entirely different show. She's a character that first appeared in Marvel's Iron Fist comics, but so far she doesn't feel like a natural fit for this series. That's primarily because of the way they chose to kick off the show.

I'd consider the first two episodes of Iron Fist a complete misfire—especially the second one, which is an annoying and repetitive mix of long-winded exposition and Danny getting drugged at a hospital. The pacing is way off, and it doesn't start to get better until Episode 3. I feel that's due in part to a big change from the comics. In this series, we don't yet know the exact reason Danny left K'un-Lun, but in the initial Iron Fist comic story that ran through the 1970s era, Marvel Premiere, Danny came back to New York to kill Harold Meachum, who played a direct role in his family's death.

I think that would have been a much better way to start the show than having two episodes full of Danny trying and failing to reconnect with the Meachums. It would have quickened the pace and added more power to the character interactions. While we're on the topic of the Meachums, let's take a look at them.

Harold Meachum has a much more expanded role in the series than he did in the comics. Played by David Wenham—most famous for his role as Faramir in the Lord of the Rings movies—the portrayal of Harold is an okay but almost by-the-numbers big businessman villain. The character is fascinating, however, when it comes to his feelings and interactions with his children.

Making Ward Meachum Harold's son instead of his brother is probably the best change so far, and that's because of Tom Pelphrey's amazing and nuanced portrayal of Ward. In these first four episodes, you clearly see that Ward is a bully, and you want to hate him, but you can't write him off entirely. That's because in several great moments—with subtle things like looks, the way he handles a line, or Ward's speech to Danny in the elevator in Episode 4—Pelphrey communicates that Ward is a guy trying to win the love of a physically and emotionally abusive father. I'm very intrigued by his character arc. I can't wait to see where he goes.

Harold's other child Joy, portrayed by Jessica Stroup, has plenty of moments where you see her affection and friendliness toward Danny, but the character—and Stroup—is at her best when showing her potential to be as nasty and manipulative as her father. The scene in Episode 3 where she wins over Raj Patel and gets the pier deal is great and suggests that, like the comics, this version of Joy could end up being both a friend and enemy to Danny.

Danny and his relationship with the Meachums took up a lot of time in these first four episodes, but we also got a variety of moments tying Iron Fist  together with the other Marvel Netflix shows. The most notable was connecting Iron Fist to the Hand, the big baddies from Daredevil Season 2.

This is quite a departure from the comics, where Iron Fist and the Hand are not intertwined. Though, I can understand why they did this. It connects the mythos of the TV Iron Fist with the mythos of Daredevil, and it looks more and more like the Hand will somehow factor into The Defenders.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about that yet. On one hand, I love the Hand because it's a combines the great pulp horror trope of demon worshipping cultists with the fun '80s action trope of ninjas. So there's a lot of cool stuff you could do there, but in Daredevil Season 2 they were sort of unevenly portrayed.

The other big bit of connective tissue comes in the final moments of Episode 4 when Danny receives a mysterious note and a tiny packet stamped with a symbol that eagle-eyed viewers of Daredevil Season 1 might remember. That symbol was on the packets of heroin distributed by Madame Gao, the elderly crime lord affiliated with Wilson Fisk. That symbol is also the chest tattoo of the comic Iron Fist's arch-enemy/opposite number Davos, AKA the Steel Serpent. So my hopes are high that Davos will make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut later on in this season of Iron Fist.

The Steel Serpent packet also raises larger questions about Madame Gao. Is she tied to the Hand? And the affinity for martial arts she demonstrated in Season 1 of Daredevil has me wondering if she's in fact another villain from the Iron Fist comics—the Crane Mother, who is the head of one of K'un-Lun's rival inter-dimensional cities, K'un-Zi, as seen in one of the most acclaimed Iron Fist comic runs of all time: The Immortal Iron Fist by writers Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker with artist David Aja. If you're at all curious about the Iron Fist comics' start with that series, it's a great book and easy for new readers to follow.

There were also smaller connections to other shows, like Carrie-Anne Moss's brilliant Jeri Hogarth, who steals every scene she's in. I was happy to see her back, and it was fitting because her comic book counterpart first debuted as Dannie's lawyer. The other was, of course, the New York Bulletin, which figured prominently in Daredevil. We even got a fun reference to Karen Page in Episode 4 when the reporter leaves Ward's office.

I've already mentioned some comic connections, but these first four episodes also featured a number of small Easter eggs for comic fans. Danny mentions the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven and the names of both his teachers in K’un-Lun: Lei-Kung, the Thunderer, and the city's ruler, Yu-Ti. Colleen's opponents in the cage in Episode 4 are named Jimmy Pierce and Duke, which is a possible nod to an obscure ‘90s era storyline that ran through several Punisher comics called “Suicide Run.”

One of the most interesting comic Easter eggs, though, was the stylistic way they portrayed Danny's flashbacks to K'un-Lun. The bright white flashes and the traumatic nature of the scenes reminded me of another great, modern Iron Fist comic run, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon by writer/artist Kaare Andrews. In that series, Andrews examines a lot of the abuse Danny endured as a child and some of the PTSD that still plagues him because of it.

So, after stumbling out of the starting blocks in it's first two episodes, Netflix's Iron Fist picks itself back up with Episodes 3 and 4. It's off to an interesting start, and I'm eager to see where it's headed.

Check back next Friday for my thoughts on episodes 5-7 of Iron Fist.
 

Iron Fist navigation
Luke Cage Episodes 11-13 Episodes 5-7

 


Dave Richards covers all things Marvel Comics for the Eisner Award-winning website Comic Book Resources and his book reviews and other musings can be found at his blog Pop Culture Vulture.

Comments

  1. Doreen Sheridan

    The writing on this show is atrocious. I thought the first episode showed promise, but every episode since has me in various stages of disbelief. The second episode juxtaposed an absurd colonialist outlook in re: Danny being the Iron Fist with his wrongful detention for mental incompetence by people wanting to profit by his diminished capability and did not see the irony. In the third episode, he rightfully bags on the dojo students for being disrespectful but disrespects the dojo master himself at every turn. And the fourth episode tries to force a parallel between Danny’s outsider status at Rand with his outsider status at K’un Lun, which would actually work really well were he Asian-American but just feels horribly contrived, at best, and facile at worst in the current incarnation.

    Jeri and the Easter eggs (band name!) were definitely the highlights for me in these four episodes. I also didn’t much mind the fight scenes in these… but I’m also up to ep 6, which features some exruciatingly terrible Danny Rand vs the randos. Looking forward to reading your review of the next few eps!

  2. Adam Wagner

    Jeri and the Easter Eggs sounds like they played Lilith Fair in the 90s, and it’s perfect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *