Hello, and welcome back to my look at Netflix's latest Marvel Comics adaptation, Iron Fist! Last time, we kicked things off with a look at episodes 1-4. Today, we'll reach the halfway point with a review of Episode 5, “Under Leaf Plucks Lotus”; Episode 6, “Immortal Emerges From the Cave”; and Episode 7, “Felling Tree With Roots.” From my perspective as a long-term Marvel Comics fan, we'll talk about what I thought worked and what didn't, examine some of the ties to other Marvel Netflix shows, and look at some of the comic Easter eggs that viewers may not have picked up on.
So let's get to it!
I'm still holding out hope for the show to get better in the back half, but having watched these first seven episodes of Iron Fist, it's clear to me that this show is stunningly mediocre. I really want to like this show more than I do. There are some great elements, but there are a lot of just plain “meh” ones as well.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the show's lead, Finn Jones. He's not bad as Danny/Iron Fist. In fact, he does some things pretty well. It's just that there's something flat about his performance and delivery—or maybe it’s the show's writing. I feel like I should be more excited about his character, but to me he's actually become one of the least interesting ones. I’ve not felt that way with the protagonists of the other Marvel Netflix shows.
The other problem with Iron Fist, for me, is the fact that they took a fun, cool, sinister bad guy organization like the Hand—which is literally an organization of demon worshipping ninjas—and gave them a fiendish plot of making super heroin? NOOO! You could have done that in Luke Cage, Daredevil, or Netflix's upcoming Punisher show with John Bernthal. I'd even buy it in Jessica Jones. But here it actually diminishes what's cool and special about the Hand and makes them just another organized crime ring. I'm hoping that there's more to this plot than has been revealed so far. Perhaps something with demonic or horrific overtones.
Making the Hand drug dealers also clashes with the show's established mythology. The Iron Fist is supposed to be the Hand's sworn enemy who protects the gates of K'un-Lun against them. Why the heck would K'un-Lun, a place that's shown to be a simple and idyllic-seeming monastery, be threatened by drug dealers?
The one element of the Hand plot that is working for me is Madame Gao. Like I said in my last piece, I'm very curious to see if she's supposed to be the established Marvel Comics villain Crane Mother, but even if she’s not, she makes for a fun and interesting antagonist. I love the subtle touches that actress Wai Ching Ho has given her character—like her snarkiness.
One of the best things about these three episodes was letting RZA direct Episode 6. The Abbot of the Wu-Tang Clan knows and loves kung fu and Marvel Comics, and it really shows in “Immortal Emerges From the Cave.” In the episode, RZA goes full Shaw Brothers and gives viewers set pieces and setups straight out of classic kung-fu films. We also get some of the most interesting fights of the series so far. Best of all, though, was that two established Marvel kung-fu characters were snuck into the duel as opponents for Danny to fight.
Though her name is not said, the female opponent that tempts, taunts, and teases Danny in Episode 6 is clearly meant to be the Bride of Nine Spiders from the Immortal Iron Fist comic series. And Danny's final opponent was probably only recognizable to long-time and hardcore Marvel Comics fans. IMDb states the character's name is Scythe, but fans of Marvel Comics' '70s era Master of Kung Fu series know he's really supposed to be the villainous Zaran. When the character first greet's Danny, he makes a comment about weapons and masters, and in the comics Zaran is often known as the Weapons Master. The character's choice of a polearm-style weapon was also telling because Zaran is often depicted wielding a polearm.
In my look at Episodes 1-4, I commented on how the Meachums—particularly Joy and Ward—were some of the series’ most interesting characters, and the events of these three episodes only furthered their intrigue. I'm very curious to see what Joy does now that she's been voted out of Rand. How important is the company to her identity? How hard will she fight to get it back? What lines will she cross? And who might she work with?
The end of Episode 7 showed us what lines Ward Meachum would cross to break free from Rand and his abusive father. Tom Pelphrey shined once again, first in his portrayal of Ward's addiction to booze and drugs, then in his haunting and very human attempt to escape. When he hugs Joy after he agrees that taking a break from Rand is a good idea, it's clear that he's telling her goodbye. Then, in Episode 7 we get that great, visceral, and powerful moment where Ward snaps and stabs his father to death. So it seems like both of the Meachums will be wild cards in the episodes moving forward. I'm really excited to see what they become.
While the Meachums continued to be interesting, Colleen Wing became an even more compelling character, due in part to Jessica Henwick's very likable portrayal. She's a very human character, and I buy her as both a caring teacher and samurai looking for a greater battle to fight.
Speaking of greater battles to fight, there was a scene in Episode 7 that made me question everything I thought I knew about Colleen—she greets a mysterious man named Bakuto, and it's clear they have a history together. Now, if this version of Bakuto is at all inspired by his Marvel Comics counterpart, Colleen is in trouble. Bakuto is an obscure character from writer Andy Diggle's 2009 run on Daredevil, where Matt Murdock takes over the Hand and tries to turn them into a force for good. Along the way, he meets a treacherous member of the Hand's South American branch named Bakuto.
I don't think this Bakuto is like his counterpart, though. In fact, I think he's the exact opposite. The way he and Colleen talk to each other suggests they're part of something larger, and the way he talks about Iron Fist suggests he's aware of the legendary Living Weapon and the role the Iron Fist traditionally plays against the Hand. So, my theory is that Iron Fist is connected to Daredevil in another way. I think that Colleen and Bakuto are both members of Stick's (played by Scott Glenn in Daredevil Seasons 1 and 2) order, which, as we saw in Daredevil Season 2, are out to bring the Hand down.
That also raises a larger question about Colleen's dojo. Is it a training ground for Stick's order? We're told Darryl has been selected for an elite training program with a full scholarship. Does this elite training program include strategies on how to battle ninjas?
Episodes 5-7 had some other connective tissue to the previous Marvel Netflix shows. Karen Page is mentioned again. Madame Gao talks about both the “Devil of Hell's Kitchen” and “the man with the unbreakable skin.” A member of her heroin sales staff makes reference to the Dogs of Hell (the motorcycle gang from Daredevil Season 2). We also see Shirley Benson, the hospital administrator first seen in Daredevil.
The best connection in these episodes, however, was definitely Shirley's former employee, Claire Temple. Rosario Dawson is excellent as Claire and adds so much to every scene she's in. She had a great dynamic with Colleen in Episode 6, and I loved that she used Luke Cage's signature exclamation of “Sweet Christmas!” before she attacked the ambulance driver.
I already touched upon most of the comic book Easter eggs in this block of episodes, but we got another mention of Davos. He better make an appearance soon, and it better be as the villainous Steel Serpent. Otherwise, I'm going to be very disappointed.
The other major Iron Fist comic character that made an appearance in this block was Danny's teacher in K'un-Lun: Lei-Kung, the Thunderer. While I was disappointed that he didn't look a whole lot like his comic counterpart, I was very happy with Hoon Lee's portrayal of the character (Lee and Tom Pelphrey were both part of the cast of Cinemax's late, great, action/crime drama Banshee). The way Lee expertly delivers the character's lines and how he holds himself gives Lei-Kung a lot of gravitas. I also liked that they did give TV Lei-Kung the same signature I Ching hexogram as his comic-book counterpart.
So, Iron Fist has a lot of enjoyable elements and characters, but it also has a lot of dull and mundane ones. That makes for a viewing experience that's both entertaining and frustrating. In a lot of ways, I think Episodes 5-7—and really the whole first half of the show—was like teaching a brilliant but underperforming child. You know the kid is capable of greatness because you've seen it, but more often than not their performance is adequate or barely passable. I'm hoping to see some more of that greatness as I move into the second half of the series.
Check back next Friday for my penultimate installment of this feature where I'll tackle Iron Fist Episodes 8-10!
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