Marvel’s Iron Fist Season 1 Review: Episodes 8-10

Hello, and welcome back! It's time to begin our look at the back half of Netflix's latest Marvel Comics adaptation, Iron Fist. In this penultimate installment of my feature, we'll examine Episode 8, “The Blessing of Many Fractures”; Episode 9, “The Mistress of All Agonies”; and Episode 10 “Black Tiger Steals Heart.” I'll also offer up my perspective as a long time Marvel Comics fan on the differences between the source material and how it was translated in the show, as well as some of the Easter Eggs for comic fans that viewers might have missed.

Let's begin!

I started watching Episodes 8-10 of Iron Fist with the hope that the show would come on strong and really show off more of the small moments of promise we saw in the first half. Instead, what I got was a muddled mess. 

When looking at what was wrong about the show in my past installments, I pointed the finger at star Finn Jones and the writing. While I think they still deserve some of the blame, after 10 episodes I think the person who should ultimately shoulder the largest amount of culpability is showrunner Scott Buck—the man who ran Showtime's Dexter into the ground.

Buck was the showrunner for Dexter during that show's horrendous final seasons. So when I heard he had been hired as showrunner for Iron Fist, I was naturally apprehensive. I decided to give him a chance, but now it seems my fears were confirmed. In Episodes 8-10, we see much of the muddled, hackneyed, and just plain bad storytelling elements that plagued his run on Dexter.

Probably the biggest problem with these three episodes is that too much is going on and most of it is not good. So interesting characters like Madame Gao and Ward Meachum get sidelined by dull and listless plot elements like Harold Meachum's return as a murderous, manic depressive zombie and Bakuto’s community college for the Hand.

Hand University

The only interesting aspect of David Wenham's Harold Meachum is how he impacts his kids. So to have him come back in Episode 9 and drive so much of the Rand plot was just annoying. His murderous emotional outbursts felt like a forced attempt to create drama that didn't add to anything. The fact that he got more screen time than the far more interesting Ward was a crime. The only positive thing I can say about this storyline is that it might push Joy over to the dark side. I think she'd be interesting there.

And where to begin about Bakuto? Last time, I predicted he would actually be an agent of Stick's order from Daredevil Season 2 and that both he and Colleen would be fervently anti-Hand. That would have made sense, organically added drama between Danny and Colleen, and wouldn’t have made Colleen look naive. Unfortunately, I was way off. Bakuto, like his comic book counterpart, is indeed an agent of the Hand, and so is Colleen. It's a revelation that's meant to feel shocking, but it comes off as the worst kind of M. Night Shyamalan twist.

Why is it awful? Well, for a number of reasons. First, it sidelines the delightfully snarky Madame Gao for the less interesting Bakuto. Second, it makes Colleen look woefully naive and stupid. I chuckled when Danny confronts her by saying, “That's your story? That she's the bad Hand and you're the good? Come on!” He said exactly what I was feeling. Third, it's much too late in the season to do this kind of twist effectively.

A story about the Hand recruiting street kids into their sinister order could have been very interesting and, honestly, probably would have been much better than the super heroin story that drove much of this series' plot. But you would have needed the time to examine how they recruit their kids, what kind of indoctrination they receive, and what kind of activities they would be up to. It could have made for a gripping and kind of creepy tale, but to do it as a “shocking” but ultimately throw-away twist near the end of a season already packed with too many plot threads was an infuriating waste.

I also found myself moving from finding Danny dull to actively disliking him. So much of what he does is half-cocked and stupid that some of the most entertaining parts of these episodes were when characters like Gao, Claire Temple, and Ward Meachum called him an idiot. I chuckled and clapped when Davos greets Danny for the first time with the line, “You are the worst Iron Fist ever.”

I'll talk more about Davos in a bit, but I also wanted to address a Danny/Finn Jones-related moment from Episode 8 that was infuriating yet entertaining. I'm talking about the character of Zhou Cheng, who Danny meets in his chase of Madame Gao. Zhou is one of the more interesting characters from writer Duane Swierczynski’s and artist Travel Foreman's run on Immortal Iron Fist. He's the host for a monstrous being named Ch'i-Lin that murders Iron Fists so it can consume the eggs of the dragon that gives the Fists their power. There's some hints to that in Episode 8 when Zhou mentions his master and that he drinks to keep his master at bay.

In the episode, Zhou engages Danny in a really fun battle where he shows off his drunken-style brand of Kung Fu. Lewis Tan, the Asian-American actor who played Zhou, really makes this fight. It's only a few-minute scene, but Tan outclasses Finn Jones in both charisma and fight choreography. What's especially infuriating is learning that Lewis Tan actually auditioned for the role of Iron Fist/Danny Rand. Even with just a brief appearance in Episode 8, it's clear Tan would have been a much better choice for Danny.

Zhou Cheng comic version (left) and Netflix version (right)

As I mentioned above, these episodes mark the first appearance of Davos, who is played by actor Sacha Dhawan. Even though he appears briefly, I kind of liked Dhawan's version of Davos. He's not very similar to the comic incarnation of the character—at least not yet—who is a jealous and arrogant villain when we first meet him in the comics. What I like about Dhawan's portrayal of the character is his anger. He's clearly hurt by Danny leaving K'un-Lun. Dhawan's fighting skills are also pretty believable. His portions of the battle with Bakuto's students were fun and felt real.

What I didn't like about Davos was the weird way he used origami tinfoil throwing stars to torment the food truck vendor in Episode 9. It was probably meant to hint that there's a sadistic streak to the character and that he's on the path to villainy, but it just came off as silly.

These episodes brought more mentions of Luke Cage and Daredevil—including the fact that Claire is getting letters from Luke—but the best tieback, for me, came when Joy mentions she hired a private investigator who was worth every penny when she was sober. I believe this is the first mention of Jessica Jones in this series. It made me realize how much I missed that character.

In Episode 9, Gao tells Colleen, “They're coming. You know what they'll do when they arrive. Get out now before it's too late.” That, to me, sounds like another way in which Iron Fist is setting up The Defenders. Are the overlords of the Hand coming to America?

I've already talked about Davos and Zhou Cheng, but this episode introduced some other elements of the Iron Fist comic mythos as well. Probably the biggest one is the fact that Danny can use his chi to heal people. That's been one of his established powers for a long time. You also get to see what looks to be a version of Iron Fist's traditional comic-book costume in action in the video that Bakuto plays for Danny. It didn't look too bad, either.

Now, I understand comic costumes don't always translate into live-action adaptations, but I have to wonder why we haven't seen Danny wearing some version of the Iron Fist costume while in action? I think it would look a lot better than the black hoodie they're fond of putting him in, which makes him look like more of a Kung Fu hipster than a Kung Fu superhero. Plus, they have an organic way of introducing the costume: just say it's the ceremonial vestments of the Iron Fist.

Ultimately, Episodes 8-10 of Iron Fist were very disappointing. Now, as I prepare for the final installments of the series, I suppose the best thing I can hope for is a great set up for The Defenders because, sadly, this has been a terrible adaptation of a fun and exciting character with a lot of great source material to draw from. The only way Iron Fist could redeem itself is if it ended with a heck of a season finale. But since Scott Buck is one of the people who brought us the Dexter lumberjack ending, I doubt that's going to happen.

Check back next Friday for the final installment of my look at Iron Fist Season 1 where I'll examine Episodes 11-13.
 

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Episodes 5-7 Episodes 11-13

 


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

    OMG, yes to everything you said! And while I’m completely willing to blame Buck for this debacle, I can’t let off Finn Jones or the writing, both of which, while in past episodes weren’t great, were at least serviceable. But this is the set of episodes that brought us such zingers as “It’s not stupid, okay?!” and “They’re murderers and killers!”, both lines made infinitely more stupid by Jones’ awful attempts at Acting. Maybe he was directed to act like a petulant brat who’s all surface and whiny rage but jeez, it’s hard to believe given the quality of the other series that have made up the Netflix Marvel universe so far.

    Contrast to my feelings for Rosario Dawson having to work with these awful scripts that make Claire Temple look less like someone who contains mutltitudes and more like a convenient cardboard cutout: you can tell that she’s doing her best with the material, trying to internalize the contradictions and make Claire a whole person instead of a range of emotions reacting solely to exterior events, as Jones does with Danny.

    Anyway, yes, I was disappointed as well, and am looking forward to your thoughts on the last few episodes. I actually rage-binge-watched them, as I’d already committed to the entire series and was not going to not finish this atrocity, by God! :’D

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