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After Episode 4, Is It Time For Iron Fist To Punch Out Of Iron Fist?
We've seen enough of the metallic meathook to decide he deserves the finger.
Episode 3 of Iron Fist, with its cliffhanger ending, was the first one that actually made me feel motivated to watch the next one -- not because I was so anxious to see how Danny Rand would survive a fifty-story plummet to a Manhattan sidewalk, but because there was a moment when I allowed myself to imagine how much better the next episode of Iron Fist would be without...well, without Iron Fist.
Is it unfair to compare Iron Fist to its sibling Marvel shows on Netflix? Perhaps, because Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage are all soooo much better. I will say, however, that as an unintentional exploration of white male mediocrity, it's dead on point. It's as if someone heard the old saying that women, people of color, and the disabled have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good, and then took that as license to work one-quarter as hard to create Iron Fist.
I suppose it's also possible that Marvel is hoping to wean its audience off of things like engaging storylines, interesting dialogue, and likable characters. It's not that I have a problem with flawed heroes: Jessica Jones and Luke Cage both had to overcome their natural reluctance in order to live up to their destinies -- and, in the former case, incipient alcoholism as well. Even in the case of the Avengers, would they be half as interesting without Iron Man's hubris, Captain America's sanctimony, or Hawkeye's superfluity? Of course not; their success or failure in getting past their shortcomings is part of what makes them compelling. But Danny Rand is just an entitled brat.
At the series opening, one wants to give Danny the benefit of the doubt when he pads into Manhattan barefoot and wide-eyed, listening to turn-of-the-millennium tunes on an iPod that he was somehow able to keep charged for a decade and a half in an alternate dimension. But this scroungy naïf soon turns out also to be a petulant brat who's in the habit of using physical force to get his way. He breaks other people's things in explosions of temper. He's condescending towards a homeless man in the park who befriends him. He thanks Colleen Wing for sheltering him by whacking one of her karate students. He talks to other people about crazy shit as though they're the idiots. He's supposedly a Chosen One on a mission to defeat the Hand (the shadowy force of paranormal evil introduced on Daredevil), but wastes his time and energy on a fight for his corporate birthright that makes him look petty and greedy -- not that allying with the morally-compromised Jeri Hogarth is ever going to turn out great. And for a supposed Buddhist who's always showing off with meditation, tai chi, and hippy-dippy blather about inner power, he has less impulse control than my twelve-year-old. Whatever contest Finn Jones won this role in, he would have been better off not entering.
This is not to say there's nothing interesting at all about the series Iron Fist, the first couple of episodes of which played out like a first draft by a half-awake novice distracted by episodes of Suits and American Horror Story: Asylum playing too loudly in the next room. At first it seemed we were dealing with a simple, crudely-drawn dichotomy: Danny good (supposedly), Meachums bad. But a hierarchy of evil has begun to emerge. Joy Meachum's not awesome, but she's not as bad as her brother Ward. And Ward is not as bad as his dad, twelve years into his faked death. But even Howard Meachum probably isn't as bad as the Hand and Madame Gao (also introduced in Daredevil), who are effectively holding Howard prisoner in his fitness-themed penthouse. It's not hard to understand Howard's interest in Danny and his mission to defeat the Hand, under his circumstances. As of the end of Episode 3, one almost even shared Danny's curiosity in how it's going to play out.
But then Danny seemed to drop out of the action, as it were. Which I felt could only be to the show's benefit. Perhaps now we would be able to focus on the show's far more interesting characters, like some of the Meachums and Danny's reluctant host, Colleen Wing. I'd much rather watch a show about the Daughter of the Dragon kicking arrogant dudes' asses than enduring more whitemansplaining about Asian mysticism from Danny. Perhaps it's true that these two story threads need Danny to tie them together, but at this point that's already been accomplished. Let them work it out themselves while Danny is getting spatulaed off the sidewalk.
But alas, Danny's fall is broken first by a protruding light pole and then a ledge (note to the Hand: next time, ensconce your prisoner in a skyscraper with a smoother façade). So Danny is still around to learn the truth about Howard Meachum, strike a truce with the family, and end up wearing a big-boy suit in a Rand Industries executive suite, where he thinks he belongs. Next thing you know, he's disrupting a board meeting and getting his way by using his 51% ownership share. It's tough for someone to be unlikeable while shooting down pharmaceutical price-gouging, given some recent headlines, but Danny is such a clueless, pompous dickweed about it that you can't even cheer when he does that. Add to Danny's list of crimes the fact that he makes viewers side with the Martin Shkrelis of the world.
This is just one of Danny's many charmless moments, big and small, displayed in this episode. From his deference to the hatchet-wielding triads after their attack on Joy, to the way he shakes Colleen's door when he can see her walking over to open it, to his total lack of humility, this is a guy I just can't get behind. Yes, the fight in the hallway and then the elevator is kind of cool, but it was too little too late. Worse, it was nothing we haven't seen done better in Daredevil and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, respectively.
Let's be real: at this point, the best reason to stick with Iron Fist is so we'll be up to speed for the eventual premiere of the upcoming crossover series The Defenders (well, that and the hope of an appearance from Claire Temple). Cynical? Maybe. One certainly can't fault the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its lower-budget annex on Netflix, for finding a model that works and going with it. I remember going to see Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger primarily as prep for The Avengers, rather than any desire to see them independently. The same is true of Iron Fist. The difference is I ended up enjoying Thor and CA:T1A in their own right, as independent stories. Which surprised me as much as anyone. Iron Fist, however, is thus far nothing but pure homework. And the lead character is part of the problem, if not the problem.
All sensible people agree -- and we have used this space to write, many times -- about which TV characters could, like Community's Pierce, lift straight out without damaging their shows, and often even improving them. I started watching this series already assuming that Iron Fist would likely be the Pierce of The Defenders. But it's even worse than that.
Iron Fist is the Pierce of Iron Fist.