Iron Fist- A Series Review

Posted: 03/27/2017 in Uncategorized

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Well, this show certainly got people talking…but not in a good way. Terms like “cultural appropriation”, “whitewashing”, “white savior” and numerous other derogatory terms have been brought to bear. Equally damning is the extraordinarily negative tilt on critics’ side in which this show is proclaimed to be the ‘worst Netflix/Marvel series ever”, with overly harsh and unfair derision of both plot and cast being heaped on lead Finn Jones (Danny Rand/Iron Fist) and the series as a whole…or at least the initial 6 episode screener offering by Netflix. Are they right? Was this ‘limp, plodding with an ineffectual hero…”. I am going to have to borderline respectfully disagree. The disagreement is assured…the respectful..is going to be a bit more difficult to navigate.

People are fickle. “A” list directors like Mel Gibson and Steven Spielberg decry the superhero genre as a fad and speak of ‘capes’ as an umbrella term of condescension. Here’s the thing…at 14 movies and counting for Marvel alone, their rancor amounts to little. People want this kind of programming .The notion of something, some one- inspirational who is able to bring about justice and good is a necessity in our present societal state. If you are weary of such programming, turn away from it. There was a point when it didn’t exist…there may be a point where it may be so again. It will not be anytime soon. In the words of the visionary Stan Lee  –   “It’s all getting made” when asked about what was next at a media event years back.

Iron Fist is not Dare Devil. It is not Jessica Jones nor is it Luke Cage. All those previous series stood as stellar programming in their own rights. The second season of Dare Devil might have been a indicator of the naysaying trend as it was harshly criticized for attempting too much and losing its way. I won’t even begin to defend that series as honestly…the question of what people want is arbitrary. The scope and breadth of the Marvel/Netflix partnership is so far reaching as to bend the mind. Did anybody think at one point that we would have successful superhero based television featuring respectively a visually challenged man, a super powered, yet deeply victimized hard edged woman and of course a black, wrongfully incarcerated male lead with the setting of an open love letter to Harlem?

So, why can’t we calm the eff down at the notion of a young Caucasian kid getting lost in the Himalayas and becoming champion of another dimension? Finn Jones does a terrific job at presenting someone new, something new. He is an innocent whose desire to reconnect with his family takes him away from a place where he is essentially a champion  and hero to return to a life of uncertainly. But,…he’s a billionaire. Yes, but not initially. The treachery and negativity he faces upon his return to our plane can resonate with anyone who has found themselves in a seemingly unfriendly terrain where few if any know you. Finn Jones’ Danny Rand is different and different is refreshing. He is essentially a kid, a virginal monk who as Clare Temple (Rosario Dawson) aptly states sounds more like he ‘experienced abuse’ in K’un Lun as anything resembling a loving, stable environment.

The manner in which the show runners seamlessly draw the four series into a collective universe heralding the eventual “Defenders” series event is brilliant. As for diversity? Introducing Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. Ms. Henwick is a find, killing all her scenes with a powerfully, disciplined edge honed with empathy and wry humor. Carrie Anne Moss returns as Jeryn Hogarth in an integral role. I challenge you to think of this cerebral and legally brilliant character by any other name than “J-Money” after this series:).

The villains however are superior. Harold Meachum, the family patriarch and technically dead agent of the Hand operates behind the scene and the performance by David Wenham who normally plays heroic roles is so delightfully twisted that one simply cannot look away whenever he is on screen. Equally brilliant is the formidably engaging and malevolent Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), a character who is  inextricably linked to Dare Devil and now indelibly connected to Iron Fist. With a glance or wry smile, this character can induce the most powerful sense of unrest and fear. The aspect of family plays remarkably well via Gao and Meachum as both have their incredibly sinister and labyrinthine ties. The Meachum family dynamic is the stuff of nightmares. Great performances abound from both Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum and Jessica Stroup as Joy Meachum. Both characters present a broad array of shifting alliances as well as a full emotional spectrum. The Meachums burn up the screen.

There is so much convolution in the life of the man who walks both worlds that my wife and I frequently asked the question, “does he have any true friends?” as such is the inveigled nature of the series and the serpentine/parasitic involvement of the Hand in every aspect of Danny’s life that one cannot know for sure. His ‘brother’ from K’un Lun Davos is played by Sacha Dhawan who matches balletic martial arts lethality with a barely contained hurt and rage.

Another frequent disparagement of the series is the “lack of action” or “sub par quality” when it does occur. This of the numerous slights, I find the least justifiable. Ep. 10’s back to back fight sequence in which Danny and Davos take on the Hand’s next generation was fairly spectacular, as were nearly all of Colleen’s fight scenes including her two on one cage fight and inevitable match with her sensei Bacuto (Ramon Rodriguez). Honestly the moment in which Danny Rand manifests the Iron Fist and knocks a steel door off its hinges and concrete moorings is as good a moment as any in the Marvel Universe, honestly.

For those who complained about the understated use of the mystical, namely Shao Lao’s depiction,  I must remind folks that these four series are meant to have a more grounded less is more approach. Honestly, the seared chest when Rand gains the Iron Fist speaks louder than any lengthy CGI moment. I will end with a quick review and the urging that fans of both the comic book character and superhero genre fare in general give this an honest chance and enjoy Marvel/Netflix’s latest offering. It is truly good. Without hesitation, I declare “Iron Fist” simply outstanding and well worth your time.

 

Episodes

No. Title Directed by Written by Original release date
1 “Snow Gives Way” John Dahl Scott Buck March 17, 2017
Danny Rand enters Rand Enterprises, asking to meet Harold Meachum, but is ignored due to his appearance. He fights his way through security and reaches Harold’s children Ward and Joy, who state that Harold has been dead for years, not believing him to be Rand. (A good start, introducing us to tv’s latest troubled family dynamic, presenting abounding betrayals peppered with angst and mystical back story. )
2 “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight” John Dahl Scott Buck March 17, 2017
Rand is revealed to be at a psychiatric hospital, assigned to Dr. Paul Edmonds. Rand continues insisting on his true identity. Harold is revealed to be surveilling the hospital. He has Ward talk to Wing. Ward offers her money in exchange for her confirmation of Rand’s alleged condition. Harold decides to move Rand to a safe place since he can be useful. Instead, Ward orders his men posed as patients to kill Rand, who overpowers them by summoning the Iron Fist, which he uses to break out of the hospital. (Simply epic moment when Danny’s power is revealed. )
3 “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch” Tom Shankland Quinton Peeples March 17, 2017
Harold is revealed to be under the control of an unknown woman who punishes him for temporarily leaving the penthouse. Wing is attacked by Ward’s mercenaries, whom she overpowers before being confronted by Rand, whom she allows to stay at the dojo. Rand visits Joy, who offers him 100 million dollars if he changes his identity and leaves the Meachums. He refuses and later meets Jeri Hogarth, an old friend of the family. (Cool moments between Finn Jones and Carrie Ann Moss and a pretty epic closing scene to whet one’s appetite for the next installment). 
4 “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm” Miguel Sapochnik Scott Reynolds March 17, 2017
Rand wakes up in the penthouse, where Harold reveals that his cancer was secretly cured by The Hand, which demanded his loyalty in return and allowed him to reveal the truth only to Ward. Harold asks Rand to destroy The Hand in order to free the former, which he accepts. In exchange, Harold orders Ward to accept Rand’s return to the company, where his return is announced in a press conference. In a board meeting, Rand uses his position as the majority shareholder to enforce his decision to sell a newly developed leishmaniasis drug at cost in order to save more lives. A moment of violence against Joy illustrates the depth of both Harold’s feeling for his daughter and penchant for retribution. 
5 “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus” Uta Briesewitz Cristine Chambers March 17, 2017
A new synthetic heroin appears in New York City. Rand connects it to The Hand; but Ward dismisses it. After a chemical factory owned by the Rand Enterprises on Staten Island produces carcinogenic waste chemicals, Rand personally apologizes to a complaining citizen, with the conversation being recorded by a lawyer and later disclosed to the media. In a board meeting, where Rand is absent, Ward convinces the shareholders to stand against the accusations instead of accepting responsibility. However, the anxiety of being always watched by Harold causes Ward to have a drug overdose. Rand meets Claire Temple, who trains at the dojo. A covert run introduces the formidable Madame Gao and her in depth involvement with the Hand and narcotics trade. 
6 “Immortal Emerges from Cave” RZA Dwain Worrell March 17, 2017
In order to satisfy Joy, Ward throws all of his drugs away. He and Rand start searching the warehouses of Rand Enterprises in order to find clues. They find a message left by The Hand challenging Rand to a combat. Danny’s introduction to the physical responsibilities of being K’un Lun’s guardian and the Hand’s perception of honor make this a powerfully good ep. 
7 “Felling Tree with Roots” Farren Blackburn Ian Stokes March 17, 2017
Two Hand operatives arrive at the penthouse to interrogate Harold. Rand arrives and engages them with Harold, who kills both. Harold has Ward dump the bodies in a river. Rand develops romance with Wing. He starts investigating his father’s past. Gao arrives at Rand Enterprises, advising Rand to stay out of The Hand’s way. She leaves, with him tailing her to an office, where she discusses business with an employee loyal to her. (Another great run demonstrating both the toll Harold exacts on Ward and the cost of pushing him too far – superior moments abound.)
8 “The Blessing of Many Fractures” Kevin Tancharoen Tamara Becher-Wilkinson March 17, 2017
Rand deduces that his father was going to Anzhou to shut down Gao’s operations, but were targeted by her on the plane. The former, Wing and Temple head to Anzhou, where they acquire information from a nearby beggar. They infiltrate the facility just as Gao arrives. Rand engages Zhou; who uses an advanced kung fu style, drunken boxing. (This ep did not win me over. While Lewis Tan as Zhou was up for the Iron Fist role and many cite him as a preferred choice, I found his character cloying and underwhelming. Fight scenes recalled old Saturday special cheese thankfully sans sound effects…)
9 “The Mistress of All Agonies” Jet Wilkinson Pat Charles March 17, 2017
Rand takes Gao to the dojo, where Temple offers using truth serum to force her to talk. Rand steals the serum from Rand Enterprises. Temple injects it, with Gao stating some stories about Rand’s parents before they turn out to be lies and Gao being resistant to torture. Wing is revealed to have been poisoned in Anzhou. She contacts her mentor Bakuto. Gao’s military operatives attack the dojo, but are defeated. Bakuto arrives and instructs Rand to use the Iron Fist to heal Wing. (Lots of good moments in this one including more machinations between the Meachums ending in a powerful reveal)
10 “Black Tiger Steals Heart” Peter Hoar Quinton Peeples March 17, 2017
Rand wakes up in a martial academy run by Bakuto, who teaches him how to recharge his “chi”. The former becomes suspicious and infiltrates a restricted area, where he learns from an imprisoned Gao that Bakuto is a Hand leader. (Arguably one of the best episodes including rampant kickassery).
11 “Lead Horse Back to Stable” Deborah Chow Ian Stokes March 17, 2017
Rand tells Davos that they will not return to K’un-Lun until The Hand is destroyed. They go to Temple’s, where she extracts the fragment of Bakuto’s weapon from Rand’s wound, stopping the bleeding, but failing to control the infection due to lack of antibiotics. (More shifting alliances and drama backed by cool fight sequences – another strong run). 
12 “Bar the Big Boss” Andy Goddard Scott Reynolds March 17, 2017
Ward escapes the hospital and goes to the penthouse, holding a gun and demanding Harold to let him take Joy. Bakuto and his operatives arrive, with the former calling Rand, shooting Joy and giving him half an hour to arrive at the penthouse in order to save the trio. (How much corruption and overwhelming treachery facing Danny and his “allies” is deeply delved with this ep)
13 “Dragon Plays with Fire” Stephen Surjik Scott Buck & Tamara Becher-Wilkinson & Pat Charles March 17, 2017
Harold enters Rand Enterprises and takes control of it. Rand and Wing go to Bakuto’s facility, which is abandoned by The Hand. (This ep brings the truth behind Danny’s parents death, tons of action, unexpected switching alliances and a pretty epic final sequence opening the field for the character’s return in “Defenders”. 

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