The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s resident chi-wielding multimillionaire with a fist of gold returned to Netflix last Friday in Iron Fist season 2, and surprisingly there was a lot about the season to get legitimately hyped about. As is true of all things, though, there were plenty of moments that kept the show from being transcendent. Here’s what we thought worked and what fell flat.
Although their initial pairing in The Defenders came off as a little forced, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing’s arc over the course of Luke Cage and now Iron Fist’s second season has evolved into one of the best partnerships across the entire Marvel-Netflixverse. The bond between Misty and Colleen (and the great chemistry between Jessica Henwick and Simone Missick that comes with it) elevates episodes of season two where the show starts to drag—something not many other pairings in the cast can do.
As they both find themselves with trying to figure out what they want out of a crazy path filled with mystical destinies and robot arms, their friendship, as bizarre as it is—Colleen even acknowledges at one point she barely even knows Misty, despite the health of their relationship—constantly shines through. And with Colleen rising up as the new Iron Fist, she’s going to need a partner she can count on. Misty’s right: Knight, Wing...it does have a certain ring to it.
Where oh where to begin with Colleen. Though Colleen has always been one of Iron Fist’s stronger characters, she really steps up to the plate and into the spotlight in a major way this season. With the Hand behind her, Colleen spends much of the season in search of a new family to call her own—something beyond her relationship with Danny where she can focus her emotional energies into something meaningful and worthwhile.
Even though she spends a fair amount of time fighting alongside Danny and Misty Knight throughout the season, Colleen finds purpose in the work she does at the local community center that acts as a hub of sorts for the neighborhood.
Being able to connect with and help the people she meets is what makes Colleen realize that she has all the makings of a hero in the truest sense of the word, regardless of whether she has special abilities or not. That realization is a big part of what makes her surprising transformation into the newest Iron Fist so satisfying by the season’s end. For two seasons, we’ve watched as Colleen’s selflessly thrown herself into battle, all for the sake of protecting those who can’t help themselves—something many of Marvel’s other heroes only tend to do when they themselves happen to be confronted by larger-than-life situations. For Colleen, heroism isn’t just a calling, it’s something that runs in her blood, and now that she’s a bona fide superhero, it’s going to become an even more central part of the person she is.
The very last scene of Iron Fist season two is one of the highlights of the whole show for comic book fans, as Danny takes off to “find himself” in Asia, with the help of a suddenly-available Ward (it’s very weird that he’s just fine with jetting off for months, apparently!) and a lead about an old corpse with the Iron Fist’s serpent tattoo burned into its chest. That hunch comes from a man whose name will have comic book fans’ heads exploding: Orson Randall, a former Iron Fist explored in the excellent Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, David Aja, and Travel Forman series The Immortal Iron Fist.
Oh, and the head-exploding will continue, because it’s quickly revealed afterwards during a bar brawl in Hokkaido that Danny not only has Iron Fist powers again, but uses them to channel energy into two pistols he dual wields, as Randall did in the comics. The channeling of chi into weapons is a concept that came up quite a bit in Immortal Iron Fist’s exploration of the Fist’s history—beyond Randall’s pistols, the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay (the heroine of the story from Colleen’s childhood) is actually the tale of the first female Iron Fist, who channeled her power through a bow. Now that both Colleen and Danny have the power of the Iron Fist, setting up a hugely intriguing partnership in season three, comics fans are in for a treat if the show starts exploring the likes of Randall and other elements from Immortal Iron Fist in its story.
It’s always interesting to see how the creative teams of Netflix’s Marvel shows incorporate supporting characters into each season in ways that make them gel with the MCU and carry the spirit of their comic book counterparts.
Alice Eve’s Mary Walker is a far cry from her psionic mutant comics self, but in exchange for pyrotechnics and tattered leather, Iron Fist introduces us to a much more interesting, and terrifying incarnation of the character. Throughout the season, the mild-mannered Mary (presumably the prime personality) struggles as her murderous alter ego Walker periodically takes control of their consciousness and sets out on missions to murder Danny Rand. Depictions of dissociative identity disorder in genre fiction are a somewhat controversial and tricky subject; often, the disorder framed as being a kind of superpower as opposed to the mental illness we define it as. (There’s also the debate as to whether DID is actually even real, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
While Mary’s DID is an important part of her character, thankfully it’s not the only thing about her that Iron Fist highlights—and in fleshing who both Mary and Walker are as people, the show ends up making them much more compelling characters. Despite the fact that she doesn’t take up nearly as much space as some of Iron Fist’s personalities, Mary and Walker loom large in the moments they’re on screen. The subtext (at least until her secret gets out) is that she’s constantly playing multiple games of chess with everyone around her and herself in order to function “normally.” From the looks of it, Mary and Walker are due back for future installments of Iron Fist and there’s a solid chance we’ll finally get to meet her third identity—and presumably, this one will be the one that gives her the “Typhoid” moniker she has in the comics.
One of the many reasons people came down so hard on Finn Jones during the first season of Iron Fist (aside from the white savior narrative that Netflix decided to go along with for the series) was because the actor openly spoke about only training for three weeks for the show and, well, you could tell.
Put more clearly: A lot of Danny’s season one fight scenes were far from impressive, something you’d think would not be the case for the heroic lead of a martial arts show. Iron Fist’s fight scenes under the direction of the show’s new choreographer Clayton Barber are a breath of fresh air. They’re fluid and brutal and dynamic—showcasing a variety of different fighting styles and characters modifying their own techniques to better suit their surroundings. The show’s hand to hand combat in open spaces gives characters time and space to breathe that isn’t choked with too much clunky comics dialogue, and the fights in tight quarters are quick, complex, and clever.
It’s already kind of odd that there’s an apparently weirdly simple ritual—so long as you have a bowl and, say, a coven of witchy tattoo artists—to transfer the power of the Iron Fist from one person to another willy-nilly. But after Davos robs Danny of his power and the back half of the season pivots to attempting to get that power back through another transference, there are way too many instances of lines like “They’ve got the bowl!” and the like for someone to take with a straight face.
But beyond the repeated silly utterances of the bowl—enough to make Daredevil’s season-long, multi-show-based mystery around a really big hole seem like a dramatic masterpiece—the banality that the ritual brings to the mythos of the Iron Fist robs the show of some of its mystical allure. Why should we care about the pressure Danny feels to live up to the worth of the mantle, if it can be so easily gained and lost? Why even bother with the pomp and circumstance of facing Shou-Lao and pitting people against each other if the Iron Fist’s power can move back and forth so readily? Iron Fist doesn’t examine these questions as much as it should for the sake of doing an otherwise typical “hero momentarily loses their powers” storyline, and it’s a shame.
Don’t get us wrong, Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey are as delightful as ever as the extremely dysfunctional Meachum siblings, wringing every pithy jab and exasperated outburst Joy and Ward go through for every drop of camp they’re worth. But their storylines throughout season two feel more like excuses for them to still hang around the plot instead of actual journeys for their characters.
In Ward’s case, this is partly down to time, as not a lot is really spent exploring his struggle with substance abuse in favor of him palling around with Walker and Mary. But Joy’s part in Davos’ plan (until she eventually realizes just how bad he is) feels trite and petty to the point of absurdity—she pretty much teams up to kill Danny simply because he came back and turned her life upside down, rather than having any real motivation or care for either Davos’ plight or Danny. Hopefully, now that Ward is being paired up with Danny going into season three, and Joy finds that her partnership with Walker is still a thing, they’ll both have more interesting arcs next time around.
It’s really difficult to chalk Davos’ motivation up to more than petty jealousy that he wasn’t chosen to become the next Iron Fist. That’s not an inherently “bad” drive for a villain to have, but throughout the season, we repeatedly found ourselves asking just what Davos was after in the larger scheme of things.
Sure, he spends many a scene pontificating to terrified people about his vision for a new kind of law and order being brought to the land, but when you think about it...how was he going to make that happen? Even if he managed to eradicate organized crime from the Chinatown area, at some point his murderous rampage would draw enough attention to himself and his followers that ultimately they very well likely would have been brought down, even if he still had the Iron Fist. By the end of the season, Davos is less of a misunderstood revolutionary and more of a deranged madman who delights in running around punching unsuspecting people, and while that sort of thing might fly in comic books, on screen it just doesn’t work.
Even though Iron Fist became a better show over the course of the second season, Danny didn’t really grow all that much in a way that suddenly made him more likable or compelling. Rather, Iron Fist’s second season tones Danny down quite a bit, which would be a good thing were it not for the fact that there simply isn’t really enough to him to make him shine as a character.
When Danny expresses the impact that Matt Murdock hard on him during The Defenders, you get the sense that Danny, having no other real direction in life at the moment, internalized Matt’s actions and decided to mimic them in a way. Danny never quite comes across as if he’s a man actively trying to carve out his own path, but rather going with the flow of those around him—and, more often than not, complicating them in ways that are wholly unnecessary. That being said, the season does end with Danny on the other side of the world with some new powers, weapons, and a partner, meaning that this might actually be the beginning of Danny taking his destiny into his own hands.