Each of the four pillars of Netflix’s chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe plays a different role in telling the kinds of realistic, street-level stories that Marvel’s movies and other TV shows tend to shy away from. But with Iron Fist, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage (and even The Punisher, surprisingly), Netflix’s Marvel shows have investigated complicated, powerful stories about racism, sexism, police brutality, and criminal justice reform, all while fleshing out each show’s titular hero. The same can’t quite exactly be said of Iron Fist’s Danny Rand, who, in the show’s first season, repeatedly came across as being the least compelling aspect of the larger plot.
There are a number of reasons why the first season of Iron Fist was met with an almost universally negative response, the two most important being that it was both racially insensitive and narratively boring, a losing combination. It’s fair to say that Iron Fist began as a show about a privileged white kung fu master going on a lifeless hero’s journey and beating up a bunch of nondescript people of color conveniently typecast as ninjas and monks along the way. While there’s no undoing the past, Iron Fist has the opportunity in its second season to reintroduce everyone to Danny Rand post-Defenders, and potentially put him in a position to be the sort of character whose adventures you actually want to follow.
The key to making that happen is to take the show’s focus away from Danny Rand.
In the past, it’s felt like Netflix hasn’t quite known what kind of person it wants Danny to be. He’s an outsider caught between worlds, but he also has an outsized amount of confidence in himself—two aspects of his personality which are at odds in a way that made it difficult to get a read on his character. He’s a world-weary traveler who’s seen things that most people couldn’t imagine, but he’s also the Defenders’ dorky kid brother who needs to be told to take his feet off people’s furniture.
Though these pieces of Danny could, in theory, have been woven together over the course of Iron Fist’s first season and as he appeared in Netflix’s other shows, they didn’t. Instead, they merely popped up when the plot necessitated it. The audience still needs a chance to really get to know Danny, and one of the best ways for Iron Fist’s second season to really tackle that would be to hone in on the one part of Danny’s character that Netflix has always gotten right: He’s a learner.
Being forced to learn how to adapt when presented with new information in unfamiliar environments is the essence of Iron Fist’s origin story, and it’s something that Iron Fist should continue to emphasize about the character. Even though the MCU’s Danny has already become the Iron Fist, he’s still a long way from being a wise man of the world—in no small part because he spent the bulk of his life in a parallel dimension away from normal society.
Technically speaking, Danny’s still very new to the world even though he’s been back from K’un-Lun for a bit of time now, and it makes sense that a big part of his continued education would be tied to his interactions with the other people in his orbit like Coleen Wing and Misty Knight. Though Matt Murdock isn’t likely to make an on-screen appearance in the new season, his interactions with Iron Fist during The Defenders play a large role in shaping Danny’s motivations as he moves forward.
With Daredevil missing in action, Danny takes it upon himself to defend the streets of Hells Kitchen and beyond since the NYPD can’t or won’t. Again, though, as noble as his intentions are (and as lovely a way as that is to tie Iron Fist to another series), Danny doesn’t really know this New York City as it exists today. If he wants to fill the space that Daredevil—a man who lived in New York for his entire life—has left behind, he needs to learn what it means to be someone who can move through the city deftly and with purpose.
That’s why the presence of Misty and Colleen is so important—not so that they can literally sit Danny down and teach him how not to be that guy padding barefoot around Manhattan, but rather so that he has an opportunity to learn simply by getting out of their way and paying attention.
It would be odd (but welcomed) if Iron Fist were to suddenly become that Daughters of the Dragon show we’ve all been jonesing for--and Danny does need to be able to exist on his own, if only to justify an Iron Fist series’ existence. Naturally, there are parts of Iron Fist’s second season that can only and should only focus on Danny. If the season really wants to shine, though, it’s going to have to make sure that he remembers and appreciates all of the people in his corner that are really making Iron Fist thrilling.