After watching “Iron Fist” Season 1 (2017, Netflix), I feel like I’ve completed the same hero’s journey as Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones). I’m exhausted not from doing 13 episodes of kung-fu fighting and harnessing my chi into a fist of iron, but simply from watching what is easily the slowest-paced of the Netflix MCU shows to this point.
Scott Buck’s series uses daytime soap opera pacing, which admittedly fits with the family and corporate drama that takes place in the penthouse of Harold Meachum (David Wenham) and the office towers of the Rand Corporation, run by Meachum’s son Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and daughter Joy (“90210’s” Jessica Stroup). The fact that it’s a solid example of its genre doesn’t make it easier to watch, though.
Somewhere within these 13 hours, there’s a very good six-hour cut to be had, emphasizing the fight scenes and trimming the long boardroom conversations. While Danny’s hero’s journey is clichéd – he has to overcome the anger over his parents’ murders and learn to be a force for the common good – Finn is a likable actor.
Even better are the villains — Wenham’s measured corporate magnate Harold, who could snap at any moment, and Madam Gao (Wai Ching Ho, introduced on “Daredevil”). She can fell strong opponents with a single martial-arts move, then shuffle away with her cane like Yoda after defeating Dooku in “Attack of the Clones.”
As is always the case with these shows, “Iron Fist” has lived-in locations and lush cinematography, whether we’re seeing a street celebration with Chinese dragons or the old but polished architecture of Meachum’s building. “Iron Fist’s” slice of the Big Apple is the Asian neighborhoods, with the dojo/apartment of Danny’s girlfriend Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) serving as a home base.
The only big problem is the pacing. About half of each episode is strong, but it’s that other half that makes watching “Iron Fist” too much of a slog. Here are my rankings of the 13 episodes:
1. “The Mistress of All Agonies” (episode 9, written by Pat Charles) – For a change, here’s an episode that doesn’t seem overlong or predictable. Wai Ching Ho gives a particularly delicious turn as Madame Gao is tied to a chair, reminiscent of the Angelus arc from Season 4 of “Angel,” and I admit I didn’t see the resurrection of Harold coming (although his invincibility will eventually become tiresome). Thrillingly for comic-book nerds, this ep introduces Danny’s secondary power: The ability to heal with his hand.
2. “Black Tiger Steals Heart” (10, Quentin Peoples) – “Iron Fist” strings together two strong episodes. We and Danny learn that Colleen and her sensei, Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez), are members of The Hand. They make a plausible case that they are the “good” branch of The Hand, and that Gao’s branch has bastardized the name, but that doesn’t last long, as Bakuto’s evil nature is soon revealed. An evening courtyard fight closes the hour, but the action highlight is the narrowest hallway fight yet, as Danny and his K’un-Lun ally Davos (Sacha Dhawan) use wall climbing and hurdling against Hand ninjas.
3. “Felling Tree with Roots” (7, Ian Stokes) – Stokes and director Farren Blackburn give “Iron Fist” a rare sense of dramatic momentum with brave, cool moments. Danny enters just as Harold is being threatened by The Hand. Gao is flat-out taking meetings on the 13th floor of the Rand building in the ultimate “f— you” to her enemies. Meanwhile, the Danny-Colleen relationship emerges as one of the MCU’s cutest, thanks to the chemistry between Jones and Henwick.
4. “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch” (3, Peoples) – The underground fight ring that Colleen participates in is a tired cliché, but this episode has a notable sense of style. A scene where Danny climbs Harold’s building, with a breathtaking view of the Big Apple’s nighttime cityscape behind him, is as vertigo-inducing as Spidey climbing the Washington Monument in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The series’ 1980s-style action music comes to the fore here; it should have been emphasized more throughout the run.
5. “Snow Gives Way” (1, Scott Buck) – Considering that “Iron Fist” will eventually be about the power plays of the elite, the pilot episode nicely illustrates the plight of a homeless person in the form of the title character, who arrives home in New York after 15 years in K’un-Lun in the Himalayas. In order to claim his place at Rand Corp., though, he has to convince people he’s Danny. There’s a sense of mystery because the Meachums seem to know Danny is the real deal, but they don’t want him back. Also: Why does Harold not look old enough to be Ward’s dad? Not an amazing start, but a respectable one.
6. “Immortal Emerges from Cave” (6, Dwain Worrell) – Ward’s drug addiction is boring, but Danny’s trial (reminiscent of the “Angel” Season 2 episode by that name) is engaging, even if it goes nowhere since Gao is just messing with him. One of Danny’s Hand opponents, a woman who dispenses spider venom, actually has some individual personality.
7. “Bar the Big Boss” (12, Scott Reynolds) – The Hand-vs.-Meachum power struggle and Danny’s and Colleen’s inner struggles of whether to kill Bakuto when he’s down are utterly clichéd. However, this is the series’ best episode in terms of locations and cinematography, highlighted by a fight in a rain-soaked courtyard. And the beautiful marble lobby of Harold’s building – seen in many episodes – is finally used for a fight scene.
8. “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus” (5, Christine Chambers) – Lots of long and ultimately forgettable Rand Corp. boardroom scenes keep this episode ranked low. But this is an example of how there’s good stuff buried in “Iron Fist”: Danny and Colleen have a cute first date, which is actually a stakeout at the docks. And Claire (Rosario Dawson), the nurse and connective tissue among the Netflix shows, joins the good guys.
9. “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight” (2, Buck) – Stories of a superhero stuck in a psych ward are always tough to watch, and this is no exception. It is cathartic when Danny breaks free, though, using his iron fist to smash through a wall. This episode presents the first, confusing hints about the nature of K’un-Lun. Initially, I thought it was a branch of Heaven, and that Danny had returned from the dead, but he later describes it as being in another dimension (which fits with what we’ll see in the season finale, where the whole place disappears).
10. “Dragon Plays with Fire” (13, Buck, Tamara Becher-Wilkinson and Charles) – Despite “Iron Fist” being so much about the build-up, the season finale’s big moments feel oddly unearned, especially the stinger where Joy teams up with Davos to scheme over killing Danny (her childhood best friend whom she has clashed with, but showed no signs of hating). Out of the blue, Claire lectures Danny and Colleen about their propensity for violence. Ward kills Harold (again), thus saving Danny from having to do it, just as Davos spares Colleen from killing Bakuto in the previous episode. These are examples of skittish writing, sure, but they also illustrate the fact that Colleen and Danny are hesitant to use violence as a solution.
11. “Lead Horse Back to Stable” (11, Stokes) – Stokes did good work in his previous episode, but this one borders on parody, with yet another scene of an injured superhero coming to Claire’s door in need of being patched up. The revelation of why Danny left K’un-Lun isn’t worth the wait (essentially, he had wanderlust). Colleen’s journey toward realizing The Hand isn’t what she thought it was is predictable, although it’s nice that she doesn’t struggle too long to pick the right side.
12. “The Blessing of Many Fractures” (8, Becher-Wilkinson) – There’s a decent Ward-and-Joy park-bench conversation in terms of location, acting and establishing of the siblings’ bond — but dang is it long, like so many scenes in this series. Colleen gets an OK sword fight, and Danny engages in the series’ weirdest battle, with a drunken doorman at Gao’s compound.
13. “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm” (4, Reynolds) – This is a prime example of what “Iron Fist” does poorly. Danny describes his time in K’un-Lun to Joy as they sit on a couch, rather than us seeing it in flashbacks. Colleen does more cage fighting. Granted, there is a nice-looking walk-and-talk between Danny and Joy through Chinatown, plus one of those trademark Netflix hallway fights (where Daredevil and Punisher would tell Danny “not bad, kid”). But if any plot points or character arcs move forward, it’s by mere inches.
How would you rank the 13 episodes of “Iron Fist” Season 1? Share your lists below.
“Iron Fist” Season 1: