The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for valuing fan feedback, and “Iron Fist” Season 2 (September 2018, Netflix) might be the prime example. After a first season that was rushed through production, moved at a snail’s pace, and had fight scenes that were cobbled together in the editing room, Season 2 is a notable improvement. It’s still slow-paced, but the fights are much better, the locations are magnificent, the score boasts a tasty Far East flavor, and several actors give standout performances. Plus, it’s a tidy 10 episodes, rather than the Netflix norm of 13.
Two performances elevate Season 2. Sacha Dhawan’s Davos was in Season 1, but he takes center stage here, scheming to take away the Iron Fist from Danny (Finn Jones). Davos is a classic vigilante do-gooder who aims to do what the system won’t: in this case, wipe out the Triad, the crime syndicates of Chinatown. Dhawan is outstanding as a man of conviction, and Davos also looks awesome with his glowing red fists.
The real delight, though, is Alice Eve as Mary Walker (no relation to “Jessica Jones’ ” Trish Walker, as far as we know). I assumed Eve was in movies like “She’s Out of My League” because of her looks, but she gives the most compelling performance of “Iron Fist” as a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Some of the time, she’s sweet-natured, new-to-the-Big-Apple Mary; the rest of the time she’s ruthless contract killer Walker. James McAvoy gets a lot of attention for his multiple-personality superhero performances in “Split” and “Glass,” but Eve ranks right up there with him. It’s not a stretch to say her scenes are the best parts of every episode.
A show usually can’t go wrong with great villains, and this season is a case in point, but Danny and Colleen (Jessica Henwick) are worthy heroes standing against them. Colleen was the best part of Season 1, and the writers recognize that, as she is essentially a co-lead with Danny. He even asks her to take the Iron Fist power, correctly believing she’s better suited to it.
Squabbling siblings Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) are again the weak links of the cast of characters, especially Joy, whose villainy comes from simply not liking how Danny and Ward underestimate her. Ward’s battle with narcotics addiction is standard, but Pelphrey is good in the scenes. The Meachums’ problems seem simple in this grand comic-book narrative, but at least they aren’t outright boring anymore.
Here are my rankings of the 10 episodes of “Iron Fist’s” impressive comeback season:
1. “The Dragon Dies at Dawn” (episode 6, written by Matthew White) – Davos is like if the Punisher had superpowers. It’s a blast to watch him cut a swath through the city while his assistant, Chen (Fernando Chien), casually crosses off names in his small red Mead notebook. This episode is also a visual feast, featuring a tattoo parlor in a boarded up brick building where “the rents are still cheap.” We’re also introduced to Davos’ headquarters, a gutted building that could perhaps be turned into high-class apartments, but for now represents a city stuck on the precipice of becoming something better.
2. “A Duel of Iron” (10, M. Raven Metzner) – The season finale starts with an epic fight between all the major players at Davos’ HQ, then it wraps up most of the threads, then it teases a Season 3 that we’ll never get (the series was subsequently canceled). This is a particularly nice-looking episode, from the HQ building to the Japanese seaside bar. And while it’s not explained how they share powers, Danny’s glowing yellow guns and Colleen’s glowing white sword are visually cool. It’s nice that Ward finally has a purpose, as Danny’s sidekick, but if “Iron Fist” had continued into Season 3, I’d be most interested in Mary’s quest to uncover her third identity.
3. “The City’s Not for Burning” (2, Jon Worley) – Spock would be proud of the neck-chop move Davos uses on the Hatchet boss. For all his ruthlessness, though, he actually has a good case that he should be the Iron Fist. In flashbacks to K’un-Lun, Danny wins the Fist through sketchy means; he refuses to yield, and Davos can’t bring himself to kill his surrogate brother. And when he flips the tables, the master bails out Danny by declaring him the winner. Davos is definitely the more principled of the two men; while he agrees to Joy’s scheme to blackmail an antiquities dealer via a sex tape, he is noticeably uncomfortable with such an underhanded scheme. Give Colleen credit for sticking with her no-violence policy so far: She walks straight into a gang hideout unarmed to suggest the community center as an alternative to their lifestyle. The mystery of what patent Joy has acquired in her Rand divestment package is interesting at this point, but unfortunately it fizzles as the season goes on.
4. “Heart of the Dragon” (5, Declan de Barra) – After two weak episodes, “Iron Fist” gets back on track in a big way. Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is finally working with Danny and Colleen, and Davos becomes the Iron Fist after stealing the power from Danny in a ceremony. Davos is clearly positioned as the season’s villain, but it’s interesting to note that he aims to wipe out all the criminals in the city, and it’s hard to not root for him as he kills clearly defined bad guys. We also sympathize with him thanks to flashbacks to his mother’s harsh treatment of him in K’un-Lun, highlighted by an artistic scene where we see two sides of a doorway as Davos bids her farewell.
5. “The Fury of Iron Fist” (1, Metzner) – Danny wears a yellow mask in the first fight of the season, perhaps a way for stuntmen to do more work. Although he doesn’t ultimately take up the full Iron Fist costume, it’s an indicator of the superior fight choreography this season, perhaps a blend of stuntwork and Jones’ improved skills. Colleen’s former dojo is a warm and inviting studio apartment that Colleen and Danny share, and an indicator that Colleen is done with fighting (or so she thinks): She now volunteers at a community center.
6. “War Without End” (9, Daniel Chattuck) – With Davos now outright killing or threatening innocent people, who he claims are “guilty by association,” the battle lines are clearly drawn here. So let’s just enjoy some awesome fights, shall we? Danny takes on Davos, who is no longer of intriguingly ambiguous morality but is still definitely frightening. And Colleen fights the squad – now working for Davos – whom she has been trying to help. Since the transference ceremony gets interrupted, Colleen has white-fist powers, while Davos still has the two red fists. And Walker kills Chen; as the season goes on, Walker’s thought processes are less clear, but Eve is never anything less than totally compelling.
7. “Citadel on the Edge of Vengeance” (8, Melissa Glenn) – This is one of those episodes devoted to the hero’s training and regaining of focus. Unfortunately through exposition rather than action, we learn Danny was negatively influenced by the Iron Fist to desire its power. And we see the same thing happening to Davos, which is a shame because earlier in the season “Iron Fist” was making a compelling case for the value of vigilantism.
8. “Morning of the Mindstorm” (7, Rebecca Dameron) – “Iron Fist” squanders Davos’ noble vigilantism here as he begins killing low-level street thugs; too conveniently, he’s now positioned as a clear bad guy. Before this episode, I didn’t realize Danny’s fighting skills were below Colleen’s in the show’s context (obviously Henwick is a better martial artist than Jones, but that’s in real life). But Colleen is the better fighter, apparently, because Danny needs her to train him now that he lacks the Fist. It’s cool to see how Mary communicates with Walker via videos and notes.
9. “The Deadly Secret” (3, Tatiana Suarez-Pico) – When people talk about the slow pace of “Iron Fist,” this episode could be Exhibit A. Danny and Colleen invite the Meachum siblings over for dinner to hash out their differences, and it feels like most of the episode is spent in awkward, tense arguments. The slow-burn approach is definitely a stylistic choice, and I don’t mind wallowing in it now and then, but I’m not sure it has to be quite this slow.
10. “Target: Iron Fist” (4, Jenny Lynn) – It’s frustrating that Misty asks Danny and Colleen to stand down in the fight against the Triad. For one thing, she could clearly benefit from their help (and she already has positive experiences working with superhero Luke Cage). For another, Chinatown is not Misty’s jurisdiction. (It’s eventually clarified that she’s taking time off from her job in Harlem.) The Joy-Ward rivalry is hampered because neither is worth rooting for and we don’t know why their stories matter to the main narrative at this point.