Finally, we’ve updated these reviews to include all episodes of Marvel’s Iron Fist season one. Enjoy.
Episode One: “Snow Gives Way”
Someone claiming to be Danny Rand, son of Wendell Rand, arrives at Rand Tower to see family friend Howard Wenham. The only problem is, Danny Rand died in a plane accident years ago…
The final Defender is here and it’s safe to say he’s off to a pretty rocky start. It’s not entirely show’s fault either. Iron Fist doesn’t just have a big act to follow, it has THREE big acts to follow, all of which nailed it straight out of the gate. Daredevil had the Catholic guilt and beautifully choreographed violence. Jessica Jones is a blisteringly smart exploration of the survival of abuse and what that costs you. Luke Cage is a fiercely intelligent exploration of what it means to be a black hero.
Danny is the heir to a multi-million dollar empire and the latest in Marvel’s eternal seeming line of super talented white men with awesome destinies.
That by itself would be a big problem and the producers’ mishandling of the campaign for Danny to be Asian American shows just how little of a handle they have on audience perception and expectation. That being said, it’s not the worst problem the series has. Plus Finn Jones is a pleasant surprise as the calm, naïve and PTSD-riddled Danny.
No, the problem is… this is often kind of dull.
Some of that comes from the flat, green-tinted direction and the weirdly muddy ’90s-esque credit sequence. Some of it comes from the total lack of any Easter eggs whatsoever. Seriously, half the fun of the Netflix shows is spotting how they inter-connect. This episode? Not a bean. A lot of it comes from the fact the entire episode is basically Danny trying to get Joy and Ward, the children of Harold Wenham, to see him. They think he’s mad, they throw him out, repeat. That’s interspersed with some conversations with a somewhat Nietschean tramp called Big Al and, in the episode’s single high spot, Colleen Wing.
Jessica Henwick is on screen maybe five minutes here. She owns all of them. She’s got incredible presence, natural authority and is far and away the most interesting thing about the show. The fact that her second scene involves Danny mansplaining kung fu to her? Not good. At all. But Henwick is the show’s first and so far only home run.
None of the other performances, with the possible exception of Tom Pelphrey’s massively flat Ward, are bad. You can even see why the show is taking it slowly with Danny slowly getting used to his new life again. That’s fine. But the pacing and direction are lumpen and so far the fight scenes that are all Jones are…not good. At all. And for this show of any to get martial arts wrong? Does not bode well.
Despite that, “Snow Gives Way” is a competent hour of TV. Jones is fun, Henwick is REALLY fun and it’s never less than watchable. But it’s also never much more.
Episode Two: “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight”
Get ready for a solid hour of whiplash because every time “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight” does something right, and it does a lot right, it sprints at the nearest wrong thing to do straight after.
Danny has been committed on the order of the Meachums. Most of the episode is him, trying to convince his psychiatrist that everything he’s said is true. A lot of this stuff feels like ground that’s been gone over before because, well, it is. It’s going to try your patience, especially around the middle of the hour, but stick with it.
Because there are three scenes in this episode that genuinely feel like they’ve wandered in from the show Iron Fist thinks it is and should be. The first is a conversation between Colleen and Ward at her dojo that gives Jessica Henwick and Tom Pelphrey a chance to flex their muscles a bit. Henwick is the best element of this show by a mile so far, and her brittle, spiky yet dialled in and focused Colleen Wing is a delight to watch. She presents a lot like Clare Temple without the idealism; cynical and world weary but at the same time invested in something more. The scene with Ward, which is Pelphry’s best work by far so this season, is great. Not just because of the Faustian bargain he offers her but because of the subtle, and deliberate, culture clash they represent. The simple fact Ward doesn’t take his shoes off before stepping into the dojo, that it doesn’t even occur to him, tells you more about the character than any other moment has so far.
Then there’s the M&Ms moment. Jessica Stroup’s Joy Meachum is starting to catch with Colleen as one of the show’s best elements. The way she discovers Danny is who he says he is, and her complicated reaction to the proof, is pretty much perfect. Stroup works through joy, relief, guilt and horror in the space of a few seconds and for a show that’s felt as dialled back as it’s currently-drugged protagonist, it’s a shining moment.
Finally, there’s the closing fight Don’t get us wrong, it’s not especially impressive, just three people beating on Danny while he’s in a strait jacket. No, what works here is the point, after a solid hit’s landed, where the camera cuts to a close up of Danny. Finn Jones’ nasty, overly calm smile is all the callback we need to an earlier moment. There, Danny talks about how the harder he’s hit the more awake he gets. Here, we see it. Almost two full episodes in, this is the first hint we get of the Iron Fist and it’s a truly impressive, subtle moment.
That’s the good news. The bad? Unfortunately is just as bountiful. The fakeout cold open feels as unearned and unneeded as a lot of the times The Walking Dead tried this. David Wenham’s Harold Meachum is actively dull. The pacing is non-existent. You could legitimately skip everything this episode aside from these three scenes and not miss anything. And worst of all? The show commits the sin Doctor Who has committed repeatedly since returning.
Modern Doctor Who has featured, at least, one world-changing event a season. The sort of thing people write about when they write about the Singularity. Epic, epochal events that change humanity forever and are swept under the rug repeatedly.
Iron Fist does the same thing here. The point where Danny’s psychiatrist references how many people think they have powers after “the incident” made us want to focus our chi and punch through the screen. This is a world where a billionaire in power armour is on the front cover of TIME, where a government organisation’s Washington HQ was destroyed by flying aircraft carriers, where the American King Arthur is a wanted criminal due to his resistance to Superhero Registration. Even just focusing on the Netflix shows, Danny lives in a world where a man with unbreakable skin protects Harlem, a man dressed as a Devil defends Hell’s Kitchen and a super strong female PI is an open secret. But of course he can’t possibly have powers.
This idea, this justification of it still being a normal world, is idiotic. It insults the intelligence of the audience and the characters alike and seeing it show up in a Marvel TV show made our hearts sink. This is the show’s lowest point. From here it desperately needs to improve.
Episode Three: “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch”
Hogarth! And a different director! Which means for the first time this season there’s actually the slightest hint of visual wit! Also, things happen, several of them good!
This episode we finally see the collision between the fight Danny knows and the fight Danny’s in and it’s summed up through Hogarth. We’ve had a feeling she was coming for a while, the original character is an Iron Fist one after all, but after the trudge of the last two episodes it’s SUCH a relief to see her. In short order, she shows up, tells Danny how to understand what he needs to do, offers to help and sorts things out. It’s brilliant. Plus she finally gets him money for a haircut and we love her forever for that. Plus the legal Kung Fu she busts out in the closing scenes of the episode is easily the most impressive martial arts display in the show so far without a single punch being thrown.
Elsewhere in the episode, we get some solid movement on the Meachums and what they actually want. A particular piece of real estate down at the pier is very important to Harold. Or more specifically, Madam Gao from Daredevil, who is revealed as his “sponsor” here, at least vocally. Plus we get to see a welcome hard edge to Joy as she manipulates hospital records to get the buyer they need a new kidney for a relative. Jessica Stroup has been good throughout but this is the first time we’ve seen her show her teeth and it really works.
Over at the single plot that’s been functional from the get go, Jessica Henwick continues to impress. Colleen comes face-to-face with the difference between a code of honour and paying the bills here and she comes down on the wrong side. There’s no right side but the episode does a really good job of showing how her principles aren’t surviving contact with the real world and how that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She’s a hard character to like, spiky, contradictory and bitter, but she’s an even harder character to look away from.
It’s not all good news. We get Danny mansplaining Kung Fu yet again and the fact the technique he shows Colleen helps her win the enthusiastic but over-staged closing fight leaves a nastier taste in the mouth than any punch to the face. Similarly, this is, fundamentally, the third straight episode of “Immensely Rich White People Fight Over Their Corporation” with occasional Kung Fu seasoning. Plus the show is definitely gearing up for a Danny vs Harold fight which we could honestly live the rest of our natural lives without seeing. Oh, and Ward pushes Danny off a building to his near certain death…
Episode Four: “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm”
GO GO GADGET IRON FISTS! Danny, of course, survives and its actually a pretty fun use of his powers. Plus the show gets major points for getting the sit down between the two of them out of the way early. The thought of having to sit through a full season of Danny thinking he was talking to Meachum’s ghost in the asylum just fills us with dread.
Plus, this is the first time David Wenham’s actually felt in line with the material. Meachum is still a crushingly tedious villain but his plausibility and Danny’s child like nature actually align really well here. Plus it gives Tom Pelphrey a chance to do some epic side eye in the background. Better still, it finally gives us a good idea of just how divided and messed up the Meachums are.
Elsewhere in the episode Colleen steps back into the cage for a much better, if still over enthusiastically nasty fight. Her arc remains one of the show’s best elements, and she remains the one martial artist in the show whose connection with the real world is actually interesting to watch.
Plus, we get some answers about the pier deal and those springboard into a very nice combination of Danny’s warrior and corporate selves. Someone is shifting something very unpleasant through that pier. And Danny Rand, corporate warrior, may be the only one that can stop them…
All in all a welcome, strong entry and a hint that the show is maybe, finally, getting its feet under it.
Episode Five: “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus”
Having received a sample of the super heroin at the end of the last episode, Danny proceeds to do science to it. Actually he has his people do science to it, which is kind of nice. It’s a weird thing to say after four ENDLESS episodes of corporate intrigue but Danny being a surprisingly good, if overly touchy feels boss, is actually rather fun.
Plus, after four episodes of the Rand Corporation stuff getting in the way of everything else, this episode it’s actually used to move the plot along. Armed with SCIENCE FACTS, Danny goes to one of the literally two friends he has in the city to ask for help. In this case, Colleen.
WHO’S TEACHING CLAIRE THAI BOXING! WOOOOOOOOOO!
Claire is so much fun, again. Even better, it makes perfect sense for her to show up. After being the designated bystander for three shows, she’s finally had enough. It makes perfect sense for her to start training with Coleen and the two of them have an easy, friendly relationship that’s instantly the most fun double act on this show full of grim white people.
And given the Grim White People are super grim this episode, they are very needed. Joy continues taking the first steps in her long journey towards thinking about growing a conscience, in this case inspired by a lawsuit involving cancer caused by a Rand power plant. She buries the case, she feels a bit bad, that’s basically it.
Ward has a bad episode. Ward probably has the worst episode so far this season. It’s not Tom Pelphrey’s fault either and you can see what the show is aiming for but, once again, it misses the mark. Ward is under stress so it makes sense for him to hit the drugs. But for him to try a sample of synthetic super heroin he was given a few hours ago because he’s bored? Come on. Although the mysterious phone messages he’s starting to get are actually pretty interesting and fun.
The better news is that the Colleen plot continues to be fun and also continues to be the only part of the show that makes Danny being slightly awful a feature rather than a bug. Danny showing up with a full meal at the dojo feels charming but slightly odd. Danny buying Colleen’s building just feels downright creepy. Plus, while Henwick and Jones are both very good, the sudden romantic spark between them feels both sudden and slightly unearned. That being said, the play session where they both show off their martial arts skills to one another is genuinely cute. It worked in Daredevil (the Affleck movie) and it works here.
The ending also sees the show finally FINALLY start to try the same sort of physical wit as Daredevil. Danny’s fight with a bodyguard in a moving truck isn’t fluid but it is fun and shows a willingness to try something new that the show has singularly failed to do up to now. Plus Iron Fist is finally on the Daredevil-like narrative path it needs to be, as Danny and Coleen get a lead in the form of Radovan, the captive chemist who made the super heroin. Of course, he gets stabbed over the course of the fight (hi Claire!) but you can’t have everything. Good deployment of the Iron Fist this episode too.
There’s still a lot of stuff that doesn’t work here. Danny is still fundamentally hard to like, poor Claire lasts not even an episode before she has to MacGyver a poor fool’s chest back together and the Madam Gao reveal at the end feels very anti-climatic. But, Grim White People aside, this is actually pretty good fun.
Episode Six: “Immortal Emerges From Cave”
Directed by rap legend and massive Kung Fu movie fan, RZA, this episode feels like the sort of stylistic shift the show needs to make, at around the time it needs to make it. Some stuff works, lots doesn’t but the memory of these green-lit sludgy opening episodes continues to fade.
Well, at least the Ward on drugs plot wasted no time before going south. Poor bloody Tom Pelphrey does his best but the bloodshot, wide-eyed Christian-Bale-in-American-Psycho routine he’s forced to do is yet another bundle of walking clichés. This should work. The show has set Ward up as this tightly wound golden boy turned errand boy so his fall from grace should, at least, be satisfying.
Instead, despite real effort from Pelphrey it feels like a tick list of clichés in a plot that has already taken up a near-show killing amount of time. Also where the hell does Joy suddenly come from when she finds him at the clinic? Not to mention Danny taking him along on the search for the chemist’s daughter is unforgivably stupid, so much so it even busts through Danny’s, “But the brutal childman doesn’t know any better,” field.
Speaking of Danny, he’s invited to a ritualised duel with the Hand’s best fighters. This leads to Claire, who rightly points out she has more experience fighting the Hand than he does, calling him on his White Nonsense. It doesn’t take and neither does Colleen offering to help. Again, there’s more unearned romantic tension but the episode does at least focus in on Danny being both slightly unlikeable and possibly mad. Plus the Socratic conversations he has with Thunderer, his possibly dead, certainly not physically present, teacher are really good.
It’s kind of a shame then that the sight of the grand duel is… a warehouse. We know it’s supposed to be the world behind the world but it still feels a bit cheap. His first opponents, a pair of Russians, are top fun though.
That. Being. Said.
Six episodes in it is painfully obvious that the show has had to be shot in a way that protects Finn Jones’ fundamental lack of training. Don’t get us wrong, he works very very, very hard and some of this stuff does look good. But the spots where his stunt doubles are tagged in are painfully obvious and every fight so far this season has felt modular and choreographed. There’s none of the fluid, slightly panicked free-form brutality of Daredevil. Just people working very hard but also clearly working to hit their marks.
Oh and Danny’s second opponent is a spider-themed female fighter wearing a basque, massive earrings and a choker who tries to seduce him. And yes we know she’s the Bride of Nine Spiders and a faithful adaptation from the comics but still… really?…
Anyhoo. There’s some really, genuinely great Claire and Colleen stuff this episode. Radovan isn’t getting better so they finally decide to take him to hospital. This leads to a welcome cameo from Claire’s old boss, Shirley and some nice progression on Colleen loving her work maybe a little too much. Plus, Claire hits a guy with a fire extinguisher! There’s a Luke Cage callout! It’s really fun!
Meanwhile back at Danny’s Bad Day, he faces his final opponent and is told if he survives, Danny will be burnt away forever. This is really good news given that the dichotomy between the two has been far and away the least interesting element of the show so far that hasn’t involved white yuppies being sad in New York.
Plus, this last fight is really pretty good. There’s a whole sequence inside scaffolding which does a lovely job of giving a visual component to the decreasing options both fighters have. It’s great fun even with the obligatory “The bad guys win by cheating” moment at the end. Plus there’s some smart elements of doubt introduced into just how idyllic K’un L’un was, given Madam Gao is from there. She is great by the way, courteous and friendly in a way that is absolutely terrifying, especially given the beheading she was responsible for last episode. And she delivers one hell of a blow to Danny and even more of one to Danny’s self image and view of his past…
So, universally terrible Bride of Nine Spiders choices aside, this episode again, is actually pretty fun.
Episode Seven: “Felling Tree With Roots”
Directed by Farren Blackburn
Written by Ian Stokes
Ward hits rock bottom, Danny hits people and everyone gets a stark lesson in just how corrupt the corporation is.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this episode, it’s just sporadic. Poor Tom Pelphrey carries the entire weight of the episode, which is locked up in two scenes that bookend it. In the first, he helps his dad dismember and remove the two enforcers sent by the Hand.
From a plausibility point of view this is pretty much exactly as bad as Iron Fist often is. From an emotional point of view it’s actually pretty solid. Ward is clearly abused by his father and has been pushed far, far past his limits. The moment when he finally snaps and kills Harold is shocking and, we have to be honest, overdue. We doubt it’ll stick but it’s a great twist.
Elsewhere Danny discovers Madam Gao literally has offices in his building and proceeds to threaten her somewhat incompetently. Madam Gao herself is still gloriously charming and barbed and the sequence almost lands. The issue comes from Danny threatening a female employee (admittedly of both Gao and himself) with physical violence in return for information. It’s a nasty moment, and continues to place Danny in the idiot manchild box he appears to be on deck to remain in all season. Although we do get some movement on the occasional arc plot as he gets a pretty solid idea of why he and his family were going to China…
Not a bad episode by any means, which is a victory at this point, but a somewhat flat one despite the events. Still, off to China we go.
Episode Eight: “The Blessing Of Many Fractures”
Directed by Kevin Tancharoen
Written by Tamara Becher-Wilkinson
This is probably the best directed episode all season. Kevin Tancharoen’s background is thick with dance and martial arts projects. There’s a sequence here that cuts between Colleen and Danny fighting Hand guards that’s just brilliant, although as we’ll find out, a chunk of that is also down to Danny’s opponent.
We’ll get to him, but first we need to talk about the first major flaw here. This episode revolves around Danny, Claire and Colleen flying to a site in China where he’s convinced there are major leads. This also almost certainly involves finding and or killing Madam Gao. Claire is not okay with this. Colleen is more okay than you’d expect.
We’re with Claire. This is a grown man threatening an old woman with serious violence and there’s no way it plays sympathetically.
Lewis Tan is an accomplished actor and high end martial artist. He auditioned for the role of Danny and the idea of an Asian/American Danny Rand and the Twitter movement behind it coalesced around him.
He didn’t get the role.
He did get cast as a single episode villain though. This episode to be precise.
The fight between Tan and Finn Jones would be electric enough without knowing that going in. With it the scene plays like a tantalizing glimpse of the show we should have got. Jones does his best with almost no training time, his stunt doubles do the same. Tann helps them out. It’s the best fight in the show so far. It should have been so much more as should everything else.
Worse still the end of the fight is a colossal misjudgement. Danny gets angry and beats his opponent to a bloody pulp with no artistry or skill, just brutality and savagery. His anger and immaturity are his defining character traits at the best of times and at the worst, which this is, they’re all the show is. We deserved more. So did the cast. So did the crew. So did the character.
Episode Nine: “The Mistress of All Agonies”
Directed by Jet Wilkinson
Written by Pat Charles
And it gets worse. Inside the first five minutes of this episode, Danny attempts to intimidate an old woman into giving him information by stopping a punch within an inch of her face.
Let’s unpack that particular bag of barely functional, angry ANGRY snakes for a moment.
Danny is the hero of the show. Notionally. He’s also, notionally, the Iron Fist. A hero. A highly-trained warrior. One who last episode came up with a plan that largely involved “run at them and punch them” and had to be pulled off a man he’d knocked out before he beat him to death.
This episode? Threatened granny-punching. Actual granny drugging and a parade of grumpy teenaged incompetence.
At one point when Claire and Colleen are pointing out he’s doing something stupid and dangerous he yells at them. For ganging up on him.
Later, when Bakuto arrives to save us all from this abject catastrophe of a piece of TV, he tells Danny to heal Colleen with his chi powers. Something he was never taught to do. Because obviously Lei Kung The Thunderer would skip a few steps when training the new Iron Fist. I mean who wouldn’t, right? Even better, Bakuto then teaches him how to use his powers to heal in… 45 seconds or so.
Moving aside from Danny being a hair’s breadth away from an irredeemable thug for a second, an easy half of the episode is taken up with… Harold Meachum! Because the only thing more fun than interminable rich white people drama is even more rich white people drama!
This is a truly bad hour of TV. We spend so much time with David Wenham… talking… LIKE this… that we’re… stunned… he doesn’t bust out an, “I have been… and ever shall be… your friend.” Harold is barely even one-note this episode and the reveal that every time someone is reincarnated by this process they become madder is basically the only thing that works here. Even then every single moment with Harold is flat. And there are LOADS of them.
His murder of Kyle the ill-conceived comedy sidekick and apparent guilt afterwards is lifeless. His reunion with Joy is flat. Only Jessica Stroup, who is one of the unsung heroes of this show, brings that scene into land. Her horrified, relieved sobs are the single moment of emotional honesty in this entire episode.
Despite this just interminable parade of terrible decisions, there are some high spots. Stroup is good, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Henwick are once again great and we spend a little time with Bakuto, Colleen’s sensei. Ramón Rodríguez is great fun in the role and the prospect of him being front and centre for a while is actually a good one. Elsewhere, Wai Ching Ho as Madam Gao continues to be effortlessly great and outwork and manoeuvre every other character without seeming to even try.
Those are good performances. They’re not enough. From the crushingly dull cold open of Harold waking up in the pond to the closing scene there’s no urgency, no agency and no realism. This is a show running on the spot and falling behind and given the talent of those onscreen that is just desperately sad. This show should be better than this. The characters, the cast and we certainly deserve it to be.
Episode Ten: “Black Tiger Steals Heart”
Directed by Peter Hoar
Written by Quentin Peeples
Danny and Colleen wake up in bed in an improbably lovely bedroom. She’s healed. Everything’s fine.
Sure it is.
We’re increasingly sure the most tiresome thing in this show that is, on occasion, a massively tiresome collection of massively tiresome things, is how inconsistent it is. When the show’s off form, it’s unwatchable. Witness episode nine. When it’s on form, as it mostly is here, it’s genuinely good.
This episode two things happen; Danny discovers the truth about himself, Bakuto and Colleen, and Harold gets the company back. The first, especially the stuff about Danny leaving his training early, really needed to be mentioned a very long time before episode 10. The stuff about Colleen and Bakuto is perfectly paced and massively helps the episode and the show. Seriously, this is pretty much the best thing the show’s done other than the Hogarth and Claire Temple mercy cameos. It makes The Hand far more interesting than the intensely stereotypical dial-a-ninja they’ve been up to now and sets Bakuto and Colleen up as two of the most nuanced characters in the show. That’s helped immensely by Ramon Rodriguez who continues to impress as Bakuto and Henwick, who, let’s face is, is one of the only reasons this show is hanging together at this point.
Plus we get Davos! And he’s northern! And a bad influence on Danny! And his first line is pointing out Danny is the worst Iron Fist ever which is SO, SO VERY TRUE. All of this, as well as the tantalizing glimpse of a previous holder is actually really good. It’s also, as we say, almost all unbelievably late. Yes the show has some urgency now but with three episodes to go? That’s one hell of a run up.
Meanwhile, back at the Addams Family Condo, the Meachums do Meachum stuff. Honestly we feel like we’ve been in that bloody condo and that boardroom for years at this point. They get the company back. Hooray. Although Jessica Stroup continues to be the MVP of this show. Plus David Wenham is actually allowed to act this episode, which, after the miserable zombiethon last episode, is a welcome relief. The Meachums are actually quite interesting here in fact which is good because the show’s clearly not done with them. Especially now EvilDad isn’t EvilDead anymore.
This is another uptick in quality. But after last week there was very little for the show to sink into. We’ve finally got the plot rolling, Danny’s fundamentally unlikeable nature is finally a feature not a bug and the Yuppie Power Hour is at least in context. Let’s see if the championship rounds can finish the show stronger than it started.
Episode Eleven: “Lead Horse Back To Stable”
Directed by Deborah Chow
Written by Ian Stokes
It takes eleven episodes of Claire Temple, Colleen Wing AND Davos telling Danny what a terrible excuse for a human being he is for it to stick. Maybe.
Colleen’s discovery that she’s actually a baddie here is actually nicely handled. As is the casual reveal that her faction has been placing trained young people in important jobs across the city. This feels like something that’s going to pay off in Defenders but we get enough of it here to care. We also get the very troubling implication that Colleen may have had to kill one of her students to get away from them.
Elsewhere, Davos is very angry and deservedly so. Danny got what Davos had trained his whole life for and then decided he’d rather have pizza instead. Davos is there to bring him back to K’un Lun and we’ll be honest, the flashbacks are fun for the first time ever as a direct result of him being in them. Sacha Dhawan is effortlessly great and his scenes with Rosario Dawson are a flat-out highlight of the season.
As is Dawson who calls Danny on his nonsense once again this week as her infinite medicine cabinet finally runs out. The look of slightly amused disgust on her face when Danny asks to borrow her car is great as is the tacit acknowledgement by both of them that Danny is just a terrible person right now. Which, based on previous experience, he’ll have forgotten next episode.
Elsewhere Joy works out how to embezzle (rebezzle?) the funds Bakuto was taking from Madam Gao. Joy is about as done with this as we are and her scene with Danny is nicely played and cold. Harold, this being an odd numbered episode, is back to sounding like Beast Wars Megatron. Danny, because he’s a moron, still trusts him.
There’s some fun stuff this episode. It’s pretty much all Colleen and Claire and Davos’s scenes. The final moment, when Danny and Colleen reunite and move past their loyalties is good too. But the problem is… we just don’t buy it. This show has yoyoed so many times we fully expect him to hate her again next episode. Probably shortly before some more thrilling electronic bank fraud. Still Davos liked the pizza so there’s that.
Directed by Andy Goddard
Written by Scott Reynolds
This is far better a season finale than the series could have dared hope for.
You will note there is still an episode to go.
Aside from a frankly terrifying return to the dingy green hospital from the top of the season this is… actually… pretty great. Yes Harold’s straight back into evil zombiepanther sexy voice mode (poor David Wenham does his best with lines like, “I’m… SO… HUNGRY!”) and at no point whatsoever is he remotely interesting but the episode has urgency and stakes in the exact way the vast majority of this season hasn’t. Bakuto uses Ward to get to Harold. Harold bonds with Joy. Danny comes to the rescue along with Davos and Colleen. Colleen and Bakuto settle a score. Danny and Davos do the same. The end.
Well it should be the end. The middle half hour or so of the episode is a series of action sequences which are, Lewis Tan aside, the best the show gets. Danny, Davos and Colleen versus Bakuto’s men is especially fun as it shows the training the three share and their different approaches.
But the star here is the Colleen/Bakuto fight. This is exactly what the show has singularly failed to do for an entire season; use the martial arts to tell a story. Use action to focus and define character. The Central Park setting, the total lack of music, the focus on two martial artists throwing everything into what will certainly be the final moments of one of their lives, is brilliant. It’s ugly and frantic, graceful and savage. Likewise the Danny/Davos fight which, FINALLY, after 12.75 FREAKING EPISODES of a 13 episode run, allows Danny to unite the two halves of his personality. There’s even a “Danny and Colleen run kata together” scene which isn’t mansplainy but fun, funny and bluntly pretty hot.
For a show that’s all about someone struggling to balance his chi, it’s desperately needed the same thing. Maybe this time it’ll stick.
Episode Thirteen: “Dragon Plays With Fire”
Directed by Stephen Surjik
Written by Scott Buck, Tamara Becher-Wilkinson, Pat Charles
So the good news is that the performances are mostly solid to good this episode. Stroup and Pelphrey in particular are great, Henwick is great but under used as is Rosario Dawson and Carrie Ann Moss is excellent. Finn Jones, who is handed some terrible stuff to do here, does what he can with it and makes it work.
The script is just a mess. It’s not even an exciting mess like earlier episodes it’s just kind of plodding. Danny’s childish anger flares up yet AGAIN and even though it’s resolved we’ve had very little from the show other than this for 13 episodes. If you frame it as a show about an arrested adolescent/violence addict/trauma survivor then it’s dull rather than non-functional. Frame it as a superhero show and it just… well… isn’t.
The fault – the primary fault at least – is all Harold. David Wenham’s never found or been given the gear the character needs to work and his final scenes here are worse even than EvilDad. The long-predicted and feared fight between him and Danny is pretty much the exact ending of a Z-grade martial arts flick, complete with moralising, sudden pointless brutality and a final payoff straight from a bargain basement Jean Claude Van Damme movie. He, and the writers’ room’s obsession with the Meachums, has brought the show down again and again. With him off the table, at last, maybe the second season will get some pace earlier. It certainly couldn’t get much less. Even the cliffhanger ending, shot on what seems to be a painfully obvious set, doesn’t so much excite as annoy.
So, is there any hope?
Of course there is.
With Harold out of the way the single weakest character is finally gone. With Davos on the board and working with Joy there’s a potentially interesting side antagonist for a second year. With Danny’s idiot boychild tendencies AT LAST dealt with then he can finally grow. Most importantly, with the much anticipated Luke Cage/Danny Rand friendship confirmed for Defenders it looks like he’ll finally gain the sense of humour he desperately needs. All of those are good things and they promise some genuine fun in the future. And hopefully we won’t have to sit through a 13 episode training montage to get there.
Reviews by Alasdair Stuart