'Iron Fist' Is A Much Better Show If You Remove Iron Fist

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick...and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Marvel's new Netflix series, Iron Fist.)

For the most part, Marvel's latest Netflix foray, Iron Fist, has been critically panned. The issues are plenty, and the resulting conversation has only served to underline exactly how the series falls short. There's the story, the characterizations, the casting, the editing, and – this is a criticism that's been leveled against all of Marvel's Netflix series — it's just too long. DaredevilJessica JonesLuke Cage could all have done with a little trimming.

In the case of Iron Fist, an altered cut could result in a drastically different and better show. It just requires a little bit of Garfield Minus GarfieldThere's an interesting show lurking somewhere within Iron Fist...as long as you remove Iron Fist himself.

Spoilers lie ahead, of course.

Daughters of the Dragon

The women in Iron Fist (Colleen Wing, Claire Temple, Jeri Hogarth, Joy Meachum, not to mention a blink-and-you-miss-it Jessica Jones reference) have consistently been singled out as one of the best — if not the best — thing about Iron Fist, and for good reason. The reveal that Colleen (Jessica Henwick) was part of the Hand and the resulting fallout was one of the most compelling twists of the season, aided by the fact that she has the best action sequences of any of the main characters. Each shows off Henwick's training (any doubters should take a look at the videos she's posted to Twitter) through editing that lets the fighting breathe a little, which unfortunately isn't a given for most of the fight scenes in Iron Fist. As such, her dynamism makes the possibility of her teaming up with Misty Knight (Simone Missick) as the comic book duo known as Daughters of the Dragon — alluded to (albeit in a solo context) in one of Colleen's cage fights — all the more tantalizing.

As for Claire, Rosario Dawson has consistently proven to be the strongest part of each Netflix series she's shown up in, largely because Claire Temple is a recognizably grounded character. Even as she starts to give off major Night Nurse vibes, she doesn't have any tolerance for nonsense, and is the only one who regularly seems to understand how crazy the business of being a superhero can be. Speaking of which...

The Prodigal Son

Of everyone dealing with the reappearance of Danny Rand (Finn Jones), only Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) reacts in a way that seems even remotely realistic. He's understandably suspicious of this sudden interloper and his frankly destructive methods of trying to reintegrate (threatening to drive off of a roof, breaking and entering, attacking security guards), and remains that way through almost the entire series. He's also the only character who never seems entirely comfortable with the fact that his father, Harold (David Wenham), is an undead monster, even before Harold starts behaving too strangely. Danny and Joy (Jessica Stroup) are both surprised when they discover Harold is alive, naturally, but their shock fades within minutes.

It could probably be argued that Ward is cut from a similar cloth as Danny — they're both rich, white men with a certain sense of entitlement, and both even go through similar disillusionments with regards to their respective father figures — but the more insular nature of Ward's storyline (it doesn't have to lend itself to a sequel in the same way that the rest of Iron Fist has to tie into The Defenders) allows for more polished and more focused work. Ironically, he also has a truckload more baggage to unpack, not to mention the fact that his habit is for prescription painkillers rather than mansplaining.

Positing a different character as the primary protagonist in any show is a fun exercise, and if you choose to back Ward, Iron Fist becomes a completely different show. The boardroom and family drama is the most diametrically opposed to the show as it is, which, all things considered, isn't a bad thing, especially when Pelphrey has the best acting chops of the Iron Fist crop.


The best parts of the legal drama that comprise large portions of Iron Fist (to some dismay) are those that lean into the kind of cutting strangeness that made FX's Damages so good. The Rand-Meachum legacy is complicated at best, especially with Harold pulling the strings and the suggestion that the Rands might have been involved with the Hand even before their fateful plane crash. It's not a ship that's fully right even before Danny comes on, as evidenced by the board's willingness to oust Danny as well as the Meachum siblings. This is where blackmail and a very House of Cards-style method of dealing with uncooperative colleagues kick in, and taken for what it is, rather than a secondary part of a superhero show, it's good fun.

It helps that the Meachums are a twisted bunch. In what is easily one of the darkest scenes in the season, Ward commits patricide, only to discover that what brought Harold back to life in the first place will keep doing so ad infinitum. Then there's Ward's consuming devotion to his sister, which, at around the same point in the story, becomes his primary motivation.

The conflict between different branches (fingers?) of the Hand is fascinating, too, as it draws together elements of what we've seen with other heroes through Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) and expands upon it. That she manages to throw Danny across the room with just a wave — without even touching him — is just the cherry on top of the cake. And then there are the ntroductions of Davos (Sacha Dhawan), the Steel Serpent, who is seen recruiting Joy to the cause at the end of the season, and Lewis Tan as Zhou Cheng, practicing the "drunken fist" style of martial arts and proving, in his five minutes of screentime, that he deserves every bit of buzz that he's gotten.

Listening In

Part of the way Marvel has distinguished its shows from each other has been by giving them a distinctive look and sound. Iron Fist mostly fails to distinguish itself visually — its boardroom scenes stand out, but mainly because the corporate environment hasn't been a big part of DaredevilJessica Jones, or Luke Cage — but it definitely sounds different. There's a surprising amount of silence in the series, but in general, Iron Fist goes for an electronic vibe.

Maybe unsurprisingly, it's a gambit that doesn't entirely work. It works when the series is focusing on the Rand Corporation and when it doubles down on its dealings with the Hand (it's Refn-like, if one is feeling generous), but less so when it comes to Danny's journey of self-discovery. This mostly has to do with the fact that there's a lot of filler going on in anticipation of The Defenders, and trademark looks or sounds only really work when they're tied to a focus. It doesn't help that the specter of cultural appropriation and assumption hangs over Danny's story, which brings us to the last point.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Though Harold Meachum's repeated resurrection is courtesy of the Hand, the iconography that surrounds it is much more reminiscent Western monsters rather than the mishmash that the Hand can be (notably egregiously so in the second season of Daredevil as well as Danny's trials here). His third lease on life sees him emerging from a murky swamp, and taking the majority of the episode after that simply regaining his bearings. It's one of the stranger sequences in the show, and works simply for being so bizarre.

It also bears some interesting connotations as to Elektra's fate within the Netflix Marvel universe. The last time we saw her, it was in a sarcophagus, but it's already been confirmed that she'll be back. Each time Harold is resurrected, he behaves a little more erratically — his appetites shift wildly, and his capacity for violence only becomes more brutal. The scene in which he caves in two men's heads with a hammer and thereby extracts all their teeth is one of the most shockingly violent and jarring sequences we've seen in a Marvel property thus far. Given what Ward is told when he seeks out information — that the undead destroy those closest to them, citing a story in which a shepherd roasted and ate two of his own children — this can't bode well for what comes next.

All that said, there's a show inside Iron Fist that's worth a chance, but it's a tough sell when you have to get through a significant number of Russian nesting dolls to get to it. The best iteration of the show is a corporate drama crossed with a parsing of clan mythology, i.e. something very different from each of the Marvel shows that have come before it. But maybe a shake-up is what the formula needs.