The first season of Iron Fist dropped last year to a unified chorus of derision. It was a mess. The show – already plagued by questions over whether its white-savior plot should have been updated for the times – suffered from what appeared to be a rushed production and a low budget. Long-lost rich boy turned kung-fu master Danny Rand, as played by British actor Finn Jones, came across as a petulant, spoiled brat – incapable of thinking about how his actions could be perceived by others, and full of more impulsive bad ideas than Peter Quill in this year’s Infinity War. And Finn’s obvious inexperience with martial arts resulted in lackluster fight scenes – a huge no-no in the world of the chopsocky action flicks that the original Marvel Comics series was emulating.
There wasn’t quite enough downtime for writers to iron out (intended) the wrinkles of the character in time for The Defenders, which left a huge, Danny Rand-sized hole through which all of the fun that the miniseries – which teamed up Iron Fist with Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) and Daredevil (Charlie Cox) – should have had got sucked out of the room. In fact, plenty of people were surprised that Iron Fist even got renewed for a second season.
All of that means that new showrunner Raven Metzner (Fox’s Sleepy Hollow series) – had his work cut out for him. Metzner replaces previous executive producer Scott Buck, who after helming last year’s just plain awful Inhumans miniseries on ABC will probably steer far clear of any further comics-related projects, God willing. But Metzner – impressively enough – succeeds. Mostly. The all-new, all-different Iron Fist spends a lot of time – maybe too much time – atoning for the sins of the past. But once it kicks into high gear and we see where this series is headed, it’s hard not to finish it thinking that the third season of this franchise has the potential to be the best one out of the entire Marvel/Netflix partnership.
The status quo at the beginning of the season finds Rand doing his best to connect to the people of New York’s Chinatown during the day while meleeing its criminals in the face afterhours. But a power vacuum caused by the elimination of mystic ninja cult The Hand in The Defenders is making things hectic. Rand has too-good-for-him girlfriend Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) around for support, but Wing has her own crisis of confidence going on after discovering that the organization she had devoted her life to – said Hand – was secretly evil all along.
Brother and sister Ward and Joy Meacham (Tom Pelphry and Jessica Stroup), owners of 49 percent of Waynetech stand-in Rand Enterprises, return. Tom has entered Narcotics Anonymous to deal with the fallout of his opiate addiction from the first season (yeah, we told you that first season was bad). Meanwhile, Joy has turned heel, teaming up with Rand’s childhood frenemy Davos (Sacha Dhawan), who feels that he’s the rightful heir to the mystical power of the dragon Shou-Lao that powers Rand’s glowing, titular fist. Joy, for her part, wants revenge for Ward’s deception about their father secretly being alive (yeah, we told you that first season was bad), and simultaneously wants revenge on Danny for exposing the fact that her father was alive? It doesn’t make sense, to be quite honest.
Thrown into this mix is the appearance of fan-favorite Daredevil villain Typhoid Mary – here just called Mary Walker and played by Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness). Walker is a mercenary with her own agenda, complicated by her dissociative personality disorder. While the appearance of the character has been hyped plenty – presumably to bring former True Believers back into the fold – she doesn’t have much to do here, though Eve’s transitions from bubbly, bright Mary to the cold-blooded, deadpan Walker are chilling. We expect Eve will be tapped for a more meaty reprise down the line, similar to how Jon Bernthal’s unparalleled take on Frank Castle in the second season of Daredevil led to a stand-alone Punisher series (Walker would make a great antagonist for the second series of that show, is what we’re saying).
Once again, Henwick’s Colleen Wing steals the show. She was the best part of the first season, and a shining beacon of hope in The Defenders. She once again gets to team up with Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who now boasts her trademark cybernetic arm from the comics. And while their print-version Daughters of the Dragon team-up would have been a long-shot for serious consideration a few years ago, Henwick and Missick make it seem like a foregone conclusion. “Knight, Wing? It has a ring,” Misty prophetically mentions to Colleen near the conclusion of the season.
The show benefits greatly from a reduced 10-episode season, down from the bloated 13-episode structure that’s bogged down recent seasons in this crossover family. All of the moving parts glide through – some more clunkily than others – until all of the players are put into a place where they get to make choices that have serious consequences for everyone involved. And those choices – which of course we have to attribute to the creative team behind the show rather than the characters themselves – are some of the best ones they could have made. It’s similar to how drastic a change Luke Cage went through in his most recent season – corrupting his mission by changing from the protector of Harlem to the benevolent kingpin of Harlem – but this sea change affects every character on the board. The status quo at the end of Iron Fist’s new season brings back an excitement about what’s going to happen next that these shows haven’t really doled out in a couple of years, making it worth toughing it out through some growing pains to get to.