We expressed guarded hope for the second season of Marvel’s Iron Fist when the trailer dropped last month. And we’re happy to report that the series, which returned to Netflix last Friday, mostly lives up to the trailer’s promise. The writing is better, the fight scenes are better, and the characters and relationships are more fully developed. Thematically, it’s all about power: who deserves to wield it, what it means to lose it, and, ultimately, learning how to share it.
When we last saw Danny Rand (Finn Jones, Game of Thrones) in Luke Cage S2, he seemed more centered, less bratty, and suitably chastened by the apparent death of one of his fellow Defenders. He’s now living with former martial-arts instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick, Game of Thrones) in her now-closed and remodeled Chinatown dojo and making nightly patrols to keep his promise to protect the city. But there is tension: Danny still struggles with impulse control when wielding the Iron Fist, while Colleen has hung up her katana altogether to pursue a path of peace. “If I carry it, I’ll use it,” she confesses to Misty Knight (Simone Missick, Luke Cage).
“Danny must grapple with what the loss of his power means for his sense of identity.”
That peace is not to be. The destruction of the powerful crime syndicate known as the Hand in Defenders has left a leadership void in the Chinatown underworld, and war is brewing as two factions battle for control. Meanwhile, another former K’un Lun student, Davos, aka the Steel Serpent (Sacha Dhawan, Outsourced), has come to New York City. He and Danny were raised together as brothers, eventually battling it out for the right to face the dragon and win the Iron Fist. Davos lost, and he’s not taking it well. Naturally, he thinks he would make a better, more ruthless Iron Fist, and he schemes with an equally embittered Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup, The Following), Danny’s former childhood friend, to take it from him. When Davos succeeds, Danny must grapple with what the loss of his power means for his sense of identity while figuring out how to get the Iron Fist back.
Season 1 was deeply flawed, with a meandering plot, bad pacing, and so many antagonists it was difficult to keep them all straight, never mind feel any emotional investment in their fates. That’s not the case in Season 2. There are a lot of narrative threads, but the writers keep them tightly connected to the overall arc. And we finally have a truly compelling, complicated villain in Davos, even if not quite on par with Daredevil‘s Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin) or Jessica Jones‘ Killgrave.
Fist as birthright
If Danny desires the Iron Fist to fill some deep emotional void, Davos was raised to view it as his birthright. His mother was not the warm, nurturing type. Danny’s compassionate nature is weakness in her eyes, and Davos internalizes that lesson, particularly after his ignominious defeat by an upstart outsider. There are moments of vulnerability: he yearns to live up to his late mother’s expectations and grows fond of Joy. But there is nobody he will not sacrifice to achieve his end, even innocent civilians, who are simply collateral damage in his eyes.
That mix of righteous zealotry, entitlement, and ruthless cruelty, with no tempering compassion, proves a disastrous combination when coupled to the mighty power of the Iron Fist, which reflects the character of the wielder. Danny struggled to wield it responsibly; Davos is pure vengeance. His fist glows red as blood, whereas for Danny it glows a warm yellow. “Did you ever wonder why our father called the fight?” Danny asks during one of their confrontations, thereby giving the victory to Danny. He suggests he did so because he rightly feared what Davos would become if given such power.
The execution of the fight scenes has improved dramatically, perhaps because the main cast members had more time to train before shooting. So there is less need for all those annoying rapid jump cuts that detracted so much from the choreography in the first season. Henwick is particularly impressive, both in execution of the moves and in her overall bearing. And she has great chemistry with Missick; I would totally watch a crime-fighting show featuring Colleen Wing and Misty Knight as rogue vigilantes. The other standout performance is “Typhoid Mary” Walker (Alice Eve, Star Trek: Into Darkness), a former Special Forces fighter turned hired gun who suffers from Dissociative Personality Disorder. In the hands of a lesser actor, it might never amount to more than a gimmick, but there is real pain and pathos in Eve’s portrayal of a woman whose two distinct selves must learn to co-exist.
Season 2 still has a bit of a sluggish start; things don’t really start to pick up until the fourth episode. But the pace quickens after Davos steals the Iron First—via a mystical ceremony involving a rare Tibetan singing bowl, an ancient corpse, and a very unsanitary tattoo inking—and starts sowing carnage in his single-minded quest to “cleanse” New York City. The last three episodes boast genuine suspense, lots of butt-kicking, and one very clever twist. Rather than take the Iron Fist back himself, Danny convinces someone else to take it, ceding his power until he can learn more about its origin. In the end, the person least hungry for power proves to be the best candidate to wield it—for now.
So where does that leave Danny Rand? He goes on a quest through Asia in search of answers to the many mysteries surrounding the Iron Fist. And lest you think he’ll be permanently sidelined, the last we see of him, he’s taking on some drunken barflies with what looks like a pair of glowing pistols. So maybe the Iron Fist isn’t the only weapon out there drawing on that source of power. We’ll have to wait for the next installment to learn more.