Warning: mild spoilers ahead for the overall plot of Iron Fist season 2.
At the end of season 1 of Netflix’s Marvel series Iron Fist, Rand Enterprises partner Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) and master martial artist Davos (Sacha Dhawan) sit down to talk about the superhero Iron Fist, aka their mutual acquaintance Danny Rand. Danny (played by Finn Jones) views both characters as his siblings. Joy is the childhood friend from New York who he desperately wanted to reconnect with when he returned home after spending a decade training in the mythical city of K’un-Lun. Davos is the surrogate brother who gave him his fondest memories during his otherwise harrowing time being forged into a fighting machine by abusive monks. Despite those deep connections, Danny has left both characters bereft. He’s partially responsible for the death of Joy’s father and the destruction of the city he and Davos swore to protect. While they have little else in common, Davos and Joy foreshadow the central conflict of the second season by coming together to discuss the fact that their lives would be a lot better without Danny in them.
Raven Metzner, who took over as showrunner following Iron Fist’s widely panned season 1, seems to be on their side. The first six episodes of season 2 aim to turn the series around by stripping Danny of his resources and emphasizing the show’s supporting cast. Iron Fist is still a mess of comic book and kung fu clichés, but the later episodes of the second season show its potential to actually tell a good story.
After the events of the one-shot miniseries The Defenders — a crossover event between Iron Fist and Netflix’s other Marvel Cinematic Universe series Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage — Danny has pledged to defend New York in Daredevil’s absence. He’s mostly focused on Chinatown, where master martial artist and former member of the Hand Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) has turned her dojo into a cozy apartment for her and Danny. The Hand’s destruction in The Defenders has left a power vacuum in the neighborhood, and other crime syndicates are violently trying to fill it. Watching Danny play the great white hope negotiating with Asian crime bosses is painful both because it reinforces his white savior role and because of Danny’s general childish incompetence.
Colleen’s efforts to turn her mentorship skills from recruiting for the Hand to rehabilitating a group of young gang members lacks the racial problems of the Danny plot, but it feels like a side story from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which parodies the Hand through the evil ninja of the Foot. It’s admittedly pretty entertaining to watch teens fighting with bike chains, but it’s hard to take Colleen’s chats about getting their lives on track too seriously. The struggle to bring peace between warring criminal organizations worked better in Luke Cage season 2, when the groups had powerful charismatic leaders, and they weren’t just being used as excuses for fights involving knives and hatchets.
Fortunately for the series’s momentum, that plot quickly takes a back seat to a much bigger threat in the form of Davos and Joy punishing Danny by stripping him of his Iron Fist power through a mystic ritual. Danny remains fairly oblivious to their scheming until it’s too late, leading to a hilariously awkward scene where he invites them over for a housewarming dinner party. (Since Danny would likely know that Davos’ moral code involves not drinking alcohol or eating meat, isn’t he the real villain here since he’s serving Davos spaghetti with meatballs and red wine?) That aside, the dinner is part of a sitcom-style plot to get Joy and her brother Ward (Tom Pelphrey) to reconcile after he spent years keeping Joy from knowing their father was actually alive. By trying to be everyone’s friend, Danny reinforces why so many of the show’s characters and viewers hate him. He desperately wants to be loved, but his efforts to help other people are often poorly thought-out and prone to backfiring.
Joy’s face-heel turn is marked by a ridiculous change in wardrobe. She started out wearing conservative and often colorful business attire, but now, she’s vamping it up in black dresses and furs. She was an inconsistent character in season 1, with regularly shifting motivations and loyalties that seemed to be more a result of poorly planned writing than personal capriciousness. That hasn’t changed in season 2; she plays a distant second fiddle to Davos. He’s filled with barely contained rage which he periodically releases in angry diatribes about the decadence of New York and in highly kinetic fight scenes where he shows the results of his extreme devotion to training. The worst of his venom is reserved for Danny, who he believes abandoned his responsibilities to K’un-Lun to return to a life of privilege in America. Davos believes he deserves the power more than Danny, and in many ways, he does. Both characters have decided that the destruction of K’un-Lun and the Hand means that the Iron Fist should now be used to fight evil in the world, but they fundamentally disagree on how that should be done.
Davos and Joy’s plot against Danny involves hiring Mary Walker (Alice Eve), who spends the season’s first few episodes mostly demonstrating the ability to be off-putting like she displayed in the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive.” Like Typhoid Mary, the comics character she’s based on, Walker is a hyper-competent mercenary with dissociative identity disorder. That plot would work a lot better if Jessica Jones season 2 didn’t also center on a character with dissociative episodes. Like the similarities between the criminal plots of Iron Fist and Luke Cage, this issue likely is due to the basic tropes of the source material. But it’s an unfortunate coincidence, given that the shows are going to attract the same audience, and Iron Fist seems derivative by coming later.
Further well-tread ground in season 2 includes Danny’s struggles with frustration about how little impact he seems to make, mirroring the issues Luke Cage dealt with in his second season. Like the second seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, Iron Fist’s latest chapter focuses heavily on family conflict. Joy’s brother and former business partner Ward has joined Narcotics Anonymous and feels like he needs Joy’s forgiveness to move forward, but she just wants to start over. Colleen has lost her surrogate family in the Hand, but finding a box with her family crest on it leads her to hope she might be able to locate her mother. Flashbacks in K’un-Lun show how Davos and Danny grew up as brothers, but they also reveal that Davos had an extremely fraught relationship with his mother, who viewed him as a failure for letting Danny claim the power of the Iron Fist. These plots vary in the quality of execution. Davos’ shows what forged him into such a dangerous villain, while Colleen’s shows Metzner’s struggle to figure out what to do with the character, beyond labeling her as “Danny’s girlfriend.” But regardless of quality, they feel very familiar.
Besides borrowing themes, Iron Fist season 2 also brings in Luke Cage character Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who further solidifies the anti-Danny Rand sentiment by showing up to yell at him for ruining a police bust that was in the works and landing an undercover agent in the hospital. She and Colleen had great chemistry in their barroom brawl in Luke Cage season 2, and that continues through to Iron Fist, whether they’re talking about Colleen’s new role in the world or teaming up to kick yakuza ass. Misty’s no-nonsense, take-charge attitude is a refreshing change from previous perpetual guest star Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who has traditionally just provided medical help and moral support for superheroes in need of both. Misty brings energy to every scene she’s in with her mix of wry humor and bravado. After having to kill his dad twice in season 1, Ward has somewhat lost his role as the voice of reason, and Misty takes up the job of pointing out how ridiculous Iron Fist’s plot is.
Ward could use more to do in season 2, but it’s a small price to pay for the elimination of the convoluted boardroom drama that made up the worst parts of season 1. The CW’s Arrow and various versions of Batman have handled the billionaire-vigilante-businessman trope better than Iron Fist, so season 2 abandons that thread to bring Danny down to the same street-level fighting of the rest of the Netflix MCU shows. After giving up his stake in Rand Enterprises, Danny is making a simple living working for a moving company. There’s lingering conflict between Ward and Joy, who’s trying to set up her own business, but that’s largely fodder for more scenes without Danny. The Defenders minimized Danny’s impact by treating him more like a MacGuffin than a character and by openly letting his fellow heroes laugh at his ridiculous, out-of-place posturing. Iron Fist season 2 similarly finds ways to have events orbit Danny without actually revolving around him.
Iron Fist remains the weakest of the Netflix MCU portfolio, but its creators are trying to improve a bad situation by acknowledging their season 1 problems and modeling their story after better shows to the degree they can without entirely losing their much-maligned title character. Burdened by an unlikeable protagonist and problematic concept, the show may never be able to achieve greatness. Luke Cage and Daredevil both have neighborhoods they’ve sworn to protect, while Jessica Jones has a career as a private investigator. By comparison, Danny abandoned his duty, then managed to somehow make it irrelevant. Now, the character and show lack a clear direction. Having Danny sub in for Daredevil gives him some purpose, but that will end when Daredevil’s third season airs in October. After that, it will be up to Iron Fist’s creators to find their title character a new way to be a hero worth watching.
The 10-episode second season of Iron Fist premieres on Netflix on Friday, September 7th.