These viewing notes contain spoilers.
1.1 Snow Gives Way
Iron Fist, the fourth and final member of the Defenders, has finally made his debut. As with previous Netflix series, we’ll be reviewing an episode a day highlighting the characters, reference points and easter eggs we spotted. Feel free to read along as you watch too, but please don’t spoil future episodes for anyone in the comments!
So. It’s kind of difficult to talk about Iron Fist without first addressing one of several elephants in the room. Which do we pick first? The bad reviews? The unfortunate colonial overtones? The troubling speed of the production despite a 3 year lead time? You could write an essay covering any of these topics.
Personally, I think better writers than I have written more extensively about them, and I don’t want to front-load these viewing notes with them (which isn’t to say they won’t come up). I’m keen to judge the show as a viewer for what it is rather than what it could, or should have been, and certainly not before problems become apparent in the narrative. I’ll put it upfront: I’m going into this with an open mind. If I didn’t think I could give it a fair review, I wouldn’t be doing it at all.
That said, this first episode is a struggle. The series opens when Danny Rand, the rightful inheritor of the multinational company Rand-Meachum, walks into the company’s office and declares himself back from the dead, much to the surprise of its current owners: Joy and Ward Meachum. With all of his living relatives dead and an insistence on spending his time barefoot, beating up security guards and making claims to large multinational companies without proper legal representation, people are understandably suspicious of Danny. He also attempts to befriend martial arts instructor Colleen Wing, but she’s having none of it. Eventually Ward, on the advice of his father (who is secretly still alive and living in seclusion), convinces Joy to help him throw Danny in a mental institution.
I find it hard to believe that even a guy who’d spent fifteen years living with monks would be so naïve as to turn up and think his word would be enough to convince people he was back from the dead. It’s not inconceivable that things could happen that way, but the show doesn’t do enough to convince me Danny is disconnected from modern life to that extent. It just makes his choices seem unrealistic throughout, and that makes him a frustrating lead.
This might be okay if Danny’s fight scenes were impressive, but broadly, they’re not. In fact there’s not much fighting in this episode at all, and what we do see is quite generic brawling with very little in the way of visual style – which is about the opposite of what you’d expect for a show that’s literally about doing kung fu. It’s one thing for Jessica Jones or Luke Cage to not have elaborate choreography, but this should be on another level.
On the plus side, I like the dynamic of Joy and Ward as the show’s sibling antagonists. Their relationship is an interesting one which sets them apart from the other Netflix villains. They’re far more relatable and grounded, though that does have the side-effect of making them also less iconic. Colleen Wing is unambiguously great, at least – though if anything she’s too jaded to Danny’s plight.
Unfortunately, everyone spends time doing things that don’t make a lot of sense. Danny explains stuff to people who he thinks already know it. Ward refuses to call the police on someone he thinks is an imposter and a threat, and then later gets into a car with him for… some reason. I could go on.
In terms of characters…
The origin story is a rework of the comics Iron Fist origin. In that story Harold (the senior Meachum) is on the business trip with the Rand family, and betrays them, leading to the death of Danny’s parents. The story of Iron Fist’s origin is told in Marvel Premiere #15 (1974), which is also the first appearance of Danny Rand, his parents Heather and Wendell, and Harold Meachum.
In the comics, Ward Meachum is Harold’s brother rather than son. He first appeared in Marvel Premiere #19 (1974). Joy, who is Harold’s daughter in both versions, first appeared in Marvel Premiere #18 (1974). And Colleen Wing, who is Danny’s some-time love interest, first appeared in Marvel Premiere #19.
So those are the basics. What did you think of episode one?