Photo: Iron Fist (Netflix)

Plenty of superheroes live by a code. Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way. Spider-Man knows that with great power comes great responsibility. Captain America just doesn’t like bullies. And Batman believes we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves up. Eight episodes into Iron Fist’s first season, “The Blessing Of Many Fractures” finally manages to articulate Danny Rand’s own superhero philosophy:

“It’s a long way to China, I’ll figure it out before we get there!”

Petulantly improvising his way out of a problem is very much the Danny Rand way. And “The Blessing Of Many Fractures” butts up against the central question I have about this series: Does Iron Fist know what a doofus its protagonist is? At times the answer is absolutely yes. The awkward takeout date in “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus” is a perfect example of the show knowingly playing up Danny’s naïveté for comic effect. But there are other times when the show seems to genuinely want its audience to buy into Danny as one of the most fearsome warriors on the planet. And then there are other times still where I simply can’t tell what the show wants me to think.

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For instance, when Claire tells Danny that his plan to jet off to China and somehow capture Madame Gao sucks, Danny angrily retorts, “It doesn’t suck, okay?!?” Is that supposed to be funny? Or is that just an example of the show struggling to write good dialogue? Colleen acts like Claire is in the wrong for calling Danny out but doesn’t note that Danny responds like a petulant middle schooler (I half expected him to add “You suck!” to the end of that sentence), which makes me think the show isn’t aware of just how silly Danny comes across. But then there are other times where the show is clearly going for a more sarcastic, Joss Whedon-y tone, like the, “I just want you guys to know, I wish I’d never come to China with you” “Seems fair” exchange Claire and Danny have before the episode’s final fight.

Whatever the show wants me to think about Danny and however complicated the writers want him to be, something is getting lost in translation. He makes ridiculous choice after ridiculous choice in this episode, yet almost always gets what he wants anyway. Danny, Colleen, and Claire jet off to China, do the least subtle recon in the world, go up against The Hand with zero plan in place, and somehow wind up walking away with Madame Gao. Oh and along the way there’s a lot of angst about whether Danny is willing to kill his enemies because apparently that’s something every single one of these Defenders heroes has to grapple with.

Danny’s impromptu trip to China is motivated in large part by Harold’s murder, which he learns about when he stumbles upon the bloody scene of Ward’s crime. Having lost one father figure to The Hand (at least so he thinks), Danny is more determined than ever to find out how and why his own father knew Madame Gao. Unfortunately, the whole China trip just feels kind of silly. And given that The Hand’s Chinese warehouse is so nondescript, it’s unclear why these scenes even needed to take place in China other than to give Claire the chance to talk Danny through his plane fears in a trite scene that tells the audience nothing they didn’t already know about his backstory. Hopefully the next few episodes will make better use of the Chinese locale and/or maybe finally show us a flashback to Danny’s time in K’un-Lun.

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Despite all my gripes about its storytelling and its characters, “The Blessing Of Many Fractures” does finally deliver in one area: the action. In fact, the final third of this episode includes a refreshingly diverse mix of action beats that are for the most part all pretty engaging to watch. Danny and Colleen do parkour over a fence, Colleen gets a full-on sword fight with a Hand guard, Claire drives a car through a gate, and all three heroes barely scrape through a brutal axe battle. Plus Danny gets to take on the Jack Sparrow of ninjas in probably the show’s best fight sequence yet.

“I’m Zhou Cheng, savvy?”

After utilizing so much nighttime cinematography, it’s refreshing to see Iron Fist set these action scenes in the middle of the day. And while they’re still far from the best fights I’ve seen on TV, they’re at least engaging and energetic in a way the show’s earlier action beats weren’t. The fact that Zhou Cheng (Lewis Tan) is drunk during the fight adds a creative element for the choreography to play around with. Zhou can never quite find his center of gravity, but he uses that fluidity to his advantage. He’s like one of those Weebles toys in that he may wobble but he doesn’t fall down. Or, at least, when he does fall down he manages to use his placement on the ground to his advantage. Also at one point in the middle of the fight he just poses like this for no discernible reason, which is something I’d like to see more villains do in the future:

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B-boy Zhou

In other words, the fight is fun, which is a quality Iron Fist should aim for more often. And it’s also another moment in which Iron Fist comes across as relatively self-aware as it has Zhou tease Danny for fighting like a child having a tantrum, not a highly disciplined warrior.

The other half of the episode centers on the ongoing woes of The Meachum siblings. Joy continues to suffer from being too far on the fringes of the most interesting parts of Iron Fist. Jessica Stroup does what she can with the material, but this show is never going to work best as a straight corporate drama, which is what Joy is stuck in. Thankfully, Ward’s story is much more interesting as he continues to spiral out from his act of patricide. Tom Pelphrey‘s performance is one of the best things about this season, and he’s in full force in this episode as well.

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In Tell-Tale Heart fashion, Ward is haunted by the image of dripping blood wherever he goes. It’s a cool effect that drives home just how much Ward is losing it. He’s so far gone, in fact, that he’s willing to take a $70.5 million loss from the board’s initial $100 million offer just to cut his ties to Rand Enterprises with as little fuss as possible. Unfortunately, Joy’s conviction winds up screwing him over when she rejects the offer on his behalf in order to play out a blackmailing scheme she’s cooked up (with some help from P.I. Jessica Jones, no less). And while I’m not thrilled about the idea of more corporate drama, I am very curious to see what will finally push Ward over his breaking point.

“The Blessing Of Many Fractures” demonstrates that both Iron Fist the show and Danny Rand the character have a similar problem: They lack a clear central focus. Danny is both irrational and erratic when it comes to what he wants, which is how he ends up hopping a plane to China without a firm plan in place. And the show around him feels similarly aimless. We’re eight episodes into the series and so much about who Danny is and what he wants still feels needlessly opaque. The big reveal of the episode is that Madame Gao is responsible for the plane crash that killed Danny’s parents (she used The Hand’s patented poison on the plane’s pilots). I’d like to say I’m hopeful that will give the show a focus going forward. But at this point, the most I’m going to hope for is some more fun, engaging action beats to pass the time.

Stray observations

  • Lewis Tan, who plays Zhou Cheng, has a real-life background in martial arts and reportedly got pretty far in the audition process for Danny Rand, which you can read about here. That means this episode offers a fascinating glimpse into what it would’ve been like to have an Iron Fist with actual martial arts abilities. You can see more of Tan’s skills on his very impressive action demo reel.
  • Perhaps this will feel at odds with all my complaints about Danny, but I actually kind of like him and Colleen together?
  • I really enjoyed the opening scene of Ward pretending to be shocked to find his father’s blood in the penthouse. Also his dismissal of Danny had a very, “Run away Simba, and never return” quality to it.
  • Why didn’t Madame Gao use her super strength to stop Danny from kidnapping her? Perhaps she’s pulling the classic “I wanted to get captured” Marvel villain trick.
  • Claire spends her free time reading and rereading the letter Luke Cage sent her from prison because she’s just corny like that. Also Danny’s Iron Fist powers apparently include being able to distinguish whether handwriting is masculine or feminine.

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