Photo: Iron Fist (Netflix)

The weirdest thing about “Bar The Big Boss” is that it hinges on Bakuto and Davos, two people it feels like we barely know. Both characters are pretty engaging, especially the latter, but their importance here just raises questions about why the series waited so long to introduce them. Davos didn’t appear until three episodes ago and has only been an active character for the past two. And though we technically got a short scene with Bakuto back in episode seven, he’s really only been a presence for the past three episodes. So what was the point of the first half of this season? Why did we watch Colleen discover her dark side in an illegal fight ring, which somehow had no bearing on the evil ninja cult she naively didn’t know she was in? Why did we spend so much time learning about the mechanics of Gao’s drug distribution? Why was there an entire episode about Danny’s stay in a psych ward?

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These Defenders series have all had pretty severe issues with pacing, and it’s disappointing that Iron Fist hasn’t learned from the mistakes of its predecessors. After Daredevil and Jessica Jones simply stretched their first seasons over too many episodes, Luke Cage and Daredevil season two tried to take a more segmented approach to their binge-able seasons, to varying degrees of success. But Iron Fist hasn’t purposefully segmented its season-long narrative so much as just let things happen at various points for no discernible reason. The relationships that are so crucial to this episode’s climax (Bakuto/Colleen and Danny/Davos) have just barely gotten enough screen time for us to care about them.

But those are all season-long concerns. On a purely episodic level, “Bar The Big Boss” is an enjoyable, if imperfect, episode with the show’s best fights to date. It centers on two parallel and intersecting stories: The first is a tense hostage situation in which the shit finally hits the fan for the poor Meachums when Bakuto comes calling. The second is an all-out martial arts brawl in which Danny, Colleen, and Davos take on The Hand and, eventually, each other. The Danny/Colleen/Davos stuff is exactly what I’ve been wanting from this show all along. It’s high-octane martial arts action with plenty of interpersonal drama to give emotional stakes to the fights. It looks great and it resonates, which seems like the bare minimum a martial arts superhero show should aim for. It took Iron Fist far too long to get to this point, but at least the payoff is pretty solid.

The Meachum stuff is less successful, largely because their story has felt so meandering this season (was Ward’s trip to the psych ward just an excuse to give Tom Pelphrey some vacation time?). The introduction of Davos at least pays off Danny’s many mentions of him throughout the season and the two have a built-in friendship. Bakuto, meanwhile, has no meaningful relationship with the Meachums so his confrontation with them falls flat. It’s also really grueling to watch, particularly once Joy gets shot. All of these Defenders shows have a weird habit of devolving into torture porn at some point, and Iron Fist comes fairly close to doing that here.

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“It is a far, far better thing… to kill Ward than to kill me.”

The Meachum portion of the episode also speaks to how muddled Iron Fist’s season-long storytelling has been. Because so many of the show’s storylines have been kept separate from one another, it’s genuinely hard to remember who knows what. That Danny had zero inclination of Harold’s deviousness up until the very end of this episode struck me as really strange. Does Danny know that Harold died and came back a second time too? And how much does Joy actually know about The Hand and her father’s involvement with them, other than the fact that they were stealing from Rand Enterprises? I could probably go back through my notes and figure out the answers to those specific questions, but my larger point is that they reflect the scattershot nature of the season’s narrative.

The most successful of the many, many themes and tones Iron Fist has introduced this season is the one I praised in my last review: The idea that Danny, Davos, and Colleen (and to some extent Ward and Joy) are lost kids manipulated by leaders who abuse their innocence and trust. It has shades of the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (which isn’t the first time I’ve said that about a Defenders series), particularly in the way The Hand seduces kids into its ranks by offering them stability and friendship only to demand loyal soldiers in return. I don’t think K’un-Lun is supposed to be anywhere near as manipulative as The Hand, but it’s clear that Danny and Davos weren’t raised in a particularly emotionally attentive environment either.

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The final Central Park fight (how did they get to the middle of Central Park so quickly?), is fueled by the sense of just how emotionally damaged Colleen, Danny, and Davos are. First Colleen has to strike down her corrupt mentor, and then Danny and Davos hash out their brotherly tension in battle, which makes both fights personal and character-driven in a way so many of this season’s confrontations haven’t been. Rain is an easy shortcut to up the drama of a scene, but that doesn’t stop it from working like gangbusters here. And director Andy Goddard brings a fluidity to his cinematography that compliments the sleek fighting style of the show’s heroes.

The Danny/Davos fight in particular drives home just how much the show needed to utilize Davos from the beginning. He’s a compelling character in his own right, but more importantly his presence clarifies so much about Danny and how the show views him. As a man caught between two worlds, Danny was probably never the right choice to be K’un-Lun’s protector. But since he somehow got the job anyway, it’s up to him to choose what he wants to do with the power it grants him. After a season of uncertainty about where he belongs, Danny finally decides his iteration of the Iron Fist will be one who lives in New York City and embraces the duality of life. It’s a decision that turns Davos against him, potentially forever. But Danny and Colleen soon have bigger problems to worry about as they realize they let Bakuto’s body get away, where he can almost certainly be brought back to life by The Hand.

From the moment Danny is put into cuffs, “Bar The Big Boss” kicks into high gear. It’s the Meachum stuff that drags this episode down. Though I’m interested in those characters and those performers, the Bakuto hostage crisis feels more like a random turn of events than payoff for what the season has been building towards. Iron Fist has one more episode to weave together its many, many threads (we haven’t seen Gao in a while, huh?), which seems like a tall order. But at least giving its hero a sense of agency and purpose makes for a nice change of pace.

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Stray observations

  • To continue my TMNT theme: Colleen is Leonardo, Danny is Michelangelo, Davos is Raphael, and Claire is Donatello. Also, for those who don’t know, TMNT started as a Daredevil parody (The Foot Clan is a riff on The Hand) so we’re really bringing things full circle here.
  • Harold’s final words to his children (basically “Ward you suck. Joy, sorry I underestimated you”) were perfectly cruel. As was his immediate attempt to get Ward back on his side once he realized all three of them were going to live. Harold really is a terrifyingly manipulative villain.
  • I’m not sure if it was an intentional gag, but there were a couple moments in this episode where Danny and Colleen were framed in intimate settings only for the camera to pull back and reveal Davos was there too. I laughed every time.
  • Colleen literally stopped a sword with her forearm and she didn’t even need to go to the hospital afterwards? Also both times I’ve watched the episode there’s a moment in the Colleen/Bakuto fight where I’m convinced her entire arm gets chopped off. Basically I’m just very concerned about Colleen’s arms.
  • I think what makes the Danny/Colleen relationship work is the sweetness of it, which isn’t a quality Marvel tends to go for in their live action romances (they usually aim for zippy banter instead). In that way it reminds me of one of my favorite and most under-appreciated MCU romances, Bruce and Betty in The Incredible Hulk. That said, the Anderson .Paak-scored sexy tai chi scene was too much even for me.
  • Danny’s escape and especially his “I kinda got this feeling you’re not allowed to kill me” quip to Bakuto proves how much more enjoyable it is to watch him act like an intelligent, highly trained warrior rather than a petulant child.

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