PREVIOUSLY: Iron Fist episode 12 recap
The first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist has been charting Danny’s journey from vagabond looking to reclaim his legacy to something close to being a hero of sorts. It’s been a rough ride, to the say the least, due to shoddy writing. Nevertheless, “Dragon Plays with Fire,” the rather disappointing first season finale — alas, there’s probably more of this on the way after The Defenders — attempts to bring this arc to its conclusion.
In the wake of episode 12, Danny and Colleen are on the run from the DEA, which believes Danny is the one behind the Hand’s heroin business inside of Rand Enterprises because Harold framed him. You would think this sort of on-the-run scenario would provide the episode with a sense of momentum, but it doesn’t. Instead, we’re treated to several dialogue-heavy scenes that lack any of excitement. However, there is an upside: Some of these scenes feature Carrie-Anne Moss and Rosario Dawson, whose characters are there to bring the snark and real talk. In fact, Jeri has my favorite line of the episode after Danny explains to her that Harold, whom she just ran into at Rand, has come back from the dead.
“Let’s make a list of things you’re never allowed to say again, starting with that,” she says. It’s great and one of the few moments of intentional and well-executed humor in the episode.
Based on Jeri’s advice, Danny and Colleen get to work on trying to clear Danny’s name by finding copies of the original files that Harold used to frame Danny. This quest takes them back the now-deserted Hand compound to talk to Gao. Unfortunately, Gao no longer has copies of said files, though she does have some obvious news to reveal to Danny: Harold is the author of all of his pain and is responsible for the plane crash that killed his parents. This has been pretty obvious for quite some time, but Danny is so naïve that he completely missed the fact that Harold has been manipulating him from the beginning. Gao also continues her mind games with Danny.
“You will only gain the strength of a real Iron Fist after you have killed Harold,” she says. “You must rid yourself of this anger.”
Which leads us to a debate about whether or not Danny should kill Harold when they finally confront each other. Danny, who is freaking out after hearing this news, believes he has to; Colleen says she should kill Harold for Danny because Danny’s chi will be ruined if he does it himself. God bless Claire for speaking up and saying these are both bad ideas and that they need to find other solutions that don’t involve killing. Claire reminds them the Hand tablet is still out there and everything would be better if they focus on getting that instead of murder. Amen!
So Danny contacts Ward, who is busy trying to make amends with his sister. Joy is still in the hospital recovering from her wound and has no interest in speaking to Ward because he tried to kill their father. Joy has had some pretty inconsistent characterization, but this scene contradicts what the show has been showing us in the past few episodes. Shots of Joy’s face as Harold contemplates murder revealed that she was uncomfortable with her dad and had a sense that all might not be right there, and yet here we have her defending him against Ward, who, admittedly, has known this version of him for many years and is the right person to say that something’s not right. It’s not until Ward reveals what Harold did to Danny that Joy starts questioning things. Joy confronts her father about the Danny, but Harold is unable to convince his daughter that he didn’t do it.
NEXT: The final boss battle
Ward, Danny, Colleen, and Claire concoct some plan for Danny to infiltrate Rand Enterprises to steal the tablet, but things go sideways when Ward discovers that his father is surrounded by armed security. Harold becomes aware of his son’s duplicity and knocks him out, which forces Team Fist to go in there relatively blind. Thankfully, Danny isn’t too much of an idiot and enters the executive floor by swinging through the window, which was a pretty awesome entrance.
Thus, the fighting ensues. Colleen, determined to save Danny’s chi, gets an open shot at Harold and tries to attack, but fails. Danny turns the tide of the battle by slamming the Iron Fist on the floor, creating a shock wave that destroys the entire floor and knocks everyone down. Another cool-looking moment in a sea of meh!
From there, Harold runs to the rooftop, and Danny follows him to continue the rather boring fight, which lacks any sense of pathos. David Wencham, as he has for the entire show, is trying his hardest to sell these lines, but it’s not working, and the fight doesn’t make sense. Why does Danny kick the gun out of his hand and then run away? How does seeing Shao-Lao’s eyes in the red lights on the roof change Danny’s mind about killing Harold in the end? This is another instance where the show doesn’t do a great job of explaining the decisions characters make. But Danny realizing murder is not the answer is a necessary development on this heroic journey. Anyway, Ward and Colleen eventually make their way to the roof, and Ward does the honor of shooting his father on the ledge. I don’t know when I became invested in Ward as a character — I can say it’s almost entirely due to Tom Pelphrey’s performance — but I found Ward finally killing his father rather satisfying in a way I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps it’s because that relationship might’ve been the most clearly drawn one on the show. We understood the tension and years of abuse between those two from the beginning, and that stayed consistent throughout.
Barring another hilarious scene involving Jeri Hogarth (“I really didn’t realize there was going to be so much emotional honesty,” she says right before Ward and Danny cremate Harold’s body), the finale wrap-up is just as incoherent as everything that has come before. Davos meets with Joy and says that Danny ruined both of their lives and needs to be killed, and Joy seems interested in that. How did Joy go from defending Danny to her father to contemplating killing him? If there’s one thing that’s been relatively consistent about her character throughout the show, it’s that she has kept some sort of soft spot for Danny even when he was actually ruining things. What changed her mind now? Also, what does Madame Gao have to do with it? She’s shown listening in one table away. Is she there with Davos or Joy? If it’s the former, at what point did they team up? Davos’ entire thing was that he was devoted to K’un-Lun, so it’s hard to believe that he’d be working with Gao.
In the end, Iron Fist also ends up taking a similar approach to Rand Enterprises as the movies and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did with S.H.I.E.L.D. Ward ends the season as the actual head of Rand Enterprises, which sends the message: No, there’s nothing wrong with a big and seemingly omnipotent corporation like Rand; the problem is that the wrong people were in charge. (I’m assuming that everything Ward did was on his father’s orders. Who knows what he will do when he’s actually in charge).
Meanwhile, Danny decides to return to K’un-Lun because he still has much to learn about being the Iron Fist and needs to explain himself to the monks. He wants to be with Colleen, so he asks her to go with him. Unfortunately, their trip around the world is wasted because K’un-Lun is gone by time they arrive at the pass, and there are dead Hand henchmen outside of the gate. Danny is immediately filled with guilt over not being there to protect it, which means we’re probably in store for a very broody season 2, if that happens.
At this point, it’s fair to say that Iron Fist has been the weakest Marvel/Netflix shows yet. Sure, each one before it has had issues — don’t get me started on the messy back half of Luke Cage season 1 — but the problem with Iron Fist is that it didn’t come close to matching those shows in any respect: The fight scenes that didn’t involve Colleen Wing were dull, the writing lacked nuance, and the show didn’t have any specific perspective on a story we’ve seen told many times before. Furthermore, the show took itself way too seriously, which dragged everything down because it went against the natural pulpiness of the material, which has a lot of potential to be fun. Despite these problems, credit must be given to most of the cast finding a way to turn pretty great performances — save Finn Jones, who was miscast in the role. Both Jones and the script failed to make Danny a likable hero worth rooting for, apart from the fact that he will be included in The Defenders.