Rebounding from a poorly received first season, the Marvel/Netflix collaboration Iron Fist turns out a stronger outing, with pervading themes of addiction and recovery.
This is most explicit in Ward’s character, now a quiet regular in Narcotics Anonymous. But it’s also present, although initially subtle, in Danny. He now has a greater control over the fist, but resorts to it too frequently, escalating violence and brutality. In the midst of a budding Triad war, not to mention a scheme by Davos and Joy, the city’s explosion is just around the corner. This season also benefits from the arrival of Alice Eve, who plays the mysterious Mary, a character who feels like a convenient plot contrivance at times, but is nonetheless intriguing.
Armed with a new showrunner (Raven Metzner of Sleepy Hollow, Heroes Reborn, and Elektra), the series takes a different angle than the previous season, focusing less on Danny’s personal journey, and creating more of an ensemble show. Presumably thanks to her popularity from the previous season as well as The Defenders, Colleen takes a front focus, particularly on the conflict between her relationship with Danny and her wish to leave the vigilante scene altogether. In the last half of the season, she becomes an especially central character, her desire for social change combined with a somber detachment from the fist counteracting Danny’s struggle with addiction to the fist’s power. But she’s not the only supporting character getting more attention. Misty also shows up, and becomes a major part of the season’s final act, especially through her friendship with Colleen. Davos, as the primary villain of the season, receives an appropriate level of character development, making sense of his self-righteous crusade. Ward is less involved in the action itself, but his seeking for Joy’s forgiveness forms an important backdrop of the story, mirrored by Danny’s desire to reconcile with Davos, his friend and adopted brother.
This is a good hook for the season, but also reveals just how much weaker the protagonist is as compared to the rest if the cast. I don’t blame this on Finn Jones; the actor just isn’t given much to work with. His addiction to the power of the Fist, while making for a nice thematic parallel, isn’t really brought out until the latter half of the season. Until that time, he’s given little character development and barely changes. Despite getting plenty of screentime, it feels like he’s just kind of there – an odd thing to say about the series’ titular character. This becomes clear in the highlighted relationships when developing the other characters, as well. Ward’s arc is about relating to Joy, not Danny. Colleen’s is about her past; their romantic relationship is almost an afterthought, at times even an obstacle. Even the development of Davos is much more about his upbringing than his former relationship with Danny. This element in particular is a significant weakness in the season’s progression.
With that said, the series finds its footing about midway through the season, and becomes more of a compelling ensemble action piece, with better choreography, quicker pacing, and higher tension. The last couple of episodes in particular are easily the best of the show’s two seasons, and sets up a third season that opens up the world in some really exciting ways. That’s largely connected to the mythology of the show, but it also relates to an aspect of Danny’s character that may finally bring something interesting to his character. Rather than pitching him as a sage martial artist who is somehow also an angsty rich boy, they lean in on the latter, leading to his embarking on a journey of self-discovery. He doesn’t know what he’s fighting for, he concludes, and never has. The Fist filled that hole in him, but only as a crutch; that’s why it became an addiction.
As I argued in my review of the previous season, Iron Fist is interested in Eastern mysticism only as far as the aesthetics go; it actually has little interest in those worldview elements in any meaningful sense. But that aesthetic makes the show’s central themes – addiction, forgiveness, and self-righteous fanaticism – appear more fresh than they actually are. In reality, these are well-tread ideas within the superhero genre, and the series doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But for those that enjoy these characters or just want to see the world succeed, this is a promising direction. It also manages to give some decent, if surface-level, advice when it comes to addiction in particular. Both Ward and Danny make more than their fair share of bad choices within this framework, but they both also work to make serious changes and seek forgiveness. The series doesn’t go a whole lot deeper than that, but insomuch as they do delve into more serious issues, it doesn’t do a half-bad job.