The Tragedy of Danny Rand
Netflix offers a mercy killing for Iron Fist.
Danny Rand’s appearance in Luke Cage season two gave comic book fans a glimmer of hope for the second run of Iron Fist. The man with the glowing fist appeared dashing, confident, and seemed to have found his place in the Netflix Marvel pantheon. Excited pre-release chatter was all about the redemption of Danny Rand. A few critics even declared this new season as some of the best Marvel TV Netflix had produced.
Unfortunately, the buzz is dead wrong.
The fight choreography has greatly improved. Secondary characters don’t outshine the stars quite as much in their ability to sell an acrobatic and engaging fight scene. But that’s about where the improvements end.
Season two presents the same Danny Rand as season one. Gone is the glimmer of confidence we saw in Luke Cage. And while the naive fish out of water story has already played out, Danny hasn’t let go. Once again, he’s lost and the viewer lost with him.
This isn’t a problem isolated to the title character. The entire script stumbles around, searching for direction. Minor details and continuity get muddled as a full cast of characters vies for the spotlight with their own angst-ridden melodramas, constantly shifting between friend and foe.
Scenes feel story boarded and improvised when fists aren’t flying. Performances are often wooden or wrestling with the best way to repeat recycled lines. As diverse as the cast is, recognition of said diversity is weak. Japanese, Tibetan, and Chinese cultures appear interchangeable throughout the narrative.
True, this fictional amalgamation is a problem with the source material. But the show’s biggest trouble is also Danny Rand’s — the inability to either fully embrace a new narrative or commit to the old one.
Yes, the rich white kid who literally descends from the heavens and masters another culture, easily out performing the best and brightest of the “natives”, is a tired and incredibly problematic premise. But equally awkward are the flagellations which the Iron Fist showrunners want to impose on Danny precisely for being the rich white dude that he isn’t.
Since Danny’s return, there has been very little indication that he even accepts his wealth or cares he has it. A few passing remarks of “I can buy this for you” (never “look what I bought myself”) suffice for his apparent life of luxury. By season two, he’s chosen’ to continue a spartan existence of manual labor which he grew accustomed to at home in K’un-Lun.
His home. From age nine.
As problematic as the white savior premise is, one can’t deny Danny has not had the same rich, white boy experience as the rest of the world. Yet he continues to play the punching bag quietly accepting his penance, deserved or not until, surprisingly, he develops anger issues and declares himself — himself — undeserving of the Iron Fist.
The arc could be brilliant if the audience had ever had even the faintest glimpse of anything but contrite silence. Any sort of abuse of power. Any sense that he either understood or denied the aspects of privileged so prevalent in a society which he only lived in as a young child.
But for two seasons, all we get is a permanently etched look of confusion. One I can only sympathize with.
Never is he allowed to revel in or feel comfortable with who he is. The only natural scenes aren’t with girlfriend Colleen or even during his rivalry with Davos. They occur in fleeting dude-bro moments as he hangs with the only other white guy on the set, his other adopted brother, Ward Meachum (Yes, the Meachums, who, Joy included, need to give Mary Walker’s mental health professional a call.)
The Netflix showrunners seem intent on punishing Danny for the sins of the Iron Fist’s story’s awkward past. Applying real world culture war narratives to a fictional story and not integrating them with the story. In doing so, they’ve created a character anchored nowhere.
Misty Knight says it best when she says of his glowing fist, “that’s your…everything.”
And it is. Not because of avarice or greed or even some twisted notion of superiority. Danny never shows any of that. Ever. It is all he has because there is nothing else he’s allowed to possess. The mind-numbing mantra of season one, “I am the Immortal Iron Fist” gets driven home in the most brutal, hollowing way.
To make up for this, the show transfers its focus — and its chi. Iron Fist becomes the story of Colleen Wing, Danny’s presumed girlfriend and fellow martial artist. “Presumed girlfriend” because any hint of romance is tough to find.
The frustrated look on Colleen’s face when she deals with Danny best sums up their relationship. Maternal, perhaps. A grudging assessment of the man child going nowhere, trapped by his own guilt into being and doing nothing.
Colleen’s quest does have a more immediate pull. We know the master she confronted. We know the results of that conflict. We witnessed her roots in her former home with the Hand and things she wasn’t proud of. There were challenges and triumphs, true obstacles to overcome, not some ephemeral rage or phantom addiction we’re told exists but never rears its ugly head. Viewers were invited to understand her on a personal level from the very beginning.
That we should be watching Knight and Wing is so painfully obvious, it detracts from this entire season’s run. Not only because Colleen’s strength and the fact that Misty Knight seems to be the only real hero in the Netflix line up, but because that’s where the heart of this show lies, not with the title character.
But that we had to “deconstruct” Iron Fist and watch him awkwardly bear his meta-guilty for two seasons to get there was neither compelling nor even satisfying on some sort of social justice level. It was painful, awkward, and ultimately boring.
By the end, Danny Rand’s Iron Fist undergoes not a heroic crisis but a mercy killing.
Stripped of his hard fought power, his romance, his adoptive family both real and mystical, his only solace is in his frat boy relationship with an estranged brother who once conspired against him. There is tragedy on display, not triumph, as he becomes just another angry white guy with a gun.