Danny Rand is still the least interesting part of the show, but maybe that’s okay.
This is a spoiler-free review of Marvel’s Iron Fist Season 2, which is now streaming on Netflix.
The greatest strength of Iron Fist Season 2 is that it finally recognizes what most of us figured out in Season 1: Danny Rand is the show’s weak link.
This isn’t entirely Finn Jones’ fault – the Danny we met last season, as written by former showrunner Scott Buck, was arrogant, condescending, and naive by design, and in Season 2, both Jones and new showrunner M. Raven Metzner are faced with the challenge of digging themselves out of that hole before they can attempt to make Danny a hero worth rooting for, as opposed to one we just tolerate in order to spend time with his supporting cast.
Luckily, they mostly succeed in that task by dismantling a lot of the storytelling devices that were established in the show’s freshman year – gone are the boardroom scenes and corporate skullduggery that slowed things to a crawl in both Iron Fist Season 1 and The Defenders; instead, rather than flashing his wealth and power, Danny is trying to go back to basics by working for a local moving company when the season begins. He’s still a little cocky, but he’s mostly just attempting to carve out a simple life for himself with Colleen (Jessica Henwick), rather than strutting through the city’s corridors of power and declaring that he’s a billionaire with a magical hand.
Gone, too, are the murky fight sequences and obvious stunt doubles of the show’s first outing – at Comic-Con, the cast and creative team touted the action scenes as the highlights of the season, and they’ve clearly got the goods to back it up, pulling off a number of kinetic and well-staged set-pieces that, while lacking the jaw-dropping spectacle of some of Daredevil’s best fight scenes, still prove far more inventive and engaging than anything Season 1 had to offer.
A lot of last season was spent with Danny insisting how noble and worthy he was while everyone around him remained convinced he was nuts, which wasn’t the most compelling narrative, whereas Season 2 sees a slightly more humble, less secure version of the Immortal Iron Fist. Despite the most recent seasons of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones basically trying to forget that The Defenders happened, Danny seems the most affected by the events at Midland Circle – the responsibility of following in Matt Murdock’s footsteps is clearly weighing on him, even as he struggles to figure out his purpose now that The Hand is defeated and K’un-Lun isn’t around to be protected.
This allows Jones to delve into some of Danny’s insecurities, especially when his brother-turned-rival, Davos (Sacha Dawan), returns to reopen some old wounds. It’s no spoiler to say – since the trailers have already given it away – Davos is back to reclaim the Iron Fist from Danny, since he (like the rest of us) doesn’t believe our hero is particularly worthy of the gift. Of course, being that Davos has a dark comic book alter-ego, his plans for wielding the power of the Iron Fist are a little less heroic than Danny’s.
Unfortunately, unlike Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave and Cottonmouth, Iron Fist’s villains have so far lacked the gravitas to make a mark in Netflix’s corner of the MCU – you might’ve been hard-pressed to remember the names of Harold Meachum and Bakuto (we won’t give Iron Fist credit for Madame Gao, since Daredevil introduced her), and Davos is similarly unremarkable – lacking the screen presence or chemistry to establish himself as a worthy foil for Danny.
When the show flashes back to Danny and Davos’ time in K’un-Lun, it gains a little energy (and offers Davos far more character motivation than Danny has been given thus far), but in the present day, their rivalry pretty much ends up feeling like a chest-thumping contest with no real stakes beyond excessive property damage. This robs Iron Fist Season 2 of any real sense of urgency – as does the decision to embroil Davos in an existing criminal conflict, meaning that a lot of his casualties are arguably bad guys themselves, rather than simply unlucky victims caught in the crossfire. After a season of watching Frank Castle mow criminals down while working through his own issues on The Punisher, it’s tough to vilify Davos for essentially doing the same.
Thank goodness for Alice Eve’s Mary Walker (aka Typhoid Mary), who has all the charisma and unpredictability that Davos lacks, although that’s all we’ll say about one of the season’s most compelling characters to avoid spoilers. And returning the favor after Colleen’s cameo in Luke Cage Season 2, Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is a welcome shot in the arm any time she appears on screen. Her relationship with Colleen – and skepticism towards Danny’s whole shtick – is one of the bright spots of the season. (Come on, Netflix – greenlight that Daughters of the Dragon spinoff, already.)
Even Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) get a little character rehabbing in Season 2 – as the end of Season 1 established, Joy is currently not on Team Danny, but Ward is actually doing his best to reconcile with his former friend, and his snark (and general exasperation with the consistent insanity that Danny brings into his life) lends the show much of its humor. Indeed, it’s the strength of Iron Fist’s ensemble that makes the show as engaging as it is, and although Danny is still kind of dull, he’s far less so now that he’s actually allowing this group of equally broken people to keep him grounded.
But the season really belongs to Colleen, who is allowed just as much of a hero’s journey as Danny and arguably makes for a more compelling protagonist given the trauma she suffered last season, even if that (understandably) won’t sit well with longtime fans of the Iron Fist who are hoping to see the hero truly come into his own after two seasons of trying to find his place.
Still, this sophomore outing does allow Danny to grapple with the reality of what it means to be a hero, bringing him far closer to his comic book counterpart than we’ve seen thus far, and giving Jones much more opportunity to demonstrate his range – both emotionally and through the confident fight choreography. And at 10 episodes instead of the usual 13, this feels slightly less meandering than the second seasons of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones – although by episodes 7 and 8, it once again starts to feel like the show is simply spinning its wheels to delay the inevitable finale showdown.