There's a good (possibly even great) series lurking within the confines of Iron Fist's first season, yearning to get out. At times, it fades into the background, lost in the noise of inconsistent plotting or weakly executed themes, but every now and again, it could be seen peeking out from the rafters — moments of greatness from intriguing characters, complex moralities and a treatise on identity and the self.
Iron Fist's first season was not the strongest piece of material put out by #Marvel, especially amidst the ranks of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Critics have pretty well savaged the series, while fans are notably more divided on the topic. And it's probably unsure whether or not we'll be getting more from this concept and these characters beyond the upcoming Defenders TV series.
However, if Marvel does give the show another round — as it has with second seasons for all its predecessors — there's plenty to work with. Marvel will need to round up the show's potential — hidden in a variety of solid storytelling beats and character moments — and make them a more consistent play. Take some of the show's criticisms to heart, and find a way to improve on what's already been crafted.
Here are some of the top decisions for #IronFist to consider in a hypothetical second year:
1. Focus On Something Specific
Daredevil was built around ideas of white masculinity, poverty and faith. Jessica Jones explored the ways men use and victimize women. Luke Cage examined the life and culture of Black Harlem. All of these concepts were suffused into the material, immensely important to the central protagonist, and very much at play over the course of each season presented.
Iron Fist was far less confident with its centralized ideas, and it showed. Was it about the responsibility of sons to do better than their fathers before them? Was it about loss and recovery of identity? Was it about the loyalty owed to the different kinds of people that raised us? Or, was it even about white privilege and the interaction with other cultures?
Many of these concepts lurked in the background, but there was very rarely the sense that any were coming to the forefront as a driving force for the season and its characters. It made for disjointed storytelling across the board, and is why the show comes up short in comparison to its Defenders siblings.
2. Clarify What It Means To Be The Iron Fist
A few episodes in, Danny is put through a series of trials under the scrutiny of Madame Gao, who goes on to infer that there is a war inside Danny between the duality of his two selves: Danny Rand vs. the Iron Fist. The problem with this presentation is that, up until that point in the season, the show has in almost no way made clear what it means to be the Iron Fist.
By the end of the season, this was never really rectified. We learn that the Iron Fist is a longstanding mantle that's been inherited over generations as a position of respect, that one worthy individual is chosen for the task, and that they guard the entrance to K'un Lun. But those are just details; superficial descriptors of the job itself.
Oliver Queen, Matt Murdock and Bruce Wayne all crafted their alternate personas as a direct response to something, have channeled a significant part of their inner selves into it, and then utilized it for specific purposes. Danny didn't create the Iron Fist, which puts him at a disadvantage in grappling with this particular issue.
At the same time, there's plenty of material to suggest what the Iron Fist means to Danny on a personal, internal level. Is the inner warrior a monster that he turned into to thrive during extreme circumstances? Is it the means by which he channels coping mechanisms for that small child who survived a plane crash? And perhaps more importantly, what are the benefits and drawbacks for Danny to take on the Iron Fist persona? Much of this could be better explored and would doubtless enrich the show and character.
3. Actualize Danny's Internal Conflicts
In the opening episodes of the series, Danny slowly manages to force his way back into his family's business, convincing the Meachums (and others) that he really is the missing Danny Rand. Over roughly the same time period in which the audience witnesses this, we see surrounding characters in a myriad of difficulties: Joy is torn between wanting to believe Danny and loyalty to the company, Ward is being driven under the heel of his manipulative father, and Colleen is struggling with financial needs and grappling with a greater thirst to engage in less-reputable contests than she'd like to admit.
But Danny really has nothing going on inside of him — no inner war, no self-doubt, no uncertainty. Danny — who appears at the doorstep of Rand Enterprises — for all intents and purposes, comes across as though he already knows exactly who he is, what he wants and what others should think of him — regardless of whether or not any of this is true.
As the season progresses, the show starts throwing ideas at the wall in an attempt to see what will stick, but none really resonate because of this weak foundation. There's a suggestion that Danny wars with the Iron Fist persona, but again, the whole concept is too fuzzy to serve the character. Later, they go somewhat into the loss of his parents, but Danny's characterization and presentation almost never suggests that's buried within him. There's even ideas surrounding his somewhat blind loyalty to the monks at K'un Lun, but it's also a bit of a "too little, too late" kind of idea.
Danny's internal conflicts could — and should — be reflective of the season's thematic goals, and the lack thereof is part of what lead to the first season's incoherence. From the get-go, whatever Danny's struggling to overcome should be front and center, clear to the audience and reflected in ongoing concepts and challenges presented throughout the narrative. As much as anything else, this could go a long way toward crafting a better character-driven story for the second year.
4. Make Sure To Have Lots Of Ward And Colleen
Over the course of the season, Ward and Colleen emerged as the two richest and most compelling characters on the show, with complex motives and surprising choices made about which side of the war they would be on. By they end, not only were they the best characters on the show, they'd become two of the best among the entire roster of Defenders characters.
Iron Fist doesn't have an easy road ahead of it, and there is a lot of room for improvement. But if the show is given another year with its cast and concept, there's plenty of potential for them to build upon. So, here's hoping Iron Fist will eventually be able to live up to the high standards of that Marvel name.
What would you like to see in Iron Fist Season 2?