In part 1 of a 3-series audio review, Dawn Xiana Moon and Michi Trota review the first 4 episodes of Netflix’s latest series, Marvel’s Iron Fist. They’d fully intended to watch 6 episodes but apparently they didn’t have enough cake and cocktails to make it any further. Part 2 will cover episodes 5-9, and Part 3 will cover episodes 10-13, with a special audio track of Dawn and Michi reviewing the finale as they watch it after briefly recapping episodes 10-12.
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Transcription provided by Beth Voigt
DAWN: Hello, The Learned Fangirl! This is Dawn Xiana Moon…
MICHI: …and this is Michi Trota.
DAWN: This is our review for Iron Fist, episodes 1 through 4 of Season 1, and hopefully there won’t be a Season 2, frankly. I’m Dawn, I am the founder, producer, director of Raks Geek, which is a nerd-themed belly dance and fire performance company, and as is relevant for this I was born in Singapore, I’m Chinese-American, and I moved to the U.S. when I was 5.
MICHI: And I’m Michi Trota. Among some of the things that I do are I am the managing editor for Uncanny, a magazine of science fiction and fantasy, and I am also President of the Chicago Nerd Social Club board of organizers. I am Filipina-American, born and raised here in Chicago, and I have read comic books for most of my life. I am fairly familiar with Iron Fist, and I have feelings. LOTS of feelings. Primarily over the fact that we had to slog through four episodes and that’s all we could take in one sitting.
DAWN: With booze.
MICHI: [laughing] And cake.
DAWN: With booze, cake and coffee. So, right, well, we’re gonna get right into this review. So the best part of Iron Fist so far has been the opening sequence, which we both liked.
MICHI: Yes, it was very pretty! And it looked like, y’know, actual martial arts. Also, I will say some of the things that we’ve been reading about the show before they started, there was a lot of, “Well, the female characters are really great.” Actually, they weren’t wrong.
DAWN: The female characters are amazing, especially the woman who plays… what’s her name…
MICHI: Oh, Jeri Hogarth. The lawyer, Jeri Hogarth…
DAWN: She was fantastic. You might remember her as Trinity from The Matrix. I want to be her when I grow up.
MICHI: Carrie-Anne Moss is pretty much how I feel watching this whole thing so far. Which is: walk in, look around, call bullshit where she sees it, and says “Come on,” [snaps fingers 3x] “let’s get going. You are wasting my time, and my time is precious.”
DAWN: It really says a lot that the female characters in this are the most competent characters that we have. And the male characters are… largely douchebags.
MICHI: Except for Dead Dad.
DAWN: Except for Dead Dad, who is… interesting, but definitely not… he’s setting himself up to be a villain character.
MICHI: Definitely. But it is…[sighs] all of the characters are far more interesting to me than Danny Rand. Which says a lot about how this is supposed to be his show, or at least the show is about his journey, and his journey is really being propped up by some very competent, very interesting women who are clearly much better at what they do than he is.
DAWN: The entire premise is that Danny Rand, Iron Fist, is… I mean, he’s the hero, right? The show is named for him. But really, it’s all of the women who are far more competent at keeping him in check, handholding, literally babysitting him at one point, and teaching him how to adjust to his new roles.
MICHI: Yeah, Joy Meachum, just the fact that she actually, she is literally babysitting him.
DAWN: She is literally babysitting him at one point.
MICHI: Or just the fact that he keeps running to Colleen Wing, and saying “Can you help me?” and she’s like, “What are you doing, dragging me into this? I told you I don’t want to be… okay, now I’m dragged into it, and I have no choice.”
DAWN: My favorite (as in not-favorite) scene is where Danny Rand walks into the martial arts studio in the middle of them having a class, interrupts the black teenage kid who is teaching everybody else…
MICHI: …who is Colleen Wing’s best student…
DAWN: Mm-hmm, who is presumably really good at what he does. Danny Rand comes in, white guy barges into the studio…
DAWN/MICHI: [together] IN SHOES!
DAWN: Well you have to have shoes in the dojo! He’s the only person, really, who wears… even… even…um…
MICHI: Joy Meacham.
DAWN: Even Joy Meacham takes off her high heels when she walks into the dojo. But heaven forbid Danny Rand actually take his shoes off. And then he comes in and he lectures the students, interrupting the teacher’s class at a studio he has no business being in, and says, “I’m going to teach you about respect and martial arts.”
And let’s talk about how Danny Rand is always trying to throw around some Zen Buddhist sayings, and trying to throw Mandarin everywhere. His first introduction to Colleen Wing is, he speaks to her in Mandarin, because clearly when you see the Asian person you have to speak to them in Mandarin. Because that’s going to be their first language.
MICHI: I do appreciate that she looks at him and says “Can you speak to me in English, I haven’t [spoken Mandarin] since I was a child. Also, I teach kendo, not kung fu.” The fact that he walks into her dojo the very first episode and is like, “Yeah, so really you should be teaching kung fu, it’ll make you more money…
TOGETHER: …you’ll get more students…
MICHI: And just… ohhhh… all the…
DAWN: The white guy comes in and whitesplains to the person who is running the martial arts dojo about how to run their dojo. It is the epitome of white privilege.
MICHI: Everything about this is the epitome of white privilege.
DAWN: And male privilege. Let’s not forget those together.
MICHI: I understand that the showrunners have talked about “No, this is about seeing Danny’s progression from someone who is naive, who doesn’t really understand the world and who is going to learn how to be a better hero, who is going to mature, and a lot of it is going to be…” Because he has all of these really awesome women who are helping him put Broken Danny back together. Which is: NO, that’s not how feminism works…
DAWN: Definitely not how feminism works. It’s pretty much how women who have dealt with men throughout history who are not competent enough, and we have to prop them up, and don’t get any of the credit for it.
MICHI: If we’re talking about structuring the narrative where it’s about Danny coming back to New York after 15 years, and of course he’s going to feel out of place…
MICHI: He’s grown up in a monastery and around monks, there is not a lot of materialism, and even though that is the background he grew up with, being 10 and losing that life…
DAWN: 15 years is a long time.
MICHI: 15 years is a long time.
DAWN: Especially when it’s 15 years of your childhood and growing up years.
MICHI: But the fact that he’s walking into this, being very naive, and expecting that he can walk in to a building where he is not dressed correctly, he’s barefoot, he clearly hasn’t showered…
DAWN: In weeks, probably.
MICHI: …like he owns the place. I get that if that had been framed correctly, that actually could have been a very tongue-in-cheek, this is what it’s like when you have white male privilege that you’ve never completely lost or been trained out of. But he’s been in K’un-Lun with monks for 15 years…
DAWN: Which should have literally beat that out of him. They show flashbacks where they’re literally beating him with sticks.
MICHI: And he hasn’t grown up. There’s no maturity that he has come out of his experience with. There is no centering or sense of purpose, he’s walking around like… he’s basically like the character from Big, he is a kid in a man’s body, and I can understand how that is something they’re trying to go for, but…
DAWN: It doesn’t work.
MICHI: It doesn’t work! It doesn’t play well. It plays annoying, it plays condescending.
DAWN: He’s so condescending. Everything he does is condescending.
MICHI: If we had to drink every time he decided to drop a, quote, “Zen Saying…”
DAWN: We would have been dead.
[both laugh and groan]
DAWN: Also, if we took a drink every time they flashed back to his childhood scenes on the airplane where his parents are about to crash, we would… be drunk.
MICHI: In terms of using flashbacks as a narrative device.
DAWN: They’d be fine! As long as they’re not showing us the same flashback about 10 times every episode, exactly the same shots for those same flashbacks.
MICHI: I understand they’re trying to show us that Danny has been traumatized. And really, it was a traumatic event! There’s no way they can get around that.
DAWN: But it also has been 15 years. Presumably he’s grown a little bit as a person since then. But he acts as though it was yesterday.
MICHI: Well it can be that way for somebody who’s been through trauma. But it is, in terms of how they’re using that in the story, they’re beating that like a dead horse. It’s constantly happening, and I know it’s supposed to reinforce that he’s still traumatized. And particularly coming back to New York, coming back to the last place he was happy with his parents and they were alive, I can see how that would be something that triggers a lot of those traumatic flashbacks.
DAWN: But he’s not really acting like it’s being triggered, right? He’s acting as though he walks around with, like as though when he was in K’un-Lun he was walking around and that was the thing that was ever-present always, like his parents had died and he saw them die. There isn’t kind of an arc of “oh, he’s kind of moved back from this, he’s coming back and finding his roots and he’s finding all these things that are kind of bringing things out in him,” which is what you’re seeing with Joy, you’re seeing that with some of the other characters like “oh, we’ve moved on and now he’s bringing things back.” But with Danny, it’s as though he’s been stuck, nowhere, for 15 years and has just been plunked back down and had nothing happen to him in the interim, except somehow he’s a really good fighter.
MICHI: Yeah, there’s… I don’t really see a lot, so far in four episodes, that the experience in K’un-Lun has changed him, outside of: he has a glowing fist and he knows kung fu. That’s pretty much it. At least with Ward Meachum There’s actually a fairly interesting interplay with what it means to be a son of privilege and he’s smarmy, and…
DAWN: He’s also a huge stereotype.
MICHI: He’s Gordon Gekko from the movie Greed in the ‘80s. There is so much about this entire series to me that feels aesthetically like they are trying to play up an ‘80s vibe to it.
DAWN: As though we’re supposed to love the nostalgia or something with it, even the music sounds like ‘80s-style video games.
MICHI: It is. And I can see that they’re trying to go for something stylized. It’s very ambitious, I don’t think it’s pulled off. It feels… it’s not nostalgic in a way that makes you like “oh, I see that you’re paying respects to a particular genre, to a particular feel, but you’ve made it relevant and you’ve made it fun.” This feels very… it’s weighing it down. Down to the music… yeah.
DAWN: It feels like it’s stuck in the ‘80s.
MICHI: Yes, absolutely.
DAWN: As opposed to feeling like we’re doing an homage to the things that we loved about the ‘80s. There’s some scenes that they’ve filmed… there’s a scene in the elevator where Danny is fighting off a whole group of Asian guys in order to save Joy Meachum, and that, they had the ‘80s-style music kind of going on, and they turned the lights, so that all of the lighting was red, and it really felt like you were watching a video game. There were even multiple…
MICHI: Oh yeah, there was a cut screen, there was a split screen…
DAWN: …there was a lot of action going on. And let’s talk about the action scenes! And how they were surprisingly boring.
MICHI: They feel very… joyless to me. There’s not a lot of… technically, they’re doing things correctly, people are hitting their marks, it looks like, but there’s no kinetic energy to those fight scenes. They feel very by-the-book, they feel very obligatory.
DAWN: I think it’s because there isn’t anything emotional driving it. We watched the first four episodes tonight: there isn’t a lot of emotion and story kind of driving you into the characters. You connect with Colleen Wing, we’ve all been… well, if you are a woman, you’ve probably been that person who comes in and coddles the Nice White Guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing, especially if you’re a woman of color. So I sympathize a lot with Colleen Wing, I sympathize a lot with Joy Meachum, I sympathize with our lawyer friend who is just incredibly competent and very good at what she does. But I don’t sympathize with any of the men, the men who are supposed to be driving this show are generally… they just feel lifeless. You don’t connect with them emotionally at all.
MICHI: Yeah, I appreciate how they’re trying to make Harold Meachum this… he’s caught between two things, he made a deal with the devil, and now he is…
DAWN: He’s set up to be the most interesting character by far.
MICHI: Yeah. He’s got very complicated motives. He’s clearly not trustworthy, he’s clearly very self-interested. But he also cares about his kids in a very weird…
[both laugh quietly]
MICHI: Look, you put your kids in a, you were clearly a bad father, you would put them in a terrible position but you still don’t want them to get hurt. He’s complicated and he’s interesting.
DAWN: He’s abusive, but he loves them.
MICHI: Which is… eughh… it explains a lot about how his kids, particularly Ward, is as a person. But it’s still feeling like… there’s a lot of scenery-chewing, there’s a lot of kind of banging you over the head with how manipulative Harold Meachum actually is. You’re not quite sure what his end-game is, aside from he made a deal that he doesn’t like the terms and he wants to get out of it, so he sees Danny as a way for him to get out of this deal.
DAWN: That also leads to one of the big problems so far with Iron Fist is that our characters are really not fighting for anything. Danny could be set up to be fighting for his identity, to be fighting for his life, but really, the thing that’s coming across is that he’s fighting somehow for a company. And you’ve got both of the Meachums, all three of the Meachums actually, also fighting for a company. It’s just not really compelling as an audience member to watch people fighting over business deals in a company.
MICHI: [loudly] IN A MARTIAL ARTS SHOW.
DAWN: You want them to be fighting for something, something more. [laughs] That matters to the world.
MICHI: Yeah, I can see the fact that Danny says, what, three episodes in? It takes three episodes until he gets to the point where he’s like… he keeps saying repeatedly in the first two episodes “no, it’s not about money, you don’t understand.” We don’t get him actually to say until episode three or four (and the fact that we can’t even remember that clearly after having just watched it) that “no, this is not about money, this is my name. This company has my name. It means something to me.”
DAWN: Right. It’s set up from the very beginning that this is about my name, this is about my past and my identity and not the company, but it took so long to get there. And in the meantime it was just The Company, The Company, The Company, which doesn’t make for very compelling viewing because hopefully we’re fighting for something that has a little bit more weight.
MICHI: Yeah, I think Joy gets a little bit more to deal with, I think, in terms of saying, “Well, here’s why I’m staying: It’s because my father is dead, it’s the thing he left to us, it was really important for him that we kept this going. Also if we leave, we get nothing.” [Dawn laughs] But she at least gets to say all that, and the way they set her character up that makes sense.
DAWN: Because this is all she knows. It’s all that was given to her.
MICHI: And they make it very clear in her characterization that she loved her father, this is part of her wanting to do what he wanted because now that he’s gone, the company is her only connection left to her dead father. That, again, makes more sense. They drew that line much brighter for Joy and why she wants to fight for Rand Corp, versus Danny coming in and saying “Well, this is mine, I want this, because it’s mine.”
DAWN: It’s mine.
MICHI: It doesn’t make for a compelling reason to follow the hero. And again, I’m sitting here being like, this is… I’ve seen a lot of reviews, and I agree with a lot of the sentiment: This is supposed to be Iron Fist. This is a story about mystical martial arts. Of course his whole identity as a billionaire is part of the origin story.
DAWN: But now we’ve made the entire story about his identity as a billionaire, which is a problem.
MICHI: Yeah, and then there’s the idea that, like… a lot of the Netflix shows, which Dawn I don’t think you’ve seen, you haven’t seen Daredevil, you haven’t seen Jessica Jones yet…
DAWN: I’m behind on everything.
MICHI: What they do really well is that they set up these particular characters and make them seem like they are part of – this is what the world really looks like. They rarely reference what happened in The Avengers; they call it “the incident” because that’s what – y’know, aliens first fall from the sky, New York has a vast amount of damage that people are still recovering from.
DAWN: And you have a psychiatrist making a nice little reference to that as well.
MICHI: But what those shows do really well is that they ground those characters, but they don’t do that without sacrificing the core of the story. Jessica Jones is about surviving assault and learning how to live with that. You have Luke Cage coming in, and this is about Harlem, this is about finding his place in the community that has taken him in. With Daredevil…ehh, Daredevil I still have problems connecting with, but you still get to see Matt’s journey from becoming a vigilante to actually becoming Daredevil. I’m not… I can see how they’re trying to do that same grounding for Iron Fist in this-is-what-the-real-world-looks-like and making it more of a “here’s how we can fit a martial arts mystical superhero into the real world…”
DAWN: But four episodes in, we haven’t really seen anything mystical except that you see his fist glow a couple times. And then the way that they do the flashbacks, it seemed like they wanted to do something stylized, they do something on screen with him, lights, and kind of straight lines in front of Danny’s face every time he’s going to have a flashback, which makes it seem like something mystical is going to happen but actually it’s just a flashback at that point. So the only thing magical you’re getting is his fist.
MICHI: There’s a lot of set-up, and it’s not giving me payoff quick enough is what I feel like.
DAWN: And every episode at the end, too, it feels like they want to do that thing at the end where they leave you on a cliffhanger so you have to watch the next episode immediately. But again, because you don’t find the characters particularly compelling and because the story’s not particularly compelling, the cliffhanger just doesn’t really feel like a cliffhanger.
MICHI: No, and why… [sighs] We had to wait, what, three episodes before we finally got to the fact that the Hand shows up?
MICHI: And we don’t see the Hand, we hear a disembodied voice.
DAWN: Which could be cool, done in the right way. But somehow in this it’s falling a little bit flat as well.
MICHI: Yeah. I feel like they are taking too long to set things up. It is being dragged out, and I feel like they are focusing on the wrong things. They are focusing on the corporation, and again a lot of it really just doesn’t hook me because here again the way it’s framed, irrevocably, is another billionaire white guy who is fighting for a corporation. He can say it’s about getting his name back as much as he wants, but the way it’s being framed is, “we’re in boardrooms, we’re around a bunch of rich people,” and…
DAWN: He gets 51% of the shares of the company, and that’s a huge plot point.
MICHI: …and I. Don’t. Care. I don’t care. There’s no connection to Danny trying to understand his identity and reconnect with it. I don’t see that.
DAWN: And it also takes them about three episodes before they can even have all the characters agree, “Yes, this is Danny Rand.” As an audience member, you are very, very clear from the beginning, yes, this is going to be Danny Rand, so this should not be three episodes worth of exposition getting people to believe that he is Danny Rand. We should cover that really quickly towards the beginning how everybody realizes who he is. You’re waiting for it, you’re waiting for it, okay, people still don’t believe him, people still don’t believe him, people still don’t believe him, when are we going to something where we don’t already know how this is going to go. Because clearly, everybody’s going to believe he’s Danny Rand at some point, but it takes us three hours to get there.
MICHI: Yeah. The fact that when he finally decides to go to Hogarth, to be like “hey, so, y’know, I remember you,” he actually does it correctly! He gives her information that only she would know.
DAWN: And she asked the right questions! Which is also important. Somehow all of these characters are not asking questions that only he could respond to very properly.
MICHI: Yeah, or even when he approaches the Meachums for the first time, he’s just like “Oh no, you should totally remember me!”
DAWN: He just keeps saying “Oh, it’s me, it’s me, you should believe it’s me,” without offering proof. Well, these are the things I know that nobody else could know… until, again, we’re about three episodes in before he offers up some of these things.
MICHI: It is frustrating, because… also again the identity thing, is like, I’m even thinking about if this narrative, the way they’ve already written it, if it had been done with an Asian-American character, if an Asian-American playing Danny Rand, what it would mean for framing the idea that people are not believing him, how it would mean that they are reacting to his talking about “no, I’ve learned something mystical, I’ve acquired martial arts skills, there is something special about what I can do,” I’m thinking about how much it would even shift the conversation of “they don’t believe him” to “they don’t believe him plus they’re also looking down their noses at weird Eastern mysticism things.”
DAWN: Weird Eastern mysticism, coming from a white guy… feels very awkward.
MICHI: It feels very very awkward. And he can…
DAWN: The show’s incredibly Orientalist.
MICHI: All of these things when they’re coming out of Danny’s mouth, when he talks about, oh, Zen Buddhist saying here… talking to Colleen about how like, “oh, your form is bad, you should be trying this, you’re trying too hard, you’re spending too much energy…”
DAWN: There’s this great scene where he… he is depending on her for help, and he’s come into her studio, he’s sleeping on her floor in the corner, and then he decides somehow he needs to prove himself to her and they end up sparring a little bit. Where he’s mansplaining and whitesplaining to her, the person who you’ve seen be incredibly, incredibly competent as a martial artist, and who runs the dojo that he’s sleeping on the floor of, telling her how to do things and telling her how she’s bad at things. It was incredibly frustrating to me to watch. And of course because Iron Fist/Danny Rand has to be the main character and he has to be the best person at things, of course he wins that fight, which was also incredibly frustrating.
MICHI: See, he didn’t even need to win the fight. Watching that scene, I had to immediately compare it to the fight scene between Mako and Raleigh in Pacific Rim. Where they’re fighting each other to see how well they can actually mesh as partners.
DAWN: With mutual respect.
MICHI: Neither of them actually wins, it comes to a draw. And it’s not saying that Mako is any less than Raleigh. It means that they are equal but we get to see them spar, and they actually get the measure of each other in a way that is done respectfully. There is a way they could have done that scene, where Colleen recognizes that Danny actually does have skill without him having to A: white-dude-splain martial arts to her, and B: beat her. There was no reason why he had to be better than her.
DAWN: That’s the biggest problem with Danny Rand is that he has no respect for anybody.
MICHI: And that really is sort of, he is the walking epitome of white dude privilege in this. If they were doing this in a way that I think was turning that on its head, and showing that it would come to bite him in the ass…
DAWN: That would be interesting!
MICHI: Yeah! I mean, they might have that show….
DAWN: But we’re four hours in!
MICHI: …but we haven’t seen that at all. It is everything… and the fact that after he ‘splains to Colleen about how she should do martial arts, she actually uses some of that and realizes she can win fights that way.
DAWN: UGH, it reinforces that he is somehow better than she is. And, of course, he is better than everybody.
MICHI: I actually really enjoyed the scene where Colleen is showing Joy how to throw a punch correctly.
DAWN: That was actually really great.
MICHI: Yeah, I would actually like more of that! Because it was at least two women talking about things that have nothing to do with Danny, but it also gave some really cool character moments for both Joy and Colleen. We get to see more of her being sensei. We get to see that Joy is actually capable. Because we do get to see her throw a decent punch in the elevator fight scene, but then it has to be all about Danny because Danny is the hero. Getting to see more of those character interactions, or just getting to see that these characters are able to do things where they don’t have to rely on Danny to come in and save them is just… there’s so much, the show just feels really messy, I don’t think it even knows what kind of show it wants to be yet. There’s a lot of “let’s tease the Hand here, let’s show Danny doing martial arts here. Let’s show Colleen going into cage fights and being kick-ass,” and that’s giving us a little bit more about her character. Is she doing it because she really enjoys it now, is she doing it because she needs to make money..
DAWN: There is the implication that she’s doing it because she really does just feel the need to beat something as hard as possible, even though it’s violating a lot of her own principles. And also she needs the money.
MICHI: Frankly, after watching four episodes of this, I can relate to how Colleen feels because I would like to beat something really really really hard, and we are enduring this… because we are getting paid.
MICHI: I really relate to Colleen Wing at this point.
DAWN: Let’s go back and talk about the hashtag #AAIronFist and some of the missed opportunities. There are just so many missed opportunities that you could have had if you had just cast an Asian-American in the role of Iron Fist as opposed to – Michi coined the hashtag #MartialArtsMayo.
MICHI: Really, I love martial arts. I love martial arts as a genre for television, for storytelling.
DAWN: And you’ve done a little bit of martial arts yourself.
MICHI: The scenes where Colleen is leading the students in sword forms..l I took kendo for several years as a kid, and those scenes felt really real for me, where she’s just having them go count out in Japanese as they’re doing strikes. That felt real, to me. When Ward Meacham walks into a dojo and doesn’t take off his shoes because he’s trying to bribe Colleen, that at least makes sense for me because he is that kind of… douchebag.
DAWN: He is set up to be that. That is in character of him not taking his shoes off.
MICHI: Yes. He is Gordon Gekko the businessman douchebag who thinks he can walk in and own whatever he wants because he has money. The fact that Joy has taken off her shoes…
DAWN: …says a lot about her character also!
MICHI: Absolutely. And the fact that Danny walks in again, when he decides to white-dude-splain martial arts to the students, disrespecting the teacher, who is already there, because he doesn’t think the teacher is being hardass enough…
DAWN: And presumably, he’s had 15 years of training about how you should respect the person who is set up to be the teacher, whoever is in charge currently. And to respect the dojo and the space that you are in.
MICHI: I’ve read enough of the comics to understand that Iron Fist is supposed to be someone who knows responsibility. Who understands what his power means for him and what he’s supposed to do. The fact that Colleen has to yell at him and and say, “Oh, by the way, this place is a refuge for people who are escaping abuse.”
DAWN: Beat up in other places.
MICHI: They’re beat up in other places, and they should be able to come here and know that they can learn without being beat up, and you just fucked that.
DAWN: The irony, of course, is that he’s lecturing all the students about their lack of respect.
MICHI: I just… there are so many things that are inconsistent with the character, and that are clearly inconsistent with the character because they’re trying to move the narrative in a very specific direction. Danny is clearly… they’re trying to mesh the fact that Danny wants to take his name back with the corporation and dovetail that with his mission as Iron Fist to stand against the Hand. So of course the Hand is involved with Rand Corporation and he wants them out. Okay, that makes sense the two of those together.
DAWN: Although interestingly enough, they’ve set up this whole thing about how the Hand is really evil and how he has been training basically his entire life just to defeat the Hand, but he also doesn’t really understand that the Hand is real.
MICHI: I DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT! I just don’t!
DAWN: How the Hand is basically like a fairy tale, like the demons in the dark that are going to come to get you. So he is surprised when he finds out they are real. And he tells Joy Meacham that the entire reason he has been training to be Iron Fist was literally because basically he wanted to be better than the Asians at being Asian. They told him that he probably couldn’t do it, so he decided he needed to beat all of them. He refers to it as a job, getting the best job he could possibly get.
MICHI: Because he felt entitled, like, “I want that. I want that and I’m going to get that.” You cannot get more white-privileged-dudeish than that.
DAWN: And you could certainly set up that part in the story as something where now he is lost and he has nothing and so he finds his identity and working really hard in order to be this thing, but that’s not how this is playing out here. This is playing out, with the way that the story is written and the way that the actor is playing it, as “I’m just entitled and I want this and now it shall be mine.”
MICHI: You know, you even could have had that angle with an Asian-American Iron Fist. You could have had an Asian-American Danny Rand who is the son of privilege. And, I think it was Andrea Tang, had written this really really awesome blog entry where she was going, “What if?” What if Danny Rand was Asian-American, he was a son of privilege, he came from a family that was heavily assimilated, that gave up speaking the language at home, that fully assimilated into white culture. What happens when you grow up like that? And you are torn between wanting to fit in with the white kids who are still laughing at the other Asian kids at your school, and saying “Oh, well, hey, you’re not like that, right?” and you’re like eeeeh, what can you do? And so he still has those markers of feeling entitled because he is rich. Because he grew up in those circles. But that’s also tempered with: What does it feel like when you are trying desperately to fit in and not feeling like you fit in anywhere? They’re still trying to have White Danny Rand do this, he’s doesn’t feel like he fits in clearly because he sucks at corporate culture, he doesn’t know how to talk to the board members…
DAWN: He’s the opposite of corporate culture.
MICHI: He doesn’t know how to dress, he doesn’t know how to speak the language…
DAWN: He doesn’t realize he needs to wear shoes.
MICHI: So I would like to point out this: that one of the justifications that the producers for the show have given, saying “well, Danny Rand has to be a fish out of water,” the implication being that you cannot be Asian and be a fish out of water around other Asians…
DAWN: I was born in Asia, and I feel like a fish out of water going back to Asia.
MICHI: You’ve talked about this, when you’ve gone back to Singapore, you’re constantly having to re-learn traditions that you don’t do here.
DAWN: I’ve had to re-learn etiquette, even. I have to re-learn what it means to show respect. The way that respect plays out in different cultures manifests itself very differently from place to place. I mean, I’ve talked about how, when I go to Singapore, I have to know that, okay, now in order to show respect to my grandmother and show her that I care about her and that I love her, I’m supposed to take food from the communal plates in the center and put it on her plate. And that is a measure of caring, a measure of love. This would be very, very weird to do in an American setting. People would be like, “Why are you putting food on my plate? I can put food on my plate myself, that’s fine.”
MICHI: Well see, that’s the thing. We haven’t seen Danny be fish-out-of-water in K’un-Lun at all. The way we’ve seen him be fish-out-of-water is around other white people in the board. So why would an Asian or an Asian-American Iron Fist not be a believable fish out of water around other Asian people, but white Danny Rand is quite a believable, relatable fish out of water around other rich white people. Why is that an okay fish out of water setup? Because that’s what he really is. When he walks in, he doesn’t really know how to talk to the Meachams any more, he doesn’t know how to work in business, even Hogarth is looking at him like, “yeah, no, you don’t know what you’re doing, this is not how you talk to people.”
DAWN: [laughing] “So you just sign the paperwork.”
MICHI: Or even saying look, if you want to win back your company, you need to learn how to speak this language. She makes it very clear that he has no idea what he’s doing. And okay, that works! But why wouldn’t it work with an Asian-American?
DAWN: And there would be this aspect if we had an Asian-American in the role, also dealing with what it means to have your culture, what it means to learn about what your culture is even supposed to be. There’s a news flash! Not all Asians speak an Asian language. I can’t actually… I am a singer-songwriter, I sing in Mandarin Chinese, English, and French, but I actually can’t speak Chinese. I can sing in it, but I can’t speak in it. And frankly, if I were going to speak Chinese in a home environment, it would have been Cantonese, it wouldn’t even have been Mandarin. Which is not something someone comes up to me on the street speaking. People come up to me on the street and like to speak Mandarin to me as though I can understand what it means.
MICHI: I have had very awkward conversations with random strangers in Chicago because there is a large Filipino population here, and if somebody else is like, oh, if another Filipino manages to note that I am also Filipino and they’ll start talking to me in Tagalog and I’m like, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak Tagalog” in a smattering of words… I never learned. Because my parents never taught me. It was, “You need to know English, you need to be able to speak without an accent. You need to do this in order to fit in.”
DAWN: And for me, Singapore actually, a lot of people in Singapore speak English natively. My dad speaks English as a native speaker and he is Chinese and he was born in Asia and spent most of his life there. There are these assumptions that Americans make, especially in terms of these people who are making these movies and making films and TV shows, that somehow Asians have to fall into some particular thing that they think all Asians are. And that’s not… the Asian-American experience is not a monolith, we all come from very, very different places. You might have somebody who is very comfortable speaking Mandarin Chinese all the time. You might not!
MICHI: The fact that Danny is speaking Mandarin in this, it is not… it’s another way to show that he’s special. He’s a white guy who speaks Mandarin, he is a white guy who knows how to do martial arts, in fact he is the best martial artist ever, because he is the mystical Iron Fist. There is so much about that that is just insulting, and erasing.
DAWN: It really feels like they just keep sprinkling these things in, not as though this is really a character thing that somehow he’s really been immersed in this culture and this is just kind of how he thinks. It really feels like this imposition by the writers to just throw in little tidbits of things all over the place to remind you somehow he’s spent 15 years somewhere in the exotic East.
MICHI: The things that ring true to me when he did them in the show were when he’s, like, sitting on this big opulent bed, and he takes the bedspread and he puts it on the floor. Because that’s what he’s used to sleeping on. That actually read ‘real’ to me because this is how he’s lived for 15 years, that’s what he’s now comfortable with. I got that bit. That was one of the few things that felt honest about taking his experiences in K’un-Lun and showing how that affects how he interacts with the world when he comes back to New York. Everything else though, the dropping Zen witticisms here, or Buddhist wisdom there…
DAWN: By the way, Asians totally go around dropping Zen Buddhist things all the time.
MICHI: Oh, yeah! We talked about this… don’t I always talk like that? I mean, we’re talking in metaphor constantly with mystical wisdoms, where you’re just having to sit there and interpret what we said.
DAWN: Magical Asian people!
MICHI: I don’t know about you, but i’m totally magic.
DAWN: I wear a lot of glitter, so I sparkle a lot?
MICHI: It is really… there is so much about this show that is frustrating, and I’ve been frustrated with it before we even saw the episodes, but I really wanted to be surprised. I really, really did. I would have loved nothing more than to have been proven wrong about what I thought this show was going to be like. And the thing that really galls me is that this isn’t even so terrible that I can laugh at it, it’s just… boring!
DAWN: It’s just bad. We were just talking about how it’s not even fun-bad, it’s just bad-bad.
MICHI: There’s so much. The narrative is a mess, it’s very slow, and not in a way that’s giving you a slow burn.
DAWN: Slow in that it just feels like it drags, a lot. Because they won’t get through the things you know they need to get through in order to tell you something a little bit more interesting that maybe you don’t know yet.
MICHI: And I know… we’re four episodes in, that means we have… [sighs] what, nine more? I think? To go? To get to 13?
DAWN: Yup. Yup.
MICHI: This is going to be hard! It’s going to be really hard and the thing is like, I would keep watching it, just for Colleen, I want to see more of Colleen’s character development.
DAWN: Colleen is fantastic. I’m really also looking forward to Lewis Tan showing up whenever he finally shows up.
MICHI: [laughing] I’ve heard we have to wait for episode 8 for Lewis Tan to actually show up. I actually… we finally got to see glimpses of Madame Gao. As soon as she showed up in Daredevil, she was immediately one of the most interesting characters to me because they made her multilayered. You actually get to see a older woman, an older Asian woman, who is deceptively diminutive, who is really cunning and complex, so I want to see more of her. And again, I feel like, y’know I will say that they were actually correct in that the women so far in Iron Fist are the best thing about the show.
DAWN: Definitely the best thing about the show. But that still does not make it actually a feminist show.
DAWN: The filmmakers seem to think they did their jobs making it a feminist show somehow by writing women characters that are really awesome. The problem is that the women characters in general are so much more competent than the men that you actually just watch it getting incredibly frustrated about why they are not in charge instead.
MICHI: Absolutely. Again, I am Hogarth, walking in, being like, “You are all messing up. What the hell is wrong with you? You are doing this wrong, give me your shit, let me take care of it.” The fact that she looks at Danny, I think in episode three or four because they’re all blending together, she is like, “You have been given a rare opportunity. Don’t mess this up.” That is what we were all saying to Marvel about Iron Fist is that you have an opportunity to really take a character that had very troublesome, Orientalist, white-savior origins…
DAWN: And you could have done something awesome with it.
MICHI: You could have done something with this! And… you didn’t. You could have given us a show that still would have awesome martial arts, that still had a really cool character that is a fish out of water, who is learning to reconnect with his identity.
DAWN: You could have had a show that had given us a show that could have given us a different dimension for Asian-Americans on TV.
MICHI: And instead, we have Martial Arts Mayo. Which, I’m never going to get [laughing]. That’s what this is! This is the blandest interpretation of what martial arts can be in a show. It’s not doing anything to advance the characters, it’s just like well hey, we’re gonna have a couple of fights, we’ll show that Danny knows how to do martial arts… but there’s no passion behind it.
DAWN: Right, and a fight scene really isn’t very interesting to watch if it’s not motivated by character, or motivated by the story. The problem is, none of these fight scenes… with a few exceptions, there are some exceptions to this, but for the most part the fight scenes aren’t really motivated by something emotional happening in the story. And they don’t give you anything about character except to make you more frustrated about how Danny is condescending and has no respect for anybody.
MICHI: [under her breath] Yeeeeeeah.
DAWN: And the fight scenes with him actually end up extra-frustrating even though whoever’s doing the fighting in them, for him, is clearly competent enough in that.
MICHI: Nine more episodes to go… we’re going to need a lot more cake. And a lot more wine. And we’re going to have at least two more of these audio episodes for it, so…
DAWN: And the last audio episode, we are planning to do this sort of a… we can’t call it Mystery Science Theater-style, but we will be doing an audio track along with it, that you can watch, and we’ll quite frankly probably end up doing a drinking game because this is just kind of right for that, and I don’t even do drinking games.
MICHI: I know that there is a literal dragon coming up in the story. And I just don’t know… I want it to be good, I really do, I feel like there’s going to be a lot of yelling at the TV…
DAWN: There’s going to be yelling at the TV literally five minutes into this, for reference.
MICHI: You know, yelling with a mouthful of cake. At least there was cake.
DAWN: At least there was cake!
MICHI: There was cake. Cake made things better.
DAWN: So. Episodes 1 through 4. Where would you rate this on a ten-point scale, so far?
MICHI: I’m gonna be generous and say three?
MICHI But the episodes overall, yeah, this was a three. However? Colleen Wing? Jeri Hogarth? And honestly, Joy Meachum? They get a seven.
DAWN: I’m actually going to give this show a four. The extra point because of those characters, they are really fantastic.
MICHI: All I can say after watching this: Marvel, please, please, for the love of everything, give us Daughters of the Dragon. Give us Misty Knight and Colleen Wing together. Have Jeri Hogarth show up because she’s frickin’ awesome! If there’s a way to work Joy Meachum into that, because they’ve gotta fund this whole thing some way, that’d be great, just give us Daughters of the Dragon because that’d go a long way towards making up for this giant #MartialArtsMayo sandwich.
DAWN: And with that, this is Dawn Xiana Moon…
MICHI: And this is Michi Trota…
DAWN: And we will see you soon, for part two!