In part 2 of a 3-series audio review, Dawn Xiana Moon and Michi Trota continue their review of Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix, covering episodes 5-9. Sadly there was no cake, but there were plenty of facepalms (and cocktails). Part 3 will cover episodes 10-13, with a special additional audio track of Dawn and Michi reviewing Iron Fist’s finale.
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Transcription provided by Beth Voigt
MICHI: Welcome to The Learned Fangirl’s Hold the #MartialArtsMayo: A Review of Iron Fist, Part 2 of 3. I’m Michi Trota…
DAWN: I’m Dawn Xiana Moon…
MICHI: …and we have watched episodes, now, 5 through 9 of Iron Fist. If you want to hear a review of episodes 1 through 4, of you can check out Part 1 of our Hold the #MartialArtsMayo review. I’m Michi Trota, managing editor for Uncanny, a magazine of science fiction and fantasy, and also board president of Chicago Nerd Social Club. I am also a Filipina-American, born and raised in the U.S.
DAWN: I’m Dawn Xiana Moon. I am the founder and producer/director of Raks Geek, which is a nerd-themed bellydance and fire performance company. I am also a Chinese-American woman who was born in Singapore and moved to Michigan when I was five years old. And I am a huge nerd, have been immersed in nerd culture my whole life.
MICHI: [laughs] But this is the first introduction that you’ve had to Iron Fist as a character, the whole series, right?
DAWN: This is my first introduction to Iron Fist.
MICHI: So, how do we feel about Iron Fist episodes 5 through 9. Has it improved since episode 4?
DAWN: It has not improved! It is a really hard show to watch, not just because of issues like cultural appropriation or anything along those lines, but it’s hard to watch because it is… boring, and the writing is bad.
MICHI: I feel like the show is really ambitious in the things it is trying to do. It’s trying to evoke a lot of different things, it’s trying to be a sort of kitschy, 80s boardroom drama with martial arts and ninjas sprinkled in, and none of these parts are fitting together.
DAWN: It kind of wants to be a video game at points. It also doesn’t realize that watching drama about a business and whether or not you’re making it to meetings is fundamentally not super-interesting in a martial arts movie.
MICHI: They could have made it interesting if they were focusing on one thing or the other, but I feel like they are trying to squash two things together that don’t necessarily work and they’re not integrating all of the different parts of these stories. It’s just very, very narratively messy
DAWN: The characters are sorely, sorely underdeveloped. So many times you see the characters doing something that’s interesting, and it’s like “Great, great, this is great, we’re getting something interesting out of this character, and then you see the hand of the writer come in as if it’s deus ex machina. “Now, you shall do this. Now, Colleen, you shall fall in love with Danny Rand even though we haven’t actually built up to that in any way at all.”
MICHI: Ohh, we’re gonna have so many things to say about that. It feels like the episodes are far longer than those 45 minutes. There are so many things that they are focusing on that don’t need to be dragged out…
DAWN: I keep wanting to say it’s a movie because every episode literally feels like it’s 2 hours long.
MICHI: [laughing] It does. They do feel like the longest 45 minutes I’ve sat through for an episode.
DAWN: It is a serious issue.
MICHI: The pacing and the characterization continue to be two of my biggest problems with the series. I mean, we’re taking it as a given that the cultural appropriation issues and the fact that Danny Rand is a rich, white business mogul who doesn’t know how to be a business mogul, we’re just leaving that aside.
DAWN: From the perspective of storytelling, there are things that it makes sense to linger on and there are things that you kind of want to speed through quickly. The audience already knows he’s Danny Rand, you don’t need to spend three episodes trying to convince us and everybody else that he’s Danny Rand. You should speed through that really quickly so you can get to things that are more interesting, so you can get to things that your audience doesn’t know is going to happen.
MICHI: There had been a lot of talk with the producers saying that “Well, this is about Danny being a fish out of water.” And a lot of the references to him being a fish out of water has been “He’s a fish out of water in K’un-Lun. He’s a white guy learning martial arts.” We are now nine episodes in, and we have seen nothing of K’un-Lun.
DAWN: Almost nothing.
MICHI: We’ve seen his Obi-Wan Kenobi-ish relationship with his teacher, apparently, in, what was that… episode 6? Or episode 7? They all blend together, it’s hard to know…
DAWN: With other series you might say, “Okay, everything is merging together, it’s telling this nice, cohesive story. In this case everything is merging together in a really muddy way, because it feels really distracting.
MICHI: It’s very muddy. And, talking about the outsider aspect, the only way we’ve seen Danny be an outsider is, “But he’s a rich white guy who doesn’t know how to act around other people who are also white.”
DAWN: And we’re in New York City. The argument that he wouldn’t be able to do this if he was an Asian-American going to even a mythical Asian city doesn’t hold water because we are now nine episodes in and all we’ve seen is Danny in New York City.
MICHI: Yeah, leaving aside the one quick trip to China, where, unless they had told me that it was in China, I wouldn’t have known it was China. The one thing they are continually being consistent on is that Danny is continually naive and clueless in a way that is not endearing. I think that is… what they were trying to do with him? Because we are meant to relate to and empathize with Danny feeling like he doesn’t know where he fits in and he doesn’t know modern cultural customs. But it’s coming off as entitled, as thoughtless, as condescending, and for all the talk of the importance of respect and self-control, he is showing very little of that. There is no self-awareness in what he is doing.
DAWN: He doesn’t respect anybody. From Colleen, who is a very capable fighter and who he is continuously gaslighting, he doesn’t respect. The secretary who is working in his office… he literally at one point sits on her desk, looks at her and says, “You have to do everything that I tell you to do, right? If I want something, you have to do it.” And she responds, because she is that kind of… she’s like, “Yeah? More or less?” Which is really just one step away from workplace harassment.
MICHI: Yeah, just the optics of having Rich White Guy treating his secretary, who is a woman of color, who is a Black woman, with that sort of…
DAWN: He does it also to two different scientists, who are Black.
MICHI: Yeah. And just the way that he relates to a lot of the women around him who are really propping his ass up. The secretary is the one who notices before he goes into a board meeting like, “oh, yeah, you’ve got… your shirt is stained. You can’t go into the meeting like that, come with me. Let me take you into your office that has a closet that is full of clothes that apparently you don’t even know that is there…”
DAWN: …because she is capable, because she is probably the one who has put them there…
MICHI: And she is the one basically saving face. Helping him save face before he goes in for a corporate board meeting, where of course he decides to just step all over everybody. I can’t really blame the board for being pissed off at him! Even if his motives are heroic, “yes, we should make our corporation do the right thing,” the way that he is stepping over people whose respect he has not earned, I have to sympathize with the board a little more.
DAWN: You can’t go into an environment and expect people to listen to you when you haven’t listened to them. When you haven’t done your homework, you haven’t proved that you know what you’re talking about. Which is exactly what he’s doing: he comes in, he hasn’t bothered to go to meetings, there’s actually a very, very fine point about him continually missing meetings through these episodes. And it’s important that he goes to the meetings, but he keeps skipping the meetings. And then he goes into a board meeting and makes these unilateral decisions, which he barely gets away with because he’s 51 percent of the shares of the company.
MICHI: He’s spent the first four episodes telling us how much RandCorp means to him. How this was his home, this was his family’s legacy. This is the last connection he has to his parents. We don’t see Danny caring about the corporation, we don’t see him caring about it in terms of wanting to learn what the day-to-day operations are, learning the names of his employees, actually being a responsible corporate steward. He’s going off about, like, “Well, we should have the corporation Do The Right Thing.” But you are not learning how the company works in order to actually make that happen, instead of just dropping dictates whenever you feel like.
DAWN: If you want to make real change, you have to get buy-in from all of the other people as well. They’ve been there for a long time, they might have something to teach you! You should respect that! And if he’s continuously talking about respect, so he should know that in this environment, also, you have to earn respect. You do that by listening to people, by showing that you’ve studied… you can go into a board meeting and say “Okay, I understand the company has had this position because of these things…” I mean, there’s things that you can do to show that you’ve done your homework, he does absolutely none of that. Instead, he’s spending his time chasing after other things. He even buys an Aston Martin car to prove that he’s cool now because he’s got the fastest car, the most expensive car you can have. He’s all excited because now he’s got this credit card that means he can spend lots of money on anything. If anybody calls Danny out on something now, he says… basically, he wants to throw money at all of the problems.
MICHI: Danny feels like he’s actually the other… he is of a similar character as Ward.
DAWN: He’s Ward, but under developed.
DAWN: He’s Ward but he doesn’t actually understand what is at stake or how to play the game.
MICHI: Because both Ward and Danny are actually very entitled male characters. They are completely reliant on the women around them to keep them from fucking up.
DAWN: Ward actually comes off as more sympathetic, because you realize that his father has pushed him so hard to do a lot of things that he did not want to do, and that he wanted a different life for himself but he was never given that as an option. Danny, on the other hand, waltzes in and behaves really in a very very similar way to Ward, who is already set up to be someone that you as an audience member are not supposed to like or want to emulate. Danny is supposed to be somebody that you like, Danny is supposed to be someone you want to emulate, he’s supposed to come off in the beginning as naive and then, theoretically, I would think, supposed to grow throughout that and you’re supposed to follow his journey. But instead you just see him continually being a really, really entitled white male to everybody around him, and other people propping him up. And it’s extremely frustrating to watch. I was watching the first couple of episodes in this chunk that we were reviewing with somebody who is a cis white man. And he was also yelling at the TV because he couldn’t stand how entitled Danny was being.
MICHI: I wish that the writers had exercised more thoughtfulness in how to portray Danny as wanting to do the right thing and maybe bumbling about it. Because he’s not… we’re not asking for a perfect hero. And it just continually seems as if the show doesn’t know what kind of story that it wants to tell. Does it want to tell a boardroom drama with really fucked up family dynamics? Does it want to tell the story about someone trying to balance his responsibility and destiny with the identity that so means a lot to him. I think it’s episode 6 where Danny is really sitting there… the whole episode is really supposed to be about his warring desire to be Danny Rand, and to also be the Iron Fist, and with all of those things that come into play.
DAWN: We don’t actually know who Danny Rand is. We don’t actually know who Iron Fist is. And we are nine episodes in at this point, and the characters will literally say, “I don’t know what Iron Fist is,” and we as audience members are saying “Yes, yes, we are with you, we don’t know what Iron Fist is either! Because you haven’t told us! And we’re nine episodes in!”
MICHI: And there’s the line where he is saying “Of course, this is what I’m supposed to do. This is my destiny. I am the Iron Fist.”
DAWN: What is your destiny!? We still don’t know what your destiny is!
MICHI: And Claire Temple looks at him, she’s like, “I don’t even know what that means!” and… none of us do, Claire. None of us do. It’s just such a complete… y’know, there’s a lot of assumptions about, we should know what Iron Fist is. [skip in track?] Don’t know what any of that is! Then the episodes drop a couple of pieces of information like oh, actually, the Iron Fist is also supposed to guard the gates to K’un-Lun, which means Danny has deserted his post. He’s deserted the responsibility that he has talked up in previous episodes, how badly he wanted it even though people were telling him he wouldn’t be worthy. So why do you do that?
DAWN: There is so much telling instead of showing in this show. That’s the principle axiom of storytelling is you show, you don’t tell. The entire series has been an exercise in telling the audience. You tell the audience that Iron Fist is supposed to be something interesting and cool and mystical and don’t actually show what that means except for his hand glowing once in awhile. You tell the audience, Danny literally says, and I’m going to quote this, episode 8, Danny Rand says, “I’ve spent the last 15 years learning to control my body, my mind, and my emotions.” This is a huge theme, he continuously is telling us how he has learned to control his emotions. Almost every single time after telling us he’s learned to control his emotions, he shows us that he has no control whatsoever over his emotions. In fact, in that same episode 8, he’s on a plane, the women have to talk him into how to control your emotions when you’re on the plane and freaking out.
MICHI: That plane scene, to me, was one of the few moments in this block of episodes where that actually felt like a real moment for Danny. Where I could honestly buy somebody who has trained his whole life in order to learn how to control himself, where he’s thrown back into a situation that’s so deeply evocative of that massive moment of trauma where he would have what amounted to a panic attack. That actually felt real to me, and I wish that there was more of that. Because that could have been a moment where he’s learning how to depend on and work with other people, but that’s not how it works.
DAWN: That’s the problem for me. By the time we got to that airplane scene, which could have been something that was good, we had gone already through the airplane scene probably a good ten times. They reference the plane accident probably one or two times every single episode, and by the time that happened we were already at episode 8. So we’ve been beating the airplane scene to death, so that now that I actually see him in an airplane scene in a spot where it might be appropriate for him to have that sort of reaction, i was done. I was really, really tired of rehashing the airplane accident. By the time we were in the airplane, where, again, it might have made sense to lose emotional control at that point, we’ve seen Danny saying, pretty much again in every episode, “I have this incredible control over my emotions, that’s why I can be the Iron Fist, I work to control my emotions and I’m better than everybody else at this,” but every single time after he says that he shows us really promptly how he has zero control over his emotions. So, for me, the airplane scene didn’t really work because we’ve already beat some of those other things into the ground in other places and shown that this isn’t really true for this character any more.
MICHI: There are some very simple fixes that they could have done with that.
DAWN: Very simple.
MICHI: Even if you need to have Danny say things about, like, “This is what I learned to do in order to become the Iron Fist. I had to learn control,” it could have been said and framed in a way where you still get the sense that this is a constant struggle. It’s not like, Oh, I have attained this perfection of control, therefore I’m fine. Because this is hard for me being back home and having all of these things confronting me that I didn’t have to be immediately confronted with when I was training in K’un-Lun.
DAWN: Instead, the impression that you get is that Danny has attained perfect control, and somehow now in New York City, every single time you see him he’s got no control whatsoever. You expect that he’s behaved this way in K’un-Lun as well, so it just comes off this way as the character saying he has control and you never, ever see that he has true control.
MICHI: The inconsistency with the characterization, I think, is one of the weakest points of the series as we’ve seen it so far. The character motivations are controlling the narrative as opposed to the characterization. Who is Danny Rand? I still really don’t know aside from, he really wants to do the right thing, but he’s clueless, and he really just misses his parents, and all of these things that are inconsistent with him telling us “I had to learn how to do X, Y and Z in order to become the Iron Fist.” There’s no sense of him having any self-control, it’s all coming off as “I am the Enlightened White Man who has gone to the Mystic East, and now that I have come back, all of your petty Western concerns like money and running a corporation are things that are beneath me.”
DAWN: Except that he promptly spends time trying to become the one who’s running a corporation and issues dictates to the board of the corporation, and then goes out and buys himself the fanciest car that he can come up with.
MICHI: Again, character consistency!
DAWN: I actually don’t… so Michi is seeing this as character inconsistency in Danny. I actually see it as incredibly consistent. Because if you took away the narrative implying that you should listen to Danny when he says that he’s got a lot of emotional control, if you were just to take that as him saying he has emotional control and you weren’t expected to believe that he has control and you weren’t expected to believe he didn’t care about money, all of his actions show he actually really does care about money. All his actions show he has zero control over his emotions.
MICHI: If they were trying to make a statement about the hypocrisy of that enlightened – not that enlightened, but that white guy who thinks that he’s enlightened because he studied Buddhism and he’s leaning martial arts…
DAWN: [unintelligible in background]
MICHI: You could have turned that into something of a commentary and a satirization of that kind of character. But I don’t think that’s what the show is trying to do.
DAWN: The narrative angle is clearly that Danny is good at all of these things. It’s clearly that Danny is selfless in all of these ways, but Danny is not. Danny is the epitome of the… any sort of problems that you can find with liberal, white men. So, it’s the liberal white man who thinks that he’s got everything figured out, he’s an ally, he’s progressive, he really believes in helping people, that women are smart and strong and capable and competent…
MICHI: …unless they question him. Because let’s talk about how… yes.
DAWN: I’m making air quotes here but you can’t see.
MICHI: Let’s talk about how frankly kickass all the women are in this show. Because they are clearly propping up the men who are supposed to be in positions of power. At this point, I think Harold Meachum is the only male character who isn’t relying on women to keep his ass out of the fire. Poor Joy is trying to deal with her increasingly drug abusing and paranoid hallucinating brother and is also sticking her neck out for her childhood friend who keeps saying that he cares about the company but can’t be bothered to deal with any of the day-to-day runnings and making sure the company doesn’t fall into the ground and that he’s still able to maintain position. And Joy loses, because she’s trying to prop both of these men up.
DAWN: She’s fighting the battle of three people on her own. At one point she literally says, “I think I’m the only one who cares about this company,” and yes, that’s true, Joy, literally nobody else cares.
MICHI: Joy, we totally feel for you, you are literally the only one who cares about this company.
DAWN: The love scenes between Colleen Wing and Danny Rand are so incredibly grating. It feels like watching the prequels from Star Wars, where you’ve got the love scenes between Padme and Anakin that also feel similarly unmotivated. So when we left her in episode 4, Colleen mostly thought that Danny was… still not really good at almost anything but she was still willing to stick her neck out for him. They were starting to become friends. I would give them actually starting a real friendship at that point. However, we somehow or other we started episode 5 with her making pining eyes at him as soon as he walked into the door. Again, he walks into the dojo with shoes on, and she’s making moon eyes at him. It comes absolutely out of nowhere, there’s no motivation for her thinking he’s anything but halfway screwed up, but now suddenly she apparently thinks he’s amazing.
MICHI: Colleen’s character is consistent up until the point that the narrative needs her to not be who they’ve told us that she is so far.
DAWN: It’s as though you can see the hand of the writer… [laughing]
MICHI: The invisible hand of the writer is coming in and, like, “Nope, I am going to make you dance like a puppet even though it is against the type of character that we’ve already built for you.
DAWN: And in all fairness, Jessica Henwick tries really, really hard to make us believe these things! But I just can’t believe them. Because they don’t fit everything they’ve set up Colleen Wing to be. And you still, even after that point, you still get these glimpses of who Colleen Wing is as they’ve shown us who she is… and then the hand of the writer comes back in again to make her say something silly to Danny about how she thinks that he’s really great now.
MICHI: The parts where Colleen is talking about feeling conflicted that she doesn’t want to enjoy what it feels like when she’s fighting somebody, but she does…
DAWN: Those ring true.
MICHI: Yes. Those ring true. Like, I want to see more of that! So, if that is a motivation for her being more open to working with Danny, it’s because… she’s like, I don’t want to like fighting, but I feel more alive when I do and I feel like it’s giving me some sort of purpose. Okay, yes, that’s great, can we see some more…? Noooo, we’re just going to go back to her… it transitions from her wanting to be more involved with what Danny’s doing because it’s giving her some kind of mission, something that she can believe in, and an outlet for her, to “I’m doing this because I have a thing for you and you’re really cute.”
DAWN: Which doesn’t make any sense, especially with the… there’s this whole setup about how Danny is supposed to be celibate. He talks about celibacy. The implication is that he has vowed to be celibate since he started living with the monks. He probably never really had a chance to explore any sort of even adolescent naive sort of sexuality. It’s as though he’s never had any of that, he says he doesn’t know what to do with girls… He’s got no experience in this area, and it’s set up to be something that he has vowed to do, is to stay celibate.
MICHI: He’s already broken his vow to defend K’un-Lun, so I guess might as well… in for a penny, in for a pound.
DAWN: So Colleen, who is somebody who really, really believes in respect, and believes in not pushing people’s boundaries in a way that is disrespectful, she immediately makes moves after him. Which is something that I believe she would do, because she’s that kind of character, except for the fact that he tells her outright that he has made a vow to celibacy. It’s kind of like going after the guy who is married and saying, “oh, it’s fine, he’s married, I can still try to get him to sleep with me.” That’s not respectful!
MICHI: If we had seen a little bit more of that… that is one aspect of the narrative I actually would like to have seen drawn out more. There are things that they’re drawing out in the series that don’t need to be drawn out. The evolution of Colleen and Danny’s friendship into a romantic relationship…
DAWN: …would have been great to spend more time on.
MICHI: Yeah, absolutely. Because it could have been a struggle with Danny saying, “well, I’ve already broken one part of my vow by leaving K’un-Lun, and I don’t… I’m really attracted to you but I don’t know how to feel about this. I’m having a struggle with it.” And her being like, “okay, well, I’m really attracted to you too, but I don’t want you to be any more uncomfortable and break any more vows because I respect the things that you have done.”
DAWN: There’s never any romantic tension between them. What happens immediately is, he says that he has taken a vow of celibacy, she says she wants him to stay, suddenly they’re kissing and a couple of minutes later they’ve had sex. This is an incredibly, incredibly fast sort of transition for someone who’s supposedly taken a vow of celibacy.
MICHI: It feels like the sex scene that they shoved into the show because obviously these two characters have to be attracted to each other and naturally it’s going to lead to sex. I’m like, okay, so, it can lead to sex, I don’t necessarily see a problem with that, but it gets…
DAWN: Not in two minutes flat.
MICHI: It doesn’t feel earned. It is not a relationship that feels earned. I’m going to compare it to some of the stuff that I saw in Daredevil season 1, where it is… Claire actually was involved with Matt Murdoch in season 1. That actually was a little bit more earned. And even though it didn’t work out, obviously because we’re seeing her over here, it still, their relationship felt very organic. The problems that came up in that relationship because of who they are and because Matt has so, so many issues as Daredevil, that still felt real. I just felt like it shortchanged both Danny and Colleen as characters to throw them into bed together that fast. I don’t have a problem with them falling into bed together, but not when it hasn’t been earned.
DAWN: Here, again, it just feels like the hand of the writer saying, “oh, we have Colleen Wing, and she’s supposed to fall in love with Danny Rand and Danny’s supposed to fall for her, so let’s just put them together.” That’s not how it works!
MICHI: It shortchanges, again, Colleen, particularly, because she’s really a damn good character. And I love the fact that the show has actually been passing the Bechdel Test pretty well. We’ve had scenes with Joy and Colleen talking to each other about fighting. They talk about Danny a little bit, but the first time we see them really interacting, Colleen is showing Joy how to throw punches, correctly. And when we see Colleen and Claire together for the first time, it’s very clear that they are friends, Colleen has been training Claire…
DAWN: They have a shared history…
MICHI: …they are comfortable with each other. It is wonderful to see two women of color, particularly, having that kind of friendship where, look, these are two women who are very competent. Who both know how to fight. They are not identical, they have two viewpoints. At one point Claire is trying to argue with Danny that look, you cannot take a life. I understand there is defending people and sometimes things happen, but you cannot purposefully take a life. And then you have Colleen saying, “Weeeeell, Madame Gao’s a really kind of a terrible person, aaaaand it just might actually be the most pragmatic thing to do.” They’re allowed to have two different viewpoints and that’s great…
DAWN: Makes it even stranger because you have built up this friendship between the two of them so that when Colleen is presumably asleep, she’s got headphones in and she’s lying down on the airplane, that for some reason Claire just sidles up to Danny, who she barely knows at that point and certainly doesn’t seem like she trusts very well, and she’s like…
MICHI: “Yo, Danny Rand got sooooooome…!”
DAWN: Literally says, “Danny Rand got some.” This is a completely inappropriate conversation to have. We would have believed it if Claire and Colleen had had a conversation about her funny relationship with Danny, but not going to Danny and saying, “Ay, you got some.”
MICHI: And it feels like that kind of scene happened because the show is… about Danny. And the only reason that scene happens is because the narrative is completely focused on Danny. And it shows how much, like, the producers can say all they want about “but we have strong female characters, this is a super feminist show!” It’s not feminist…
DAWN: It’s definitely not feminist.
MICHI: …if your female characters are still there to be in service of the male narrative. I mean, to be fair, Claire particularly has a decent amount of agency given. She’s the one who is constantly voicing all of the things that are in my head watching the show, like…
DAWN: She’s the Seven of Nine of the series. When i was watching Voyager while it was on the air, I used to literally yell something at the TV, and then Seven of Nine would say it and I was so happy because somebody was at least saying these things. So here, you have Claire being in that role, she actually says the thing that you, as an audience member, are screaming at the TV because the characters are doing something stupid. And then for some reason, half a second later, she’ll decide that she has to follow Danny anyway no matter what, and that change is also very awkward and you feel the writers coming in, and so being “okay, she has to be on his side,” and you’ve got Danny constantly saying, both to her and to Colleen, “Are you on my side?” after he’s talked them into doing something that… he keeps putting them in situations that are dangerous and that they have not actually agreed to be in.
MICHI: And the concerns that they bring up, every time they’re in these situations, they’re totally legit. They’re like, “hey… do you have a plan about what to do, after you… assuming we catch Madame Gao, what are we going to do afterward? Where are we taking her? What are we going to do?” and he’s like, “I don’t know, I’m gonna figure it out! Don’t you trust me?” Ummmm….
DAWN: And then they say yes! Because they have to say yes, because the show’s about Danny Rand.
MICHI: [sighs] Whereas it would be completely respectable and totally within character for the two of them to say, “Look, we want to trust you, but you kind of have to give us a plan because you are asking us to risk our lives.”
DAWN: And for people who watch Doctor Who, this is not the same situation where the Doctor doesn’t have a plan to begin with and manages somehow to bumble into one and work it out so it’s incredible… Danny’s not that good.
MICHI: The Doctor has a proven track record of being like, “Look, I will pull something out of my ass at the last minute.”
DAWN: Danny doesn’t have that track record, and he also doesn’t deliver. Interestingly for me, the most interesting things that we have seen so far are generally the things that you don’t have much of Danny Rand in. The end of… kind of midway through episode 9, towards the end, there’s very little Danny Rand. And those are some of the most interesting scenes, where you see Harold Meachum coming into his own a little bit in his second incarnation as… something that’s… a little bit less human and a little bit less caring even than he was even before. And the person he was before was willing to chop up two dead guys on his carpet.
MICHI: Everything with Harold Meachum is just making me think of Pet Sematary. The first scene of the episode, 9, where he revives in the swamp, I just keep thinking of that line from Pet Sematary. “Dead is better.” All the scenes with Madame Gao, and how she is just so sharp in manipulating people. The way that she talks to Claire. The way that she talks to Colleen.
DAWN: She’s interesting.
MICHI: She is very interesting. And I love how we do actually get to see an older Asian woman in a role that has a vast amount of power, and she’s not too much of a stereotype. There’s a little bit of the “oh, Wise Old Asian Lady” thing, but no, this is a woman who has no problem sticking a knife through somebody’s head, of leaving severed heads as a message to her enemies, saying, “You know, it’s so sweet that you tried using your truth serum on me. I learned how to endure torture in the 17th century. You dears. You really thought this was going to work on me.”
DAWN: That was also very fun because, watching her, I realized just how odd it is for me to watch an Asian woman on TV who is older. I mean, an Asian woman at all, but an Asian woman on TV who is older… I’m almost surprised that she speaks English, and I’m Asian! [laughs] It tells you about the culture we’ve grown up with, when I am surprised!
MICHI: I would highly recommend going back and looking for that episode of Daredevil where she’s talking with the Kingpin. The Kingpin, every time up until that point, every time we’ve seen the Kingpin talking to Madame Gao in Mandarin. He’s showing respect to her by having learned and speaking with her in it, and at one point she’s like, “I’m going to do you the respect of speaking to you in your language,” and speaking perfect English. That was the point I think I fell in love with Madame Gao as a character. And the Kingpin’s like, “whoa, I have clearly underestimated you and I already thought that you were a formidable person. I’m gonna sit here and listen to what you have to say to me.”
It is.. I want… even… if we cut out Danny Rand from a lot of what we’ve seen so far, I feel like we’d even get a better series.
DAWN: He keeps saying the same dialogue over and over and over, and doing things that are completely different than the things that he says he wants to do.
MICHI: There’s still more examples coming in, into each of these episodes, where if Danny had been Asian or Asian-American, how much more depth those scenes would have had. Episode 6 when he’s going into that duel with the Hand (and we have Things To Say about that whole duel) the overarching theme of that scene seemed to be the struggle between his identity as Danny Rand and his identity as Iron Fist. But so much of that is, “you have to choose between being Danny Rand and being the Iron Fist. You have to kill Danny Rand in order to become the Iron Fist.” And Danny’s whole struggle with, what does that mean for him, if that had been framed through the identity of somebody who’s struggling with merging their identity as an assimilated Asian-American with a heritage that they had been cut off from and then suddenly had to learn in order to survive, in order to find their destiny… I feel like that episode would have resonated so much more, because as it was, both of us had the same reaction without having to even talk to each other. That whole episode, the duel, felt like a video game where you are going from level to level and beating each boss.
DAWN: And I think that was deliberate, but it didn’t work here.
DAWN: Because there was episode 5, and Michi and I both actually watched these separately and [garbled with laughter] things that were irritating and so we’ve kinda gone through some of the overarching themes of this chunk of episodes that we had things to say about. So, episode 5, besides from the things that we’ve said already, one of the things that I love is that Ward says to Joy, “Emotions are clouding your judgement.” To Joy. Meanwhile, he of course is the one who is progressively getting addicted, eventually gets addicted to heroin.
MICHI: Every single one of Ward’s terrible decisions that we’ve seen since episode 1 has been because of his ego and because his emotions are clouding his judgement. Joy is the one who is constantly struggling, where she admits, “I am struggling,” before she realizes that it is Danny. “I really want this to be Danny but I also want to do what’s best for the company, so I am going to do this” Her decisions are still guided by her thinking things through, whereas Ward is…
DAWN: Pure emotion.
MICHI: He’s pure emotion, he’s driven by ego. Joy ends up having to be the one that digs them out.
DAWN: Eventually he has so much emotion that he stabs his father to death because he can’t control his emotions any more. But here he is gaslighting Joy. So that is one of my… favorite moments. They also have dinner where Danny comes into the dojo, he’s got his shoes on, of course. [Michi laughs] Colleen is in the middle of teaching a private lesson, Danny has not announced himself beforehand. He comes in and says, “I’ve brought dinner!” interrupting her private lesson, and expects that she’s going to stop the private lesson and have dinner with him. And then he leads the dinner with a Buddhist prayer; he doesn’t respect the fact that she’s teaching, she has a job!
MICHI: The thing that I love about that scene is Claire. Because here is Claire, getting a private lesson from Colleen, and she is clearly picking up on the fact that Colleen is uncomfortable and doesn’t know how to say no to Danny and doesn’t want to throw him out, which is weird in and of itself because Colleen is supposed to be that confident person.
DAWN: Which she has told him!
MICHI: Which she has told him before, get the fuck out of my dojo. But the fact that Claire is, “Y’know, dinner sounds great,” and invites herself to dinner, that is such a great moment. Because so many of us have had those moments with our girlfriends who have seen us in those sort of situations where they’ll be like, “I can pick up on the fact that you are not comfortable and you can’t extricate yourself, so I’m going to just throw myself in there and I’m going to be your wingwoman. I’m going to back you up and make sure that you’re okay. Also, I’m going to make this douchebag feel really uncomfortable.”
DAWN: And get a nice dinner out of it..
MICHI: Yeah. I love the fact that she’s all like, “Things look okay, I think i’m gonna go, do you mind if I take some of the food?” and Danny’s like, o-okay, so she walks over, pulls up like four trays and walks out of the dojo. With what is apparently very expensive catering.
DAWN: I love the really great moment during that dinner is how… The dinner, there was a lot of yelling at the TV during the dinner. So in addition to opening up with this so-called Buddhist prayer, Danny talks about how he’s eaten donkey, because of course Asians eat donkey. The only two characters in this that have eaten donkey before the dinner are Asian. Again, eating donkey is not necessarily a bad thing; I actually ate donkey in Italy, but it’s played off here for the exoticism. It’s another way of saying oh, Asians, they’re this weird, exotic, mystical other… because they eat weird food.
MICHI: And I think that’s the thing that really kind of came into focus for me in episode 5, was how much Danny’s whole “naive country bumpkin who doesn’t know how to deal with corporate culture” is being explained by the fact that he’s spent his life growing up with mystic Eastern monks. Like this whole, “oh, I’ve learned how to control things and be disconnected from the material, trivial concerns… like running a corporation,” that is all being framed through this lens of he is this way because he went to the mystic East, which is further utilizing all of these things as more exotic markers. It’s not useful to the narrative, it’s adding more exotification to cultures that we’re taking all these little bits and using them to show just how alien Danny is around other people.
DAWN: And it also manifests in terms of, this affects real people outside of watching a Netflix series. If you are Asian-American, I can pretty well guarantee you that you’ve gotten trouble from white kids growing up because of the food that you ate. You get adults saying “oh, that food you eat is so weird.” Just a couple of weeks ago, the Pioneer Woman, which is a Food Network series, brought out so-called “Spicy Asian Hot Wings.” They looked like completely normal chicken wings covered in some brown sauce. And you could tell this was scripted, so the cook brings it out and the entire family is like “ew, that’s disgusting! I wouldn’t touch that!” And then she laughs, and says “oh, don’t worry, I wouldn’t do that to you guys” and hands them the normal chicken wings that really don’t look any different from the other chicken wings that she had set before anybody else, which of course they hadn’t even tasted. So, this is a sore point for Asian-Americans because our food is constantly the subject of ridicule and it’s constantly used as a way to say “my culture is better than yours.”
MICHI: Yeah, because I can guarantee you, Danny saying “oh, I’ve eaten donkey,” that’s supposed to be, “oh, Danny is cool and worldly.” Colleen saying, “Oh yeah, actually, I’ve eaten donkey, my grandmother made it,” can guarantee you she got made fun of if she talked about eating donkey around non-Asian people, non-Chinese, non-Japanese, because apparently her background is part Chinese, part Japanese in the series.
DAWN: And of course, I am Asian in real life and the only time I have had donkey was in Italy.
MICHI: [laughs quietly] Episode 6, we didn’t even get ninjas until episode 6… I mean, Iron Fist villains are the Hand, we don’t even see… we get a literal handprint on a window, I think in episode 3, and a disembodied voice and Madame Gao in shadow in episode 4. But we don’t actually get to see, like, “oh, here’s what the Hand is actually capable of” until episode 6. And it’s the video game series where, let’s talk about that really quick, how there are four challengers who Danny Rand has to go through. A set of male twins, an Asian woman, and an Asian man. The men get to wear clothing that is completely reasonable for fighting. The woman, on the other hand, who is known as the Bride of Nine Spiders (she’s an actual Marvel character)…
DAWN: Our first introduction to her, she’s sitting in a lab, she has a lab coat on, she’s experimenting…
MICHI: She’s working with spiders and venom.
DAWN: So then, suddenly, the scientist now shows up as the next challenger… in a corset.
MICHI: In a corset, with vampy makeup, she’s literally the Dragon Lady!
DAWN: Literally the Dragon Lady. I was screaming “Dragon Lady!” at the TV. And she goes up to Danny, and she doesn’t fight him! Instead she’s going to seduce him.
MICHI: And then use… we can’t tell if they’re literally poisoned needles, or if the acupuncture needles are supposed to be hitting weird choke points to, like, mess up his chi…
DAWN: I thought that their points had been tainted with spider venom…
MICHI: …they don’t really tell us.. It’s… y’know… but of course, out of all four fighters, it’s the Asian woman who is going to use her feminine wiles in order to mess up Danny Rand. We don’t even really get to see her fight, she’s using all these soft subterfuge skills.
DAWN: She’s also the only character that’s not dressed up as though they would just be walking on the street. Moving in a corset is difficult. As somebody who has done this, it’s very restrictive of your movements.
MICHI: It’s very restrictive, and I find it hilarious in an infuriating way that, considering how much Marvel has said that, “We don’t want to cast Asians in stereotypes. We didn’t want to do…”
DAWN: That was the entire justification by not putting an Asian-American in the role of Danny Rand, it was oh, we’re worried somehow about stereotypes.
MICHI: This was even the justification specifically for not putting an Asian woman in the role of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, was, “but then she’ll be a Dragon Lady.”
DAWN: So then they cast a Dragon Lady. And they wrote a Dragon Lady. In this series.
MICHI: The whole fight scene, that series of fights… and, of course, he’s doing these fights to save a white woman. There were so many things that didn’t work. I think that the most interesting thing about it was watching Madame Gao. And she’s the one that’s giving us all the information about “You are different than all of the other Iron Fists. You left your post. This is very intriguing.” Thank you for at least being the character who tells us this is why this is interesting.
DAWN: Again with the telling!
MICHI: Yeah. It is again with the telling. Because in episode 7, she shows up at his office, and really, I have got to admire the spine on Madame Gao [Dawn laughs] where she just brazenly walks into his office…
DAWN: Before we leave episode 6, there’s a great moment where Danny Rand talks… he comes up and he picks up Ward Meachum in his Aston Martin car, and of course Ward looks, like anybody would, is basically rolling his eyes at Danny, and Danny says “What, I had the fastest donkey cart in K’un-Lun, too!”
MICHI: What is it with the donkey thing?!
DAWN: Having fast donkey carts does not make you cool! I’m sorry, that’s not… that’s just not cool . Having a fast car also doesn’t make you cool. Frankly, as a woman who is interested in men, if I see you in a really fancy sports car, I am more likely to think, “I am probably just going to stay away from this one, because he’s a douchebag,” than “oh, he’s so cool! I wanna come up to him.”
MICHI: I think my favorite part of that episode though, was watching Madame Gao just basically, like, knock Danny back in the chest. I know that she, having seen Daredevil I know that she’s capable of doing this sort of thing, but it was soooo satisfying, it really, really was.
DAWN: There was a great moment too, where Danny is fighting, and all of a sudden the lights are exploding in the warehouse he is in, and my friend quipped, “This is the power of cultural appropriation.”
MICHI: [laughs] Honestly, I am looking at my notes, and even for episode 7 I think I was starting to lose interest because a lot of it’s just random yelling about things
DAWN: Episode 7 was “Apologies Are Apparently Bad.” Joy hands Danny a piece of paper and says that this is a statement that he needs to make in order to save the company, and he says, “well, is this an apology? Because I don’t want to apologize, I’m not making an apology.” And so he’s willing to go along with the statement as long as it’s not an apology. As though somehow apologies are terrible things. Somehow he’s losing man points if he apologizes for something.
MICHI: Rich white men don’t ever have to apologize for anything.
DAWN: Exactly! Joy apologizes to her brother, who has turned into an addict in zero time flat, for calling him out that he is an addict.
MICHI: It’s like oh, I’m sorry I called you on your behavior… it’s like no, Joy, don’t be sorry!
DAWN: That is exactly what you are supposed to be doing!
MICHI: This is one of those things where, like, Ward walks in, and it’s a hell of a thing to see your dad on the floor, hacking a body to bits.
DAWN: I just kinda really need to give props to this actor, because they’re giving him all these ludicrous things to do as a character, and as an actor he’s trying really valiantly to make you believe these things. I feel like this is a thing with the entire cast…
MICHI: They’re trying.
DAWN: They’re trying! So hard. Except for Finn Jones, who I pretty much don’t believe anything he’s doing. [laughs] All of the other actors in this cast are trying so, so hard in spite of all the things that are being set up agains them.
MICHI: I feel like Rosario Dawson’s whole thing with being Claire where Claire is just exasperated constantly, I suspect she didn’t have to work very hard at that because I would be super-exasperated too. Going into episode 8 where they actually finally go into China, when, of course, because Danny screwed up and they get into a situation where they’re gonna have to fight their way out, Claire just looks at them, she’s like, “I just want you to know. I am really sorry that I came with both of you to China. That was a terrible decision on my part.”
DAWN: There is literally a moment Claire says, “This is dumb.” And I said to myself, “Yes, YES, Claire! Yes, it is!”
MICHI: Just keep speaking truth, Claire, because somebody needs to. Episode 8 was one that we were looking forward to specifically because we knew Lewis Tan was going to be in it.
DAWN: And, if you haven’t listened to some of the things we were saying in the last review, Lewis Tan, you see… there are some behind-the-scenes clips that are floating around on his Twitter account, where he gets to show you just how good he is at martial arts, so in episode 8 we got to see him show up and do an homage to Jackie Chan as the Drunken Master. And that was a lot of fun.
MICHI: It was… I actually really enjoyed those scenes! A, I feel like those scenes were actually cut a lot better than some of the other scenes are. Because there is a really good article that is floating around, I think it might be on i09, that scene from episode 4, it was less than 40 seconds of fight scene with something like 52 cuts. The way a lot of the fight scenes have been cut just seem to drain a lot of the energy out of those fight scenes. This one was really well done. And I think a lot of it is also because Lewis Tan knows what he’s doing.
DAWN: I think also what happened with this was, Finn Jones has gone on-record saying he only got three months of training before doing the series, and that they would rehearse the martial arts scenes for about 15 minutes before they would film them. So you can see why they’re not going to be as great as you’d hope. In this, you saw that they did a little bit of visual trickery from the filmmaking sort of standpoint where they had Danny Rand put on a hoodie and put the hood over his head. So it’s a lot easier now to insert the stuntman who actually knows what he’s doing into that spot. So they do that the entire fight scene with Lewis Tan he’s got a hoodie on his head, and then they actually really fight. It’s far more interesting than anything we’ve gotten up to this point. It’s also really satisfying as an audience member to see this character you’ve been incredibly frustrated with for 8 episodes now…
MICHI: Get his ass beat?
DAWN: Yeah. And of course, the hand of the writers comes in again, and he loses, but it’s incredibly satisfying for a couple of minutes!
MICHI: Well it’s also very… that scene has a lot of feeling for me because of Lewis Tan’s dialogue, his character’s dialogue. That entire fight scene is pointing out Danny’s hypocrisy. Feeling like “oh, you’re supposed to be the Iron Fist, but both of us have actually made vows to protect a gateway to somewhere. I’m a drunk and I’m still here doing my duty… why did you leave your post?”
DAWN: And he doesn’t have an answer for him.
MICHI: No, he doesn’t have an answer for him, except to lose his temper and eventually beat the guy senseless.
DAWN: Which is, again, right after he’s talked about what control he has.
MICHI: I am glad we got to see Lewis Tan at least once in the series. He clearly is really damn good at what he does. I think it’s a shame that he is only utilized for one episode and that he did not get to be Danny Rand. But given the quality of writing we’ve seen for this series, I’m also a little bit relieved for him that he did not have to be the one carrying this.
DAWN: I really hope this leads to more work for him. I see that he’s gotten a lot of publicity out of this so hopefully this leads to us seeing more of him as an actor. Because clearly he is capable.
MICHI: Yeah, and that was the main thing about episode 8 for me was just getting to see that fight scene… and all of Claire’s eye-rolling and frustration.
DAWN: And Ward also is Lady Macbeth? After killing his father he becomes Lady Macbeth, he sees blood everywhere, that of course nobody else could see. And that might have been something that would be a fun, literary homage… it was too heavy-handed. Again, an idea that could have been good, but was not handled very well.
MICHI: And I think that kind of sums up where we’re feeling at episode 9 at this point. There are a lot of ideas that could have been good if they had been handled with more care and with more thought. And that pretty much sums up where we’re at. At this point, we have… 10, 11, 12, 13… four more episodes to slog through. We’re watching episodes 10 through 12 on our own and then getting together to watch episode 13 which we will record our reactions watching it live.
DAWN: I can guarantee you that will be amazing. We will have drinks with us…
MICHI: There will be drinks, I might get more cake… I think we’re gonna need more cake for this.
DAWN: More cake! More booze! This is a really hard show to sit there and watch.
MICHI: Yeah, although I’m going to note that apparently after our first review we had finished watching Iron Fist and we were going to record the episode and I was like no, we need to do a palate cleanser so I had Dawn watch the first 10 minutes of Into the Badlands [Dawn laughing] Unbeknownst to me, Dawn apparently went and marathoned all six episodes of the first season in one sitting.
DAWN: I binge-watched a whole season. In one night. The scenes in Iron Fist with the fighting are not quite as grating until you put them right next to a fight scene that’s done really well. And Into the Badlands is full of incredibly well-done martial arts scenes… the juxtaposition is amazing. If you haven’t watched Into the Badlands, I highly recommend doing so. If you are watching along with Iron Fist, I recommend that you watch an episode of Iron Fist, and then you directly contrast that with any episode of Into the Badlands and you’ll see exactly some of the things that we’ve been talking about, but done well.
MICHI: Yeah, the characterization in Into the Badlands is also, I think it’s much stronger… which is really not a high bar to clear.
DAWN: It’s not a high bar to clear, and there’s bonuses like, the casting is incredibly diverse, you have an Asian male lead… the contrast between Iron Fist doing so many things poorly even though they say they’re doing so many things right… putting that next to a show that’s doing all of exactly those things well is incredible.
MICHI: Yeah. So, I think that is a good point to leave off on: If you’re watching Iron Fist, that’s fine, but if you need a palate cleanser we highly recommend Into the Badlands. Season 2 just started so you’d only be two episodes behind of season 2 at this point.
DAWN: [unintelligible, with laughter] …if you feel so led. I’m Dawn Xiana Moon, thank you so much for listening…
MICHI: And I’m Michi Trota; we will see you in a couple of days with Hold the #MartialArtsMayo, Part 3 of 3, the final section of our review of Iron Fist.