Dawn and Michi recorded themselves watching the finale of Iron Fist, and you can listen along by syncing this audio track with the episode itself! While there’s plenty of snark to go around, it’s fairly clear that after 13 episodes our intrepid reviewers were on their last legs. For the record, Dawn’s TV apparently didn’t like Iron Fist either because less than two minutes in on the first run at recording, it flipped out and refused to turn back on for a good several minutes.
Transcription provided by Beth Voigt
DAWN: Dear internet! Welcome to part 3 of 3 of Hold the #MartialArtsMayo: A Review of Iron Fist. I’m Dawn Xiana Moon
MICHI: And I’m Michi Trota…
DAWN: And for those of you who haven’t been listening, a little bit of context: this is Dawn, I am the founder/producer/director of Raks Geek, which is a nerd-themed bellydance and fire performance company, and I am Asian-American. I am Chinese-American, born in Singapore and moved to Michigan when I was five years old.
MICHI: And I’m Michi Trota. I am the managing editor for Uncanny, a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. I am also president of the Chicago Nerd Social Club board of organizers. I am also Asian-American, I’m Filipina-American, born and raised outside of Chicago, and Iron Fist is a character I’ve been familiar with since I have been reading comics for over 20 years.
DAWN: We’re going to be covering episodes 10-13 in this review, which is the last chunk of Iron Fist. So, what did we think? Did they get any better?
MICHI: NO. [laughs] That’s really all I have to say, is no.
DAWN: I kind of wish we were doing this as a video review right now, because if you could see the look on Michi’s face…
MICHI: It’s that look that I can’t believe I’ve made a terrible, terrible life decision in watching this entire series. I think going into it, I honestly wanted to be surprised. I wanted it to build up to a point where the payoff made the initial investment worth it. I was really hoping for that to happen in episodes 10-13, I’m just sitting here being, “What happened?”
DAWN: So, for anybody who is coming into this thinking, “Oh, they’re two Asian-Americans who probably wanted an Asian-American Iron Fist, and so they’re prejudiced to the series to begin with,” I will admit we probably had some bias going into it, but the commitment to sitting through 13 episodes and watching an entire season of something… frankly, I would have loved for it to be good because it’s just so much of my time! It’s a huge investment to sit through and watch this! I literally wrote down in the middle of episode 11, “Have I ever hated a protagonist this much?” I really don’t think there’s a protagonist in anything I’ve hated so much. Danny has had zero character development, he is a complete douchebag to everybody who is around him, he mansplains all of the women, he whitesplains anybody who is Asian about martial arts, he really just has no redeeming qualities.
MICHI: I feel like episodes 10-13 are supposed to be showing us “Here’s what happens when Danny’s back is up against a wall.” Where all the things that he has taken for granted, the fact that Harold is supposed to be family to him, the Meachums are family to him… never mind that Ward had him committed to try to keep him away from the company, the only Meacham who has really ever been openly honest with Danny has been Joy, and he’s treated Joy very terribly. But this is supposed to be showing us what happens when all of those things that Danny wanted to come back for, that he’s been holding onto since childhood, are crumbling in front of him and he’s learned to trust Colleen, and it turns out that Colleen has been lying to him (which is a character development in and of itself that I have a lot of problems with). I did not feel bad for Danny through any of this. His decision making has been consistently terrible…
DAWN: To the point where characters are even calling him out on that as you’re watching. The other characters will say, “Do you have a plan? You’re making a bad choice.”
MICHI and DAWN: [talking over each other]: “I don’t care. I’m going in anyway.”
MICHI: Claire and Hogarth continue to be the characters who I love the most in this just because they are calling everything to the carpet. And yet, they can’t do anything to actually fix it because the narrative requires us to go along with what Danny is doing. Because Danny is the hero.
DAWN: Again, you’re seeing in episodes 10-13 this thing that we saw in the last chunk of episodes we were reviewing where the characters are doing something and then the Great Hand of the Writer comes in and makes the character do something that clearly they shouldn’t be doing. So it feels like, if you’re an audience member, it feels like it’s very inconsistent. But it’s not actually really the characters being inconsistent, per se, but it’s the writers coming in and saying, “We’ve set your character up to be this way, but now I need you to do this other thing for the plot and so now you’re going to do that.”
MICHI: All of the characters that we’ve been introduced to so far… and we still get another character who we’re introduced to. We finally get to meet Danny’s childhood friend Davos, who is very understandably pissed that Danny left his post. Not only did Danny leave the post, leaving K’un-Lun exposed, which is Davos’ home, he’s like, “You’re supposed to be protecting my home.”
DAWN: “You’re supposed to be my brother, even!” he says, “and you left us!” He literally says at one point, “Wow. You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” And I yelled at the TV “Yes! This is true!”
MICHI: We can’t say that Davos is wrong. And even though the story is clearly setting things up where Davos is going to be Danny’s future antagonist because he’s resentful, because he feels that he should have been the Iron Fist, that Danny was a terrible choice…
DAWN: But you can’t disagree with him!
MICHI: I can’t disagree that Danny was a terrible choice to be the Iron Fist. There’s one point where Danny says something about how, since he’s come back to New York, he’s come to realize that the power of Iron Fist isn’t, shouldn’t just be used for K’un-Lun, it should be used to defend everybody, to defend the principles that he grew up with in K’un-Lun.
DAWN: Which would be one thing if he had gone to the leadership of K’un-Lun and said, “I think the power of the Iron Fist is really important and it’s supposed to be a force for good in the world and so I’m leaving,” as opposed to just, one day you wake up and he’s not there any more, and the passage to K’un-Lun is open because nobody’s guarding it.
MICHI: Yup, and how long is it going to be before the Hand figures out that the pass is open and they’re going to go after K’un-Lun.
DAWN: Predictably, by the end of episode 13, you see that oh, they’ve figured this out!
MICHI: I have seen this arc actually done with Wonder Woman. This is part of Wonder Woman’s story, where she is taking her power out into the world of man because she feels that it is irresponsible not to take what she is able to do, not to take her power and go out and defend the wider world, not just her home. That is not an old story, it’s one that’s been told…
DAWN: Frankly, we kept seeing parallels to Iron Fist and Star Wars, where Luke Skywalker doesn’t finish his training, he leaves Yoda… Luke has a good motivation for leaving: his friends are actually in trouble. If he doesn’t show up and save them, it’s very possible at this point that they will die. Danny has no such motivation, he just wants to leave because he doesn’t feel like he’s comfortable any more, and he’s bored. There are so many scenes where they’re showing him…
MICHI: [frustrated] He’s just bored, oh my god.
DAWN: “Oh, the rest of my life is just going to be standing in this passageway, looking, and waiting for people to come and they’re not going to come and I’m just going to sit here being bored.” That’s not an excuse to abandon your post!
MICHI: Also, not a respectful treatment of this power that you said that you wanted and… I can’t even remember if it was in this block of episodes or the previous block, where he said that he ended up going after the power of Iron Fist because it would fill a void that he had. Not because he believed that he was the best person, not because, y’know, he’s all like “Oh, I can totally do this!” and not because he believes he’s the best person for the job because he clearly doesn’t care about the job.
DAWN: He did once phrase it as he wanted the most important job or the best job. So he just had to take it because it was the most important and best thing.
MICHI: Which is so entitled. And the fact that it’s, again, Danny Rand is a rich white man who has seen this thing that has a lot of responsibility and power attached to it – because this is a thing with Marvel, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Danny looks at the power and says, “I want this, this is going to make me feel better,” but he doesn’t care about the responsibility. The optics of that alone, because they weren’t handled with a lot of care and thought about what it means for Danny to take this and then run away with it because he’s now bored with the job, it’s terrible. It is not a character who you want to have as a hero!
DAWN: And then in episode 10, we’ve got a whole scene that ends up leaving you with the conclusion, “Billionaires are marginalized people now.”
MICHI: Whoooooa god, what scene was that? Refresh my memory?
DAWN: There was a conversation Danny was having, Danny was having a conversation with another character, and they were talking about how, y’know, Danny didn’t fit in these various ways, and basically the entire conclusion of the scene was that billionaires are somehow marginalized people who need extra love and attention and help.
MICHI: Which is really kind of funny considering that’s actually what Finn Jones said in an interview. I don’t know if you saw that? He said that part of the uphill battle that Iron Fist has as a character is because we are currently in a cultural situation where we are predisposed toward not being sympathetic to rich white guys.
DAWN: Because of Donald Trump.
MICHI: That’s not why we’re upset with this casting. That’s not why we’re upset with this character. But nice try.
DAWN: Also, it’s not like, if you are not a rich billionaire, you can’t have sympathy towards… I mean, I have a lot of sympathy for Joy, I actually at this point have a lot of sympathy for Ward and the abuse that he’s gone through, but it’s not because they are rich that I have sympathy for them, it’s because their characters have gone through some very hard things and they are people.
MICHI: I am glad that we got to see a little bit of of Davos, but I feel like they brought him in too late into the series. I feel like if they had had Davos there earlier, he actually would have been a really good foil for us to see Danny struggling with his obligation to K’un-Lun, and to have somebody there who grew up with him, who is just as skilled as he is, constantly going after him being like, “What did you do? Why did you leave?”
DAWN: And somebody who has such a strong sense of responsibility, which Danny does not have.
MICHI: Yes. I can’t tell quite clearly in the series if the writers mean for us to understand that Davos has a huge sense of responsibility to K’un-Lun or if he is also resentful of Danny because he is jealous.
DAWN: I think that both of those things exist in the character. It is a little weird that you set up, as a writer, Davos as a character in the very beginning as… I mean, he’s supposed to be Danny’s brother. He’s supposed to be somebody who is good, in theory, I mean we know that he is going to end up being an antagonist, but you’re supposed to sort of believe in the beginning that he’s good. But your very first introduction to Davos as a character is him killing a guy for no apparent reason in a really brutal way. That’s not generally the character introduction you want to have for somebody who’s set up to be a foil and calling Danny out for leaving his responsibilities.
MICHI: Yeah. And that is to give us the impression that Davos doesn’t care about anything or anybody who is not associated with K’un-Lun. Which, okay, that’s part of his character, but you don’t have to show it to us in a way that makes us immediately suspect of him.
DAWN: You immediately characterize him as a bad guy, which is not really the thing you want to do if you’re making him Danny’s good friend. You want a little bit of a progression there.
MICHI: It is, with this series, it makes sense to me that the series does this, though, because throughout this entire series, there have been moves where clearly the show is trying to be, “AHA! You did not see this thing coming! We are going to completely change your perception, or tell you that the perception you were given of this character is wrong.” With Davos, they’re showing us initially him being somebody who is dark and dangerous, but he turns out to be Danny’s best friend. With Colleen, it’s this whole, “She is a really honorable character, she is taking care of her students, she is reluctantly getting pulled into this thing with Danny because she also likes to fight… OH! By the way, she’s also been duped by the Hand, she’s a member of the Hand.”
DAWN: The problem is none of these things are really well motivated when you first see them, it’s just kind of a, “Oh, here’s a thing, here’s another thing,” you don’t really have the progression you need in order to buy that as a viewer. You can see what the writers are trying to do with this, they’re failing.
MICHI: As with Davos, I wish they’d brought Davos in earlier, I also wish they had indicated that there was more to Colleen than we originally thought. That she was more than a teacher. There is a reason why she’s so good at what she does. Because it felt like it came out of left field that oh, by the way, Colleen’s actually a member of the Hand. She doesn’t think that the hand is evil, but she’s a member of the Hand.
DAWN: And frankly it would have been a much more interesting story if truly the Hand had warring factions, one of which was good. They started to kind of hint along maybe this is a possibility that could happen, and then they made the Hand evil because the Hand needs to be evil. But it would have been actually a much more interesting universe to live in if the Hand was fighting within itself, if Colleen was working for a side that’s good. That would have been a less predictable story.
MICHI: Yeah, or at least working for a faction that, okay, we’re still mercenaries, but we don’t want to be mercenaries who are in businesses like selling drugs. Or, we don’t want to be mercenaries who are in the business of doing X, Y, and Z. If there were at least, it’s a philosophical divide, and the only divides seem to be that, “Bakuto didn’t like the way Gao was doing things, because of personality differences.”
DAWN: Or he talks about using carrots as well as sticks. But that’s…
MICHI: That’s still evil! [laughing] Bakuto is still evil.
DAWN: It’s so fundamentally manipulative. It would have been a little bit more interesting, actually, if Bakuto’s side had said, it’s not really about carrots, even, it’s that we want to be a force for good in the world, maybe we’re going about things in a way that you may not agree with but we actually believe in doing things that you as an audience member would say okay, you’re trying to be a force for good and fighting against Gao’s side which is clearly not a force for good. That would have been kind of an interesting internal conflict, but instead you have this weird, double-agent/not-double-agent and your characters are kind of going all over the place because the writers haven’t figured out how to make this feel like a cohesive story.
MICHI: I also feel like A, it was a wasted opportunity not to have scenes where Gao and Bakuto were facing off against each other. That was a huge missed opportunity. Here are the two power factions of the Hand, in the same place, and we don’t actually see them talk to each other. We hear Bakuto talk a lot about why he thinks Gao isn’t the right person to lead the Hand, we hear Gao talking about how we can’t trust Bakuto… there’s never a confrontation between the two of them and I really, really feel like there should have been. And the whole thing with Colleen being a member of the Hand because the Hand was her family, because the Hand took her in – I feel like they were trying to make a parallel with Colleen’s disillusionment with the Hand going along with Danny realizing that what he learned in K’un-Lun is not as easily black and white now that he’s in New York.
DAWN: There’s this whole idea that both of them have been brainwashed somehow. And the writers want you to think, okay, both of them have been brainwashed by their respective organizations, but they even refer to the Hand as feeling like a cult. They also say, “oh, this feels familiar to you, Danny, because you grew up in a similar environment, but we’ve already just said that basically you look like you’re in a cult now.” So, okay, both of you have grown up in a cult, and… if feels like they want to tell a story of both of them coming out of these kind of cult-like situations (to use their own words), and have found some other path to go on. Instead, what you get is characters who just seem kind of confused.
MICHI: And the fact that Danny and Colleen end up with each other is… it’s forced, because they don’t have anywhere else to go. And I don’t feel, again, like that was a thing that was earned. It just happens because the writers wanted symmetry. And I also feel like, again, because this is where having Davos come in earlier would have been more beneficial, because Davos and Colleen, being two opposite points Danny’s being pulled between, I think would have added a little more resonance. We only got that for what, two episodes? Maybe three?
DAWN: There are ideas here that another writer who is more capable could have fleshed out in a way that we would have believed, even with exactly the same general plot points.
MICHI: And even just the focus on the Meachums is something that just kept coming in and out… and, again, I wish that they had chosen either: We’re focusing on the Meachums as the Big Bad of the series and we’re just going to leave the Hand for another point, which really wouldn’t have worked, I think? But at least choose between the Hand and the Meachums right now, it didn’t feel like they were able to balance them out together. Because I wanted to actually see more of Joy realizing just how badly…
DAWN: But I think that actually could… there was enough time in 13 episodes that, if we had cut out some of the things that we didn’t need to spend so much time on, I think they had enough space to do that. You could have had your “A” story and your “B” story, but the thing is that they spent so much time on… Danny says, so many times, literally, “I am the Iron Fist! I’m Danny Rand!” Well, maybe if we cut out a few of those, we could put a little bit more of character development with the Meachums in.
MICHI: Yeah, and just… again, I feel so bad for Joy, so bad for Ward, everything that has happened to them… Joy gets shot! For freak’s sake! And here’s Ward finally trying to do the right thing, and he’s completely screwed up. And the fact that it’s costing him his sister, and he even says “He’s still my father, I need to be here to see his body taken care of.” Also, probably because he wants to make sure that he’s dead. But he clearly still had an emotional connection to his father. He has lost everything, and I feel like there was so much more resonance with Ward’s loss than with that moment when Colleen and Danny realize that K’un-Lun is gone. That’s supposed to be the big, emotional moment at the very end of the series?
DAWN: But it doesn’t feel like anything.
MICHI: It’s like, what did you think was going to happen?
DAWN: Along those lines, you could also probably play a drinking game in Iron Fist where you have the… any time a white man gets uncontrollably angry, which happens all the time, again, you’d probably be drunk. There’s a scene… Danny borrows, Rosario Dawson’s character, her car. He’s the billionaire, and he’s gonna impose on his friend. They take the car out, and Danny’s sitting in the car with Davos, and Davos is saying, “Why wouldn’t you let me drive, I’m the better driver?” And Danny says to him, “Well, you don’t have a license.” Davos responds, “Well, you don’t either!” and Danny’s response is: “Well, it’s different, I’m rich.” He literally says, “It’s different, I’m rich.”
MICHI: How did I somehow miss that line?
DAWN: He also points out that he’s been driving without a license the entire time.
MICHI: Ohhhhh, my god.
DAWN: He’s been driving lots of cars in this series!
MICHI: So here’s the thing with Davos and Danny that is still really bugging me. Because, in the comics, Davos is actually an Asian character. I’m okay with them adding Davos as just a man of color, because this is still a super-white show…
DAWN: But you’ve also set up the man of color to be the Big Bad, which is not great.
MICHI: And that’s the thing. Comparing this to Doctor Strange: the optics of Mordo becoming a villain because he was jealous of Stephen getting the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme, that’s already problematic with Stephen being another rich white guy who swans in and takes a thing because… reasons, because he’s the hero. I feel like one of the few things that the Doctor Strange movie got right was Mordo and Stephen’s relationship. Where Mordo becomes a villain not because he is jealous of Stephen, but because he looks at what the Ancient One did in breaking the rules that he was taught to uphold his entire life, and what Stephen did even in the service of saving the world, he’s like “You broke the rules in such an enormous way, and there are going to be consequences,” so Mordo’s evolution of thinking comes to, “There are too many Sorcerers, I need to fix this.” So he is now going to be an antagonist.
DAWN: It feels like that’s what they were wanting to do with Davos.
MICHI: It feels like that, but they didn’t handle it with nearly as much subtlety. And Doctor Strange is not a high bar to clear for that. But with Davos, they did not back off as much as they needed to from Davos becoming an antagonist because he is jealous of Danny, because he feels he should have been the Iron Fist.
DAWN: And frankly, if they wanted to go along with him being jealous, okay, fine, make him jealous. In that case, you can use that as the driving force of the character, let’s explore that as a thread. We still didn’t have that development in a way that felt like it was really motivated, because if he was really all that jealous, he should have probably felt like he was jealous earlier, or… I don’t know, it just.. didn’t work for me.
MICHI: The jealousy angle, for me, I think really needed to be written out. Because it’s a mess already with Danny being the entitled white guy. And if you have his best friend, who is a man of color, being jealous of the white guy for taking the thing that he thinks should have been his? Really, everything we are seeing is that really, Danny was not a good choice to be the Iron Fist with everything that we’ve seen about how he behaves.
DAWN: Every character tells him he’s not a good choice to be the Iron Fist. Danny doesn’t even think he’s a good choice to be the Iron Fist except that was the coolest job that was available to him at that point.
MICHI: Overall, I feel like this series was… we keep repeating this, but it really was a giant missed opportunity. Because so much of the series ended up, from start to finish, was about Danny trying to find his place and about Danny trying to reconcile his identity as Danny Rand with the responsibility and power of being the Iron Fist. And none of that resonated with the way Danny was written. Even if… honestly, at this point with the way that the series was written, if he had been Asian-American, it still would have been bad. Because they have given us nothing about Danny that shows us he is struggling to reconcile these two parts of his personality. It’s just, “I saw this thing and I wanted it, but then I got bored and then I decided to use it to fix things and for my own personal gain by coming back home.” That’s it.
DAWN: And frankly, an entitled Asian-American man would not be any less grating to watch.
MICHI: But if they had cast an Asian-American, there are so many avenues opened up to them to explore those things with more richness and more depth. Where it goes beyond just being entitled and feeling like this is a thing that should be mine therefore I’m going to take it. It’s… if the best thing that comes out of this whole series is that Colleen and Misty Knight get spun off into Daughters of the Dragon instead of a second season of Iron Fist? That might be the best possible outcome. Because I can’t…
DAWN: I would watch a series with the two of them.
MICHI: I can’t even fathom having to sit through another… if Iron Fist Series 2 comes out…
DAWN: I’m not sure we could handle sitting through that, even to do another series of reviews. Frankly, it was just really, really hard to watch this series in terms of… it’s boring.
MICHI: We started off frustrated and angry, and it just got to the point…
DAWN: [laughing] By the end, we couldn’t even snark at it any more.
MICHI: It’s just so… tired!
DAWN: We thought, at the beginning, it would be really entertaining to do an audio commentary alongside the last episode of Iron Fist, and hopefully it is still entertaining for you when you watch it. But I… having sat through 13 episodes of this, I kinda wonder now if we should have just done that in the very beginning, when so many things were incredibly ludicrous and we were yelling at the TV more. Because by the end, you’re just kind of beaten down, and thinking to yourself, “When is it going to end?”
MICHI: This wasn’t a series that we enjoyed, I think it was a series that we endured.
DAWN: I don’t know if you have any final thoughts that you want to close out with.
MICHI: So, final thoughts for me: I really think that the actors tried. Even Finn Jones, frankly, I don’t think he… I think he tried…
DAWN: He wasn’t up to the task. Everybody else I think tried, and was up to the task as much as they could save the show from itself.
MICHI: Yeah, I think they really tried. I enjoyed Jessica Henwick’s performance; she really tried to sell Colleen. I hope that this brings her into more opportunities, not just in the Marvel universe. I think Colleen has the potential to be a really fantastic character. I’m also glad that we got to see more female friendships here, because Claire and Colleen were fantastic.
DAWN: I would also love to see some situations where Claire and Colleen got to talk about something other than Danny or saving Danny from himself.
MICHI: Absolutely. I actually really hope that we get to see some scenes with Jessica Jones and, again, with Misty Knight coming in, because that… The series was at least made tolerable for me by characters like Colleen, definitely by Claire. Claire was a freaking gem in this entire series. Rosario Dawson is earning that paycheck. She’s really damn good. Madame Gao, I cannot wait to see more of her and I hope she shows up in The Defenders, and Joy is a character who I would also like to see more of because she is clearly coming out of this forged in fire and she is pissed. She is pissed off because Danny, her dad, and Ward?
DAWN: Everybody’s betrayed her.
MICHI: They have all fucked her over. And if she becomes a supervillain? I’m actually okay with that.
DAWN: I think she might be a really interesting supervillain, actually. Because she’s clearly competent, she’s smart.
MICHI: And the final thought for me is, I hope this series shows what happens when you decide to stick to canon that already has problematic origins that don’t need to be retained in order to do a good story about that character. There is no reason, no reason at all, why Danny Rand had to remain a white man for the story of Danny Rand and Iron Fist to have any resonance. If they had gone with changing his ethnicity, preferably to an Asian-American, that would have opened up so many more avenues for this series to be more than it was. But because they were already hampered by this very determined viewpoint of “Danny needs to be this this character, he needs to be a rich white man because that is the story we want to tell,” okay, that’s the story you want to tell, and it was not a story that worked.
DAWN: Along those lines, we’ve said this before, but one of the things the creators of this show said in terms of thinking about casting an Asian-American but ultimately deciding not to cast an Asian-American in this role is that they really needed Danny to be a fish out of water in K’un-Lun. And now that we’ve watched the entire series, Michi and I can both tell you that we really didn’t see K’un-Lun at all. The closest we got to K’un-Lun was a room where Danny, as a child, is getting beaten by a monk, and…
MICHI: …a cave where we got faked out – I’m still bitter that we got faked out for actually seeing the dragon.
DAWN: [laughing] Michi got all excited, thinking we were going to see the dragon, and we did not see the dragon. So we get the cave, and a passageway. You didn’t really see K’un-Lun, you didn’t see Danny in any way being a fish out of water. You see him plenty of times being a fish out of water as a white billionaire in New York City, which is something you could have done perfectly well with an Asian-American. So, that was an objection the creators had to the casting that turned out not to even have been an issue because we didn’t go there.
MICHI: [deadpan] I’m shocked that ended up being the case. I’m wearing my shocked face, Dawn.
DAWN: So I’m going to end on a quote, which is a thing that Davos says to Danny, which is, “You’re not a warrior, you’re a failure.”
DAWN: Basically sums up how I feel about the whole series.
MICHI: So thank you, everybody, for listening along through this entire process, part 1 through 3, thank you to The Learned Fangirl for giving this mini-podcast-review a home. I’m Michi Trota…
DAWN: I’m Dawn Xiana Moon…
MICHI: And hopefully we will see you for Daughters of the Dragon.