Mar 20, 2017

Channel Surfing: Iron Fist - "Snow Gives Way"

Scene from Iron Fist
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
For the most part, Marvel's deal with Netflix has produced a wonderful array of results. The show's biggest strength is its ability to focus on B-level heroes whose powers aren't that great while turning them into "heroes for hire." With a planned combination series called The Defenders, there's no doubt that Marvel is taking the same route on the streaming service as they do on the big screen. So far they have managed to feature a phenomenal cast of characters that feature characters who are blind (Daredevil), a war veteran (The Punisher), a rape victim (Jessica Jones), and black (Luke Cage). It's a surprisingly progressive bunch ideologically, but the new kid in town may baffle some who have fallen in love with Netflix's three previous shows. What's the deal with Iron Fist?
By comparison to Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage; Iron Fist is lacking something special. His main superpowers lie in his ability to channel spiritual energy and fight using kung-fu techniques with his powerful fists. If one reads deeper into his character, the idea that he's supposed to be Asian immediately feels obvious, especially since he finds his enlightenment following a plane crash in K'un-Lun. Instead, Iron Fist is Danny Rand (Finn Jones): a white boy who is a member of the family who owns the highly successful Rand Company. In fact, the premiere episode of his series, the one that's supposed to introduce the world to his character, is all about him trying to get into a meeting with the new Rand Co. managers. It's... not exactly the best start, though kudos given to book-ending the episode with OutKast's "So Fresh So Clean."
To be fair, Iron Fist may suffer more from timing than actual quality. With political conflicts that paint rich white men as villains, the choice to sympathize with Danny Rand becomes a thorny issue. He comes across as an enlightened college student who became fascinated with Asian culture, even quoting it to a supporting Asian cast that likely know it better than him. Very little, if any, is played for direct comedic effect and instead he's supposed to come off as a cool character. Speaking as the first hour of his journey tells little about what makes Rand's journey interesting, it's tough to like him. It also doesn't help that along with cultural appropriation, he's the fourth hero in this series, so the tricks of the plot trade are starting to become a tad too familiar.
There's a lot that isn't perfect about Iron Fist's first outing. For one, his superpower's not all that exciting, especially given the heights of Daredevil's action scenes. He feels like a third wheel that could've just appeared in The Defenders series without missing much pretext. Maybe there will be developments regarding the Rand Co. that play into the other series and set up the big picture. That is, at least, the ideal vision of what could happen. Otherwise, he's merely a B-level character whose angle isn't nearly as cool - or at least in a progressive sense - as his partners in crime fighting. Then again, Luke Cage is nothing more than an invincible, unstoppable giant. There has to be more to Iron Fist's lacking debut than skill.
With all of this said, Iron Fist isn't the worst that's being offered. Yes, the first episode is a tad dull and Danny Rand isn't the most exciting protagonist. However, there's still a sense that the show will pick up. Netflix has become unfortunately notorious for starting off every one of their shows very, very slowly. Maybe there's some exposition to come that will clarify Iron Fist as an invaluable character. Maybe it will never happen. Whatever the case may be, the show is more boring and bland than outright bad. It may be the one that will need the most reliant on series integration, but maybe it will be for the best. Even if nothing comes close to the heights of Jessica Jones or Luke Cage in the 12 episodes, Iron Fist at least has some great partners that will make its legacy a little easier to fathom.

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