The greatest Marvel tragedy in recent memory was the limp debut of Iron Fist, the fourth of the entertainment juggernaut’s Netflix superhero shows. Draped in a cape of irrational self-seriousness, emitting chunky farts of motion masquerading as fight scenes, and laced with mercilessly stupid writing, Iron Fist introduced itself with a season of television I don’t even want to think about watching again.
But now it’s 2018, and Iron Fist is back in business with a new showrunner, Raven Metzner (Sleepy Hollow), raising the question of whether the series could revive itself as something worth watching.
Based on the first six episodes that were supplied to critics, the answer to that big question is yes — but a very qualified yes. To illustrate just how Iron Fist has improved, and how it hasn’t, here are five broad takeaways from season two.
1) Iron Fist season two corrects some of the first season’s biggest flaws
Iron Fist’s second season is an improvement in part because its debacle of a first season left the series with seemingly nowhere to go but up. But the show made improvements where it counts most: Its fight scenes vastly improve upon the garbage disposal-like quality of jump cuts masquerading as brawls in season one, and the writing has moved away from the mind-numbing exposition that characterized much of season one, trusting the audience to understand what’s happening without dialogue constantly reminding them.
However, Iron Fist’s second season isn’t exactly good when in the context of television outside of Iron Fist. Parts of it are still staggeringly clunky — a dinner party early in the season comes to mind — and the Meachums (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup), the villainous stalwarts from the first season, are as dull as ever, reprising their roles as shopworn white-collar criminals who don’t know what it’s like to feel love.
This season is an improvement, sure, but it still has a long way to go if it wants to reach new heights for the genre, let alone television shows in general.
2) It’s staggeringly predictable
All of Marvel’s solo superhero Netflix shows so far have been wedded to a 13-episode format that none of them has quite mastered when it comes to pacing storytelling (though Jessica Jones’s first season comes close). The good news is that this time around, Iron Fist has only 10 episodes, encouraging more streamlined storytelling and a tighter focus.
But there’s some bad news too.
Anyone who’s watched those previous Marvel seasons should be able to recognize a storytelling pattern that’s begun to develop across these shows: A huge twist comes right before midseason; a true villain emerges in episode seven or eight; and our hero loses his/her powers or is gravely hurt or captured around episode six and requires his/her friends and loved ones to help.
Unfortunately for Iron Fist’s second season, it follows and telegraphs those dreaded beats almost to the letter, eliminating any excitement or unpredictability. Instead of trying something different with its smaller episode number, Iron Fist seems to have simply compressed the general story pattern of Marvel’s other Netflix superhero shows and applied them to a different set of characters.
And speaking of those characters ...
3) Iron Fist is becoming the Colleen Wing and Misty Knight show
Perhaps the most notable difference this season is how Iron First becomes less about Danny Rand’s (Finn Jones) origin story and flips its focus to Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick). Now that the show isn’t burdened with explaining all the intricacies of Rand’s transformation into the Iron Fist and his putzy fish-out-of-water routine, Wing, who was one of the first season’s few highlights, gets her own origin story that places her front and center.
Without giving too much away, Wing has to define what justice means to her and figure out how to achieve that. It’s a complex battle for a character who is used to living her life by the Bushido code of law. And she’s assisted in that personal battle by Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who becomes her confidante and mentor, encouraging Wing to follow in her footsteps and join the police force.
It’s fun watching the two women play off each other, both knowing that in this Marvel world, pure justice doesn’t truly exist — that it comes with compromises and consequences. The solid, playful friendship they form is a compelling argument for their own spinoff show.
4) It helps to know about Typhoid Mary from the comic books
The new character this season is Typhoid Mary, played by Alice Eve. In the comics, the character is presented as having dissociative identity disorder, something that’s harder to depict in a live-action television show — particularly without glamorizing the condition, which in Mary’s case manifests itself in different superpowers for each of her identities.
Knowing what Eve is doing with the character ahead of time pays off as the series progresses. It’s hard to imagine watching Eve without any prior knowledge of Mary and not getting immensely confused. But with that knowledge, it’s a riveting performance, as Eve is tasked with physically changing her body language and expressions in a way that comes off as threatening rather than comical. It’s a tricky line to toe, but she nails it.
5) Iron Fist has acquired a sense of humor about itself. Finally.
In a strange first, I actually caught myself laughing at some of Iron Fist’s jokes — mainly the ones targeting its protagonist. Danny Rand’s ridiculous story about dragons and glowing fists and magical cities is supposed to be bonkers, and the showrunners and writers this season have gotten much better at acknowledging it.
If you watched The Defenders, Marvel’s team-up show of all of its Netflix heroes, one of its funnier and more human aspects was how everyone kept taking the air out of Rand’s sails. That same spirit continues here, as Wing, Knight, and Rand himself aren’t afraid to point out the elephants in the room and poke fun at all the high mythology being thrown around. A willingness to laugh at itself grounds the show, making it feel more human, especially when so many other parts of it strain so hard to be taken seriously.