The Marvel Netflix ‘verse has given us some amazing television. Personally, I think these shows have given us some of the best content in the entire MCU. Jessica Jones gave us the first powered female character to headline her own property. Luke Cage gave us an extremely relevant show that tackled race relations with nuance. Daredevil is some of the best TV in any genre, hands down.
But Iron Fist? Iron Fist is not like the others. It’s not something that fits in with this dynamic of great television, fantastic characters, and amazing development. Or, at least, it wasn’t. But Iron Fist season 2 is giving us something new, something fantastic, and finally something worthy of being a part of the Marvel Netflix lineup.
Iron Fist season 2 gave us the biggest TV glow up I can think of. After the disastrous first season set the show on the precarious ground, season 2 watered my crops, cleared my skin, and gave me life. How did the powers that be make such a big difference?
A Poor Start
From the start, Iron Fist had problems. There were lots of accusations of cultural appropriation — rightful accusations. There was an uncomfortable white savior narrative. Danny Rand, billionaire white man, goes to a foreign land with overtly eastern overtones, is better than them at their own culture, and protects them.
To be fair, that was the source material the showrunners were working with. Danny Rand is a white man in the comics. Some people called for this to be a chance to racebend a character for better purposes (unlike Ben Urich in Daredevil), but ultimately Marvel chose to keep to the source material in this regard.
So before Iron Fist even premiered, it was on rocky ground. It doesn’t help, of course, that the show had to compete with the other Marvel Netflix offerings, which were fantastic. And given that the previous shows featuring a disabled man with mental illness, a rape survivor female hero with PTSD, and a black hero who deals with racism and police brutality, featuring a billionaire white man felt a little… cheap.
Then, of course, the show itself just… wasn’t that good. Danny Rand isn’t just a billionaire white savior hero; he’s boring. The best part of season 1 was clearly Claire Temple and the connecting threads to the other Marvel Netflix shows. There was no point at which I wanted to spend more time with Danny or his world.
The Defenders helped revitalize Danny somewhat. Showing him actually interacting with the larger Marvel Netflix ‘verse made him a better character. Even so, he was the least compelling of the four heroes, and there wasn’t much call for a second season of Iron Fist. That story felt played out. Why did we need more?
Then Came Iron Fist Season 2
Personally, I was annoyed at the announcement of Iron Fist season 2. I wanted more Daredevil, not Iron Fist. I was reeling from Luke Cage season 2, wondering what was going to happen next with my favorite heroes, and unbelievably annoyed that I had to suffer through another season of Iron Fist before I could get Daredevil.
But, I watched it anyway. I wanted inspiration for new articles, but mostly I just felt like I had an obligation to. It wasn’t something I looked forward to; it was a fandom chore, essentially. So I sat down very resignedly to spend 10 hours with Danny Rand and his world.
What I got was so much better than expected. I thought it was going to be another slog through a boring world with a boring protagonist. Instead, Iron Fist season 2 gave me a compelling story, amazing characters, and proof that Marvel can learn from feedback.
One of the reasons Iron Fist struggled so much was because it had a seriously lackluster protagonist. Even before the show premiered, Danny Rand caused problems. Did we seriously need another “rich white boy saves the day” narrative? The other Marvel Netflix shows had interesting, complex, disadvantaged protagonists. Danny was a real step down.
The first season of Iron Fist didn’t really redeem him at all. He was boring, not terribly likable, and utterly forgettable. He was better teaming up with Luke Cage and the other Defenders in both The Defenders and Luke Cage season 2, but he generally left a poor impression on fans.
Iron Fist season 2 seems to have grasped that. Sure, Danny was more likeable after his appearances in other shows, but he wasn’t likely to inspire much affection or devotion. So, the powers that be made a smart choice: they stopped focusing the show on Danny.
Season 2 is much more an ensemble affair, with many interesting characters getting good time. There were a lot of narratives happening, giving us deep character development across the board. New characters like Mary Walker were fascinating and compelling. Returning characters like Davos and Joy Meachum got new development. Misty Knight gave us life in a crossover. Ward Meachum suddenly became interesting.
But the best thing season 2 did was give us a new protagonist: Colleen Wing. Colleen was a big part of season 1, of course, and also a big part of The Defenders, but Iron Fist season 2 seemed to realize that she would make a much better protagonist. Danny still plays a big role, of course, but by making Colleen the new Iron Fist, the show seems primed to focus more on her story, which is a smart move.
After watching Iron Fist season 2, it seems clear that while Danny is still a focus, he is no longer the focus. Instead, it was Colleen who got the protagonist treatment.
At the start of season 2, Colleen is the one dealing with the repercussions of past actions. Colleen is the one who gets the traditional hero storyline, of hanging up her katana out of regret. After killing Bakuto, she no longer feels like she can fight. She puts her focus on improving the community through other means. That’s a typical hero storyline.
In fact, this very strongly mirrors Matt Murdock’s storyline. While there is the implication that Danny is taking over for Matt by protecting New York, Colleen more strongly mirrors Matt’s arc in The Defenders: Matt was doing pro-bono work, had given up vigilantism, and was trying to improve himself. He eventually gives in to the inevitable and becomes Daredevil again.
We get that same story from Colleen. She gives up fighting and teaching, wanting to put that part of her life behind her. However, circumstances conspire to keep her in the life. She teams up with Misty Knight and fights much the same way Matt fights with Jessica Jones in The Defenders. Colleen tries to resist for as long as she can but inevitably cannot stay away.
It’s Colleen choosing to embrace heroism (after a community member’s tragic death) that changes the story in Iron Fist season 2. It’s not Danny who must embrace his destiny. Colleen is the hero, made literal by her taking on the mantle of the Iron Fist. She is the new defender of New York. It’s a good choice and makes me actually want a third season.
While Colleen’s glow up was thrilling for me, far more unexpected was the development of Ward Meachum. Season 1 of Iron Fist paints Ward clearly as a necessary evil. He’s not a villain, per se, but he’s definitely a bad guy. Joy is the good Meachum, the one who helps Danny. Season 2 turns that all on its head, with Joy as the Meachum actively working against Danny, teaming up with Davos to stop Danny.
Conversely, Ward actually becomes a good guy. Ward is in Narcotics Anonymous and trying to get his life back in order. He’s still a mess, and still has a long way to go. But he is actively trying to do better and be better. He becomes one of Danny’s biggest supporters, rolls with the punches, and at the end of the season runs off to Asia to help Danny investigate the history of K’un-Lun and the Iron Fist.
Ward was an interesting development. So far, the Marvel Netflix shows have had a definite pattern: season 2 sees a close ally and support system of the hero break. Daredevil shows Matt losing Foggy, his partner-in-crime (or law, whatever), his grounding point. Jessica Jones destroyed Trish Walker to develop Jess. Luke Cage did Claire Temple dirty and I’m still not over it.
But Iron Fist gave us the reverse: a character who was not great becomes that support system. Ward becomes Danny’s Foggy, essentially. He still gives Danny a hard time, but in the way a close friend would. He builds Danny up and has his back. It’s not what I was expecting, but I really like it and hope to see more of their dynamic.
Shades of Villainy
It’s not just the heroes who developed. Iron Fist season 2 gave us some of the most compelling villains we’ve seen in all the Marvel Netflix ‘verse. Season 1’s the Hand was a little weak. We’d already encountered them in Daredevil, and their presence in Iron Fist was more a stepping stone to their role in The Defenders.
Season 2 gave us more nuance and shades of gray. None of the villains in season 2 were mustache-twirling, clearly evil bad guys. Instead, we see what happens when good people — or at least people with decent intentions — go down a dark road.
Mary Walker was absolutely fantastic. Alice Eve killed it, playing both Mary and Walker with fluid grace. Walker was intimidating, and clearly capable of brutality, while Mary was sweet and almost pathetic. Both felt like real, fully developed characters. And while Walker was on the wrong side at first, her reasoning and characterization made her deeply sympathetic. I’m hoping she comes back for more development.
Davos, on the other hand, was clearly a villain. He fought against Danny, killed a lot of people, and made a mess of things. But damn if he wasn’t one of the most compelling villains I’ve ever seen. His reasoning — that this was the natural role of the Iron Fist, that he was making the world a better place — was every bit of nuance the MCU keeps trying for and missing clearly.
The dynamic between Danny and Davos was chillingly perfect. At times, they were very reminiscent of Matt Murdock and Frank Castle: two vigilantes arguing over the ethics of what they do. In other cases, their sibling rivalry and resentment was very Thor and Loki. It was a fantastic storyline, with an acutely interesting villain.
Iron Fist Season 2 Avoids the Sophomore Slump
All in all, I expected almost nothing from Iron Fist season 2. I was expecting another lackluster season, anticipating that the Daredevil teaser was going to be the high point for me. I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Iron Fist season 2 was fantastic, and I’d argue that it was one of the best seasons of the Marvel Netflix ‘verse yet.
Iron Fist season 2 managed to accomplish so much. A lot of it was a change in management: new showrunner Raven Metzner clearly knew what to do to improve on season 1. The fights looked much better with Clayton Barber in charge, an important improvement in a show based on martial arts. But when it really came down to it, it was the character changes that made this season.
It would have been easy to drop the ball here. Iron Fist could have easily continued the second season character pattern by making Colleen a problem for Danny. Instead, they made her the protagonist, gave Danny a new ally by developing Ward, and kept IronWing an actually healthy relationship (an oddity for the Marvel Netflix ‘verse).
Season 2 gave us some of the best villains in the MCU, with actual shades of gray and complex motivations. It gave us a new Iron Fist who is compelling, with mysteries of her own to solve. By focusing on other characters, Danny didn’t need to be amazing, which allowed him to just develop into a good guy.
I didn’t expect much from Iron Fist season 2. I thought it would be a chore. Instead, Iron Fist season 2 managed to accomplish something I thought was impossible: it made me want more. I can’t wait for another season and hope we get even more good development from these characters.