Well hey how about that? An episode full of fighting, story development AND character growth that gives both our heroes and antagonists clever nuances to their personalities? Can’t every episode of Iron Fist be at least as good as episode 4?
When the memorable cliffhanger ending of episode 3 is swiftly resolved in the first five minutes of "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm," you know this is an episode that is looking to cover some ground. And cover it does, as episode 4 of Marvel’s Iron Fist provides a meaningful combination of storyline progression and character development that is a welcome change of pace for a show that’s sort of struggled coming out of the gate. In our opening scene we see a resolution to Danny’s legal troubles, an explanation of Harold Meachum’s survival and seclusion, a brief introduction to The Hand and its reach (pun retroactively intended) and some begrudging growth from Ward. All credit to writer Scott Reynolds–this episode really cooks.
The revelations keep coming as, in short order, we also confirm that it was Joy who passed Danny the bowl that proved his identity, Colleen’s recreational combat experience has gone viral thanks to one of their students, and we see a return of the one character that has appeared in every Marvel Netflix series thus far: the hallway fight scene. It’s all punctuated by better performances than usual from both Jones and Jessica Stroup, whose Joy Meachum is probably the most conflicted in choosing whether or not to be a part of her brother’s purely capitalistic agenda or Danny’s more altruistic one. To that end, Danny begins to orchestrate what may be his eventual downfall (in the business world at least) during his first meeting, as he uses his controlling shares in the corporation to sell a life-saving medication at cost rather than the sizable price hike they had initially intended. Later, Ward tries to sow these seeds by “leaking” to a reporter that the income generated by the price hike could have been used to fund research, only for the article produced in response to (unrealistically) paint the motion as some kind of Robin Hood type, rather than go for the more sensational story.
Elsewhere, emboldened by her victory in the cage, Colleen is finding that her lust for battle is growing as she returns to the squared circle (with an awesome Run The Jewels soundtrack I might add) where she trounces two challengers at once. It’s cool to see that she’s such a badass and all, but I would like to see a side of Ms. Wing besides the bushido-obsessed combatant. So far her defining characteristics are a burgeoning bloodlust and a sloppy armbar submission, but I’d like to see her develop further as an individual and become more integral to the central plot once again.
The second (and better) fight of the episode comes when some hatchet-wielding triads bust into Danny’s penthouse to try and kidnap Joy. What follows is Danny’s only real fight sequence of the series thus far (bizarre for a show centered on a character created as a pastiche of ‘70s kung fu flick cliches) and, fittingly enough, it is also the best we’ve seen thus far. Danny works his way through eight hardass gangsters wielding hatchets in the private hallway of his building using acrobatic kicks and reactive offense. While it’s a pretty good fight, however, it does seem to lack that little something to make it special. The camera work is great and the stunts are fine, it’s just…it’s like a B+ when it should be an A. Whether it’s the grittiness and desperation that defined Daredevil’s best combat sequence or the tight choreography of something like The Raid: Redemption, this fight needed something to make it stand out, but it ended up being just a bit underwhelming. All of that aside, it was great to see Danny be formidable for once–using his Iron Fist to smash through one of the hatchets, in particular, was a cool move. Continuing the battle in the elevator as Danny wrecks shop in the glow of the red emergency light is also a cool visual. Shoot, even Joy gets a shot in on the guy who struck her earlier, giving her a bit of shine as well.
This directly leads into the most endearing character moment for Harold Meachum this far, when he uses his relationship with The Hand to exact a very personal form of revenge on behalf of his daughter. While it’s clear he has little if any real affection for his son, and he’s almost assuredly playing his newly established relationship with Danny for his own personal gain, his love for his daughter (who let’s not forget is convinced that he died from cancer 10 years prior) is almost enough to humanize him. It gives him something to do other than baffle me with whatever American accent David Wenham is trying to pull of when he’s passive aggressively belittling his son.
If there’s something about this episode I’m not crazy about it’s the seeming development of a love triangle between Danny, Joy and Colleen. I hope I’m wrong about it, because both of these women are strong and developing in their own ways and I don’t think either one needs a romantic subplot with the manchild that is Danny Rand. One more quick negative is that Danny’s chest tattoo–the mark of Shou-Lou, the Undying–is really poorly done. I didn’t need Finn Jones to get the actual tattoo or anything, but given that the episode ends with a closeup of the mark, they could have made more of an effort to make it actually look like a lasting mark, instead of Sharpie drawing on his skin.
Still, this is the best episode of the series so far. Good action, development for major and minor characters and an ending that continues to advance the central “Rand Vs. Hand” plotline that will likely be the defining conflict of the series. Reynolds is credited with writing one more episode this season, but hopefully "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" is enough to set them on the path to a strong second half.