After a slow premiere and a largely superfluous second episode, Iron Fist delivers its first solid outing of the season. “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch” isn’t perfect. The show is still plagued by stilted dialogue and wonky characterizations, but the episode clips along at a steady pace and offers some solid action sequences along the way. And like I mentioned in my last review, a little panache goes a long ways towards papering over an episode’s weak spots. This really should’ve been Iron Fist’s second episode as it gets the story rolling in a way “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight” just didn’t. Danny (finally!) takes concrete, logical steps to verify his identity. Colleen proves her mettle in more ways than one. Ward and Joy both get even more complicated than they were before. And we find out Harold Meachum sleeps and/or regenerates in a glass tube like some sort of 21st century corporate vampire because of course he does.
Trust and loyalty are the big themes of the episode. If the Meachums had more of it for Danny, they’d welcome him back with open arms and likely go on to be an effective trio. But because they’ve built so much of their identities around running Rand Enterprises, they’re immediately defensive about losing their company. They try to buy Danny’s shares, offering a healthy payout if he agrees to change his identity too (“You can pick a name you love!” Joy enthusiastically offers as a perk). But what they misjudge is that Danny’s loyalty is first and foremost to his parent’s legacy, not to their money. The Meachums treat Danny like a greedy rival, not like what he really is: family. Which means that by the end of the episode, harsh battle lines have been drawn. Thanks to the “us against them” mentality passed on to them by their father, Ward and Joy embroil themselves in a legal battle they’re destined to lose thanks to a well-placed fingerprint on an old homemade gift.
The differences between Ward and Joy also snap into clearer focus in this episode. Ward may be the one in on Rand Enterprise’s biggest secret (that Harold Meachum is very much still alive), but in some ways he’s the less cutthroat of the two siblings. He even dreams of leaving the business world all together and starting a life away from his father’s domineering presence/obsession with buying piers. Joy, on the other hand, seems to love the business world and all its shady secrets. She comes to life in a way we haven’t seen her before as she takes a client out for a night on the town that includes both champagne and a black market organ transplant for his nephew. Yet given that Joy appears to be the one who sent Danny his identity-establishing bowl in the first place, she’s not just a one-note corporate ice queen either. Rather than present a simplistic good sibling/bad sibling dynamic, Iron Fist paints both Meachums with a nuanced brush. And that’s a far more interesting choice.
Colleen also gets her most interesting arc yet as she’s first defeated during a sparring match with Danny, but then uses his advice to later win a brutal cage fight for cash. I have to admit, on one level it’s a little off-putting to watch dojo master Colleen being condescended to and then beaten by Danny in their initial fight, if only because the imagery of an anonymous man questioning the credentials of a well-trained woman is so potent. On the other hand, I like that the show isn’t falling into the trap of depicting Colleen as a quippy, infallible “strong female character” with no weaknesses. If we accept that Danny truly is one of the best martial artists in the world (which would be easier if Finn Jones were better at the fight choreography), it makes sense that he’d be able to beat even someone as skilled as Colleen. And her final, surprisingly grueling cage match is a testament to her ability to learn and grow as a fighter. I think the Colleen/Danny fight is supposed to be more flirty and charming than it comes across (Colleen’s agreement that they were “having fun” didn’t track with my reading of the scene), but overall this is a fairly solid episode for Colleen.
The action too is a step up from the previous two episodes. It’s still far from the most compelling fight choreography I’ve seen on TV (the cinematography is really lacking), but just having more of it helps the show feel more exciting. At its best, Danny’s ”internal force not external strength” fighting style allows the choreography to utilize negative space in a really interesting way, as Danny dodges more punches than he lands. And in her final fight—the best extended action sequence of the series so far—Colleen joins the auspicious ranks of Spider-Man and Wolverine (and I guess Apocalypse’s Angel?) as live action superheroes who make a big debut in a cage fight.
But where the show is still stumbling is with its central hero. Though Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, and Mike Colter were all out-acted to varying degrees by their respective antagonists, they at least brought a sense of cohesive humanity to their Defenders heroes. So far, Finn Jones hasn’t been able to lock into that same kind of fully realized performance. Danny’s shifts from overwhelmed lost soul to condescending warrior just don’t track. In particular, his cruel smackdown of Colleen’s dojo students seems like it comes out of nowhere, although the show at least recognizes (via Colleen) that he was in the wrong there.
Perhaps if Iron Fist were able to find some comedy either from Danny himself or from his fish-out-of-water situation, he might work better as a protagonist. But right now, everything about him kind of blends together in a nondescript, confusing way.
Still, this is probably Jones’ strongest episode yet, and it helps that he’s finally paired with a true ally: Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), Jessica Jones’ former employer who was most recently seen offering Foggy Nelson a job in Daredevil’s second season. A former legal intern at Rand Enterprises, she accepts Danny’s identity with far less fuss than the Meachum siblings and agrees to fight for him on the condition that he put her firm on permanent retainer once he gets control of Rand Enterprises back. Her no-nonsense approach is a welcome balance to Danny’s space-cadet act. And her crack about Danny needing to ditch his “homeless hipster look” is one of the most satisfying moments in the episode.
As Danny digs deeper into the sorted lives of the Meachums, it’ll be nice to have an ally by his side. Assuming, of course, he doesn’t fall to his death from Harold’s penthouse. Here’s hoping the Order Of The Crane Mother taught some safe landing skills along with all that corporal punishment.
- It blows my mind that despite the sheer number of people who worked on this episode no one flagged that it would be a bad idea to have Danny chastise a room full of black and brown students by calling them “chattering monkeys.” It’s stuff like that that makes me hesitant to give the show the benefit of the doubt when it comes to issues of representation. If the creators aren’t even aware of basic racially charged language, how am I supposed to trust that they’ve thought out the racial politics of their show?
- Harold gets a visit from a mysterious woman who I believe Daredevil fans will recognize, although her identity technically remains a mystery for now.
- Another crossover character: Colleen’s star pupil Darryl (Marquis Rodriguez) previously popped up in an episode of Luke Cage.
- It’s one thing to appreciate a cultural you’ve spent a lot of time in, it’s another to be super performative about that appreciation. Danny’s Buddhist shrine for Joy felt insanely over the top, even if it was quite pretty.
- At one point Danny declares to Colleen, “I haven’t broken any laws.” Umm, what about the time you purchased and used a fraudulent passport, physically assaulted the guards of Rand Enterprises, broke into Rand Enterprises, trespassed in Joy’s house, attempted to steal Ward’s car, and escaped your mandatory stay in a psych ward by literally destroying one of the building’s walls?
- Danny self-righteously telling Joy and Ward, “I have Hogarth now!” made me burst into laughter, which I don’t think was the desired response.
- The Kevin Award for most best guest performance goes to this groundskeeper played by Tyson Hall, who really doesn’t have time for Danny’s questions about gravestones. (And shout-out to Allison Shoemaker for inspiring me with a similar award in her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reviews.)