Here’s the truth: It would have been really nice if at some point during Season 2 of “Marvel’s Iron Fist,” Danny Rand had fought a literal dragon. Yes, that’s ridiculous to imagine on a show set not in Westeros, but modern-day Manhattan, but hey, Danny talks about having fought a dragon to attain his powers. Why not show it?
That’s perhaps the most interesting question a critic might consider when faced with this season of television, largely because “Iron Fist” once again feels like it has opportunities it won’t take full advantage of, despite its privilege.
And the concept of privilege is invoked here in the most literal way: Danny Rand (played by Finn Jones), on screen, is a badass fighter, yet he’s been a punching bag since the first season premiered. There was very good reason for this: Not only was “Iron Fist” badly executed, but in the storytelling universe occupied by a black man, a woman, and a blind man, the addition of a rich young white dude skilled in kung fu, whose only disadvantage was having lost his parents at a young age, felt relatively unnecessary.
But the show continues, and out of duty, select viewers continue to watch. It’s something that might draw critics to identify with the show more with this new release, because Danny comes into this season determined to fill in for Matt Murdock (following his “death” during the events of “The Defenders”) and protect New York City, while also coming to understand how privilege has shaped his life and trying to figure out how to operate within all the parameters that define him.
(For the record, the fact that Matt Murdock’s “death” was painfully obviously not for real really sweeps the leg when it comes to the emotional motivation for Danny’s dedication. And maybe that’s why it doesn’t have so much of an impact on viewers when Danny considers refocusing his pursuits.)
Perhaps the best thing about “Iron Fist’s” second season is its length, which is only 10 episodes. This is not meant as a dig towards the quality of the show (“It may suck, but at least there’s less of it!”) but instead an acknowledgment that at long last, the Netflix/Marvel shows have been truly uncoupled from the concept that all seasons need to be 13 episodes. Yes, of course, “The Defenders” was eight episodes, but it was a very special Sigourney Weaver-starring case. Otherwise, every one of these shows has been longer than necessary and suffered from it.
This is not to say that “Iron Fist” episodes escape the sense of feeling padded; a line of dialogue that no action show should ever use when it comes to its ongoing conflicts is, “Good, let’s slow things down.” That line, uttered during Episode 3 of the season, precedes a lengthy awkward dinner party that features a vast amount of talking and no action and yeah, sure, that’s exactly why martial arts fans tune into this show.
It’s not as padded as it could be, however, and the action sequences do feature no shortage of punch-kicking and kick-punching, and everyone on the team deserves applause for their hard work on that score. In general, there’s the definite sense of improvement here, on a number of levels, especially since so much of what’s shown spotlights the female cast. Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and her robot arm show up for several episodes’ worth of fun, Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup) continues her complicated and compelling journey, and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) gets so much of the spotlight that she could pull a Claire Underwood, and no one would blink.
The season’s newest ray of hope is Alice Eve as Mary — or as fans of the comics would clarify, villain Typhoid Mary, a woman suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (a condition that does exist in the real world, but has always, in cartoony on-screen incarnations, fallen into multiple personality disorder tropes). Eve delivers a truly captivating performance, though the character’s portrayal still suffers from the basic fact that DID isn’t a condition of being one person, then another.
Meanwhile, the lethal Davos (Sacha Dhawan), who serves as another key antagonist, is also a pretty compelling figure, given how the challenges of trying to push forward his mission in New York run up against his principles, from sex to food to anything else good in this world.
There are also the warring siblings Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy, whose relationship with Danny continues to dance between foe and friend. And, yes, Alice Eve’s presence is welcome, but Colleen is the true lady star of the show, kicking ass so nimbly that when she’s in the thick of battle, Danny isn’t missed.
To its credit, the idea of Colleen being the real star of the show isn’t an idea “Iron Fist” doesn’t seem to hate. It may, in fact, actively love it. But she still has to share the stage with Danny, and neither of them gets to fight a real dragon on screen.
“Iron Fist” knew it was an underdog going into this season. But it’s also a show about people whose fists glow crazy colors when they punch super-hard. So a humble suggestion for a potential, perhaps even likely, Season 3: Dragons. What could it hurt?
“Marvel’s Iron Fist” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.