Even though we thought there were a surprising amount of things to like about Iron Fist’s second season, in the weeks since it dropped on Netflix, more than a few people have asked whether they should invest the time in watching the entire thing. The answer, unsurprisingly, is complicated.
Do you have to watch season two? Of course not, especially considering how many viewers were put off by the first season. But if you were thinking of giving Iron Fist another go, but still found yourself apprehensive as to whether it’s worth the ride, there are really only two episodes you need to see.
Because Netflix’s Marvel shows are all designed to be watched straight through, it’s easy to get the impression that watching one of them is essentially like signing up to watch a 10- to 13-hour movie that’s chopped up into hour-long chunks. If Iron Fist’s second season had spent the bulk of its time with Colleen, Misty, and Danny as they investigated and took on the latest threat facing New York City, it might have been a compelling watch, not unlike a epic movie, from beginning to end.
As is the case with all of these shows, though, Iron Fist sets aside a sizeable amount of time for its supporting characters and their subplots — which, while mildly interesting, sucks the momentum out of the season. This becomes apparent just a few minutes into the second episode. It isn’t until the last third of the show that you get the impression Iron Fist is actually building toward something — a signal that the show’s on the verge of pivoting in a fascinating new direction that might eventually make it appointment viewing.
Davos plans to steal the Iron Fist from Danny Rand in order to give himself the strength and power to usher in a new age of warped, militant justice with no regard for the people he might hurt — or worse, kill — in the process. Said plan involves a convoluted tattooing ritual with a bowl, which completely pokes holes in Iron Fist’s established mythos explaining that the Fist can only be acquired by someone capable of defeating the dragon Shou-Lao in combat and then plunging their fist into the beast’s heart. But the show never bothers to deal with that and instead focuses on the lengths Davos, the Meachums, and newcomer Mary Walker are willing to go to get their hands on Danny.
Iron Fist could very easily have told a story about Danny losing his abilities and discovering that the Iron Fist was never what truly made him a hero — until, at the last minute, he’s able to wrest the power back for himself and save the day in the process. But Iron Fist zigs instead of zags and purposefully leaves Danny largely powerless, keeping the Iron Fist in play as a non-corporeal MacGuffin that’s up for grabs. In “Citadel on the Edge of Vengeance,” the eighth episode of the season, Danny explains to Colleen that before he lost it, he was certain that he’d become addicted to the power the Iron Fist gave him, and that even though it’s crucial they retrieve it from Davos, Colleen should be the one to take it next.
In that moment, Colleen’s season two arc takes on a whole new meaning. Up until that point, it seemed as if the time she spent becoming involved in her community and unravelling the mysteries of her lineage might have merely been narrative busywork the show used to bide its time until focusing back on Danny. But as the season’s final two episodes, “War Without End” and “A Duel of Iron,” unfold, Iron Fist deepens its stance and make clear that the idea of Colleen becoming the newest Iron Fist isn’t at all a misdirect.
Not only does the Fist become hers to wield, but we learn that her ancestor might have been one of the very first Iron Fists, making the gift a unique kind of birthright. Much has been said about the white saviour complex baked into Iron Fist’s canon in both the comic books and television show — and, short of suddenly recasting Rand as a person of colour, there wasn’t all that much Netflix’s take on the character could do to change that. Finn Jones is here to stay, but in giving the Iron Fist to Colleen and positing that Danny is no longer (and perhaps was never) fit for the role, Iron Fist is both course correcting and laying the groundwork for a much more dynamic story going forward.
When you look back at the larger trajectory of Colleen’s character arc over the course of Iron Fist’s two seasons, it’s easy to read it as a kind of extended origin story in its own right. She began as a member of the Hand who joined the winning team after seeing the error of her ways, and then took the time to find herself in a world she felt largely disconnected from until partnering with Misty and Danny. Iron Fist has taken its time to show us that growth in Colleen — in sharp contrast to Danny’s origins as the Iron Fist, which were illustrated with a handful of flashbacks and a constant need to tell us that Danny’s the hero of the story.
Danny fist-wielding not one, but two Iron Fists and channelling his chi into two pistols.
To the show’s credit, Iron Fist doesn’t simply cast Danny to the side, either. Even though the Iron Fist is no longer his, “A Duel of Iron” sets the stage for a new chapter in Danny’s life that feels appropriate and nonetheless intriguing.
Months after the final showdown with Davos, Danny and Ward Meachum find themselves in Japan on the search for Orson Randall, the Iron Fist who preceded Danny. After two seasons of fighting hordes of nameless, faceless villains (the vast majority of whom were people of colour playing nondescript Hand ninjas or triad goons), Danny’s main focus is on another white guy. It feels as if the show is putting him in a position to contemplate the intricacies of what it means to be an outsider who enters K’un-Lun and ends up becoming its greatest champion.
For better or worse, Iron Fist’s take on Danny has always come across as somewhat guileless and out of touch with the cultures that presumably made him the person he is when we meet him. It seems as if Iron Fist might be ready to have those difficult conversations about Danny as a character by putting him on a path to meet and interact with someone like Orson, who could challenge him to reflect deeply on their similar connections to K’un-Lun.
What’s wild is that pretty much all of this is dumped into Iron Fist’s last two episodes, along with more than a few excellent fight scenes and the promise of a new Big Bad for the show’s third season (if there is a third season). So, yeah, if you were at all on the fence about watching season two of Iron Fist, go ahead and watch the last two episodes — you’ll be able to follow easily enough — and if you like what you see, go back and watch the rest, because they’ll make that big payoff at the end even more satisfying.