The Good: Claire Temple, Ward Meachum, and Joy Meachum
The Bad: Everyone else, Stale plot, Sudden macguffin, Stiff performances
The Basics: Iron Fist ends low with "Dragon Plays With Fire."
The entire purpose of a serialized television show is to tell a compelling story with interesting characters and the importance of a season finale is that it completes the long arc and makes viewers excited for any subsequent seasons. The television shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have often done a good job of bringing about strong resolution for the seasons, especially when the season has a strong adversary. Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, and Jai'Ying all led to fairly decent finales for Marvel shows. Even John Garrett helped end the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in an interesting way, because much of the season had been spent confronting the effects of his character. When the full season is not devoted to a single adversary, the climactic conflict with that adversary makes for a weaker finale; Diamondback only appearing for the back half of Luke Cage made the focus on the conflict with him in that finale a weaker end for that season, for example. Iron Fist suffers in a similar fashion as Harold Meachum steps up in "Dragon Plays With Fire" to be the sudden Big Bad in a simplistic conflict that hardly seems nearly as big or powerful as the other adversaries Rand has faced in the season.
"Dragon Plays With Fire" picks up right after "Bar The Big Boss" (reviewed here!), which climaxed with Danny Rand and Colleen Wing on the run from D.E.A. agents. Harold Meachum tipped off the Drug Enforcement Agency that Danny Rand was a drug kingpin and in fleeing them, Rand incapacitated some of the agents. "Dragon Plays With Fire" begins with the inherent weakness of a contrived chase that the viewer knows entirely is a set-up. To that end, "Dragon Plays With Fire" engineers a macguffin - in this case a tablet computer with unadulterated documents on it - opposite the simplistic conflict. So, it is almost unsurprising that "Dragon Plays With Fire" is a painfully unremarkable season finale that allows some of the supporting characters and actors to entirely overshadow the protagonists and their performers.
Harold Meachum returns to work at Rand Enterprises, while Ward is in the process of enlisting the aid of Jeri Hogarth in saving Danny. Harold is using the DEA to bring down Danny and Hogarth clandestinely meets with Rand and Wing to figure out their strategy. Rand is being hunted by the DEA because Harold altered documents that were on a tablet belonging to The Hand. Determined to get the uncorrupted data, Rand and Wing return to Bakuto's compound, but find it completely abandoned . . . save for the imprisoned Madame Gao. Gao tells Rand the only way he will truly become an Iron Fist is by killing Harold Meachum, whom she reveals as being the one who killed Rand's parents.
While Rand sets his sights on Harold Meachum and recovering the tablet that will exonerate him, Ward visits Joy in the hospital. When Joy learns that Danny is wanted by the DEA, she leaves the hospital to confront her father. Joy quickly susses out that her father is lying to her. When Ward returns to Rand Enterprises, he realizes his father's personal army might be enough to stop the Iron Fist. Wing and Rand come anyway, with Temple providing a distraction. In the climactic battle against Harold Meachum, Danny must determine to what lengths he will go to stop his immortal enemy.
"Dragon Plays With Fire" might have been all right were it not for the fact that the episode rips off an earlier episode of Iron Fist. When Wing, Temple and Rand went to China to apprehend Madame Gao, the trip and the episode were bogged down with Rand moralizing about what to do with Gao when they find her. In that episode, Danny Rand was proven to be immature, uncommitted and somewhat stupid. That is repeated in "Dragon Plays With Fire." The repetitive nature of "Dragon Plays With Fire" becomes undeniable when Claire Temple bribes a cart owner the same way Wing bribed a beggar in China.
In "Dragon Plays With Fire," Harold Meachum loses any appearance of subtlety or nuance and moves into the over-the-top comic book villain category. Joy Meachum has some wonderful moments when she challenges her father's lies, but Harold's go-to of lying and violence make him seem ridiculous and a caricature . . . much the way Joy's ultimate scene is unsatisfying for its transparency.
Claire Temple and Rosario Dawson steal the early scenes of "Dragon Plays With Fire," while Tom Pelphrey crushes every scene he is in. Pelphrey turns Ward Meachum around and restores him to a professional, commanding character. Pelphrey's physical performance in "Dragon Plays With Fire" makes Ward compelling and once again seem credible as a businessperson. Ward and Temple have the most satisfying resolution to their character arcs in season one of Iron Fist.
Unfortunately, Danny Rand, Colleen Wing and Harold Meachum all have pathetic arcs in "Dragon Plays With Fire." Rand and Wing both have moments where they are stiff, clueless or poorly-defined. Season 1 of Iron Fist does not satisfactorily explain why Danny Rand worked so hard to become the Iron Fist only to abandon his responsibilities and go through the Trials without understanding even what the Iron Fist was. Moreover, how the hell did Davos - a devoted monk whose life and heritage were all designed around him become the new guardian of K'un-Lun - lose to Danny Rand?!
Finn Jones delivers an unfortunately inorganic performance at all of the key emotional moments of "Dragon Plays With Fire." Similarly, Jessica Henwick has minimal emotional connection with Jones on-screen and her reactions to Jones's most emotive lines are very stiff.
Ultimately, "Dragon Plays With Fire" is a predictable, formulaic, stiffly-executed season finale where a couple of the supporting characters steal all focus and credibility from the weak protagonists.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Iron Fist - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!
For other finale episodes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please visit my reviews of:
"You Know My Steez" - Luke Cage
"AKA Smile" - Jessica Jones
"Daredevil" - Daredevil
"Ascension" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Valediction" - Agent Carter
For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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