Sunday, March 19, 2017

First Major Reversals For Iron Fist Come In "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm"

The Good: Several good performances, Moments of character, Moments of direction
The Bad: One potentially troublesome Marvel Comics allusion, Meandering plot, Unsophisticated writing for the business aspects
The Basics: Danny Rand starts to piece together the mysteries behind Rand Enterprises in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm."

Like most Marvel Television Universe works, Iron Fist has a mystery component to it. By "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm," certain aspects of that mystery have come into focus. The villain behind everything in the first season of Daredevil (reviewed here!) has made an appearance and has been set up to be the primary adversary for Danny Rand. But Madame Gao is once again using business interests to take control of key areas in New York City and this time, it is unclear what her relationship with the apparent villain of the season is. Harold Meachum's relationship with Madame Gao becomes a bit more apparent in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm."

"Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch" (reviewed here!) precedes "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" and establishes the new relationships between Danny Rand and the Meachums. "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" starts to explore the new dichotomy between Danny Rand and Joy and Ward Meachum as Rand starts to flex his muscles at Rand Enterprises. It is in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" that many revelations are made and Danny Rand's immaturity becomes painfully obvious. Given that "Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch" literally ended with Danny Rand being thrown out a window, it is tough to discuss "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" without some references as to where the prior episode went!

After briefly catching himself on a security camera, Danny Rand falls to the streets of New York. He wakes up the next morning in the company of Ward and Harold Meachum. Harold tells Rand the story of his death, agreement with The Hand, and resurrection. The Hand cured Harold's death, but has kept him under their control since. Rand confesses that his training was entirely designed to defeat The Hand and he allies himself with Harold. Back at Wing's dojo, Colleen is upset that her favorite student, Darryl, filmed her cage fight and is showing the footage to her other students. Rand Enterprises publicly introduces Danny to the world as they welcome him back to the company.

Advised to take things slow by Jeri Hogarth, Danny starts to adapt to corporate life at Rand Enterprises. Rand's first act is to walk into Ward's pricing meeting on a Leishmaniasis medicine Rand Enterprises has patented and insist that the company sell the product at cost. While Ward works to distract a troublesome reporter, Colleen Wing once again goes into the ring to fight for money. While at Danny Rand's apartment, Joy is attacked by hatchetmen working for the Triads. Rand tracks the hatchetmen back to a restaurant where he meets with Yang Hai-Qing, who orchestrated the attack on Joy because of the pier deal. After coming to an agreement with the Triads, Rand sets Wing's broken (or sprained) finger before he and Joy go searching for answers. As Harold reacts to seeing Joy wounded, Danny is given a major clue in his search for the corruption within Rand Enterprises.

"Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" gets off to an excellent start as Ward Meachum takes instant responsibility for shoving Danny Rand out a window and Harold Meachum admits right away that he visited Danny Rand in the asylum. Even Danny Rand's reaction to seeing Harold is well-executed, as he turns to Ward and asks "are you seeing this, too?" For a change, people in Iron Fist ask all the right questions when confronted with new information.

The moments of corporate intrigue in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" are presented with an unfortunate lack of sophistication. Danny's price change on the Leishmaniasis drug seems entirely derivative of Tony Stark insisting Stark Industries not develop weapons anymore or (I know, it's a different universe, but . . .) Bruce Wayne exerting his influence at board meetings upon his return to Wayne Enterprises. But the reaction from Ward and the Rand Enterprises board is presented in monolithic terms. Danny Rand has an instant, knee-jerk reaction to hearing that the drug Rand developed is being priced at ten times its cost. Business is a negotiation and when Danny rejects that, none of the Board members try to negotiate with him. Rand has a reasonable position, but the Board could easily have made a reasonable counter-offer - double the price of the cost of each pill so that the newly-patented pill helps to cover the loss or cost of other research and development projects. Instead of profiting off the cure, Rand would at least not take a loss on developing other products and would also cover the cost of development of the newly-patented pill. Danny tries to be reasonable, but no one seems to approach him with arguments to reason with him.

David Wenham gets increased screentime in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" and he is very convincing as Harold Meachum. Harold begins Iron Fist as a man who is trapped in a circumstance he finds untenable and he sees Danny Rand as the tool to his freedom. Were it not for early outbursts of violence from Wenham's Harold, Harold would seem entirely like a reasonable victim, as opposed to a potential antagonist for Iron Fist. In "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm," Wenham plays Harold as measured and reasonable.

Director Miguel Sapochnik has a few fun moments in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm," including a quick cutaway shot of Danny waving at Hogarth and her very subtle headshake to try to correct his course. Sapochnik has a decent visual sense of humor in his direction; moments after Harold Meachum takes a dig at the Illuminati, Sapoch reveals Harold's chandelier . . . which is the shape of the Illuminati symbol! Sapochnik is good at capturing very subtle performance moments from Tom Pelphrey, which helps to humanize the antagonistic Ward.

Unfortunately, Sapochnik's musical choices within "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" are not nearly as subtle or perceptive as his visual sensibilities. The hip-hop used during Wing's training fits neither the scene, nor Colleen Wing's character up until this point. And, not all of the visual direction is great. The fight in the elevator is so dark and broken up that it does not feel like a well-executed fight sequence. Similarly, when Rand tells the Triads that he wants The Hand out of Rand Enterprises, the shot is so far back that it is not immediately clear who is delivering the line (Finn Jones does not have a very distinctive shouting voice).

Either Sapochnik or writer Scott Reynolds attempts to insert into "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" something that is inherently problematic to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: an X-Men character. Reynolds and/or Sapochnik appear to be playing with attentive viewers and sneaking something by those who do not know the larger Marvel Comics Universe. When Colleen Wing goes into the ring, the Ringmaster announces one of the fighters as "The Duke." The Duke is wearing a black tank top and is not huge, but it is very hard for astute Marvel fans not to see the cage fighter in a black tank top and hear the name "Duke" and not at least do a double-take. In the X-Men Universe, Frank Dukes wears a virtually identical outfit and is known to fight in a similar fashion. It is hard not to believe that by bothering to name the fighter "the Duke," Reynolds and/or Sapochnik were not at least trying to make a nod in the direction of The Blob! If that is the case, Iron Fist steps into hugely problematic territory as the X-Men are an entirely separate universe from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"Eight Diagram Dragon Palm" is an unremarkable episode of Iron Fist, which I came to realize as I tried to find a simple way to describe the plot of the episode. A lot happens in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm," but the episode does not add up to something significant or acts as something even remotely like its own, contained story. "Danny Rand returns to work at Rand Enterprises" touches the main point of "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm," but almost all of the important action in the episode does not have to do with that. The episode comes out at average, but it feels like exactly what it is: a small piece in a larger, serialized, story.

[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 works with Wai Ching Ho, please visit my reviews of:
".380" - Daredevil
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Listen Up Philip
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Keeping The Faith


For other television season and episode reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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