Saturday, March 18, 2017

One Of The Better Establishing Episodes, "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" Reveals Iron Fist!

The Good: Good performances, Decent characterizatios, Direction
The Bad: Dull plot, Subtext relies entirely on other works to even remotely understand.
The Basics: "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" fleshes out the backstory of Iron Fist, while Danny Rand remains in the custody of the Meachum siblings.

Serialized television succeeds when it effectively creates long arcs. Netflix's interpretations of the Marvel Comics works that they have developed into television series's have been very effective at making long, serialized, arcs. Iron Fist began with a very nebulous pilot episode that very generally established the fundamental characters of Danny Rand, Colleen Wing, Joy and Ward Meachum. Danny Rand's backstory is a mystery. That is where Iron Fist begins and it is continued throughout the second episode, "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight."

"Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" picks up immediately after the end of "Snow Gives Way" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the second episode without some allusions as to where the first episode ended. After all, "Snow Gives Way" climaxed with Joy Meachum drugging Danny Rand and having him committed to a mental institution. "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" begins immediately after Danny Rand wakes up in his unfortunate prison.

Danny Rand wakes up, groggy, at Birch Psychiatric Hospital, where he is being heavily sedated and is confronted first by another patient. Joy and Ward Meachum have their morning meeting, where Ward tells Joy that he needs her help with acquiring a piece of property for Rand Enterprises. Joy, however, is very distracted with her guilt over having Danny committed to the asylum. Inside Birch, Danny tells his story to the resident psychologist, who claims that Danny is actually a Canadian with a different name (as evidenced by a passport he has with Danny's picture on it). On the streets of New York, Colleen Wing tests her students and is disappointed when all of them fail her practical exam, which involves them attempting to ambush them on the street.

Wing is miffed when she gets a call shortly thereafter at her dojo from Danny, asking for her help. Harold Meachum, meanwhile, monitors Birch and Danny Rand's story. Harold believes that Danny might be for real given that his story references monasteries and Orders that are not found anywhere in the region where the Rand plane went down. Dr. Edmonds finds a video online of a fifteen year-old Rand Oil & Chemical commercial that includes a young Danny Rand and Danny tells him about the day the commercial was shot. That leads Edmonds to question whether or not Danny might be telling the truth and he approaches Joy for verification of the story about the commercial (as Joy appears in it as well). Harold Meachum had Danny Rand drugged more before he visits him in the asylum, pumping him for answers about the nature of Rand's training and whereabouts for the past fifteen years. As Joy and Colleen get drawn into trying to figure out who Danny Rand is, Joy comes up with a test for the man in the asylum, while Ward takes a more aggressive approach to the prisoner.

"Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" characterizes Ward Meachum very well as a pathological liar. At this point in Iron Fist, the nature of the pills that Ward is seen taking is unclear, but the viewer already knows that Harold Meachum is alive and Ward knows that as well. So, Ward claiming that he cannot believe that the man he had committed could be Danny Rand is entirely disingenuous and that makes Ward seem like an obvious villain for the episode and the season. It is hard to see Ward as entirely villainous, though, as he is apprehensive when his father tasks him with meeting with Colleen Wing. Ward, despite being shown as a childhood bully of Danny Rand, seems to be obsessed with the business he runs and protecting it. His initial bias actually seems to be against doing anything sketchy that does not have a direct effect on Rand Enterprises. In fact, when Ward makes his initial offer to Colleen at her dojo, he is remarkably honest with her about his motivations and his monitoring of Rand, which makes him seem more manipulative than actually villainous.

Tom Pelphrey is good at making Ward Meachum seem twitchy. He plays Ward with an aggressive undertone, but also delivers some of the most sensible observations from the character in very organic ways. When Joy tests Danny Rand, her methodology is not entirely clear to Ward and that is a great detail, which Pelphrey pulls off brilliantly with an look of disbelief bordering on disgust. Pelphrey makes the viewer believe that, despite having an angry undertone to some of his interactions, Ward is just focused, driven, and a bit paranoid about the business, more than being a complete asshole or villain.

Colleen Wing is fleshed out in "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" quite a bit more than she was in the pilot episode. Wing is characterized as smart enough to instantly recognize Ward Meachum's efforts to discredit Danny Rand as an attempt to bribe her. She is not presented as a particularly compassionate teacher and her early characterization is anything but heroic. Danny Rand calls Wing for help and she explicitly states that she does not want to get involved, which is not particularly heroic. Fortunately, Wing is characterized as smart. In "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" Jessica Henwick is not given much emotional range to play as Wing.

Jessica Stroup, on the other hand, makes decent use of her time on screen as Joy. Joy has a feeling that Danny Rand might be telling the truth and Stroup infuses her performance with little glances and facial ticks that speak at least as loudly as her lines. Stroup easily prevents Joy from appearing monolithic as she plays Joy as strong and forthright in her delivery of lines that are business-related, but obviously conflicted about her feelings for the vagrant who claims to be Danny Rand. Similarly, Murray Bartlett slumps through the role of Dr. Paul Edmonds, but has him ask Rand and Joy questions in a way that convinces the viewer that Edmonds could actually be a medical professional who once cared and had a mind for unlocking the mysteries of the human brain.

"Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" is actually one of the stronger episodes of Iron Fist as it helps to establish through more subtle means than expositional dialogue some of the key dynamics in the first season. From the first episode and the promotional materials for Iron Fist, David Wenham's Harold Meachum was set-up as the Obvious Villain. But in "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight," Harold is characterized as meticulous and manipulative, with only minimal character defects. Harold is mean to his assistant, Kyle, but even there he explains how he developed to be an unapologetic man. And "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" very smartly insinuates that Harold Meachum is under the thumb of The Hand, not someone who has a purpose that is actually inherently adversarial to the Iron Fist. David Wenham does a good job of making it seem - through eye movements and body language - like the wheels are turning in Harold's head. The moment Harold begins to believe Danny Rand's story, Wenham's performance convinces the viewer instantly that Harold just wants to use Rand as a tool to get free of The Hand.

Director John Dahl makes one of the coolest shots of the entire first season of Iron Fist in "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight." When The Hand sends Harold Meachum a message, the reveal of the power and impact of that message is very well-directed and edited.

Despite the good performances, decent characterizations and fine direction, "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" is very basic on the story front. Finn Jones as Danny Rand spends most of the episode in a claustrophobic setting, reacting to other characters and actors who are smarter and more emotionally-developed than Rand. The mystery of Danny Rand's return starts to come into focus as Rand declares that he is the Iron Fist, the sworn enemy of The Hand, which is interesting to those who have seen the second season of Daredevil (reviewed here!). Within "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight," The Hand is not present as an active villainous force, so the allusions mean nothing to those who are only watching Iron Fist.

Ultimately, "Shadow Hawk Takes Flight" continues to set up the players in Iron Fist well, even if the pieces are not moved much on the board.

[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 Finn Jones, please visit my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season 1
Game Of Thrones - Season 2
Game Of Thrones - Season 3
Game Of Thrones - Season 4
Game Of Thrones - Season 5
Game Of Thrones - Season 6


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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