Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Restoration Villains: "The Mistress Of All Agonies" Gives Iron Fist Three Big Bads!

The Good: Some truly wonderful performances, Moments of character growth for Ward and revelation for Madame Gao
The Bad: An absolutely gruesome murder scene, Very dull plot, Huge character defects
The Basics: Iron Fist moves the characters minimally in "The Mistress Of All Agonies," which once-again resurrects a dead character.

Almost no one remains dead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, it is only in the television portion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where characters consistently remain dead - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil have done a good job of actually keeping a body count of actual corpses. In Iron Fist, the dead have been known to not stay dead since the very first episode. "The Mistress Of All Agonies" sees the return of the most obvious potential character to stage a resurrection and, for a change, the viewer is not entirely disappointing. After all, the return of Harold Meachum to Iron Fist is perfectly understandable; he was granted resurrection powers by The Hand and Ward Meachum is so drug-addled at this point in the series that it seems perfectly reasonable that he would not have been in his right mind to assume his father could rise from the dead after he stabbed him to death a few episodes prior.

"The Mistress Of All Agonies" follows on the heels of "The Blessing Of Many Fractures" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to where the prior episode left off. After all, "The Blessing Of Many Fractures" actually left Madame Gao in Danny Rand's custody after Rand, Wing and Temple flew to China to apprehend her. As well, Ward Meachum went heavily into a downward spiral following his murder of his father and he and Joy are on the outs with Rand Enterprises.

Unsurprisingly, Harold Meachum resurrects in the pond where Ward dumped his body, a knife still in his side. At Colleen Wing's dojo, Temple, Rand and Wing debate what to do with Madame Gao, who they have tied to a chair. Danny Rand attempts to pump Gao for information about Gao's relationship with his father, when Claire Temple proposes they use truth serum on her. While Rand goes out to procure the necessary supplies, running into Joy in the process, Harold wanders New York City, re-acclimating to life. At the dojo, Gao begins to get under the skin of Claire and Colleen.

While a mysterious stranger arrives in New York and starts staking out Rand Enterprises, Ward Meachum returns to his father's hideout. There, Ward and Harold encounter one another, much to Ward's shock. Rand returns to the dojo, where Colleen is dying from the poison from the blade that she was nicked with in China. Rand gives Gao the truth serum and she spins him a tale of how she manipulated the executives of Rand Enterprises fifteen years ago. When Wing collapses, she asks Rand to call her sensei. Feeling menaced by his father, Ward turns to Yang Hai-Qing for aid in defeating Harold.

"The Mistress Of All Agonies" builds up the effectiveness of Madame Gao and Harold Meachum as enemies for Danny Rand. The episode has a weird timeline as it appears to take Danny Rand an entire day to procure the supplies he needs from Rand Enterprises. Harold spends the day of his resurrection wandering, while Gao manipulates the women at the dojo and it is dark before Rand returns!

Harold Meachum stumbles through "The Mistress Of All Agonies" as a weird zombie slowly turning back into a man. The transition requires David Wenham to alter his physicial performance of Harold slowly through the course of the episode and Wenham manages to make the transitions subtle and appear realistic. Watching Wenham loosen up into Harold's role is like watching ice melt over the course of the first half of the episode; the transition is so meticulous!

Tom Pelphrey continues to impress in his performance of Ward. When Ward and Harold meet again, the frankness with which Pelphrey reacts to Wenham is one of the most impressive bits of physical and vocal acting of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Unfortunately, for as good as the performances are for Wenham, Pelphrey and Wai Ching Ho, Harold Meachum transitions unpleasantly from being a complicated villain into a cartoonish super-villain in "The Mistress Of All Agonies." Harold talks a good game to Ward about wanting to be a good guy and being willing to leave Ward alone, but it doesn't take long for him to reveal his true colors. Harold manipulates Ward using Joy and between that and the gruesome murder he commits after seeming genial, Harold Meachum goes over-the-top in "The Mistress Of All Agonies."

Colleen Wing's character makes very little sense in "The Mistress Of All Agonies," especially given what is to come in the next episode. Wing spends most of "The Mistress Of All Agonies" near death and when given the opportunity, she calls on her sensei for help. Wing has been poisoned and she knows that her sensei has the cure for the poison. Why doesn't Wing call her sensei for help while on the flight back from China? Or once Gao was safely stowed at the dojo? Or the moment Danny Rand heads out to get the truth serum?! Colleen Wing blows her own cover through her stupidity in "The Mistress Of All Agonies."

The death near the end of "The Mistress Of All Agonies" is particularly unsettling and it is at this point in Iron Fist that my wife stopped watching and she posed two good questions. The first was, "who the hell finds this entertaining?!" And then she asked if the Netflix Marvel shows would be so good without all of the violence and gore. It might well be the first time that I contemplated that question and realized how unnecessary the gore and violence are in the Marvel shows produced for Netflix. Outside some of the fights in Daredevil and the climactic death at the end of Jessica Jones, the gruesome deaths in the Marvel shows are unnecessary for the storytelling and they have crossed well over the line of being at all entertaining or interesting. What point, for example, was there to the slow neck-slit of a goon in an earlier episode of Iron Fist?! Outside grossing the viewer out, all it did was make Danny Rand appear naive, impotent and gullible. The death at the climax of "The Mistress Of All Agonies" feels like the result of a writer's room pitch; "We want to kill someone in a way that no one in the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn't been killed yet. . . ." "How about a spoon?" "That's good, that's good, but I'll do you one better . . ."

That's not great storytelling and "The Mistress Of All Agonies" is not a great story. But the performances by Jessica Stroup, David Wenham, Tom Pelphrey, and Wai Ching Ho are so good that one almost forgets that very little happens and most of the characters have become caricatures by the end of "The Mistress Of All Agonies."

[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 that feature Henry Yuk, please visit my reviews of:
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The Departed
Brooklyn Lobster


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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