The Good: Decent-enough performances, Good direction
The Bad: Severe character issues with the antagonists, Protagonist does not seem very smart or even very resourceful, Very basic set-up plot
The Basics: "Snow Gives Way" begins the story of Iron Fist in a fairly generic, though somewhat necessary, way.
Super hero origin stories have become pretty passe. There is a pretty predictable formula for the rise of a superhero and the development of their primary adversary and it is a hard formula to effectively shake up. In fact, in recent memory, the most impressive super hero origin story was for Daredevil as the entire first season of Netflix's Daredevil (reviewed here!) acts as an origin story for both Daredevil and The Kingpin. So, as Netflix attempts to make another Marvel Universe hit with Iron Fist, it is tough not to think that the show begins at a disadvantageous position with "Snow Gives Way." After all, I am certain that I am not the only person who had no real foreknowledge of Iron Fist before sitting down to "Snow Gives Way."
"Snow Gives Way" is the origin story of Danny Rand, who is poised to become The Iron Fist.
Danny Rand is walking barefoot through New York City, excited to visit the skyscraper offices of Rand Enterprises. Rand wants to see Harold Meachum, but security is called on him instead. Rand incapacitates the guards sent after him and makes it to the 45th floor, where he finds Ward and Joy Meachum in charge of the company his parents built. Ward and Joy are convinced that Danny Rand is dead . . . and has been for fifteen years. Joy actually believes that the stranger could be Danny Rand, but Ward has Rand forcibly removed from the building.
Rand breaks into the brownstone that used to be his family's - and now belongs to Joy - before settling in for the night at Central Park. Rand confronts Joy the next morning and she is upset to learn he broke into her home. Rand returns to Central Park, where he meets Colleen Wing. Joy goes to work at Rand Enterprises where her brother suggests that Rand is a tool of corporate espionage. Danny Rand carjacks Ward and attempts to tell him the truth yet again. After crashing Ward's car, Rand returns to Central Park. After attempting to get a teaching job at Colleen Wing's karate studio, Rand is pursued by Rand Enterprises security guards who are dressed in plainclothes and try to kill him.
Peppered throughout "Snow Gives Way" are flashbacks to the young Danny Rand. Rand recalls the plane crash that killed his mother and playing games at the brownstone with Joy and her bully of an older brother. This instantly gives credibility to Danny Rand, so the viewer can believe that he is who he says he is, which is decent storytelling.
"Snow Gives Way" does not waste any time in getting to a fight scene. Danny Rand has to fend off multiple security guards when he tries to see Harold Meachum at Rand Enterprises. The initial fight is fairly low-key and feels obvious and is fortunately contrasted with Rand being very even-tempered and neutral most of the rest of the episode. Far less violent than most of the other Netflix Marvel shows, Danny Rand works very hard to only incapacitate the security guards sent after him in "Snow Gives Way." "Snow Gives Way" is a remarkably bloodless Marvel television pilot episode.
The pilot episode of Iron Fist includes some other unfortunate conceits, primarily the "dead dad" conceit for the Meachums. The Meachum siblings tell Danny Rand that Harold Meachum is dead and Rand corroborates that when he meets a homeless person with an iPhone in Central Park. Here, Iron Fist suffers because of its own hype, opening credits, and the common sense of casting that comes when Harold Meachim is shown. It's an impossible stretch for viewers to believe that David Wenham was hired only for flashback sequences and newspaper photos. So, much of "Snow Gives Way" has the viewer waiting for David Wenham's Harold Meachum to show up alive.
And, assuming Harold Meachum is alive from the outset, the conversation where Ward and Joy talk about how the man claiming Danny Rand cannot possibly be him seems entirely ridiculous. After all, if they know that Harold is alive but is claiming to be dead, how can they plausibly believe that no one else is pulling the same thing?! Well before the end of "Snow Gives Way," Ward Meachum responds to Danny Rand as a threat that clearly illustrates that he believes Rand is who he says he is.
Twenty-one minutes into "Snow Gives Way," Iron Fist runs into its first major problem with continuity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not knowing New York City's skyline well enough, I'm not exactly sure where Stark Tower should be in the skyline, but it is not there. But when Danny Rand does a flip over an oncoming taxi, Joy's reaction puts her entirely out of touch with every other civilian in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since the end of the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (reviewed here!), Inhumans have been popping up all over and New York City was one of the locations that was sent terrigen contaminated vitamins. Virtually every other civilian in New York City in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jessica Jones and Luke Cage has had a "you're one of those" reaction. And, in fact, Joy Meachum's most logical conclusion upon seeing a powered individual who claims to be Danny Rand would be that he is some sort of shape-changing or memory-stealing Inhuman, rather than someone believed long dead.
Ward Meachum is a fairly generic antagonist for Danny Rand. Ward is well-represented as a bully who grew up to be a full-fledged corporate asshole and he is well-played by Tom Pelphrey. Danny Rand is undermined almost instantly by the fact that his attempts to authenticate his identity without any credible means. Ward asks him for fingerprints and oddly, Danny Rand claims to have never been fingerprinted. Billionaires usually do have their children fingerprinted for security and insurance - and (having been born in New York State I know for a fact) Danny Rand's footprints, at the very least, would be on his birth certificate. But, Danny Rand takes a long time before he tries to tell either of the Meachums anything remotely personal that might help them to believe him.
"Snow Gives Way" is very much a pilot episode, the beginning of a mystery. While it is very insular and gives very few answers, it sets the first season story up surprisingly well. While Danny Rand ambles through "Snow Gives Way," he has a sense of purpose and backstory that is compelling-enough. Rather smartly, "Snow Gives Way" includes a character who does ask all of the important character questions to establish the sense of mystery for what is essentially only an insinuated plot in the first episode. Rand Enterprises is expanding and the Meachums are wary of corporate threats; what they are expanding into in China is a subtext that runs throughout "Snow Gives Way."
While Finn Jones ambles through establishing Danny Rand, he is not bad at portraying a quiet, spiritually-centered character. Danny Rand might not be particularly compelling in "Snow Gives Way," but he is ably performed at the outset by Jones.
Ultimately, "Snow Gives Way" is a very average set-up episode. Some of the character defects are annoying, but director John Dahl makes the episode look good and flow well, so it is not the dog of a beginning as some might have made it out to be.
[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 pilot episodes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please visit my reviews of:
"Moment Of Truth" - Luke Cage
"AKA Ladies Night" - Jessica Jones
"Into The Ring" - Daredevil
"Pilot" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Now Is Not The End" - 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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