Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Plot Comes Into Focus In "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus"

The Good: Plot moves fairly fast, Decent-enough performances
The Bad: Most of the characters are idiotic, Entirely derivative plot, Guest performers and characters entirely steal the show
The Basics: The essential business conspiracy storyline for the first season of Iron Fist is made explicit in "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus."

One of the few disadvantages of expanding a universe where there are a lot of casualties is that finding crossover characters for new properties can be difficult. The mystery that is building in the first season of Iron Fist seems to be deeply intertwined with the Hell's Kitchen of Daredevil. At the outset of the Iron Fist episode "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" there have been very few crossover characters from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, in "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus," Claire Temple makes the leap into Iron Fist, making her the essential character in Netflix's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Fans of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe will instantly recognize the drugs that showed up in "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm"(reviewed here!) from the first season of Daredevil (reviewed here!). That heroin opens "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" and the use of the drugs in the Iron Fist mystery is made very clear. Danny Rand was given a sample of the new heroin as a peace offering from the leader of the Triads right before "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" begins.

Three high-class saleswomen hit the streets of New York City, peddling an incredible new type of heroin. They come from Rand Enterprises, a fact which Danny Rand quickly learns when the sample he was given from Yang Hai-Qing. Joy Meachum starts to handle a settlement negotiation for people claiming one of Rand Enterprise's plants gave them cancer, a meeting that leaves her deeply unsettled. When Danny tries to confront Ward about the heroin, he is met with resistance. So, Rand turns to Colleen Wing for aid, interrupting Wing's training of Claire Temple.

When the victim of Rand Enterprise's pollutants releases a video of Danny and the victim, Ward and Joy clash over the best course of action to take. Danny has dinner at Wing's dojo, with Temple acting as a third wheel. After getting some good information out of Rand, Temple leaves and Rand enlists Wing's aid in stopping the shipment of drugs into Rand Enterprises. Rand and Wing go to the pier that Rand Enterprises recently bought and watch as the drug dealers open the cargo containers. Rand is miffed when they do not immediately appear to be filled with drugs. Rand gets into one of the cargo containers and discovers a small apartment in it . . . and the chemist who is poised to produce the heroin Rand Enterprises will distribute!

On the plot side, "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" is almost immediately disappointing to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because its plot is virtually identical to the Daredevil episode "Kinbaku" (reviewed here!). Just as Elektra enlisted Matt Murdock to learn the truth about Roxxon's corruption, Danny Rand uses Colleen Wing to discover the truth about the drugs at Rand Enterprises.

There are several key plot and character elements that are introduced in "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus." In "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus," Ward learns that Harold is constantly monitoring him in the office and the viewer learns more about the monastery where Danny Rand was trained to be the Iron Fist. We also learn that Danny Rand is a virgin. "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" includes the first reference to Danny Rand's friend from the monastery, Davos.

"Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" continues the trend in Iron Fist of getting details very off and, unfortunately, presenting a protagonist who is both naive and not particularly smart. The business meeting that Joy has includes the actual litigant. That level of negotiation usually does not include the wounded party; lawyers hash it out. Joy, who has been characterized as very smart and good at her job, makes an incredible tactical error by allowing the alleged victims into the room. Similarly, when Danny is ambushed on the street by the victim, Rand Enterprises has a pretty strong affirmative defense in that Danny has no legal standing to speak in any company capacity to the aggrieved party.

Ward Meachum makes another big tactical error on the business front when he sabotages Joy's attempt to lead the board to settle with the pollution victims. Lawrence - the dominant voice on the board of directors - makes a series of reasonable points and Ward steamrollers him. Ward has the opportunity to throw the Board a bone, do the right thing, and make his father happy, but he acts impulsively and without a strong long-term vision. That is disappointing given how Ward generally does a good job of looking out for Rand Enterprises.

Danny Rand is presented, though, not only as ignorant of business mores, but flat-out stupid. When Rand tries to bring Ward the drugs he was given and had analyzed by the Rand Enterprises chemists, Ward almost immediately identifies it as heroin. I am not at all drug savvy, but given the wrapping, both my wife and I thought that if one were to leap to anything drug-related about the paper, it would be acid or LSD. The only way Ward would leap right to being able to identify mysteriously-wrapped drugs as heroin (especially correctly!) would be if he had contact with the drug before that moment. Danny does not even do a double-take when Ward knows exactly what is being put before him. In a similar fashion, while having dinner with Temple and Wing, Wing references eating donkey (right after Rand mentions it) and that does not lead him to ask any questions about her upbringing (which would have been smart for what her backstory turns out to be!).

Despite Rand being characterized somewhere between naive and stupid, Finn Jones does all right as Danny Rand in "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus." Jones's range works well for having Rand react in a sad, shocked way. But, as the episode progresses and Rand makes a subtle move on Colleen Wing, Jones fails to credibly turn on the charm. The scene between Rand and Wing is nowhere near convincing based on how stiff Jones's performance is. In fact, by the end of the scene, Finn Jones seems more like he is trying to remember his lines than like a guy trying to convince someone to take a course of action she disagrees with.

Colleen Wing is given a tough part in "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" as Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple is far more active in the scenes they share and Temple asks all of the key questions that lead to Rand responding with backstory exposition. Jessica Henwick smiles through a number of moments in "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" when that is not quite the right emotion Colleen Wing is trying to present.

"Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" marks the return of Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple and more on-screen time for Wai Ching Ho's Madame Gao. Gao is an intriguing character, who usually manipulates and controls her empire from a distance. In "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus," Gao does her first act of truly overt violence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Wai Ching Ho's performance of the moment is enough to give the viewer chills. Still, Ho lands the moment and make it seem entirely within her character and that character's abilities.

The weakness of "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" does not become apparent until one considers that the scenes with Claire Temple and Madame Gao completely steal the thunder from the rest of the episode. Even Tom Pelphrey's occasionally conflicted performance of Ward Meachum does not manages to pull the viewer back to caring about what is going on in "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" the way the minimal scenes with Temple and Gao do.

"Under Leaf Pluck Lotus" transitions from a boring business show into a painfully choreographed series of fight sequences to a disturbingly gory climax without having enough to make the viewer truly invest in the characters who are going through those motions.

[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 Jessica Stroup, please visit my reviews of:
True Blood - Season 1


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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