Thursday, March 23, 2017

When The Meachum Plot Is Better Than The Iron Fist Stuff, "Bar The Big Boss"

The Good: Ward Meachum's character, Moments of performance by Pelphrey, Wenham and Dhawan
The Bad: Dull plot, Dull villainy, Protagonists are hard to empathize with, Poor performances by the protagonists
The Basics: "Bar The Big Boss" sets up for an unremarkable first season finale for Iron Fist.

As the penultimate episode of the first season of Iron Fist begins, I find myself in the weird place of trying not to begin yet another Iron Fist review with "This is what's wrong with this episode . . ." "Bar The Big Boss" is an interesting episode of Iron Fist in that the Rand Enterprises portion of the episode, which is essentially a family drama and a corporate drama, is far more engaging and well-developed than the martial arts plotline.

"Bar The Big Boss" picks up the Ward Meachum plotline that was entirely ignored in "Lead Horse Back To Stable" (reviewed here!) and continues the rising menace of Bakuto. Ward Meachum has, arguably, had the most dynamic arc in the first season of Iron Fist and he is a far more interesting character than Bakuto and Colleen Wing.

Ward Meachum awakens at Birch Psychiatric Hospital, restrained, having a nightmare about his father. Ward is unable to convince the nurse on duty to remove his restraints and he is restrained when Bakuto comes in to make him an offer. Bakuto wants to kill Harold and have a more advantageous relationship with Rand Enterprises. Ward is wary of Bakuto's offer, while Danny and Colleen encounter Davos on the street. Davos wants to destroy Bakuto's compound, but Wing refuses. At Meachum's penthouse, Harold and Joy reconnect, when Ward arrives. Ward wants to talk to Joy alone, but she is unwilling to leave the penthouse because she is in the process of cutting the financial ties between Rand and The Hand.

When Ward tries to get Joy out, Bakuto arrives. Bakuto shoots Joy in order to lure out Rand and he rushes to her aid. Bakuto is about to execute Harold when Rand arrives. As Rand is taken from the building, Davos and Wing come to rescue him. In the ensuing fight, Davos illustrates his devotion to the cause, while Harold continues his manipulation of Ward.

"Bar The Big Boss" fleshes Ward out even more than he had been and he proves to be surprisingly emotionally intelligent. Ward recognizes his father for exactly what he is and he wants to save his sister from him. Ward is presented as smart and actually loving, at least where Joy is concerned. Amid all of the machinations surrounding Rand Enterprises and The Hand, Ward is very genuinely protective of his sister. All he truly seems to want is to keep her safe. Tom Pelphrey delivers another impressive performance as Ward Meachum.

What is a little disappointing in "Bar The Big Boss" is that Joy seems more like a wounded little girl than the half of the "power couple" she became with her brother. Joy has been cunning and strong for most of the first season of Iron Fist. In "Bar The Big Boss," Joy is entirely weakened by her emotional desperation to be near her father. Jessica Stroup plays the part fine, but her character is diminished by how she is written in this episode.

Harold Meachum lives up to his cruel potential in "Bar The Big Boss." David Wenham perfectly delivers the most horrifying and meanly honest exchange he can. As Harold prepares for his execution, he tells Ward and Joy what he actually thinks of him and it is heartbreaking, if - arguably - the most honest thing he says in all of Iron Fist.

The portion of "Bar The Big Boss" that focuses on Danny Rand is exceptionally hard to care about. Danny Rand is, as it turns out, a character who neither learns, nor cares deeply-enough about anyone to keep his word. In "Bar The Big Boss," Danny makes the "noble sacrifice" of letting Bakuto take him in order to save Joy's life. But Rand is not even good to his word long enough to make sure she can be saved; as soon as he and The Hand reach the lobby, Rand breaks his shackles and tries to take on Bakuto and his men! Rand is not a hero or an anti-hero, he's just an impulsive little rich kid whose emotional growth was stunted at age ten.

Unfortunately, Colleen Wing is not much better in "Bar The Big Boss." Rand and Wing recognize Bakuto's obvious trap, but Wing leaps right into it. In a similar way, given that "Bar The Big Boss" occurs a very short amount of time after - context clues would indicate the same night as - Joy begins the transfer of The Hand's embezzled assets back to Rand, which was perhaps a day or two after Colleen learned that Bakuto and The Hand might not be what she thought it was, Wing seems unrealistically un-indocrinated with her entire training. Given that Gao was characterized by Wing as part of a different sect of The Hand that was destructive, Wing's willingness to denounce The Hand reads as false in "Bar The Big Boss." A more reasonable conclusion for Wing to come to would be that The Hand (the organization) was still fundamentally good with a core of innocent people and that Bakuto had let the power go to his head. Bakuto being villainous and ordering his disciples to do bad things ought not have entirely undermined Wing's opinions of the organization . . . at least not that quickly.

The direction in "Bar The Big Boss" is almost as problematic as the obvious plot twists and the mundane characterization in the episode. Lighting and the progression of time in "Bar The Big Boss" are noticeably off. When Joy is menaced by Bakuto, it is night in the penthouse, but day on the images of it that Bakuto streams to Danny's phone. Rand and his team chase Bakuto in a climactic nighttime scene. But the sun is up when, moments after Ward and Harold get Jot to the hospital, Danny calls Harold. The music in Wing and Rand's final scene is disturbingly incongruent with the intended emotions of the scene.

Ultimately, "Bar The Big Boss" is an uninspired penultimate episode that makes it very hard to care about what happens to the protagonists in the first season's finale.

[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 directed by Andy Goddard, please visit my reviews of:
"Manifest" - Luke Cage
"Regrets Only" - Daredevil
"The Next Doctor" - Doctor Who


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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