Minor spoilers for Defenders and Iron Fist ahead.
Iron Fist sold us a bill of goods. We were told that the show would be a story about one of the worldâ€™s best martial artists whose mystical training would allow him to go to New York City and kick some ass. This is not true. At all.
Look, there is nothing I like more than a good crossover from multiple stories. Finding out that certain characters inhabit the same universe gives fans an opportunity to witness worldbuilding on a different level, as the interactions of different protagonists and settings can offer details the viewer hasnâ€™t considered. Iâ€™ve had plenty of moments where I have thought â€œI wonder what X would say to Y if they were in the same show.â€ Well, sometimes you get that and itâ€™s amazing.
And sometimes you get Danny Rand.
First, let me say that this not a dig at the actor Finn Jones, who does as good a job as anyone with contradictory dialogue and bad directing. Having seen both Iron Fist and The Defenders, I can say that no Oscar winning thespian could have acted their way out of this mess. It really takes a village to screw up this badly.
Danny Rand is a study in bad character development. From the moment we are introduced to him in Iron Fist, his characteristics are a jumble of notes on a writerâ€™s-room board that never tie together. (â€œHe listens to rap when he meditates! Heâ€™s super rich! He cries about his dead parents more than Batman!â€) Itâ€™s the mixture of unbelievable wealth, little to no personal maturity and a violent street-level vendetta that adds up to a confusing protagonist that canâ€™t seem to decide on what he wants, and if he doesnâ€™t know what he wants then why is the camera following him?
The major desires of a character greatly inform their direction in a story and offer us a chance to identify with them. More than that, it shows us what the character is risking in order to achieve those things and puts into motion the drama that sets the story. Danny Rand isnâ€™t really motivated by any crucial thing he may lose (his parents, because theyâ€™re already gone) but is driven by a desire to obtain and keep his wealth, status and especially his hair.
Hear me out.
In the flashbacks to K’un-Lun, we see Danny successfully training and securing the mantel of the Iron Fist. He is surrounded by monks who train and challenge him, and these monks all wear roughly the same attire and have shaved heads. All except Danny. Even from early on, Danny Rand is set apart from everyone else by the fact that his golden locks are on full display. Now, Iâ€™m not a mystical monk myself, but Iâ€™m fairly certain that uniformity amongst an order of monastic martial artists is routine, but here we have Danny enjoying an elevated status by virtue of the fact that heâ€™sâ€¦.blonde, I guess?
This strange contradiction of privilege and poorly-choreographed violence continues throughout Iron Fist. Danny wants to control his fatherâ€™s company, but also wants to beat the shit out of people as the Iron Fist. He gets both! Problem is, heâ€™s very bad at both, and itâ€™s the fighting that most of us tuned in for.
This trainwreck of contradictory drives and ineffectual fisticuffs is exhibited in both the best and worst scene with Danny Rand, and it took a whole season of Iron Fist and half of The Defenders to give me a glimpse of what is possible with the character. In it, the Defenders tell Danny that he should be hidden away because their enemies want him for something. Danny pleads with his new friends, genuinely carrying the scene by himself, and Finn Jones really conveys the confusion of someone whose friends are telling him heâ€™s not invited to the party. Inevitably, Danny fights the group of them, eventually using the power of the Iron Fist in a spectacular CGI shock wave of coolness.
But it doesnâ€™t change anything in the scene. Danny is still knocked out, no one is really hurt and weâ€™ve been shown that Danny, whoâ€™s been training since he was ten in a martial art that no one on Earth even knows canâ€™t handle Daredevil. The defining characteristic of Danny as a superhero is rendered moot, and you could remove his power from the entire scene and everything would remain the same. The power, like the character, is a flashy addition that does nothing for the story and left me scratching my head thinking â€œwhatâ€™s the point of this?â€
Thatâ€™s the big problem: The character doesnâ€™t seem to have a point, a place in the larger narrative. Heâ€™s not a good fighter, heâ€™s not a corporate shark, and heâ€™s not at risk of losing anything that we can identify with. At the end of the day, heâ€™s still a billionaire monk while the rest of the Defenders have actual lives.
So letâ€™s brainstorm, dear readers: How do you solve a problem like Danny? Leave your comments below and let me know what you come up with.
Iâ€™ll start: He never should have had that iPod.
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3 comments on “We Need To Talk About Danny”
I suppose that I would have liked to hear a few more times about how Danny Rand is the immortal Iron Fist, Protector of K’un Lun, sworn enemy of the Hand.
You’re right though. So much of the show felt… wrong. Inconsistent. They seemed to be building towards something that never delivered. There were hints at how Danny was different and apart from the rest of K’un Lun. How you pointed out that Danny kept his hair while everyone around him was shaved, and never really demonstrated the kind of calm and introspection, not to mention the fighting capabilities, of someone who was apparently worth of wielding the Iron Fist.
I was waiting for some kind of reveal that Danny was given the Fist as some kind of manipulation, that either K’un Lun had been infiltrated and corrupted, or had some kind of inscrutable plan that involved getting an untrained and unstable Iron Fist out in the world. And then there was no payoff.
How do you fix it? Either do exactly that, show Danny that he was never meant to be some kind of heroic protector, but was an unwitting pawn who through the process of rising above his hidden masters becomes the true Iron Fist, or you start over from scratch.
If we do get a fully realized Iron Fist at the beginning of the show, then things have to be considerably different. In a fair fight against non-powered people, even legions of goons, he simply *should not lose*. His Kung-fu is too strong, so to speak. To generate drama, you put him in situations where fighting is pointless. Maybe he was sent out from K’un Lun to confront the Hand, as the masters had seen the growing power of the shadow organization. Danny, intent on his mission, end up in a situation in New York in which he is recognized or recognizes someone from his past. Danny discovers that he’s not as disconnected and monk-like as he once believed. Maybe Danny discovers that the Hand isn’t something that you can punch into submission and has to learn subtlety and reliance on friends with different skills, setting up The Defenders.
I don’t know though. Even that is pretty amateurish writing. I do know that whatever Iron Fist and The Defenders was, it wasn’t what it could have been.
When I saw the first couple episodes of Iron Fist, I mused to myself what Danny Rand must seem like by the perspective of Ward and Joy Meachum. That’s when I came up with a psychotic version of Rand, that abruptly ambushes the Meachums in parks, their cars, and even their houses, locking eyes with them while hissing, “I’m Danny Raaaaand!” Eventually they have enough and call security, but it’s no good–he effortlessly butchers them with his bare hands, snapping necks with wild abandon before locking eyes with the Meachums again and repeating, “I’m Danny Raaaaand!” Next they call the police, but Danny Matrix-dodges every bullet fired at him, shrieking, “I’m Danny Raaaaand!” as his victims flee in terror.
So I guess that’s how I would save the character: Take a wild left turn into Farceville and basically turn him into a character we’d normally see on Fandible Rebel Radio.
Marvel probably won’t go that route.
I hadn’t really noticed the hair thing, but that’s a good point about the contradiction and confusion in the show. The one that got me was his iPod and his music. 1 How did he keep that thing charged for 15 years in a mystical city that we have no reason to believe has power outlets that could be used with his iPod 2 Why would they have let him listen to that music at all, let alone while meditating and 3 What is the lifespan of an iPod? Mine didn’t last 15 years, and if it’s pretty all he had left from his life outside of K’un Lun he would have worn it out super fast.
It was also really jarring how quickly it managed to stop being a fish out of water story. No, he didn’t know how to run the company his father started and he had a couple of minor issues with take out early on, but he adapted to a world he hasn’t know for 15 years way too quickly.
As far as fixing the show, I think Marvel could kill him and then bring in a powered up and more interesting Iron Fist through resurrection. His death could be pivotal to him truly becoming the Iron Fist through resurrection and the rebirth of Shou-Lao in his body. We then get a powerful being in the form of an ancient dragon that takes the body of Danny Rand, and then you can have Danny regain his identity as an arch through the series as he fights for control of his body with the dragon. His fight for his identity mirrors some of the first season as a call back and also develops him more fully throughout that fight while also giving him new experiences as a being trapped in his own body or in some sort of after life, or at least gives him new perspective after actually dying.
I say all of this without have watched much of the Defenders, so if they already did that and it flopped, then I’m out of ideas.