Netflix’s debut of the last Defender was, let’s face it, a dud. Like getting socks on Christmas. But not even nice socks: socks that your grandpa wore in WWII that (hopefully) have more sentimental value than actual remaining fabric. Iron Fist was a story about an annoying main character played by a subpar actor who, along with the writers, was apparently unaware of his purpose. Point is, there are some things Iron Fist taught us that hopefully the writers and Netflix showrunners noted, too.
As previously alluded, bad acting and/or casting bear some burden of blame for Iron Fist’s underwhelming reception, but much (if not most) of this show’s failures stem from the poor writing and execution. The Marvel crew over at Netflix is on a slippery slope because this show leads directly into the first team-up series, The Defenders. If they don’t regain their traction, they’ll risk losing the trust of a once loyal and avid fanbase—it would be a shame to squander such a heretofore successful franchise.
And, as it appears that Danny Rand may very well be the central figure of The Defenders, Netflix better figure this thing out quick. So let’s dive into the lessons we learned from Iron Fist and hope that they’re listening. Ahem... got that, Netflix? Quit screwing around!
Finn Jones only knows how to frown, apparently. He held one face for the entire season—it’s probably one he made too much as a kid and it got stuck that way. His mom warned him. Not her fault.
Jones had no authority; this was very evident in the scene where he takes over a class in Colleen’s dojo to teach the students discipline and just looks like a caricature in so doing. At times it was hard to tell if Danny lacked focus and discipline or if Finn Jones just couldn’t properly convey those attributes. It’s too bad because there were some really great performances. Colleen, Joy, and Ward were all intriguing characters portrayed with something called “skill” by Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, and Jess— Tom Pelphrey, respectively. Hopefully, with Jones not being the focal point in The Defenders (although there's some speculation that he sort of is) they can avoid this same issue.
Joy Meachum struggled with her morality the entire season, trying to balance being a successful businessperson and not hurting others in the process if possible. When she comes to understand that's not really possible, and she starts to question herself. She shows real growth in the season, finally getting to a place that we think she might start making moral decisions. She was always purer than Ward, and yet he somehow ends up redeeming himself while she takes a nosedive in the other direction.
At the very end of the last episode, we see her plotting with Davos to kill Danny. Huh? I know her daddy was killed again, but Danny didn’t even do that, and we also got the sense that she recognized how much a monster he was. So Danny jeopardized the business, but she was coming to understand the pitfalls of giant corporations. Her desire to see Danny dead is just a complete departure, and we weren’t given any evidence to support the notion that she would want that. Long story short, if you spend an entire season establishing a character, you simply cannot make that character do a 180 in their last scene.
Netflix’s Marvel universe started off with a bang when Daredevil came out. Drew Goddard, who has a long list of successful projects under his belt—he wrote the screenplays for The Martian and World War Z and wrote and directed The Cabin in the Woods—ran the show. Fast-forward to the introductory season of the last Defender and we’re given Scott Buck of Tremors 4 fame. Was it Tremors 4 that earned him the gig, which has a 32% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes and doesn’t even have an actual RT score because it was a straight-to-video movie? Is that what qualified him? Maybe it was his work as the executive producer for the last three seasons of Dexter, the worst seasons of the once-popular Showtime program with one of the most hated endings in recent television history. An ending for which Scott Buck was largely responsible. How did Netflix start with such a high-level talent and end with… not that? The Netflix Marvel properties were hugely popular; you’d think the showrunners would only become more and more A-list, not less so.
The Defenders is in the hands of Daredevil Season 2 showrunners Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie who have already proven that they can’t balance a litany of characters very well, given that every other character simply paled in comparison to Frank Castle. Good thing they won’t have many characters to juggle in the team-up season…
Is it established in the source material that Danny Rand is kind of an idiot? No. Then why is he straight-up dumb in this show? His decision-making skills are laughable: he tries to reach the executive level of a high-powered company while bare-footed, and then fights the security guards, as if that will make them more willing to trust him; he tells his psychiatrist that he’s an immortal living weapon when he’s trying to convince him that he’s not crazy; he breaks into Joy Meachum’s house and frickin’ tells her about it! Ahhhh! What is happening?! If the writers were trying to convince us that he just doesn’t understand the social norms of America (despite being 13 when he left), then he shouldn’t have understood anything, including his inexplicable driving capabilities. There’s a difference between cultural unfamiliarity and plain stupidity—the latter was on full display with Danny.