It may have taken a while but, with the sixth episode, Iron Fist is finally able to give us something that feel genuinely distinct from the rest of Netflix's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It's an episode that sees Danny drawn into direct conflict with the Hand, for the first time, as he finds himself challenged to a strange sort of duel of honour, with the potential prize being the release of Sabina, the daughter of the severely wounded chemist rescued in the previous episode. His opponents are a trio of eccentric warriors, each of whom stand among the Hand's elite. In order to win, Danny must take on each challenge, one by one – and, if he loses, the cost will be his life.
From the moment that Danny's opponents are introduced, in a very entertaining sequence which opened the episode, it was clear that we were in for something special. First, we had the Russian brothers – large and intimidating, and first seen expertly butchering a hunk of meat. Then, there was the attractive young scientist, who we observe studying a rather large spider. Then, there was the Japanese man performing karaoke in a room full of dead bodies. Each of these brief segments, impressively, managed to give us a bit of an idea of the sort of people Danny would be dealing with – with the last, in particular, proving to be a brilliant piece of black comedy.
As a side-note, it is also worth noting that there are some entertaining links to Marvel's comic-book universe to be found with the fighters drawn in to confront Danny. The Russian brothers seem to be original creations (at least, as far as I can tell) – but, both the woman with an odd fondness for spiders, and the weapon-obsessed assassin are drawn straight from the pages of the comics (they are the Bride of Nine Spiders and Scythe, respectively – though, to be fair, I did have to look that up, after the fact).
Each of the three separate fight sequences that served as the basis for this main plot-line felt genuinely distinct, with each opponent bringing their own distinct flavour to the episode. The Russian brother were, perhaps, the most conventional opponents – but, they were still a suitably intimidating entry-point for Danny. The Bride, on the other hand, emerged as a fairly classic 'femme fatale' type, seemingly more interesting in seducing Danny than fighting him – at least, until she got close enough to make use of her selection of poisoned needles. Scythe, on the other hand, was another fairly straight-forward challenge – though, the selection of weapons he brought with him made things a little more interesting.
Each of these fight sequences was entertaining, sure – but, unfortunately, there were some problematic aspects, also. The idea of an assassin who relies on seduction and misdirection, in order to get close to her targets, has its merits, sure – but, given the context, there is no decent explanation for why the Bride's methods actually worked on Danny Rand. He knew why he was there, and he knew why she was there – so, the fact that he let her get close enough to poison him really just made him look foolish.
Also, while the basic structure of the episode would suggest that Danny's final confrontation with Scythe would be the most impressive, and the choreography of the sequence clearly seemed to aim for that, it felt as though the performers were just not quite up to matching the demands of the choreography. Throughout the sequence, both performer's movements just felt a slow, and overly cautious, in a way that suggested that neither was entirely comfortable with the choreographed routine.
The Russian brothers, on the other hand, really only suffered from being a little bit bland, by comparison.
Still, in spite of this issues, the entire premise of Danny's challenge made for a very entertaining central narrative – and, it was also easily matched by the sub-plot that Colleen and Claire found themselves engaged in. Fearing for the life of their patient, Radovan, the duo make the risky decision to take him to the hospital where Claire once worked, in the hope that Claire might be able to call in a few favours to have treated 'off the books'. Of course, things don't quite go according to plan – and, soon enough, Colleen and Claire finding themselves rushing to rescue the chemist, once more.
It was a fun sub-plot, which provided both characters with plenty of great material to work with. Colleen had her own, very brief, action sequence as the practically dismantled the thug who attempted to stop them – while, Claire was able to further established the connective tissues between Netflix's shows, as she found herself back at that familiar hospital.
The Meachums, unfortunately, don't really have much of value to offer this episode, despite still taking up a fair amount of screen-time. Ward's continue downward spiral, as he now finds himself dealing with his addiction to pain-killers, and painful withdrawal symptoms (along with the stress of discovering a severed head in the back of a truck, when he made the mistake of accompanying Danny on his search of various warehouses, earlier in the episode), continues to be interesting enough. But, in this episode, it felt like a bit of a distraction. In the end, I think I would have much rather seen this sub-plot be left for another episode, so that we could have had more time devoted to Danny's challenge, or Colleen and Claire's adventures at the hospital.
In all, the season's sixth episode definitely counts as the most outlandish Iron Fist has allowed itself to be – as the series seems to fully embrace its roots in 'old school' martial arts films. Along with the basic premise of Danny being drawn into contest with the Hand's most feared warriors, there was also the strange, and entirely unexplained, fact of the visions that Danny had of his old master, Kei Kung (Hoon Lee). Was this simply a creative flourish meant to depict Danny's own memories? Given the way in which he interacted with his former master, throughout the episode, it certainly does not seem so – which, of course, leaves the possibility that this vision was, somehow, real.
Either way, though, these visions, and the conversation that resulted, definitely provided some interesting character growth for Danny – as they provided more evidence of the harsh training he was forced to endure, and hinted at his reasons for leaving K'un-Lun. Really, though, they were just another interesting aspect of an interesting episode.