Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E09 - 'The Mistress of All Agonies'



I suppose that any lingering concerns I may have had about the death of Harold Meachum can be laid to rest with the opening moments of the season's ninth episode – as we are shown, quite clearly, that he isn't actually dead, after all. Or, to be more precise, he was dead – but, now, he's back. It seems that Harold's previous experience of being brought back to life by the Hand has had some rather unexpected consequences – and, now, the implication is clearly that Harold Meachum simply can't be permanently killed.

It was a spectacularly strange way to open the episode, too – as we saw Harold dragging himself out of the lake where his son, Ward, had dumped his body, then stumbling through the streets in a daze, guided, almost instinctively, back to the Rand Enterprises building as his memories slowly returned. It was a scene that managed to be both oddly comic yet, at the same time, vaguely unsettling – and, David Wenham played it all very well.

That odd mix of comedy and and uneasiness continued throughout much of the episode, too – even as Harold seemed to slowly recover from his ordeal. The inevitable reunion between Ward and Harold, with Harold seeming oddly unbothered by the fact that his son had murdered him and dumped his body in a lake, made for a very tense scene – as I found myself expecting a violent outburst that never actually came. When that violent outburst actually did come, with Harold lashing out at his assistant over an entirely trivial slight, it proved to be a genuinely disturbing, despite the inherent silliness of the whole situation.

By the time that Harold finally reached out to Joy, at the end of the episode, the sense of unpredictable danger that he represents had been pretty firmly established. After all, we had just seem him muder his assistant, with an ice-scream scoop, for no other reason than that his assistant had asked for vanilla ice-cream. There's no possible way to know what he might do is his daughter says, or does, something to momentarily anger him.

As a side-not, here, Harold's behaviour (along with the story that Ward hears about what tends to happen with the people that the Hand brings back) also suggests that there was some unpleasantness in store for Elektra's eventual return – since we last saw her about to go through the same process of being brought back at the end of the second episode of Daredevil. Ultimately, Harold's current circumstances also provide a nice bit of foreshadowing which didn't feel too heavy-handed – so, that was something that I definitely appreciated.

Elsewhere, though, we also had Madame Gao being held prisoner at Colleen's Dojo – where she seemed to be genuinely enjoying herself as she played mind-games with her captors. Honestly, the idea that Danny had decided to bring Gao all the way from China, back to America, before bothering to question felt like another bit of silliness – but, I suppose I can let it pass. More than anything, this whole sequence provided Wai Ching Ho with some of her greatest moments in the role, so far, as she picked at the resolve of both Claire and Colleen. The fact that Gao seemed entirely unfazed even by Danny's threats of physical violence, along with the hints that she may actually be over a couple of hundred years old, certainly further cemented her as the show's most fascinating figure.

That being said, though, I'm still not sure I fully understand the sequence of events that led us to this point. Did Gao, for example, really flee to China, or did she lead Danny there? Also, did Danny really gain the upper-hand so easily, or did Gao allow herself to be captured and brought back to America? If she did allow herself to be capture, then why? Hopefully, some of this will be resolved before the season comes to an end – because, at this point, I'm more frustrated than intrigued by the lack of clear answers.

Danny doesn't have long to try to get the information he needs out of Madame Gao, of course – as, they soon find themselves surrounded by Gao's forces. At the same time, Colleen finds herself suffering from the effects of the Hand's poison – having unknowingly been cut by one of their poisoned weapons during the previous episode (I have no idea how Colleen was able to make it through a flight from China to America if she had been poisoned, of course – I suppose that's just something else I'll need to let pass). With the dojo surrounded, and Colleen's life in danger, Danny has no choice but to reach out to Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez), Colleen's sensei, who may be the only one with the knowledge to save her. As it turns out, though, it seems that the power to save Colleen's life may actually rest with Danny, himself – as he learns that the power of the Iron Fist can be used for more than just combat.

At this point, it feels as though we should definitely have a clear idea of what, exactly, the central conflict of the season is actually supposed to be. Overall, though, it just doesn't feel as though this episode does much to establish any sort of narrative arc for the remaining few episodes. Harold Meachum's increasingly strange sub-plot still feels incredibly separate from the rest of the season – so, if he were to suddenly find himself cast as the season's primary villain, it would feel a little anti-climactic. Gao had, initially, seemed set up to become the primary villain – but, with her being taken by Bakuto's own forces at the end of the episode, it seems as though she may have been taken out of the picture. There's Bakuto himself, of course (I do believe that the character is associated with the Hand, in the comics – and, there is definitely something a bit off about him, here, even apart from the fact that Gao already seems familiar with him), or even the mysterious new figure seen watching from the distance – but, unless it is done well, suddenly introducing a new character to serve as the primary antagonist, so late in the season, could turn out to be a mistake.

In the end, even though this episode featured plenty of great moments, it is also let down by that sense of a lack of clear focus which plagued the season's first episodes. It has begun to feel as though the season is juggling too many elements, and none of them have been given the attention they need to properly develop. With four episodes left in the season, though, there is still time for Iron Fist to reach something that resembles a satisfying conclusion – so, I suppose I'll just have to continue with my 'wait and see' approach to this series.

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