WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Defenders and the first season of Iron Fist, available now on Netflix.
Of the four heroes leading the charge on Marvel’s The Defenders, none was in quite the low spot as Iron Fist. Released in March, the first season of his solo series was widely panned, and relatively few people were looking forward to his inclusion on the Netflix miniseries. Finn Jones' had an uphill battle to climb, and what happens to him on The Defenders is ... interesting, to say the least.
The young hero is central to the story, as the leaders of the Hand require him to unlock the mystical door that blocks their way to the mysterious substance they need, buried deep beneath Midland Circle. Captured by Elektra, and then rescued by his newfound allies, Danny is told by Daredevil to "protect his city," mere moments before the building implodes, burying the Man Without Fear, and much of what remains of the Hand, beneath tons of rubble.
In the final scenes of The Defenders, Danny embraces New York, and Daredevil's request, and is seen watching over the city in his new role as its protector. Presumably, that's where we'll find him in the newly ordered Iron Fist Season 2.
It's possible to redeem Iron Fist, and this version of Danny Rand, or at least make him far more tolerable than he was in the first season. Marvel isn't going to kill off the character, and the company has no real reason to replace Jones, as it did Terrence Howard after Iron Man or Edward Norton after The Incredible Hulk. No, this Danny is ours for the foreseeable future, and while it’s easy to groan at the thought of him running around at night beating up people, there’s a nugget of a good idea in here. With Iron Fist Season 1 and The Defenders combining to serve as his origin story, Season 2 can smooth out the problems of his freshman year.
The most common complaint by far was Danny himself. Jones’ acting aside, the character was written to be serious, but in a way that seemed forced. Showrunner Scott Buck said Danny was intended as an optimistic foil to his fellow jaded Defenders, but he instead came off petulant and arrogant. It certainly didn’t serve Jones, who might've been more comfortable in a lighter role, as opposed to the dour martial artist that was thrust upon him. If your basis for the character is the well-meaning goofball in Marvel's recently concluded Power Man and Iron Fist comic, what you saw on Netflix was something altogether different.
Thankfully, The Defenders rectified some of that by having Jessica Jones and Luke Jones scoff at Danny's supposed origins; even Stick, who has great respect for the Iron Fist, referred to him as "a thundering dumbass." Those jokes are difficult for viewers to forget, so the only thing to do is to embrace them as part of Danny’s character. The Defenders showrunner Marco Ramirez has clarified that those cracks were written before Iron Fist's first season aired, but deliberately going meta in Season 2 may work in its favor. This is a guy who claims he gained his powers by punching a dragon in the heart, which is ludicrous enough to warrant reactions from any outsider. Giving Danny other supporting characters who exist for no other reason than to mock the inherent silliness of his backstory would be a good way to help him to realize he should -- to quote Kendrick Lamar -- sit down and be humble. He needs to actually grow when someone dresses him down, and that shift toward maturity while maintaining a leveled surfer bro personality would make for a decent character arc for a 13-episode season.
With that seed planted, Iron Fist's second season can then solve another problem: the show's lack of identity. Whatever one might say about Marvel's other Netflix dramas, it’s undeniable each has a distinct style. Luke Cage embraces hip hop and wears it like a second skin; Jessica Jones is a feminist detective noir tale; Daredevil finds comfort in the tonal dissonance of Catholic guilt vs. bare-knuckles vigilantism. It's difficult to place just what Iron Fist has in terms of style, but lightening up Danny could veer it into a kung fu action-comedy with a lighthearted lead, exactly what Buck wanted for the first season.
Iron Fist was always been meant to be a fish out of water, one who didn’t fit in in either K’un-Lun, where he was a literal outsider, or in New York, where he’d been presumed dead for years. The show tried to reflect this in the least compelling way through the equally nebulous K’un-Lun and Rand Enterprise. It’s difficult to really care about either, and while the former is most certainly going to return in some capacity, the latter needs to be jettisoned in favor of the Big Apple. Because Danny already declared the city his new home at the end of The Defenders, doing so would give him real, personal stakes that were in short supply in the first season of Iron Fist. A hero is only as important as his location, and although New York has no shortage of heroes, Danny has the power to change his city, both as himself and as the Iron Fist.
We won’t know how Danny will be written until Iron Fist’s second season arrives with its first trailer, but there’s no denying that the character needs retooling. With any luck, new showrunner Raven Metzner will consider how viewers perceived the character in the first season, look to the comics to see what makes fans like Danny Rand, and then rebuild from there.
Available now on Netflix, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Finn Jones as Danny Rand, Elodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, Eka Darville as Malcolm Ducasse, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, Scott Glenn as Stick, Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple and Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. No release date has been announced for the second season of Iron Fist.