After attempting to prove his identity via rational conversation, Danny finds himself institutionalized in a corrupt psychiatric hospital. Yet even if he convinces the staff that he is the missing scion of the Rand family, how do you explain your time in a mystical extra-dimensional monastery to people who already think you’re crazy?
After an opening volley that made most of the principal cast look like insufferable douchebags, this episode seeks to shade these previously black and white caricatures to a subtler gray. For our protagonist, that means spending time in a mental asylum, drugged to the gills and unable to explain his far-fetched backstory in a way that doesn’t make him seem crazy. It’s not the best character development, but it is somewhat logical. For the past 15 years Danny has been living in a mystical city located in a side dimension, interacting exclusively with people who either (a) have spent their whole life in this city or (b) are visiting from a sister city from a similar side dimension. As such, it’s only natural that his abilities to persuade people in a way that doesn’t make him seem insane might be lacking.
He’s also aided by his second single-serving support system in two episodes (the first being ep.1’s ill-fated Big Al) in Simon, another among the institutionalized, who exists in this episode for both comic relief and exposition. He explains how the corrupt asylum has been keeping the patients doped up and serene, which has kept them all cooperative but unable to progress in treatment. It’s a trope that you can trace back to films/books like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but in reality seems surreal. Like, I know the Meachums have an interest in keeping Danny under lock and key, so his “incarceration” makes enough sense in context, but what about the other inmates? Is some shadowy, morally bankrupt family of billionaires paying to keep them out of the picture? Are they all deposed industrial giants and superheroes?
One positive from this sequence is the therapist working with Danny, who is of course skeptical of the whole “boy billionaire back from the dead” shtick at first, but actually does a bit of due diligence to get to the bottom of Rand’s issues. In time he actually comes to believe that Danny is who he says he is, and you almost feel like things are going to work out; unfortunately, Danny then starts going off about how his time in Kun Lun allowed him to become a mystical warrior with the power of the gods in his fist. It’s almost heartbreaking to see Danny’s freedom snatched from his grasp at the last moment–or at least it would have been if it had been more developed. Of course that would’ve meant at least one more bottle episode in the hospital, and for a series that is starting out slowly enough, perhaps finishing this arc in one episode is for the best.
Elsewhere, another character getting a bit of an emotional paint job in this episode is Joy Meachum, whose heel turn at the end of last episode is sort of walked back a bit in the opening moments of this second outing when she admits to “feeling bad” about drugging Danny. Isn’t she a saint? The real development comes with her actually making an effort to reach out to Danny and test him with something that only the real Rand would know. She chases down a hunch against the wishes of her brother and when she finally believes Danny’s claims, makes quite the stink about continuing to hold her former friend against his will. She even manages to pass a bit of this burgeoning goodwill to her brother. Ward remains insufferable, of course, but seeing how their father (whom Joy thinks is dead) is pulling strings to play them against each other almost makes him a sympathetic monster.
The other development in this episode is that we finally get a glimpse of where the plot will ultimately be going. In the midst of a drug-fueled interrogation from the aforementioned Harold Meachum, we learn that Danny is back to combat The Hand, the evil ninjas who were the central antagonists in the second season of Daredevil. Moreover, we see that Harold thinks that Danny’s plan to combat the mercenary group as his company expands into China is beneficial to his long term plans. It actually drives the ancillary (I assume) villains in an interesting direction and sets them up to guide us into the proper kung fu conflict that we’re actually hoping for in this series. Meachum also provides us with the most interesting development in the show thus far when he returns to his penthouse (which he allegedly never leaves) only to see an errant handprint and message scrawled on the outside of one of his windows. Knowing Harold’s interest in combatting the Hand–and the fact that this window is atop a towering skyscraper–suggests some level of superhuman, possibly demon ninja, levels of skill on behalf of whoever left the message.
Other developments of interest in this episode include an expansion of the CGI hawk imagery as somehow being connected to Danny’s chi (it’s still a questionable visual that is often jarring at times), Colleen’s class of martial artists being trained for some kind of real world combat encounter and Danny’s first actual use of his Iron Fist powers to close out the episode. It’s a moment that really should have made more of an impact, but really doesn’t stand up to other memorable moments of the Marvel Netflix series like the first time we see Luke Cage laugh off a gunshot, or when Matt Murdock beats up his first baddie.
The episode itself felt like a necessary evil to lay some groundwork, but it didn’t develop the characters in any significant way or introduce much to the plot outside of a hint of something long term. And while it does introduce some cool mysteries (notably the handprint on the window) it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. The slow build continues, but hopefully things pick up.
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