[Warning: Article contains spoilers.]
What are we supposed to do with our pasts?
It’s a fundamentally human question—and probably one which sounds melodramatic or overly philosophical—yet it is the question driving Marvel’s Iron Fist: Season 2.
We make mistakes, we have wounds, we have missteps… basically, we all have pasts. The second season of Marvel’s Iron Fist wrestles with this in two ways. On a practical level, due to missteps and a bland start, the first season received an overwhelming “meh” in terms of reviews from both critics and audience members alike. It lacked the action we hoped for, held too many questions, and quite frankly did more work setting up Marvel’s Defenders than actually presenting coherent characters or plot. But, Netflix and Marvel were faced with the same problem we are faced with every day: we cannot change our pasts.
Yet, that is part of the brilliance of the second season: it doesn’t ignore the events and failings of the first season, but it moves past them by tying together questions of an individual’s past with questions of reinvention and moving forward. In a meta-commentary on its own past, Marvel’s Iron Fist leans on the events of the first season and Marvel’s Defenders to set the groundwork for the second season, but it does not dwell in either of these. Rather, Season 2 opens with Danny Rand, “The Immortal Iron Fist”, fighting crime with his glowing hand of power—it’s exactly what we didn’t get enough of in Season 1.
Marvel and Danny Rand do not simply reinvent the hero or the series; instead, Danny carries with him all the baggage of the previous storylines. He is motivated by the guilt after Daredevil’s sacrifice in Marvel’s Defenders, and this guilt results in him taking his mission far beyond the bounds of reasonable. Throughout Season 2, this self-laid pressure builds, driving Danny flagrantly to risk his life, and he takes the failings of the community and situation as personal failures. Despite the glowing fists and kung-fu moves, this trap of allowing our guilt to define us can lead to similar self destructive behavior.
Which brings us to one of the shockingly relevant questions about one’s past that drives the underlying tensions of the season…
How do we appropriately cope with our pasts?
The series problematizes the concept of coping—reminding us that even though someone might be “doing well”, that doesn’t mean that they have accepted or processed their past. Danny Rand by all external accounts seems to be doing well in terms of his superpower, but we quickly see that he is addicted to the power of the Iron Fist. While the audience gets a cathartic release seeing the glowing-fist fight scenes, these moments seem to carry Danny’s own “release” of self. In an early moment within Season 2, we see Danny practicing with the glowing-power fist, but it is evident that he is there practicing as an escape from his responsibilities, relationships, and life.
Despite the appearance of success, we cannot help but wonder how deep the cracks run within Danny. Similarly, we have to ask ourselves whether we use our own strength and success to cover our wounds rather than addressing them.
In a telling scene which captures the tone of the second season, Ward Meachum stands in front of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and confesses that he has covered his pain with drug use, sarcasm/cynicism, and fundamentally does not know who he is… Though he had questionable motivations in the first season, in Season 2 he spends much of his energy wrestling with his own guilt, anger, and desire to change.
Of course, the question for Ward and Danny is the same for us…
Are we free enough to move forward?
Netflix and Marvel seem to have committed to moving forward, now replacing Danny Rand with his girlfriend Colleen Wing as “The Immortal Iron Fist.” Their commitment to a young woman—and a young Asian American actor at that—demonstrates that despite some of the missteps of the first season, they are committed to moving forward in a brand-new way.
As Danny relinquishes the Iron Fist to Colleen Wing at the end of Season 2, he does so uncertain “who he is” without the superpower. The Iron Fist had become less a power and more a crutch keeping him from healing. The season closes with he and Ward boarding a plane destined for personal change and exploration—they quite literally move forward in order to process their pasts and to seek something new. As Danny claims, “You already know who you are. Why not find out who you could be?”
In the mysterious final scene, Ward’s line, “We can’t know the future. Not completely,” strikes a familiar chord for our own struggles. We may not be able to forget or change our pasts, but we can accept them and move towards the next season—and towards our mysterious next step beyond the mires of our pasts.
Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Etienne Salvant.