Marvel’s Iron Fist
Season 1, Episode 11: Lead Horse Back to Stable
Iron Fist gets a bit more Handsy and surprisingly more emotional.
Danny Rand, and by extension Iron Fist, conceptually has a compelling story to tell. That much is definitely true, particularly during the back half of “Lead Horse Back to Stable.” We learn that Danny has been psychologically and emotionally stunted as a child due to his conditioning at K’un-Lun, which is a crucial factor that’s necessary to understand his character. The truth is, students of the Order of the Crane Mother are not taught to master their emotions; they are simply taught to “bury them.” However, bottled emotions always have a way of permeating throughout our lives and, unfortunately for us, it might be too late to do anything about it (this season.)
At long last we get a sneak peek at K’un-Lun. I should stress the word “peek” here, since we don’t get to see much. What’s always been the most frustrating part about Iron Fist is its hesitation or downright refusal in telling the origin story of its hero. Even after getting the small amount of insight into Danny, this episode does a lot to strengthen his character. As a result of these monumental revelations about their characters, Colleen and Danny come to an impasse that actually produces a genuine emotion-driven confrontation that doesn’t fall flat on its face. Both of our principal characters come to terms with the reality of the way they’ve been raised. However, much like Danny and Colleen, Iron Fist seems to be lost and confused with how to handle the revelation. Hopefully the show takes its own advice (specifically Claire’s) and tries not to “bury” the things it needs to talk about.
We open on the snowy mountains of K’un-Lun to the aftermath of presumably an epic battle the likes of which Iron Fist’s CGI budget has only dreamed of. Seriously, I know it would’ve been CGI intensive but how cool would it have been to catch a glimpse of this battle with the dragon Shou-Lao? At Danny’s side, Davos captures all the emotions of confusion, jealousy, and frustration in one face. This is just one example of what Sacha Dhawan as Davos does with the limited amount of screen time he’s been appropriated this season. He’s able to do in one episode what perhaps Danny’s character, and to a larger degree Iron Fist, has failed to do this entire season by drumming up some much needed introspection. What come off as petulant irrationality with Danny is contrasted against the much more stable but deeply troubled Davos. The interactions between the two help ground Danny in a way I didn’t think was possible for his character at this point in the series.
If you’ve been following my reviews, I’ve been nothing if not vocal about wanting flashbacks in K’un-Lun (which I have been recently informed is the correct spelling.) While we do get them here, there’s a problem on the aspect in which the focus is on (tl;dr I will continue to yell about needing more flashbacks.) We do learn more about the relationship between Davos and Danny, but they don’t tell us much more than that. Most of our limited time is spent rehashing things we already know. We already understand that Danny fought Shou-Lao to get the power of the Iron Fist. We also already learned that the Iron Fist is meant to guard the entrance into K’un-Lun. What’s important to establish is the nature of Danny’s life in K’un-Lun prior to being selected as the Iron Fist and the situation that drives him towards earning the title. For one thing, Danny, when compared to Davos, seems ill fitted as the choice as Iron Fists go, a fact that is not lost on Davos. It really is not clear why Danny was chosen, given everything we know about him. I hope there’s a more concerted effort and budget spent on K’un-Lun and addressing these questions.
As tradition dictates, Danny retreats to Claire in order to get his wound patched up. She casually happens to mentions that too many would-be heroes keep showing up, using most of her supplies. I know it’s not going to happen but please, Claire, just tell him about Daredevil, at least! If you’ve been placing bets on what crazy thing Claire would concoct in order to fix someone this season, I hope you guessed staple gun suture. Danny’s face when she pulls it out is priceless. The banter between Davos and Claire is pretty great because, as usual, Rosario Dawson steals the show and Davos plays the fish out of water bit really well.
The fallout between Colleen and Danny leaves Claire in the middle of a really crazy situation, when you think about it. Claire has to convince Danny and Colleen, two star crossed lovers, to work together again after a fallout due to the former’s conditioning and training for the sole purpose of destroying a cult that the latter has been secretly a member of, whose current directive is to capture the former. Come on, guys, she’s a nurse, not a miracle worker. Then again, she was able to pull a bullet out a bullet-proof man’s skin (it’s a long story.) Trying to dissect the situation that Iron Fist has built gets confusing when you remember where we started. It’s a seriously convoluted story, considering that we ultimately end up with a storyline in “Lead Horse to Back Stable” that’s far more compelling and straightforward then what we’ve waded through to get here. The focus on what brought Danny back to New York, establishing his relationship with Davos, and the dressing down of the emotional impacts of being raised in cults is something you can chew on. All of this culminates in a very satisfactory conclusion to the episode’s story arc.
Davos’ explanation of how Danny’s ascension to the position of Iron Fist has affected him is particularly captivating. His struggle with feeling not only the frustration of not being the one chosen, but also the need to be supportive of his closest friend and all combined with a healthy dose of bottled up emotions for good measure, has done a number on Davos. As Claire points out earlier in the episode, this technique of clearing one’s mind in reality is just an exercise in emotional suppression. It’s quite a poignant moment between these two men as they grapple with this concept, not knowing exactly how to put into words what they are experiencing. The moment is compounded when Davos sees the true reason Danny is reluctant to go back to K’un-Lun: Colleen. Colleen lashes out at Danny, she too feeling the full weight of her constructed world view crumbling down on her. All three of these characters come to grips with the reality of systems they’ve been programmed into and they all feel betrayed by them in different ways. I hope this aspect is a key focus heading into the last two episodes. Where these three end up as the episode concludes paints very solid lines for the paths they will likely follow.
“Lead Horse Back to Stable” is truly a mix bag of an episode. We get more weirdness from Harold and his ascent to a pure demonstrable villain, which is beginning to kind of bore me. The focus should largely center on elements that get established near the end of this episode going forward. Far too much time has been dedicated to machinations at Rand. It’s a clunky start but, with addition of Claire and a decidedly strong conclusion, we may yet get out of this thing with an entertaining conclusion. Also, more K’un-Lun flashbacks, please!