Marvel’s Iron Fist
Season 1, Episode 9: The Mistress of All Agonies
Danny realizes that behind every Iron Fist there’s indeed a Hand.
With tensions high and the clock running out, the pressures mounts in “The Mistress of All Agonies.” So what did we learn? Danny is still a frustrating character but Claire and Gao have awesome hostage banter. Also, don’t call the Meachums down for the count just yet. And for the love of God, just eat the ice cream you’re given.
This episode felt very much like familiar territory for Iron Fist. We rehash the same story beats while meandering through the episode’s plot. In terms of character development, we don’t get a lot. I really, really want to like Danny but Iron Fist continues to give me no reason to. Gao gets some much deserved well-lit screen time and her semi-permanent shit-eating grin this episode remains a constant reminder of the looming evil that permeates throughout the episode. We also witness Ward get a taste of his own medicine. I know he’s had a rough go of it lately but that guy is definitely due his comeuppance. All in all, the ninth episode has some interesting developments that mostly deal with its villains or questionable allies. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the show would do well to perhaps focus on building compelling heroes too.
The return of Harold Meachum, emerging from depths of the lake where Ward threw a lifeless body, riddled with stab wounds. Really, was anyone surprised by this? Well, I kind of was. I thought by having Ward kill his father, he would take over as the villainous Meachum. I was again surprised to see him slip back into the character he was before he became a murderer.
Before I get ahead of myself, we should address the process of Harold’s “rebirth.” He goes through a slow, clunky phase this episode that allows him to gain back the memories he had before he died. Is Harold the Hand’s Frankenstein? Coincidentally, that’s what his name is listed as in Ward’s phone’s contact info. Ward also later finds out this isn’t the first time the Hand has “gifted” a person with this form of immortality. But, as with all such things, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. More on that later.
For someone who is about to be drugged so she’ll talk, Gao sure does a lot of talking on her own. She brings up a very valid point almost immediately. A question, actually, that frankly Colleen and Claire should also be asking. Why is Danny so concerned with what his parent’s involvement with Gao were? I mean, beyond a personal level. Sure, if I were in Danny’s shoes I’d want to know, too, but given the danger they are in and the amount of time they have to figure out what Gao is planning, it just seems incidental and at the very least should not be the primary focus of our group. If I squint, I can just barely make out the fact that Danny’s years of physical and mental abuse have stunted his emotional growth such that he needs to get past the traumatic loss of his parents to move on. While understanding what the Rands were doing with the Hand and why they were on that tragic flight that led to their deaths in the first place may help him achieve that, it’s a huge gamble. Since we have no clear sense about what trauma Danny endured at K’un L’un, it also becomes a huge leap for the audience.
Claire remembers she can concoct a truth serum to force Madame Gao to talk and she instructs Danny to go get the ingredients she needs. Foolish Claire, if only she would have let Danny continue to threaten Gao with punches she would’ve eventually caved. It’s actually dubious as to whether a truth serum would even work on Gao. Did we forget? A few episodes back, she threw a couple of dudes across a room with a wave of her hand. Which brings up a larger point: maybe Gao intended to get captured. During her captivity, she seems at most slightly annoyed by her current situation. Further, she spends the time she has with Claire and Colleen trying to get them to turn on Danny, pretty effectively, I might add. Even when Claire administers the truth serum and Gao starts to talk, it’s hard to know whether it was the truth or not. She even says as much, as well as casually mentioning that she was around in the 17th century.
This development really changes a lot of what we can understand about the people that the Hand brings back to life. Ward speaks with the leader of the Triads and discovers that there are stories about people being resurrected by the Hand. The more they are resurrected, the less stable they become and eventually they develop a serious desire to kill the people closest to them. Kyle, you poor miserable fool of a man. Seriously, the death of Kyle is incredibly sad (the comedic pairing with Harold suffering most, obviously) and is one of the most disturbing death scenes I’ve seen in a while. Watching such an innocent person like Kyle struggle as Harold beats him to death with an ice cream scoop is a harsh visual to shrug off. Now, assuming that Gao has undergone the same type immortality procedure, how many times has she been brought back? Does she have any humanity left? Whatever the answer, things certainly don’t bode well for Elektra, who as we know is probably being brought back in a similar fashion.
Speaking of Harold, hurting the ones he’s closest to seems to be high on his list of priorities and first up is, Ward. He plants drugs, specifically Steel Serpent heroin, in plain view inside Ward’s car. At first, when Ward asks the cops if they think he’d be as stupid as to do something like that, I thought, “Well maybe he is.” Ward hasn’t been making the smartest moves lately and directly before this interaction he slapped on a heroin dose. Harold has constructed a situation where he’s effectively removed Ward from the playing field and queued up Joy as his next pawn. Everyone knows you never follow a trail of mysteriously opening elevator doors. Actually, it’s more common sense than anything. I’m very interested in seeing how Joy deals with knowing her father is still alive. Well, mostly alive that is.
Back at the dojo, the clock is running out on our heroes and, with a poisoned Colleen, things look pretty dire. The mounting tension was palpable. I was prepared for any moment an army of Hand ninjas to swarm the dojo. Gao made it clear that they were coming for her in force with a confidence that forced you to believe it. But when they actually came, it was very anticlimactic, pathetic even. Claire even dispatches a few. Nothing against Claire, but even the foot soldier Hand ninjas Daredevil faced in season 2 were much stronger than anything that we’ve seen in Iron Fist. These guys weren’t even ninjas! For the first time since the Hand showed up in Iron Fist, it dawned on me that maybe we are dealing with a different version of the Hand. This sect of the Hand is led by Madame Gao. It’s the only explanation for the stark difference from the Hand of Daredevil (Nobu’s Sect) but they are all a part of the larger entity that is the Hand. Which begs the question, who is this third group led by Bakuto?
Colleen nearly succumbing to the poison’s effect elects a call to this mysterious figure that she calls sensei. Bakuto shows up, easily dispatches Gao’s operatives and instructs Danny on how to use the power of the Iron Fist to heal Colleen. The look on Danny’s face is priceless when he realizes he can open his hand while channeling his chi but I’m hardly surprised that he’s unaware of the Iron Fist’s full capabilities. If there’s one thing this show has hammered down, it’s that Danny is a rookie in almost every way. In any event, it turns out to be a pretty clutch ability as he “burns” away the poison in Colleen’s arm, saving her life. It’s a costly maneuver, however, as the effort completely incapacitates him. I’m still confused as to why Colleen hid her wound from Claire and Danny, knowing that the Hand uses poisonous weapons. Afterwards, Bakuto and Colleen make off with Gao and Danny, as our mystery foil shuriken thrower watches on.
I’m pretty sure Bakuto’s group is part of the Hand for a few reasons. Introducing another group at this point doesn’t make a lot of sense and there’s the fact that Gao seems to know Bakuto. She also looks to genuinely not want him there but is not overly concerned of his presence. There’s a lot at work in “The Mistress of All Agonies” that sets up what must be the final act. We have Harold still orchestrating new machinations, the Hand’s ever present evil shadow, and now Colleen’s mysterious group. How things will shake out for Danny is still unclear, but at least we have a better sense of our threats. I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far in the season and haven’t gotten to K’un-Lun yet. It’s the most perplexing development of the series. It’s got to come soon, right? Considering the tin foil shuriken guy is likely Davos, can this finally mean we’ll get that flashback? Well, I’m opening my fist and crossing my fingers that we do.