Marvel’s Iron Fist
Season 1, Episode 12: Bar the Big Boss
While it may be too weak to be Hand, Iron Fist can show its strength.
I’m surely guilty of setting expectations high for Iron Fist but “Bar the Big Boss” is exactly the kind of episode you’d want to see in a martial arts series. The twelfth episode delivers the series’ strongest story arcs yet in its most expressive form: fists. There’s this raw emotional impact in the final act that flows particularly well with what has been established in the last three episode run. As ever, Iron Fist is not without its problems, but with such an entertaining episode it’s easy to ignore them (I won’t, of course.) There is this sense, however, that this show just played its biggest hand and may very well be out of cards. Well, let’s just enjoy the security for what it is. ‘Cause hey, you never know, you could be practicing forms in your bae’s dojo listening to some dope music one moment and on the run from the DEA the next.
We find Ward where we left him a few episodes ago. Well, not exactly where we left him: he’s now strapped to a gurney, hallucinating visions of his father as a zombie (which isn’t exactly all that crazy to be worried about.) There’s something about Tom Pelphry’s delivery and Ward’s story arc that has a way of forcing you to sympathize with his predicament. Even though Ward had this coming for what he did to Danny in the beginning of the season, after what he’s been through this season it’s hard to enjoy it. Ward seriously outdid himself trying to do his father’s bidding but, in the end, his father’s bidding outdid him, and this is coming from a noted Ward hater from way back. Bakuto walks into the Wards room (the security at this place…) with an offer and apparently something to curb Ward’s withdrawals. Again, with everything we know about what Ward’s been through and what Harold has become, it’s easy to understand why he takes the deal. Unfortunately for him, things immediately backfire, badly.
It’s actually fitting that the Meachum’s story comes to a stand-off like this. Joy, as undefined as ever, continues to flip back and forth in terms of loyalties. This time she lands on team Harold over Ward inexplicably. Sure, Ward gets painted in a pretty bad light here but it should be clear to Joy, who I thought was being established as a good judge of character, would realize something is off with Harold. It’s also unclear why she’s having trouble buying Ward’s story that a piece of their undead father’s soul is missing. Given everything else going on in her life right now, it seems pretty par for the course, honestly. She at least should be able to acknowledge that Harold’s goals are dubious at best.
Reneging on the terms of his agreement with Ward, in more ways than one, Bakuto acquires a real upper hand in the battle against the Iron Fist by holding the Meachum family at gun-point and, of course, sword-point (that sword is awesome, by the way.) There is such a varied degree of understood narratives amongst our principal characters in the penthouse that this confrontation suffers in trying to land the emotional punch with its intended precision. But Iron Fist has established Bakuto as a charming but ruthlessness villain and has built enough of a relationship between Danny and the Meachums to carry the day. I was genuinely surprised when he shoots Joy, but it makes sense if you’re Bakuto because of course there’s no way Danny can leave her to die. It’s a smart move that Davos urges Danny to undermine by ignoring entirely and taking out Bakuto unawares once he leaves the penthouse, thereby constructing the foundation of this episode’s primary and most compelling conflict.
In fact, “Bar the Big Boss” can attribute much of its success to the performances of Ramon Rodriguez and Sacha Dhawan, who play Bakuto and Davos respectively. What they have been able to do with so little screen time is pretty astounding. It’s a shame we haven’t gotten more of these characters considering how much time was spent arbitrarily meandering from plot point to plot point at the start of this season. Danny arrives just before Bakuto gets a chance to desecrate the integrity of his blade by separating Harold’s head from his body and killing him for good (in retrospect we should’ve known this considering what Stick does to Nobu in Daredevil Season 2.) Side Note: There are actually many similarities between Bakuto and Stick and their respective organizations (honestly, most of these cult-like groups in the MCU are more similar than they are different.) The way Bakuto recruits members of the Hand is not unlike how Stick recruits members for Chaste. They are also both charismatic and deadly, prioritizing their missions over all else. Just something interesting I noticed: I wonder if there is some sort of relationship between the two. Well, other than the whole sworn enemy thing.
What follows the showdown at the penthouse is everything I’ve wanted to see in an episode of Iron Fist: highly skilled martial artists engaged in battles with stakes high enough that you care about the outcomes. These sequences are some of the best I’ve seen thus far in Iron Fist. They are driven by personal conflict within each character and it’s clear why these fights are important to the combatants. The first clash with Bakuto is a confrontation of an entire worldview that unknowingly manipulated and controlled Colleen. Although he’s ultimately bested by her in the duel, she pulls the clichéd “if kill him, then we are no better” line. I do kind of understand where she’s coming from. It might send some sort of a message that they are not sinking to that level. But when you’re dealing with a group where physical barriers seem more like nuisances than actual deterrents, is prison really the best place? Luckily, Davos makes choice for Danny and Colleen and stabs Bakuto.
Davos honestly makes a lot of sense in these final moments of the episode. Danny is not someone who seems capable of doing what the Order of the Crane Mother wants; Davos is. So why was Danny chosen to be the Iron Fist? Well, Danny thinks it’s to be a street level super hero in New York. It’s real easy to think that Danny truly has betrayed the people of K’un-Lun here, especially if you’re Davos, who wanted to serve as protector. Ultimately, this is a bridge too far for Davos who, in the end, turns his back on his old friend. The conflict between the two brothers is so poignant and entertaining, it’s a wonder why his inclusion felt so much like an afterthought this late in the season.
As the season winds down, “Bar the Big Boss” is a welcomed diversion from the mediocrity of much of the first season of Iron Fist. In many ways, this episode felt like it could have been the finale. A lot of the major plot lines are resolved, several pieces of the story are in place for a second season, complete with a happy ending for our lead male and female protagonists (it’s almost something straight out a lifetime movie.) It’s difficult to see a significant flashback to K’un-Lun in the last episode. I have to face facts: we probably won’t get to see much more of K’un-Lun this season, which is truly frustrating because of how much better the story gets when we actually get to understand Danny a little more. One thing I’m hopeful to see is a more confident, less emotional Iron Fist. Discovering what his purpose is and his decision to stay in New York at the cost of his friendship with Davos are significant events that I hope change the Danny from earlier this season. Maybe now he can actually become a hero more like the Iron Fist from the comics. And with the DEA out for him he might need, oh I don’t know, some sort of mask-like bandana to cover his face? Just saying…