Danny Rand is the heart of The Defenders. He’s kind of why The Defenders, as a group, works. Back in March, after season one of Iron Fist had released and subsequently disappointed many, I never thought I would be singing such high praises for Marvel’s most bitingly annoying and entitled character.
But, here I am. I didn’t want to like this asshole. But put Danny Rand up against the cynicism of Jessica Jones, the jaded Matthew Murdock, and the realistic Luke Cage, and Danny’s propensity to spout off about idealistic destinies and working for the greater good becomes endearing. It’s the other big personalities in the room that bring Danny down a notch. On his own show, that idealism was never grounded, so we got Danny yelling at his friends and the audience about his sacred duty to protect K’u-Lun, only to be yelled at again for not understanding what he’s talking about. Most of Iron Fist is spent this way, and by the end of thirteen episodes, I never felt like I understood Danny as a character or his sacred duty.
After The Defenders, I still don’t understand that duty all too well — K’u-Lun is just as vague as ever, even though K’u-Lun is mentioned so many times in eight episodes that you’d be completely gone if one so chose to play a drinking game. Danny Rand, however, became all too clear. He’s the kid. The brash, young hero who will walk into a room full of killers, dressed in a suit and half-cocked, thinking he can talk them down. He’s the idealist who meets three other super-powered individuals and immediately wants to befriend and then fight with them, all over a plate of tofu.
Danny gets angry when he’s sidelined and attacks his friends in order to not be, all in the name of the greater good. He claims his title proudly, talks of defeating dragons and ignores the eye rolls of anyone listening. He’s the kind of hero who wants to be a hero. He’s just not there yet. He’s someone who hasn’t really faced the realities of the world yet. His conversation with Luke Cage in episode three, “Worst Behavior,” holds a mirror up to the perspectives of a billionaire and an everyday man from Harlem, and forces those realities up front and center. It’s a small moment, but one I couldn’t see Danny Rand from Iron Fist being faced with.
Danny Rand is everything he was in Iron Fist. Throw in Jessica’s eye rolls, Luke’s “is he serious?” face, and Matt’s raised eyebrows, and Danny becomes a character of potential. In eight episodes, The Defenders did more for this character than all thirteen episodes of Iron Fist. That’s because Danny walks an admittedly short journey in The Defenders. As with all journeys in storytelling, some sort of character development is meant to be reached. At the start of The Defenders, Danny tells Colleen that defeating The Hand is his fight, something he needs to do on his own, despite Colleen’s insistence he needs allies, and that she has a right to aid in The Hand’s destruction as well. Once Danny meets Jessica, Luke, and Matt, Danny’s on board with sharing the duties. Still, it’s clear The Hand is all Danny cares about. It’s not until Matt’s last request, for Danny to protect his city after his sacrifice, that I think Danny realizes he can do more as the Iron Fist than just protect K’u-Lun. He can help people.
All of this to say, I’m not sure what this means for Iron Fist season two. Without Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, and Charlie Cox for Finn Jones to riff off of, I fear we’ll get more of the bland righteousness of Danny in season one of Iron Fist. But The Defenders is a start.