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The Marvel Cinematic Universe catches a lot of flak for its lack of good, well-rounded villains, particularly on the movie side. I have noted in my movie reviews that I find most of these complaints, though valid, to be overblown. On the television side of the MCU, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done a respectable job of creating compelling and interesting villains, particularly once they were able to take off the gloves and really push the Hydra angle in the back third of season 1. However, the most interesting and compelling villains in the whole MCU have been those on the Netflix side: Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, and Diamondback, in particular. Thanks to the extended runtime and binge-watching format, these villains were all given full arcs and fleshed-out back stories tying them to their respective heroes in personal ways.
Unfortunately, this strong streak does not continue with the three villains of Iron Fist.
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I understand why they decided to keep Gao as something of an enigma: the season concludes with her poised to return as the major villain for Iron Fist season 2. However, at least some of these things needed to be clarified in terms of timeline, particularly with regard to her ultimate plans with the heroin. I thought that the heroin would give Gao power to influence anyone taking it, which was suggested a bit by Ward’s withdrawal from the heroin. However, it was never mentioned and did not factor into the story at all. Maybe this is setting up The Defenders, but it is not done well enough for Iron Fist.
To be honest, I think the worst aspect of Bakuto as a villain is that he is not the main villain for the season. If they had just left out everything having to do with the third villain (who is really the “main villain”) and focused the final half of the season on Bakuto’s manipulation of Danny and Colleen, their battle against him, and the revelation that he had in fact been distracting them so his Hand ninjas could storm K’un-Lun while it was vulnerable, that would have made for a much more satisfying conclusion to the season, to say nothing of setting up the second season better.
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Harold’s relationship with Danny is a longstanding one, and Danny views him as a father figure. This makes Harold’s betrayal—including the revelation that Harold had his parents killed—all the more personal for Danny. Consequently, it makes sense for Danny to fight Harold and be willing to kill him. However, Harold’s motivation is never made particularly clear. Why did he hate the Rands so much that he wanted to kill them—in spite of Gao’s warnings against it? Why did this carry through to the point that he threw Danny under the bus as soon as he had served his purpose? It’s not enough for a villain to do bad things; he also has to have a compelling reason for doing them.
While Harold does contribute something to the season, I think his contributions could have been spread out to a number of other characters while he himself remained dead.
It is unfortunate for the season that the villains are so anticlimactic. There were a lot of nuggets of greatness buried within them, hinting at a much better and more interesting conflict. However, either the Scott Buck decided to hold those things back for the next season, or Joe Quesada required that certain things be added to prepare for The Defenders, or something. Either way, the villains in this season may be the worst that we’ve gotten in a Marvel Netflix show so far. As I stated in my previous reviews, I think both Danny and Colleen are successful characters (which bodes well for their future appearances in the Netflix shows), so the series does its job on that account. The villains just needed to be a little better—and the plot a little more thought-out—for the season itself to be successful.
What did you think of the villains in this season? Do you like Madame Gao’s character so far? Do you think they should have left Harold out of the season entirely? Let me know in the comments!