The last Defender finally arrived on Netflix this month in the 13-episode first season of Iron Fist. While the series has had some mixed reviews (you can read our series and single episode reviews here and Rotten Tomatoes here), one of the highlights of the show was its portrayal of female characters. The women of Iron Fist were fierce and at times, better written and more interesting than our new Defender Danny Rand (in my opinion). Let’s take a look at four leading ladies: Colleen Wing, Joy Meachum, Claire Temple and Madame Gow, how each of them kept Danny out of trouble (as best they could), and how they kept the show entertaining and grounded.
Oh and for the record, spoilers ahead.
Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick)
For many viewers, Colleen Wing stole the show. Who else could not only hold her own in a no holds barred cage match but cut down men twice her size?! But Colleen isn’t all brawn; The Daughter of the Dragon (a nice nod to her comic book team up another badass Marvel woman Misty Knight) is as caring as she is tough. She strived to be a good example for the students at her dojo but she was not without flaws. For example, despite lecturing one of her students about fighting for money, she does the same in an effort to keep her dojo open on her own (even though she could have easily asked Danny or Bakuto for help). Asking someone else to take care of her is just not her style.
What I liked most about Colleen Wing was that struggle was almost entirely internal. Jessica Henwick did an incredible job of balancing Colleen’s warrior side with subtly hinting that there was a more vulnerable side buried within. Where Danny was constantly going off about the struggles of being the Iron Fist and coming back after 15 years, there was a fire quietly burning inside Colleen, one that you could only see in her eyes. It made it even more surprisingly to find out who her “family” truly was because she gave little indication that she could even possibly be associated with The Hand, let alone part of them! But regardless of her affiliation, her actions where always based on a core belief that what she was doing was right, not just for her, but for her students.
Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup)
Five episodes in, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to dislike the Meachums, Danny Rand’s childhood friends and now the heads of the company Danny’s father built along with their father, Harold. However, I found it impossible to not like Joy.
Joy is not your typical corporate villain; she seems to possess an amazing amount of empathy. For example, even though Danny, upon his return not only shows up at the office, but breaks into her house and then confronts her as she leaves for work — she still wrestles with the decision to have him committed to a psychiatric facility. This is partly because her gut is telling her that this truly is her childhood friend, but she also questions if they made the right decision for this individual that is clearly struggling. This sense of empathy sometimes comes in conflict with what is best for the business, but as her brother tells her, she needs to find a balance between being a good person and doing what’s right for the company. And while it seemed that she was placed at Rand via her father’s will (their inheritance is tied to the company), she reveals that she worked hard for to become part of Rand’s senior leadership. Being the daughter of the founder meant no one took her seriously when she started at Rand straight out of law school. She had to earn the respect of her colleagues, something she was proud to eventually achieved.
Joy also has a profound effect on those around her. One example of this is how she humanizes her brother Ward. She clearly loves and respects him and he, in turn, wants to keep her safe. He hates lying to her and the struggle to keep secrets from Joy only adds to the pressure Ward is under. She is the only other person Ward cares about, maybe more than he cares about himself. Joy is pretty fearless. Even when she disagrees with Danny’s decisions regarding Rand, she will not allow anyone on the board to be condescending towards him. And when she is almost kidnapped, she does her best to fight back against her attackers along with Danny. She is not willing to play the damsel in distress, even when being taken away by men with hatchets. What’s next for Joy might be a stark contrast from the Joy we met in season one of Iron Fist but a little closer to her comic book origin. I’m eager to see what’s next.
Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson)
Claire Temple is a saint. Not only is she the thread that connects the entire Marvel Netflix universe, but she’s often the voice of reason. Claire has seen some *stuff* and she has no time to deal with your whining or poor planning Danny Rand.
She’s always cool in the midst of crisis and never judgmental, despite the precarious situations her super friendships keep putting her in. I mean, who else would use a credit card to fix a punctured lung?! However, Claire’s reasons for her continued involvement with hero-types are questioned by Madame Gao. She accuses Claire of secretly hoping whatever makes her friends so special will “rub off” on her. But that’s not Claire; she’s not a “superhero chaser’. Claire understands that these people who are keeping city safe need someone to rely on for more than just medical attention (but also, for a lot of emergency medical attention). Claire is everyone’s rock in some way; someone that they can count on. She is helping to make the city safer by helping the people who keep protect it.
Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho)
I know that Madame Gao is a ruthless villain that has squared up with more than one Defender but she’s one of my favorite characters in this universe. Despite her appearance as a fragile, old woman, she is without fear, immune to intimidation and extremely powerful. She has been alive for centuries –”I spent most of the 17th century being interrogated”, she quips — and is able to pick apart people’s insecurities like no other. She uses a one-two punch of threats and honesty to unravel even the bravest characters, manipulating even the most unshakable hero. I honestly want a series on Madame Gao through the ages. For a character that’s been in two shows, we still know so little about here. How did she rise to power in The Hand? Why was she in K’un-Lun? What is the source of her power? So many questions!
The women of the Marvel Universe are some of the most brilliant female characters on TV right now. I almost wish that they would all team up and have their own show (like Daughters of the Dragon.) I’m excited to see what happens in The Defenders when Jessica Jones comes back into the mix. Claire, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing are confirmed to appear in The Defenders, so hopefully, we’ll see more of them, Joy, and Madam Gao sooner rather than later.