As the first of Netflix’s MCU shows, Daredevil set a lot of precedent for the franchise. It established a gritty, street-level view of superheroics in New York, an ensemble cast, and a sequential plot. It also recognized the importance of having a strong villain and made sure viewers got to know Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk almost as well as they did Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock.
Unfortunately, this lesson didn’t make it over to Iron Fist. Underdeveloped villains was just one of the many reasons the first season of Iron Fist was a failure. In Iron Fist’s second outing, however, it finally gives Danny a villain worth standing up to by devoting an entire episode to the backstory of his childhood friend, Davos (Sacha Dhawan), in “Heart of the Dragon.”
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Iron Fist season two]
Iron Fist copied Daredevil’s lauded hallway fight scene in season one, but it wouldn’t do its own version of “Shadows in the Glass” until season two. That’s the Daredevil episode in which vague glimpses of Fisk’s scheming to gain power and influence really come to fruition, with flashbacks that examine his troubled childhood and the origins of his ambitions. Luke Cage very successfully imitated “Shadows in the Glass” when it revealed Cottonmouth’s backstory in the tragic episode “Manifest.” Jessica Jones used Kilgrave’s parents and video of the mind-controlling mass murderer as a child to share his past.
But the first season of Iron Fist didn’t provide any such exposition. Harold Meachum (David Wenham) was apparently evil because being resurrected by The Hand’s magic tainted his soul. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) continued to ride the mysterious vibe she got from her time on Daredevil and both she and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) wouldn’t get any backstory until The Defenders. Fortunately, season two’s “Heart of the Dragon” really delivers on that potential by exploring how Davos could go from Danny Rand’s best friend to his iconic enemy, Steel Serpent.
Davos was already the series’ most developed antagonist, having shown up in season 1 to try to persuade Danny to return to K’un-Lun and resume his duty as the Iron Fist. Having known no other life beyond the walls of the mystical city, Davos saw New York as a fallen Babylon that corrupted Danny with the worldly temptations of wealth and a romantic liaison with a member of the Hand. Davos likewise had the most to lose when K’un-Lun fell to the Hand while Danny was in New York, leading him to swear vengeance on the man he calls “brother.”
”Heart of the Dragon” fleshes those motivations out even further by showing young Danny and Davos playing together, a moment that grows darker as talk turns to the role of the Iron Fist. Danny sees the Iron Fist as a defender of K’un-Lun, but Davos insists that he must also be willing to slay the city’s enemies. Still, Davos promises he could never harm Danny even if he were to join the Hand, a declaration that immediately earns him a rebuke from his mother, Priya (Gita Reddy). “If you were Iron Fist, Davos, and Daniel were Hand, you would strike him down without a second thought,” she says, brandishing a stick she’ll use to literally beat the message into him. “Compassion is your weakness.”
Davos’ struggle between duty and compassion defines the character’s arc. When he steals the power of the Iron Fist from Danny, he still holds out hope that Danny will come to understand his decision and follow him in his quest to violently rid New York of crime. The debate over whether heroes should kill isn’t new, having been the primary source of conflict between Daredevil and The Punisher in Daredevil season two. But Davos makes a powerful argument for his crusade when he brags that he’s done more in a week to clean up the city than Danny accomplished during his entire crime-fighting career. It’s a barb that strikes deep — Danny already feels that he hasn’t done enough, an insecurity that foreshadows his eventual decision to surrender his power to the person he thinks can to the most good.
”Better I were barren than to bring a disgrace like you into this world. Second best. The fool who lost his birthright to an outsider. I thought I’d raised a champion. I was mistaken.” While Davos initially reconciles with Danny after his defeat, losing that birthright is a fundamental blow to his identity. Impressing your mom isn’t a great reason to become an immortal weapon, but neither is Danny’s decision to pursue the power in hopes that it would fill the void left by the death of his parents.
The episode also shows Davos’ last conversation with his mother before leaving on his doomed mission to bring Danny back to K’un-Lun. Standing on the brink of tears before a closed door, he comes as close as he can to expressing his love for her and saying that he appreciates the hardened man she has forged him into. “I will make you proud, mother, and I won’t rest until my destiny is realized.”
When K’un-Lun fell, Davos’ parents presumably died with it, preventing him from ever actually reconciling. He’s left only with that motivation to be the unforgiving warrior she would have wanted him to be. He takes any failure as a sign of weakness, quickly resorting to murder when he can’t persuade a restaurateur that his cause is righteous. That same hardness makes it difficult for Davos to develop meaningful relationships with anyone besides Danny, which makes their falling out so devastating.
Danny and Davos’ duel for power of the Iron Fist that begins with them literally bound together and ends with that tie severed. It makes for some impressive fight choreography — and it’s a potent symbol for their relationship. Using flashbacks to develop Davos also allowed Iron Fist’s second season to add desperately needed depth to Danny’s character. Like with Daredevil season 1, Iron Fist season two ends with its primary villain defeated but still alive, available when needed to strengthen its hero through further conflict.