Netflix recently cancelled Iron Fist after two frustrating seasons of mediocrity. At least season two was a marked improvement in many ways over the first—robbing Danny Rand (Finn Jones) of the Iron Fist and giving it to Davos (Sacha Dhawan) and then Colleen (Jessica Henwick) certainly helped put a new spin on things. But the show still gets mired in the same tedious, overlong scenes with characters talking, talking, and talking some more about mostly nothing of any great importance. These scenes ostensibly flesh out the characters and their motivations, but all too often they just feel like exercises in exposition.
Then there’s Ward Meachum, though. As much as I love Colleen Wing, and Henwick has done wonders with Colleen’s journey over two seasons, it’s really Ward’s tortured, but darkly comic journey of self-discovery that I find most fascinating. You can’t look away whenever Tom Pelphrey saunters on screen. If you do, you’ll likely miss several beautifully offbeat acting choices that would increase your enjoyment of the show tenfold. Pelphrey appears to be acting on an entirely differently level of existence than everyone else on the show. Certainly, the writing has helped Ward, but Pelphrey is largely responsible for making him so deliciously contradictory and complex that we can’t help but love the privileged rich guy we’re supposed to hate at the start of the series.
The key, I think, is that Pelphrey never tries to turn Ward into a hero. He’s just a guy who messes up—a lot—but who works hard at making amends for his transgressions. Ward’s descent into drug addiction, his struggle with recovery, his fractured relationship with his sister Joy (Jessica Stroup), his brotherly love for Danny, and his desire to, above all, simply do what’s right, make him the most fully realized character on the show.
Normally, but especially in today’s political climate, I’m loath to heap praise on another privileged, entitled white male. But Ward is a fictional character who acts as a positive example of how that sort of man could change if he tried. The show’s writers, to their credit, make Ward painfully aware of his flaws—he’s nothing if not introspective and emotionally available in season two—and put him to work at being a better person. Pelphrey takes it from there, making us believe every step of the way that Ward’s intentions are true.
Kudos to Tom Pelphrey for crafting one of the most nuanced and utterly unique performances in recent memory. That it did so on a series that never quite shifted into high gear is even more impressive.
It’s entirely possible that Pelphrey will return in the role for future Marvel Netflix series. Until then, however, this is goodbye to one of the more complicated and interesting characters in Marvel’s television universe.