Iron Fist has a lot of problems. From major issues that have been criticized for months, like Asian representation and cultural appropriation, to basic struggles with pacing and character development, it is easily the most flawed of Netflix's Marvel series. But one of its biggest problems doesn't become as obvious until the final moments of the season, when you realize how much more Iron Fist could have done with Danny's friend and fellow executive, Joy Meachum. Spoilers for all of Iron Fist Season 1 ahead.
Joy, played by Jessica Stroup, holds a unique position in the series as someone who sees Danny Rand as Danny Rand, not the Iron Fist. In the first few episodes of the season, she butts heads with her brother, Ward, over how to handle Danny's return. She seems to be torn between her position as a high-ranking executive at their company, Rand Enterprises, and her conscience. That internal struggle grows as she discovers the company's immoral dealings — thanks to Danny — and though I hoped her arc would explore that internal conflict more, her storyline soon shifted.
Once Joy discovers that Ward is hiding a drug addiction, she starts worrying about how to get him help while dealing with the company's board and bad publicity. This seemed to be another exciting direction for Iron Fist to take her. Would she rise to the occasion, showing the board that she's the Meachum they can count on to steer Rand in a better direction? Would this be her chance to step away from her older brother and become a true, individual leader? No, this storyline would be yet another to change in a way that takes the focus away from Joy.
The next big turn in Joy's life comes when she finds out that her father, Harold — who died of cancer 13 years ago — is alive. Though Ward had been helping their father hide for all of those years, they had both kept his resurrection a secret from Joy, presumably to protect her. But when Harold finally reveals that he's alive, Joy immediately begins working alongside him and becomes caught in the struggle between Ward and their father, and the enemies they've each accumulated.
Like those that came before it, this storyline is intrinsically connected to the men surrounding Joy, even though Iron Fist had plenty of opportunities to let her grow on her own.
When Danny is concerned that one of Rand's manufacturing plants could be spreading cancer to people who lived nearby, Joy makes it clear that she is torn between caring for those affected and needing to protect the company. Iron Fist could have shown her finding a way to reconcile those feelings and look for a solution that wouldn't hurt Rand. Instead, the storyline is essentially folded into the larger battle between Iron Fist's many key players.
When Joy and Ward disagree over whether to accept a buyout from Rand or try to fight for their jobs, she goes behind his back, says no to the offer, and starts gathering blackmail for the board. As she explains to Ward in an impressive speech, she worked hard to be taken seriously by the rest of the company and to prove that her role wasn't just handed to her. This was the perfect opportunity to strengthen Joy and show that she's willing to do whatever it takes to hold onto the success she fought so hard to achieve. Instead, she starts working with her father to regain control, while her brother looks for ways to save her from his grasp.
Soon, Joy is being held hostage as Harold and Ward fight with each other and criminal organization The Hand — a pawn in a larger game that refuses to let her actively play. It's incredibly frustrating to watch Iron Fist toy with these bigger ideas for Joy, only to continuously change its mind and push her to the sidelines. We only see small pieces of her, and because of the show's overall plot issues, they never form a cohesive picture.
That's why Joy's final twist in Iron Fist left me rolling my eyes instead of gasping in excitement. In the last few moments of the season finale, we see Joy meeting with Danny's former friend, Davos, who suggests that they kill Danny. Joy, who was once one of Danny's few supporters, simply responds, "I'm listening."
This could have been a thrilling scene, one that sets Joy up as a future, badass, female villain — of which there are few in the Netflix Marvel universe — but the preceding episodes dampened the reveal. Why should I get my hopes up about Joy getting a meaty storyline when every other "arc" she had was so short-lived? I just can't get excited about seeing her become the villain in Iron Fist Season 2 or The Defenders when this season ended with Joy being brought into yet another man's fight.