We Need to Talk – Iron Fist

Look, everyone, we need to talk.

So Iron Fist, the latest in Marvel’s series of Netfllix shows, is not very good. It starts out at a 3 and gradually achieves a semi-solid. And honestly, that’s OK. Marvel is allowed to put out something that’s not terrific, and no one can genuinely complain about Iron Fist’s quality when Guggenheim’s masturbatory fanfiction that is Arrow is still on the air. The quality of Iron Fist, while below Marvel’s usual standards, is not inherently offensive and thus is not the reason we need to talk.

The show’s treatment of mental healthcare, on the other hand, is another subject entirely.

As early as episode 2, Iron Fist throws itself into the fire of mental healthcare by using a psychiatric hospital—well, at least what they’re telling us is a psychiatric hospital—as its major setting. This was a bold move, and I was initially excited to see this move since mental illness has previously only been hinted at in passing in Marvel projects with few exceptions. However, as the episode proceeded, my excitement slowly wore away and yielded to disappointment and bemusement at just how inaccurate their portrayal of mental healthcare turned out. The show has been out for a while now, so I have been growing more and more surprised at the fact that no one else seems to have noticed how poorly this subject matter was handled. This is why I’m writing this article, my friends.

We need to talk about mental healthcare.

For some background, I am a mental healthcare professional–bachelors pursuing a masters pursuing a doctorate in clinical and forensic psychology. I have worked at a psychiatric hospital for a year, and my work and volunteer experience with the mentally ill total well over three years. I like to think I know my stuff respectably well. I also think that the writers for Iron Fist emphatically do not know their stuff. So just what was so inaccurate about Iron Fist’s portrayal of a psychiatric hospital that I found so upsetting? Well, here we go (SPOILERS for early episodes of Iron Fist).

I’m pretty sure that initial scene in the hospital speaks for itself, but let’s recap for fun. We find our protagonist Danny Rand strapped down to a table in an isolation room while a man in a white lab coat speaks to him, presumably a doctor. This man then tries to kill Danny, and we learn that he was actually a fellow patient who stole a doctor’s coat and snuck into a seclusion room holding a restrained patient.

If I had a week to explain everything wrong with this scene, it wouldn’t be enough time. So let’s act like Kanye West and hit the highlights: in a real psych hospital, patients would not have been able to get a doctor’s lab coat. Those things aren’t just lying around. They’re, you know, being worn by doctors. Also, patients would not be able to get into other rooms that easily. Rooms not meant for patient entry are locked. Understandably so, seclusion rooms are definite no-fly zones for patients to walk into, especially with a damn patient currently inside of one. By the way, patients are rarely restrained, and if they are, they are not left unsupervised. At psych hospitals, we intensely care about our patients, and patient safety is the absolute top priority. Basically, think the exact opposite of this scene where orderlies—not licensed nurses or doctors, orderlies—stab Danny in the neck—you know, where arteries lie—with medicine to knock him out without checking to see if he’s harmed after just having a metal fork (hmm, how’d that end up in a psych hospital) shoved in his neck. I personally think that’s a little unsafe, but what would a humble man with actual clinical experience know?

I can’t talk about this scene without mentioning that Danny is in a seclusion room in restraints for safety purposes yet still has a lamp to keep him company. A lamp, for those who don’t know, can be used as a blunt object for bludgeoning and has a cord that can be used for strangling. But it’s understandably just sitting there chilling with a dangerous supposedly psychotic man. Eh, semantics.

While this opening scene is the most blatantly ridiculous portrayal of psychiatric care, it is not the only incidence. I personally couldn’t go more than 5-10 minutes watching it without pausing to rub my temples and question how low their research budget was to so poorly reproduce mental healthcare in America. Openly aggressive patients are left to freely intermix with confused and victimized patients. Danny, despite being considered extremely dangerous, is left alone with a doctor in his office full of electronics and ways to hurt himself or others. Orderlies are charged with giving medications despite the national standard being licensed nursing professionals. Readers, a damn straight jacket is used. Let us dispel this myth here and now: straight jackets are not a modern staple of psychiatric care. In all my clinical experience, I have never even seen a straight jacket, let alone used one on a patient.

Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering why any of this matters. Sure, the portrayal of psychiatric care is flawed and inaccurate, but what’s the big deal?

Because mental illness, unlike Iron Fist, is real.

Some people are legitimately ill. And unfortunately, some people are so severely ill that they have to be institutionalized, some for only a little and some for a very long time. By making their portrayal of mental illness and mental healthcare so scary and flawed, Marvel has perpetuated the stigma that the mentally ill already face every single day and has contributed to one of the most dangerous lies of our society: it’s not safe to seek help.

The patients in Iron Fist had it all figured out. Once you get a diagnosis, you’re there for good. The psych hospital is your new home, and you’ll be incredibly lucky if you ever leave and get to see your family again. If you don’t take anything else from this article, please understand this: nothing is further from the truth. As soon as we get a new patient, there are as many as 30 different people working together to get that person stabilized, keep them safe, and send them home in a better emotional and psychological place than they were when they arrived. Patients receive three meals a day and additional snacks, are allowed outside as long as it is a safe environment, and are offered classes and activities to improve their health and quality of life inside and outside of the hospital. And believe me, there is nothing we hate more than when patients have to stay any longer than the minimum length required for their case.

If I were undergoing severe psychological distress, Iron Fist’s portrayal of mental healthcare would scare me away from ever seeking clinical help. Honestly, the way the show fetishizes homelessness and demonizes mental healthcare makes me question what point the show’s producers were really trying to convey. Is it better to live under a bridge dying of a drug overdose than to stay in a psychiatric hospital where you are fed, provided shelter and clothes, and are cared for by people seeking treatment and placement for you to improve your life? But then again, those qualities found in real facilities were nowhere to find in Iron Fist.

Perhaps the show’s rushed production is to be blamed. Perhaps Marvel didn’t have the time or resources to have people do actual research on psychiatric care or medications (by the way, thorazine is not a lobotomy drug. I actually had to stop the episode to laugh at how ridiculous and uninformed that line was). Perhaps there was a deeper meaning to the antiquated treatment of psych care that I didn’t quite get. Perhaps the show’s writers just had a ridiculously bad experience with a poorly run psych hospital that tainted their perception of healthcare. Whatever is to be blamed for the portrayal, the question remains: when are we going to stop glamorizing mental illness and start admitting that maybe scientists and doctors know more than we do?

This is not a new issue. From such media as Perks of Being a Wallflower and Twilight to such music as Lana del Ray and 21 Pilots to the demonization of mental healthcare by Iron Fist and Hannibal, society’s understanding of mental illness is so delusional that I can basically taste the irony (it tastes like blood and not-yet-ripe zucchini, by the way). Let me say this as a mental healthcare professional and friend to many with mental illnesses: psychological disorders are not beautiful. The people who suffer from them are. But the disorders themselves are a source of incredible pain and distress than need more specialized help than some BS artistic sense of superiority can provide.

If you struggle with mental illness, I hear you. And I want to tell you that it’s safe to seek help. Whether it be a licensed therapist, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or psych hospital, you will be safe. Workers won’t go around blabbing your confidential information to anyone on the phone, and you won’t be left to rot in a padded room. And if you’re one of the many people who know someone with a mental illness, encourage them to find help. Be there for them, offer to go the therapy sessions with them, hold them accountable with their medication. They need friends during such trying times. And finally, if you’re one of the people who glamorize mental illness, who ridicule and demonize psychiatrists and mental healthcare, and who go out of their way to tell people that their suffering and suicidality are what makes them unique, then I have news for you. Your devotion to dramatic irony is hurting people, and you’re no better than the delusional preacher who tries to pray the gay away.

If you victimize the mentally ill like that, then you and me—we need to talk.

Always Forward. Forward, Always

I’ve stayed spoiler-free for this review, so enjoy!

Marvel’s Netflix offerings have brought comic book fans some of the best television they could’ve asked for. Daredevil has given us two seasons of gritty underworld crime mixed with ninja mysticism, and Jessica Jones—a character no one expected to see mark Marvel’s live action roster—has blessed us with a season’s worth of emotional weight and psychological thrill that has left us wanting more. Now, Marvel has given us Luke Cage, a character and show that proves to be just as high-quality contest as its Netflix brother and sister, if not a more unique tone and approach.

Luke Cage is an African-American superhero with super strength and unbreakable skin operating in New York. We last saw Luke in Jessica Jones, and this show finds him in his historic setting of Harlem, a historical and modern center of Black American culture. The show definitely uses such culture as a centerpiece for its plot and tone, and the political and social undertones of race found in the show are poignant yet never heavy-handed. Luke Cage is a show that does not shy away from its ethnic background and setting, and I personally applaud Netflix and Marvel for taking such an unabashed approach to one of the most high-profile Black comic book characters in history.

To start this review, let’s begin with the content of the show. Luke Cage offers an intricate plot involving a large circle of characters, and the narrative’s complexity outperforms that of any other Marvel shows we have seen so far. While some episodes favor dialogue and background information over action sequences, the show never feels boring or stagnant. Rather, the action sequences are utilized as a method of additional storytelling rather than a break from the narrative, thus establishing a dynamic story in which every character, scene, and dialogue exchange feeds each other smoothly and intriguingly. Narratively, Luke Cage may have the most well-executed plot out of all the Marvel Netflix shows so far.

We follow Luke through a journey of underground crime and political corruption as we witness a struggle for the city of Harlem. Crime lords Cottonmouth, Diamondback, and Domingo Colon struggle for power while futilely attempting to maintain relative peace. Meanwhile, politician Mariah Dillard works to restore Harlem and give its Black community more opportunity for success while working behind the scenes with dirty money and questionable business connections. As police officers Rafe Scarfe and Misty Knight work to solve a recent string of shootings and unearth criminal activity, Luke Cage finds himself caught in the middle as he just tries to live his life apart from all the violence and chaos. Cage offers an interesting contrast to Matt Murdock in Daredevil: While Murdock makes it his mission to help his city and defeat the corruption within it on both sides of the law, Cage simply wants to help the individual where he can but otherwise avoid the bigger conflicts altogether. The reluctant hero archetype is executed admirably in Luke Cage as we watch him transform from a quiet bystander to a powerful city guardian.

As we have come to expect from Marvel Studios, the casting is absolutely perfect. Mike Colter seems born to play Luke Cage. Alfre Woodard, Erik Harvey, and Mahershala Ali nail the various villains that they play, and Rosario Dawson delivers yet another stellar performance in the Marvel TV universe. Newcomer Simone Missick also shows incredible range in her role as the dynamic and complex Detective Misty Knight. I have no idea what the casting director for Marvel is being paid, but I don’t think it’s enough. Just like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and the MCU, Luke Cage brings characters to life in a way that will make fans think they’ve walked right into a Luke Cage comic.

I would be remiss to not comment on the soundtrack for the show: Sweet Christmas, is the music perfect. From OG hip hop to soulful R&B to jazz to gospel, the music in Luke Cage captures perfectly the musical history and richness of Harlem and the Black community in America.

While the vast majority of what I have to say about Luke Cage is positive, it is not without its issues. The somewhat shaky camera work can be distracting at times, and while the fighting scenes are impressive, it is somewhat of a downgrade from the choreography we’ve come to expect from Daredevil. Obviously, one would not expect the same type of fighting from both characters considering Daredevil is trained in martial arts while Cage has military and boxing training, so the shift in style fits and makes sense. That being said, viewers expecting Daredevil level fighting choreography will not find it here. Without getting too into spoilers, I would have liked to have seen more from certain villains. By the end of the season, some characters seemed to have so much untapped potential that viewers may wonder why the writing did not go different way. However, to counteract this, the show does set up incredible possibilities for just about every character involved, so audiences may rest assured that they will leave Harlem an even more intriguing and active city than when they arrived.

Luke Cage is an excellent show. Narratively, it is perhaps the strongest Marvel show yet. Casting is as phenomenal as ever, and each episode is an exciting ride through a story that deeply respects the characters’ comic book histories while making them relevant to modern audiences. One thing that may turn off certain viewers is the social commentary present in the narrative, however. I have seen some critics and fans express dissatisfaction with the “heavy-handed” racial and political ideas in the show. While I respect those opinions, I also think that they are a little unfair and rather miss the point. This show takes place in Harlem, a city of such racial, historical, cultural, political, artistic, and social significance that to remove the Black commentary and culture from it would be to rob the setting of everything that it is. Yes, it is brought up repeatedly that Luke Cage is a Black bulletproof man wearing hoodie. Yes, several parallels can be drawn between the unrest in the show and the Black Lives Matter movement. But all of these things do not feel forced, out of place, or preachy; they feel real. Harlem is at the center of Black history and struggle; it is a big deal in the show that they have a Black bulletproof superhero because in reality, the community passionately desires protection from the violence, oppression, and chaos that is often a part of their daily lives. The show never polarizes the issues; rather, it does a service to its audience by showing just how complicated the issues really are. The police brutality and corruption in Luke Cage is shown from the angle of an angry wronged Black community but also from the perspective of an exhausted and uncertain police force. Gun violence is treated from lenses of both protection and potential violence; racial oppression and disadvantage is approached from angles of poverty, education, systematic privilege, and a host of other factors. One of the worst things people can do is simplify complex issues, and Luke Cage does an excellent job of making its audience think rather than forcing opinions onto them. Luke Cage is a character of Black pride and strength, and to ask the show to be anything else is not being true to the character’s history or the Black community at large.

Luke Cage is equal parts superhero action show, social commentary, comic book adaptation, and character study. Each character is examined from multiple angles to show their depth and complexity, and the social issues in the show are treated with equal honesty and skill. Luke Cage may be the strongest narrative entry in the Defenders mini-verse, and any comic book fan can enjoy the show regardless of familiarity with the characters. Luke Cage is more than an entertaining show; it is a source of cultural enrichment and thought-provoking social commentary that goes above and beyond the expectations for a show about superheroes. But then again, what else would we expect from the Savior of Harlem?

Now we got a hero for hire, And he’s a Black one.

Red Lanyard

“One Batch, Two Batch” My Thoughts on Daredevil

*Spoiler Warning! I’m not going to reveal huge plot points but, naturally, I will be talking about certain different characters and their story-arcs so proceed with a little caution*

 

If anyone has paid any attention to my ramblings over the last year then they should know that I absolutely love Daredevil. It’s weird to me because initially it had a lot going against it, such as:

  • It was a previously failed property being given a second chance, which is something that a lot of people would be hesitant about.
  • It’s entering a crowded market of more crime dramas and more superhero shows.
  • It takes a grittier tone than what we’re used to seeing from Marvel.
  • It tackles Punisher and Elektra in the second season which is two more previously failed properties.

Yet, despite the odds being stacked against it Daredevil has become one of my favorite shows out there and I think I finally figured out the main reason why I, and the rest of the world like it so much: It has charm. Much like Matt Murdock himself, Daredevil surprises you with being immensely more enjoyable then what you might be expecting. This show has made me laugh, cry, gasp and scream at my television. It takes risks that need to be taken and it builds upon it’s brilliant story scene after scene.

I’m not going to talk about the plot as a whole because the story is incredibly well done and you should just take my word for it and go watch it.

Setting.

It has to be talked about that this show just breathes life into the city in a way that I really haven’t seen in a long time. It gets some of these perfect camera angles and lighting that makes it seem run-down but then in the very next moment you see a light hit just the right way to where you feel like you do want this city to be saved. I honestly can’t explain it as well their production team conveys it so you just have to watch it.

Cinematography/Choreography

In the same manner as the first season, both of these are outstanding in this show. I’m putting them together because in this show, they go hand in hand. The first season had that exceptional hallway fight scene and the second season is even better. Not only is the Stairwell Fight one of the better fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time but they keep upping the stakes throughout the season by adding The Hand.(A group of Ninja)

This show needs to be nominated for awards just on cinematography alone due to some of the angles they get. What’s really great is that you can tell they have a love for this show and they want it to be good. It’s the same reason I wasn’t worried about the new Star Wars because none of them are doing this just for the paycheck. Which leads me to my next and final point:

Characters/Acting

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The returning cast is even better than they were in the first season. Charlie Cox is still phenomenal as Matt Murdock/Daredevil as I’ve said before he can handle the ruthless aggression of the character as well as the charm and wit of the blind lawyer.

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I fall more in love with Deborah Ann Woll every time I see her as Karen Page. She has that fire that Karen needs but she also has a vulnerability that makes her sympathetic. Karen refuses to back down to Injustice, just like Matt and we need more characters like them today.

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I’ve heard a lot of people give crap to Elden Henson for his portrayal as Foggy Nelson but I think he’s great and he definitely proves that in his multiple trial scenes this season.

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Elodie Yung as Elektra is a definite standout. She steals the scene every time she’s on the screen and when she’s not, you’re just hoping she going to come back soon. Elektra only lets her guard down for one person and that’s Matt. She’s such a great character to learn about and they do a great job with her.

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Season 2 takes on the unenviable task of bringing The Punisher back to the screen. This, being the characters fourth attempt at bring brought to life, was a fairly tall order. Frank Castle isn’t an easy character to adapt because his story is flawed from the beginning. He’s not a hero in the traditional sense and that’s what makes him interesting to me in many ways. There are many reasons I didn’t like the older versions of The Punisher but one of the main ones was that it wasn’t realistic that there would be no consequences to his actions as a vigilante. In this version, no character dies without you noticing it. Every kill of his matters in a way that reminds me more of Sons Of Anarchy than a traditional Superhero show. It’s also helped tremendously by the exceptional job done by Jon Bernthal. Everyone keeps talking about the end of Episode 3 which recreates the famous scene from Punisher #3 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon with Daredevil tied up in chains and Punisher telling him that he can only save the other mans life if he can shoot frank in the head. Daredevil screams out: “What kind of Choice is that?” And Castle responds: “The one I make every time I pull the trigger”

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Now, that is one of my all time favorite punisher moments and it was easily my second favorite scene of his but hands down his best scene and possibly the best of the season was his scene at the cemetery. I don’t want to spoil the acting ability of Bernthal here so I won’t but at the end of Episode 4, there’s a ten minute scene between him and Charlie Cox as Daredevil that makes the entire season.

Overall

If you’re not watching the Marvel netflix shows then you are definitely missing out. Episode after Episode they only get better. The stakes keep getting higher and the stories only get better.

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We finally have our Iron Fist!

I think Finn Jones is gonna do very well in this role. Danny Rand’s character has always been one of those where I really like him even without reading much about him. That being said, much of that is probably due to him being a mystical ninja…which is possibly the greatest title of all time.

I’m excited for this series because this is honestly going to be the weirdest of the four main Netflix shows. Daredevil and Jessica Jones both involved two street level characters, one of which didn’t even feature any superpowers beyond Daredevil’s heightened senses. Iron Fist’s origins are steeped in the mystical side of comics and I’m hoping that the first half of the season is him getting his powers and then the second half is all about him coming home and joining up with Luke Cage and becoming Heroes for Hire/The Defenders.

One interesting aspect is where does this leave Loras Tyrell?(Jones’ character in Game Of Thrones) Last time we saw Loras in the show he was captured by the High Sparrow’s militia. In the books, he was heavily wounded in battle and was assumed that he would soon die. There’s nothing that says he can be in both shows but I think it makes sense that Loras would die soon on Game Of Thrones anyway.

Bottom Line, I can’t wait for more of the netflix shows and I’ll probably be looking for some more Iron Fist comics when I go to Comic-Con next month.

-Vance