(Some spoilers ahead for both the "Daredevil" and "Iron Fist" Marvel Netflix series.)
In two Netflix Marvel series now, the evil ninja group known as the Hand has played a major role in the villainous doings of New York City. And behind the Hand in both "Daredevil" and "Iron Fist" is Madame Gao, a diminutive elderly woman who hides a great deal of wicked wisdom and superpowered strength.
"Daredevil" finds Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) as one of three crime bosses that works with the Kingpin, specializing in the heroin trade in New York City. It's only later that "Daredevil" star Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) discovers she's a much bigger threat as a leader of the Hand. She also ends a conversation with Daredevil by putting him down with a single blow that sends him sprawling.
Madame Gao is one of the primary baddies facing Danny Rand (Finn Jones) in "Iron Fist," and while she never trades blows with him -- aside from one blow that's similar to how she served up Daredevil -- she does face off with him in several battles of wits.
She knows lots about Danny's adopted home, K'un-Lun, and she seems to be immortal -- or at least, infused with the resurrection ability some members of the Hand enjoy. At one point, for example, she mentions how she spent most of the 17th century in captivity being interrogated -- which would be a strange thing for a normal human to say.
So who exactly is Madame Gao? Is she a villain from the "Daredevil" or "Iron Fist" comics? So far, the Marvel series in which Gao appears have held any additional information about Gao's identity close to the vest, but it seems very likely she's one of the major villains that appears in Marvel's TV pantheon.
Marvel fans who are versed in the comics suspect that Gao might be one of Danny Rand's comic book nemeses, a villain known as the Crane Mother.
In the comics, the Crane Mother is the leader not of the hand, but of K'un-Zi, another heavenly city like K'un-Lun, the city where Danny trained to become the Iron Fist. In fact, in the 2007 comic arc "The Immortal Iron Fist," it's revealed there are actually seven such cities, which exist in a different dimension and only appear on Earth periodically. Each has a different Immortal Weapon, like the Iron Fist, to represent it.
The comic book Crane Mother has a personal vendetta against a previous Iron Fist, which leads her to attack Danny as well. She's also holding the leash of Davos, otherwise known as the Steel Serpent, who she sends to kill Danny.
The finale episode of the "Iron Fist" Netflix series sees a similar scenario start to play out -- with Davos discussing with Joy Meachum his plans to take out Danny as Gao sits nearby listening in.
If Madame Gao is the Crane Mother, it would track with the key bits of information dropped in the series so far, like her immortality and her knowledge of K'un-Lun. It would also suggest that, given her involvement in multiple series, when Daredevil, the Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage team up in the upcoming crossover series "The Defenders" later this year, Gao could very well be the enemy they have to team up to take down. Yes, Sigourney Weaver has been cast as a villain in that team-up series -- but that doesn't push Gao out of the picture, given how these Netflix shows love to fill themselves with baddies.