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Marvel’s The Defenders: Season 1

Marvel’s Netflix series has finally arrived, bringing together four notable franchises.

Recap

Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) are all in different places when the series begins. Iron Fist and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) have been hunting down the Hand, while he is being haunted by the destruction of the city of K’un-Lun and the guilt he feels for not being there to protect it. Jessica Jones is working overtime trying to stay under the radar after defeating Killgrave (David Tennant). Despite her effort, she ends up getting recruited by a woman to find her missing husband.  Luke Cage has been released from  prison after getting some help from the law firm of Hogarth, Chao and Benowitz who were seemingly hired by Bobby Fish. After getting “coffee” with Claire (Rosario Dawson), Luke finds out that young men have been getting recruited into some shady business around Harlem. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is now focused more on his life as a lawyer than a vigilante. After that life tore apart his friendships, he’s tried to give it up but he misses it. Daredevil is also mourning the loss of Elektra.

Their four paths start to lead towards the other heroes when an earthquake shakes New York. This is the work of a group known as the “Five Fingers of the Hand”. These are the leaders of the mysterious organization that Daredevil and Iron Fist have both fought against in the past. These 5 people are former members of K’un-Lun who were exiled for wanting to use their teachings to gain immortality. They are led by Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver). The remaining Fingers are Madame Gao,  Murakami (the man who controlled Nobu), Bokuto (Colleen Wing’s former teacher) and an African Warlord named Sowande. Alexandra’s body is starting to deteriorate, causing her to take drastic actions to further their goal of returning to K’un-Lun and extending their lives. They are trying to capture the Iron Fist in order to unlock a door sealed by the monks of K’un-Lun.

 

Danny Rand and Luke Cage cross paths when Danny’s hunt for the Hand leads him to the same young men that Luke is trying to save from a life of crime. When Luke mentions to Claire that he traded blows with a guy with a glowing hand, she quickly realizes who it is and arranges a meeting between the two. Jessica and Matt have a quite different meeting. After Jessica tracks her client’s missing husband to an apartment filled with explosives, she ends up on the police’s radar. Later, when the man appears in her home/office he ends up killing himself right before Misty Knight appears and takes her into custody. Murdock is hired by Foggy to help with some overflow cases and Jessica’s happens to come across his path. Murdock heads to the police station to get Jessica out of Misty’s interrogation room. After some conversations, each pair of heroes ends up heading towards Midland Circle Financial, the public front for the Hand.

After Danny Rand sets a meeting to confront Alexandra, an all out brawl ensues as the Hand tries to capture him. He is soon joined by Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock (with a scarf over his face). During the fight Matt discovers that Elektra, who has attacked both Iron Fist and Jessica Jones already, is still alive. They fight their way out of Midland Circle and take up refuge in a Chinese restaurant called the “Royal Dragon”. There, they are joined by Stick, who had just cut off his right hand to escape from Alexandra. Stick tells them who they are really up against. He also reveals to Matt that the Hand did bring Elektra back to life, but she’s not who she used to be. The Defenders (it’s just easier to call the group that) are reluctant to take up this fight, but it becomes clear that this isn’t something that they can escape. The Five Fingers descend upon their makeshift hideout with Elektra. The Defenders fight their way out and reconvene at Colleen Wing’s old dojo.

Luke shows up after everyone else and reveals that he’s captured Sowande. They try interrogating him but that just leads to him taunting them with the idea that the Hand will come after the people that they love. After Jessica knocks him out, the Defenders each go to gather their respective loved ones before the Hand tries to attack them. Along the way Colleen is ambushed by Bokuto, who they believed to be dead. She is saved when Luke Cage and Iron Fist intervene, but not before Bokuto wounds her pretty good. Luke gets Misty to take Colleen, Karen, Foggy, Malcom, Trish and Claire into protective custody despite not wanting to let her in on what’s going on with the Hand. The Defenders return to interrogate Sowande with Matt Murdock finally returning to his Daredevil persona. When the interrogation turns towards Elektra, Matt finally lets the rest of the team in on his relationship to her. While they are arguing among themselves, Sowande escapes and tries to take the Iron Fist, which leads to him being decapitated by Stick.

Sowande’s last words inform Stick that the Hand intends to use the Iron Fist as a key. That leads everyone to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to hide Danny from the Hand. That is, everyone except for Danny who’s not willing to sit on the sidelines. This leads to the rest of the Defenders having to knock Danny out. They leave Luke to watch him as Daredevil and Jessica Jones head back to investigate the giant hole that he and Elektra found underneath Midland Circle over a year ago. Their investigation leads them to discover that the hole leads to something larger underneath Midland Circle. They return to their hideout just as Stick has decided that the best thing to do is kill the Iron Fist so the Hand can’t use him. Just as he’s about to, Elektra appears. She kills stick and knocks out the other three Defenders before escaping with an unconscious Danny.

Elektra has become a subject of conflict within the Hand as well. The other Fingers can tell that she hasn’t completely lost her connection to her old life and they blame Alexandra for using up their resources on obtaining her. It turns out that they are right. Despite Alexandra’s conditioning and her own memory loss, the interactions with Matt have started to jog Elektra’s memories. Eventually, she remembers who she is. After capturing Danny, Alexandra orders Elektra to kill the rest of the Defenders. That prompts Elektra to kill Alexandra and usurp control of the Hand. She takes Danny down to the door that the Hand wanted him to open. She tries to convince Danny to join her, just like Alexandra had done before her. When that fails, the two square off. The fight continues until Elektra is able to redirect one of Danny’s fists into the wall, breaking it open. When Danny wakes up on the other side of the door, he finds himself inside of a dragon skeleton. It turns out that the “substance” that kept the Fingers alive and revived Elektra is being extracted from the remains of one of K’un-Lun’s dragons.

The rest of the Defenders wake up inside the police station. The police arrived to find Sowande and Stick’s bodies, but had no idea who they were and what Jessica, Matt and Luke’s involvement is. Luke offers the police some information, but they refuse to tell anyone where to find the Hand for fear of increasing casualties. After taking  a sidebar, they escape from the police station. The police assume that Jessica and Luke kidnapped Matt. They head to save Danny, but they are met by Bokuto, Madame Gao and Murakami when they arrive. The fight is back and forth until Colleen Wing shows up with Claire to help them. After the Fingers flee, Misty shows up and offers to stall the police to buy them some time. Once they get inside, Colleen reveals that her plan is to do what Jessica’s client had intended to do: bring the building down on top of the tunnel.

While the people with powers head down to save Danny, Colleen and Claire are tasked with placing the bombs around the building. They are intercepted by Bokuto, who ends up dueling Colleen. They are then joined by Misty, who heads inside after realizing that they plan to blow up the building. Misty ends up getting her arm sliced off trying to save Claire from Bokuto, and that provides enough of a distraction for Colleen to finally defeat her former teacher. After she kills Bokuto, Colleeen discovers that the bomb’s timer has been triggered.

Underground, the Defenders reunite and Danny informs them that the Hand plans to destroy the city once they get what they want. This leads to a final confrontation between the Hand and the Defenders. They manage to defeat everyone except for Elektra. Daredevil decides to stay behind and try to get through to Elektra while Luke and Jessica escape with Danny. He stays with Elektra right up until the bombs go off. The rest of the Defenders are able to get everyone out of the building before the explosion, but Daredevil is presumed dead. Before they go, Matt secretly tells Danny to continue to protect the city.

The city officials are content to cover up the events of everything that happened at Midland Circle. They write off the earthquakes as being caused by illegal construction and ignore any involvement of vigilantes. This means that Luke, Jessica and Danny all get a pass for their involvement. Any residual legal issues are smoothed over by Foggy and Hogarth’s law firm. Misty is recovering at a state of the art hospital that Danny owns. The other Defenders still mourn the loss of Matt and head their separate ways. Luke and Jessica actually say goodbye this time before he heads back to Harlem and she heads back to Alias Investigations. Danny meditates on Matt’s desire to protect the city and tells Colleen that he feels like this is his home now. Foggy meets with Karen at a church. She tells him that she can’t reveal what happened without blowing the cover-up. She also tells Foggy that she hasn’t given up hope on Matt. Of course, we know there’s going to be a Daredevil season 3, so he can’t really be dead. At the end of the series, he’s shown waking up inside of what looks like a monastery.

Notable/Fun/Other moments

  • I love how the show keeps the musical identity from the different series when the characters are introduced. It’s particularly noticeable when Luke Cage appears and “Let the Sunshine” by Mos Def starts playing. Luke actually seems to get his own soundtrack most of the time he’s on screen.
  • Along with other unique features, each character’s scenes (and their photos in the opening) are bathed in the colors of their more recognizable costumes: Red for Daredevil, Jessica Jones in a Blue/Purple, Luke Cage gets yellow, and Danny Rand gets green. It sounds really pretentious, but it’s actually a cool aspect of the show if you remember to look for the colored objects that are kind of hidden in different scenes.

  • The Defenders “unite” in episode 4. Although, they never really call themselves a team.
  • Murakami is also first introduced in Episode 4. He is gutting a bear that he killed…because…reasons.
  • Episode 5 is the first time that Matt dons the Daredevil costume in the series. Before then, he resists returning to his old persona.
  • It’s not really delved into, but there’s still some lingering tension (sexual and otherwise) between Luke and Jessica.
  • Before things go completely sideways, Luke reminds Danny that he can fight as Danny Rand in ways that the Iron Fist can’t. Danny then remembers that he can use his influence as a billionaire to get some things done.
  • There’s an end credits scene after the final episode of the series that shows Frank Castle returning as the Punisher.
  • Most of the sidekicks make appearances in this series:
    • Jessica’s formerly drug addled friend Malcom Ducasse (Eka Darville) makes an appearance during episode 1. He seems to be doing much better now.
    • Foggy is working for Hogarth and is back with his Ex.
    • Karen is still working as a reporter.
    • Ward Meechum is on some kind of trip or sabbatical that’s keeping him away for at least a month.
    • Trish Walker is still doing her radio show, but she’s thinking of delving into doing more investigative reporting.
  • Like in most Marvel properties, banter is a big part of this series. Here are some of my favorite exchanges:
    • What do you mean you’re Daredevil…you’re blind” – Danny Rand
      “Yeah, well, sight is overrated” – Matt Murdock
    • “Imagine knowing, for the rest of your life, you only made it worse by getting involved” – Matt to Danny
    • “Jesus, am I the only one left who doesn’t know karate?” – Jessica Jones
    • “You grab me like that again, and I’ll punch you so hard you see” – Jessica Jones to Matt Murdock
    • “The scarf looked better. Nice ears by the way” – Jessica Jones
      “They’re horns” – Daredevil
    • “My past is non of your goddamn business and it’s not actively trying to kill us” – Jessica Jones
    • “There was a Dragon” – Danny
      “Ha, no there wasn’t” – Luke
    • “It seems like you’re just making this up as you go along” – Danny
      “I am kid. That’s what survivors do” – Stick
    • “What’s in the bag?” – Jessica
      “I’m here to save Danny and make sure no one ever gets hurt again.” – Colleen
      “How does that answer my question?” – Jessica
    • “I’m not gonna hug you” – Luke to Daredevil

Commentary

I watched the entire mini-series twice before doing this write-up and I’m glad I did. On my first viewing, I noticed a lot of the directorial tricks and nods that were in the series but, outside of that, nothing really caught my attention. On a subsequent viewing, I realized just how fun the series actually is. I think it took me a while to notice the fun elements of the show because it isn’t the blockbuster, mile-a-minute slug fest that I expected. The action is mixed, the dialogue is funny but kept to a more realistic tone and pace. It really is more like a continuation of the four shows that preceded it, not an escalation of them.

The Defenders very deftly ties in the worlds of it’s four protagonists. Having them all come together didn’t feel like much of a stretch at all. I think this was helped by the fact that they were truly brought together for a specific purpose, not just because they needed to be together for a TV show. Matt and Danny’s stories were interwoven without them ever really knowing it. Jessica and Luke find themselves playing the unwitting and willing good Samaritans respectively. When everyone comes together, it fills in gaps in each character’s story and everyone’s reactions feel very natural. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to pull off. Especially considering that they managed to include each hero’s primary supporting characters.

There are some problems with the show. One of the big ones is the character of Danny Rand. I feel like they wrote him like they thought he should be based on the comics, not so much as he was in the previous series. In some ways that’s good, because it makes his character a little more fun. In other ways, it makes him very uneven. In some scenes he’s riddled with angst, guilt and remorse. Then, he becomes more like a care free child. After that, he’s a peaceful, centered warrior. Danny just gets asked to be a lot of things very quickly. If this were happening over a longer period of time, it might look like character growth. As it is, it looks like a lack of having a real identity.

One character who definitely doesn’t suffer from that problem is Jessica Jones, who I loved in this series. She is the exact character that I wanted her to be. She continues with her sassy ways throughout any situation. She’s also responsible for some of the funniest dialogue in the entire series. I do wish that they would do a little more fight training with Krysten Ritter though. In a lot of those scenes, it’s like they’re doing fight choreography and wire work around her, not with her. I get that Jessica’s not a trained martial artist, but they kind of made it look like she didn’t really know how to fight at all (the one exception being the scene where she beat up the guy watching her client’s house).

Any other issues I had feel pretty minor. I didn’t really care for the Alexandra character. Since she died, I don’t feel like it mattered much anyway. I do feel like it was a bit of a waste to bring Sigourney Weaver in to play that roll. I would’ve also liked to see some more impressive display’s in the fight scenes. Most of the fights were really centered around choreographing the story of the fight, giving us visual jokes and trying to incorporate all the players, instead of the actual punches and kicks.

Overall, I thought this show had a good plot and really served to continue the story of all of the characters that it touched. The story did turn a little Daredevil-centric as it went on, but it makes sense given that his character has already had two seasons to develop. Pretty much everyone is in a different place than they were when episode 1 began. Whether they’re getting back to a normal life like Jessica or recovering that Matt and Misty, this series laid the groundwork for more stories moving forward. While that’s not really the model I’m used to from MCU culmination events, it does definitely work. I’m not sure if there’ll be a season 2 of The Defenders, but I think they’ve proven that the property definitely has some staying power.

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