Full disclosure up front: I had no intention of watching The Defenders. Didn’t interest me in the least. In terms of the five Netflix Marvel series to date, even those I enjoyed I found massively problematic, primarily on a structural level. Each season was longer than it should have been: Jessica Jones probably should have been eight, Luke Cage was six episodes in a 13-episode bag, and both seasons of Daredevil were overstuffed but largely undercooked. Iron Fist … well, life’s too short to watch Iron Fist.
Still, there were enough intriguing elements about The Defenders that I strapped in on Friday night, having heard the general critical consensus of, “It’s fine, I suppose, if you’re into this sort of thing?” Well, I am into this sort of thing, and through three episodes, I totally agreed with that sentiment. I wasn’t at the edge of my seat, but it was perfectly fine watching a Marvel show that promised only eight episodes and the average running time of 45 minutes per episode. I was more or less eating my words.
Then, the wheels absolutely fell off the truck in the final five, which were somehow too short and yet interminable. Let’s break down the full series (spoilers to follow) in an FAQ style.
What did The Hand Want with Black Sky?
It’s an excellent damn question to ask, and damned if I know. Everything about Elektra/Black Hand felt like a bad idea coming out of the second season of Daredevil, and everything I feared about it (the amnesia, the vague mystical allusions, the inability for anyone to explain why Alexandra decided to blow their mystical Life Ooze on someone with intimate ties to one of the only people who could stop them) came true. If Alexandra knew she was rapidly dying, why pick THAT MOMENT to rid herself of the one thing that could save her? Why did Elektra remember her past, only to still go full evil? Everything felt like a gimmick to end each ep on a cliffhanger, rather than anything organic to any character decision. These were ciphers, not people, and since this show was 90% plot and 10% character, that meant 90% of the show was an incoherent mess.
Why build an entire show around the absolutely worst character in the MCU?
I mean, let’s be fair: Marvel didn’t know Iron Fist would be the suckfest that it was, and I’m guessing plans for The Defenders were too far along to change lanes at the last minute. But having a show in which Danny Rand is the key is like arranging the line-up for Coachella in which Smashmouth is the most important act. I don’t mean this article to be another pile-up on Finn Jones, because when The Defenders leans into the fact that Danny Rand is THE WORST, it actually really works! Jones works great as the modern-day equivalent of Ralph Hinkley from The Greatest American Hero. A show about The Hand realizing they’ll never have an easier Iron Fist to defeat than this one might have been a funny show, one in which Luke Cage’s incredulous reaction to everything mystic and Jessica Jones drinking to stave off the stupidity could have brought much needed levity to an insanely dark world view. Instead, like most shows, The Defenders went darker rather than deeper, and Danny Rand sticks out like a sore thumb. His presence makes everything worse, and it’s a hole from which the show cannot ultimately recover.
Did you buy for a second that Matt Murdock died at the end?
Absolutely not, and that made everyone else’s weeping over him that much worse. It’s never good when the audience is smarter than the characters on the show. Sometimes characters don’t have all the pieces, and that’s fine, if they are on the right track. That makes something like Jessica’s sleuthing around the history of The Hand’s financial records interesting: She can throw a car, but also is often the most intuitive person in the room, and she doggedly pursues things that don’t add up. I get why people like Foggy would assume that Matt wouldn’t survive a building falling on him, but there are so little stakes in the MCU at this point (something hopefully that Infinity War finally changes) that the final battle under Midland’s offices felt like a delay rather than a finality.
What would have been a better iteration of The Defenders?
I’m thinking about Jessica, Claire, and Colleen kicking ass, taking names, and talking about how the men just argue all the time about stupid stuff.
What about Misty?
In my defense, The Defenders also forgot about Misty, relegating her to someone who is constantly three steps behind everyone else. That’s not the Misty from Luke Cage at all, and it made me consistently angry.
Was my “drink every time Matt Murdock withholds key information” game ill-advised?
I can only assume you’re reading this from the hospital, so yeah.
At any point did you root for Stick to just kill every member of The Defenders and be done with their whining?
The thought did cross my mind during the diner episode once or twice. Scott Glenn and Sigourney Weaver spun gold out of crap for the entire series, and dignified the show every time they were onscreen.
Hey did you notice how the show’s production design subtly emphasized a certain color for each individual hero early on?
Yes, as subtle as a sledgehammer. When the neon sign for Royal Dragon featured each color interwoven into its logo, I golf clapped.
On a serious note, each of the show’s distinctive looks, feels, editing patterns, and musical cues all eventually washed out into Rand-O-Vision in the back-half of the season, which especially hurt Cage’s presence and overall impact on the show. For all its faults, Luke Cage has one of the singular aesthetic visions of the MCU, and that got completely obliterated the second all four entered Midland Circle at the end of episode three.
But come on, isn’t the idea that New York City is literally held up by the bones of dragons kinda cool?
Or is it spoilers for the final season of Game Of Thrones? I ask, you decide.