Two seasons of Daredevil and a season each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist have all paved the way for the big honking Netflix vigilante team-up, The Defenders. Heading into the latest series, we already knew the principal characters, their friends, and their enemies. We knew their world, or at least their respective corners of New York City. We even knew their primary color schemes. Expectations had been built up around what mysteries would be resolved and how the personalities would mesh, like boxes waiting to be ticked. And though we’ve already answered your most burning questions, there are still a few surprises that are worth unpacking.
Thanks to Jessica Jones, we were waiting to see what would happen when Jessica and Luke’s paths crossed again. And thanks to years of comics, we were primed to witness the first meetings of Luke and Danny (Heroes for Hire) and Misty and Colleen (Daughters of the Dragon). Of course we were ready to see where our heroes (or “heroes”) were after we last saw them. How was Matt getting along without Foggy and Karen? How was Trish doing? Would Claire finally have coffee with Luke? Did Danny pull his head out of his ass (the answer to that one is “NOPE”). With so many established relationships to check in on and so many relationships we anticipated were going to be established in the episodes ahead, there wasn’t really room to consider the other secondary pairings that could occur. But it was in those unexpected relationships that The Defenders truly shined.
I’m referring, of course, to the unlikely duo of Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones.
One of the frustrations of the series was that it took a couple of episodes to draw Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny all together. And once they did, they split up again. In those moments where the characters weren’t on their own, but weren’t all together in one big crime-fighting foursome, they were inevitably divided into pairs. Luke naturally had to be with Danny, because that was the expectation (and because Danny needed to learn about white privilege and maybe get strapped to a chair for a bit because he’s a fucking idiot). So that left Matt with Jessica. And frankly, I’d never given much thought about how those two characters would interact, beyond their natural introduction as part of the overall team-up. Turns out that Matt and Jessica are a goddamn delight.
I tend to binge the Netflix Marvel shows when they drop. It’s like scratching an itch. They are never so irredeemably bad that I can walk away, but when it’s all over I usually don’t remember a whole lot of the details. They’re just a thing that happens in my life, about two weekends a year. Now that a few days have passed since I scratched my Defenders itch, I’m left with the same quasi-fugue state where I don’t really remember a lot of what happened to me during those 8 hours. I think The Hand got destroyed maybe? There was a dragon in a hole? Sigourney Weaver had a fantastic white coat with this little panel she threw over her shoulder? But the moments that do stand out vividly in my mind almost all center on our favorite pro-bono lawyer and private investigator joining forces. Probably the greatest sequence in the whole show occurs when they each use their abilities to track each other across Manhattan, trading off who is the cat and who is the mouse as they try to learn the other’s secrets.
And though I’d never given any serious thought to how the dynamics between Matt and Jessica would work, seeing it on screen was like watching puzzle pieces fall into place. They don’t seemingly have much in common, obviously. Matt is all wrapped up in his secret identity, his devilish costume, and his Catholic guilt, while Jessica relies on her cynicism and alcohol to get through the day. Matt struggles to balance his day job with his night antics (or lack thereof, as we see when The Defenders starts). His extraordinary senses may help him occasionally as a lawyer, but they are a secret mostly tied to his life as a vigilante. And let’s be honest — even if Matt is a pretty good lawyer, he’s a much better hero. Jessica has no secret life — her life is built on the secrets of others. She has no qualms utilizing her powers in pursuit of her investigations, and if she ever takes pains to hide them it’s because being a private eye is a lot easier when you’re able to fly under the radar and avoid notice. Matt is all earnest and takes everything to heart, and struggles to not play the hero despite every instinct in his body telling him to get involved. Jessica casts a serious side-eye at that type of “earnest” shit, and she never wants to play the hero — but that doesn’t mean she won’t get involved if she needs to, despite all her own instincts telling her to just go get a drink and sit this one out.
They may not have a lot in common, but there is a certain symmetry to their pairing. Unlike Matt, Jessica’s life and her job are one and the same, which may be why she notices so quickly that Matt seems to be working from his apartment, just the way she does. In fact, while her “powers” may include super strength and being a tough badass bitch, what makes her special is her keen eye and dogged investigative instinct. Her powers of perception, while not extrasensory, make her an excellent partner for Matt. It took their combined efforts to finally crack the mystery of the architect’s wife and get the information the team needed to move forward. For all that Matt tries to hide his Daredevil persona, Jessica sees through it almost immediately — which is a fucking relief, considering how many times these shows have dipped into Matt’s well of anxiety over keeping that shit hidden. And while she may verbally try to knock him down a peg or two, Matt is a great foil for her acid tongue. He seems perfectly unflappable.
A lawyer may not seem to be a natural ally for a woman who rejects authority the way Jessica Jones does, but then again, she also had fantastic chemistry with Jeri Hogarth — who, in a roundabout way, is responsible for bringing Matt into Jessica’s orbit (by way of Foggy). And seeing those organic connections at work gives me hope that the upcoming seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones will find ways to bring the characters together again. Not as superheroes, but as allies. Colleagues. Perhaps the legacy of The Defenders is simply that it was the series to break down the barriers between all these characters and unite them in the massive city of New York. They don’t have to be siloed anymore. They’re aware of each other. Their friends have met — even the few minutes of screen time given over to Trish and Karen viewing the police photo wall together were captivating. And if Matt is back from the dead, Jessica seems like the perfect person to figure that out and look into it. And god knows she could use someone to teach her some actual fighting skills.
Beside, maybe Charlie Cox needs a few more knitting lessons from Krysten Ritter: