Monday, July 24, 2017

The Defenders Preview

The Defenders is less than a month away and with what looks like the final trailer now out I thought it would be useful (and fun) to go through everything we know (excluding spoilers for the first episode, which was shown at SDCC). For convenience (and my sanity) I'll refer to the seasons of the various shows by acronyms (so that DD1 refers to Daredevil season one, etc), and for trailers it will be trailer one (T1), trailer two (T2), Stan Lee's trailer (SLT)), while the teasers are Te1 (featuring the group on an elevator), Te2 (featuring Gao and Alexandra), Te3 (Matt Murdock and Father Lanthom).

SPOILERS ahead for all the previous Netflix seasons

[UPDATE: I've found a decent chronology online that creates some errors with what's below, so here's a more accurate and comprehensive one.]

Let's start with what's happened in regards to the Hand throughout the other five seasons of Netflix prior to the team-up (with a few other tidbits thrown in). Here are the events in chronological order (as best as I can determine--we know Marvel has an actual timeline for all this, but given we don't have access to that, I made do with citations in the shows and what I could gather online, such as here--the point is less about absolute accuracy and more a general tenor of events); I've colour-coded it to break up the wall of text:
-1979 Carl Lucas (Luke Cage) is born
-1982 Jessica Jones is born
-1985 Matt Murdock is born; Elektra is also born around this time (DD2)
-1990 Danny Rand is born
-1994 Matt is blinded by chemical goo via an overturned Rand Corps truck; Stick shows up to teach him how to properly use his abilities, but this relationship is short-lived, as Stick abandons him when he starts to feel attached (DD1)
-around the same time Stick finds Elektra, intended to be Black Sky, but he decides not to kill her because he's become attached to her, instead training her to be a member of the Chaste (DD2)
-late 1990s Jessica's parents and brother are killed in a car accident and she gets her powers via the treatments by IGH for her injuries; she's then adopted by Dorothy Walker (JJ)
-2000 Gao's faction of the hand makes a deal with Harold Meachem--in exchange for curing his cancer (which required his death and resurrection), he allows them untrammeled influence at Rand Corps; Danny Rand survives the Harold-arranged plane crash and vanishes into K'un-Lun (IF)
-c.2004 Elektra is sent to Matt by Stick to recruit him; she develops feelings for him, but he eventually rejects her because of her violent nature (DD2)
-late 2000s Luke Cage is put in jail for a crime he didn't commit (the timing is an inference based on the pop icons he references to Squabbles)--the lower limit seems to be about 2006, as that's when the youngest (Zoe Kravitz) turned 18 (LC); it's unclear how long he spends in jail, when he breaks out, or how long he is married to Reva
-after the "incident" (ie, The Avengers), 2012, Gao, Nobu, Owlsley, and the Ranskahov's come to dominate the New York crime scene (DD1)
-within this time period Colleen Wing is recruited by Bakuto to join his faction of the Hand (IF)
-sometime between 2012-2013 Wilson Fisk returns to New York and persuades the various criminal factions to work together; it's unclear if he understands that Gao and Nobu work for the Hand, but he's solicitous to both, particularly Gao (DD1)
-2013, Jessica briefly attempts to be a hero, but is found by Kilgrave who seizes control of her (JJ)
-January, 2014, Jessica Jones escapes Kilgrave's clutches and Reva dies (JJ)
-autumn of 2014, Matt Murdock is able to confront and shutdown Fisk; in the process the Ranskahov's die and the Russian mob loses power; Nobu is killed and his faction of Yakuza are forced to change tactics (DD1); this change in the criminal landscape leaves space for both Cottonmouth and Diamondback to become more powerful (LC), as well as the Black Smith (DD2), who is able to out-compete Gao's heroin operation; it also indirectly leads to the death of Frank Castle's family (DD2)
-early 2015 the events of Jessica Jones unfold (JJ; nothing Hand-related happens); Jessica's reputation as a PI is heightened by the end and, among other things, she works for Joy Meachem subsequently (IF); it's at this time that Frank Castle's family dies in a botched sting operation (DD2)
-a few months later (spring or summer of 2015) the events of Luke Cage unfold (nothing Hand-related happens); Luke returns to jail until the proof he's found can be used to prove him innocent (LC); he writes letters to new love Claire (IF)
-around the same time the now recovered Castle destroys the Irish Mob, Mexican Cartel, and the Dogs of Hell within New York (DD2); Castle also kills the Black Smith, eliminating Gao's competition for heroin--subsequently Wilson Fisk let's Castle escape from jail in order for him to kill off his competition; Elektra returns to Matt to stop Nobu's (now resurrected) faction of the Hand, who are using the Roxxon Corps to assist them (among the things they are doing is digging a giant hole in Midland Circle); in the process she dies and Nobu is killed permanently by Stick (DD2)
-A couple of months later Danny Rand returns to New York (summer or fall 2015); he comes into conflict with Gao's faction of the Hand (which has just completed work on a new kind of heroin) and is ultimately able to defeat her; he then gets entangled with Bakuto's faction; Bakuto is killed and the Hand is pushed out of Rand Corps with the help of Ward and Joy Meachem, but Gao is freed (IF)

What is the Hand trying to accomplish? Nobu's focus was Black Sky and securing the building the Hand wanted to dig it's hole (which Fisk provides him). Gao, up until this point, has done little more than sell heroin (all her actions, including using Rand to acquire a pier, are related to this--the heroin, presumably, is a method of control as well as being incredibly lucrative). Bakuto seems to be an echo of Nobu, but uses different methods (when he briefly seizes control of Rand his only action is to drain Gao's accounts to his own). I presume all three serve (or served) Alexandra, but we don't yet know why she tolerated their divisiveness. Reviewers have compared her to Wilson Fisk, but Fisk was preemptive in trying to avoid internal strife.

What We Know

The scripts for the show were completed in the summer of 2016 (written by DD2 showrunners Ramirez and Doug Petrie), which is before both Luke Cage or Iron Fist debuted. The show was filmed after The Punisher (even though it will premiere first) and immediately following Iron Fist. This means there was no consideration for how those shows were received. The writing duo also wrote DD2, so that gives us some idea of what we can expect (unfortunately the elements regarding the Hand and Elektra are the weakest parts of that season). We also know that the main villain was slightly re-written once Sigourney Weaver was cast.

In terms of what's happened to the heroes between their shows and the series, we've been given some information:
-Daredevil has given up the mask after Elektra's death and is trying to be just a lawyer (Te3 relates to this); as the Hand has featured in both his seasons, he's intrinsically linked to the plot
-Jessica Jones is struggling to deal with success and the aftermath of Kilgrave; the lingering plot element from her show is about IGH (how she and others got their powers), which isn't likely to matter here; from T1 her PI work links her to events
-Luke is getting out of Seagate Prison (perhaps with the help of Matt Murdock, who presumably Claire meant when she said she knew a good lawyer), and returning to his life as the hero of Harlem; the unfinished business he has is with Mariah and Shades, but is unrelated to the team-up, so from trailers it's unclear what's connecting him to the Hand (non-spoiler reviews indicate that criminals from Harlem are some of those being used to handle the grunt work for the Hand, which acts as his connection)
-Danny is continuing to try and deal with the Hand--that's his objective as the Iron Fist--Gao is free and the organisation in general remains strong
-among the various secondary characters slated to appear in the show the biggest changes are with those from DD, as Foggy is now a partner in Hogarth's law firm and Karen is now a reporter at the New York Bulletin (DD2)

Showrunner Marco Ramirez said "Every one of [The Defenders] is following their own trail of bread crumbs, trying to unpack a mystery in New York." Ramirez has also described the show as a mystery or crime show, making a fairly sharp distinction from what shapes The Avengers, even though this team-up is inspired by it.

The Story of the Trailers

We know from T1 that both Jessica Jones and Misty Knight are pursuing the same suspect (although we don't know why there's a city-wide manhunt for him or why Jessica was trying to help him). He dies, Misty arrests Jessica, and Matt Murdock arrives as her attorney (T1). As yet we don't know why Matt shows up to help Jessica (why not Hogarth, for instance?), as she does not know who he is, so he's doing it for his own reasons (perhaps related to the various activities of the Hand, or it could be that he, too, was looking for the man--there's a scene of Matt on a rooftop (T1) looking down that might be related). I think this could be the second episode of the series, given that the first will largely be a recap for where each hero is at, but it could also form the climax of the first episode.

As for how the others get involved, prior to seeing reviews I thought Luke might get involved because of Misty's work or more probably Claire, but it seems outside the footage shown something is going on in Harlem that gets his attention; from T1 Luke and Danny run into each other while Danny is chasing a man; Claire talks them through their initial conflict. Interestingly, Colleen is absent from most of these scenes--that might just be a trick of the trailer (we see her enter the building with Danny (T1) that he subsequently chases the man out of before having his fight with Luke), but it's also possible she's run into trouble. Incidentally, the two pairings (Jessica and Matt, Danny and Luke) make sense not just thematically but also logistically--the former two both operate in Hell's Kitchen, while Colleen's dojo is near Luke's territory (and thus a place Danny would spend time at).

There's a shot of a building on fire (T2)--while this could be the Midland Circle building after the big fight (see below), I think it's something that happens early--possibly the triggering event for Jessica and others. There's a shot of Claire next to a fire truck (T2) and Luke near sirens that might be connected to this.

The event we've seen the most footage of is a fight inside a big office building (the offices of Midland Circle according to Entertainment Weekly, last seen in DD2). In T2 we see Danny attacking or being attacked in a corporate boardroom chaired by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver's character)--this scene appeared without that context in T1, but is clearly the one that leads to the hallway fight we've seen in both trailers (as well as the elevator shot we got in Te1 months ago). From T1 it seems as though Jessica and Matt go into the building together (since he borrows Jessica's scarf), but it's not yet clear what brings Luke there (Danny is alone when he either confronts or is confronted by Alexandra). Elektra, now resurrected (see below) fights them here (as seen in T1). While this is clearly early in the series, I'd guess it's at least a few episodes in.

The foursome then goes to a Chinese restaurant (the Royal Dragon) to rest. This is where Danny attempts to bring them together as a team (he mentions the Hand hunting their friends and family and says it in a way indicating all four already know this is actively happening). The various rebuffs to Danny from both trailers come from this sequence. Stick then arrives (T1) to tell them to get it together, but is followed by Alexandra and Elektra. One interesting note is that, while clearly Jessica knows who Matt is, he still has the scarf on in the Chinese restaurant to begin with, but not later, so I wonder if Stick is the one who gives away his secret identity or if he tells them himself--subsequently it's clear the other Defenders know who he is. It seems as though Alexandra talks to them before the fight occurs (T2; given the broken state of the restaurant after the fight). At a guess I think they lose this fight and Alexandra gives them the option to quit (I suspect this because that tends to be how stories like this go--the threat needs to be firmly established). It's incredible to think that two large fight sequences would occur virtually back-to-back like this, but presumably the show has a massive amount of frenetic energy.

Prior to all of this Elektra is resurrected as Black Sky (teased in DD2 and whose purpose we learned in DD1); from comments made she returns with no memories of who she was (this is quite different from the other resurrections we've seen, that of Nobu in DD2 as well as Harold Meachem in IF--seemingly also Bakuto). She's intended to be the instrument that brings whatever Alexandra's plan is to fruition (she speaks of getting back what was once ours, as in the Hand's, but we don't know what that is). Speaking of that plan, from Te2 we know that it's being rushed by Alexandra--Gao councils her to wait, but is told to proceed immediately. This tells us that Alexandra is both in charge of the Hand (as expected) and that her situation is urgent. I believe her verbal confrontation with Stick (T2) happens before the Midlands Circle fight, as she believes the battle is over (presumably against the Chaste; it's possible that they have this talk after she's sent people to attack the allies and friends of the Defenders and believes them neutralized). What we don't know is why she isn't afraid of the Avengers stopping her (this might not be explained, but I expect it will be--for those keeping track at this point both Hulk and Thor have left Earth).

It's difficult to say when the brief scenes we get of friends looking worried is (probably early)--there's a shot of Foggy comforting Karen and another of Trish looking at what's presumably her car either smashed into the ground or slipping into a sinkhole (I'd guess the former, both T2). We've had no shots of Malcolm or Hogarth yet, both of whom we know will appear, while I think Claire's shot of concern is definitely early in the show.

When exactly Matt decides to put on his costume and resume being Daredevil isn't clear, but we see what seems to be a fight between he and Danny (T2) while he's in the costume (minus the mask) that Jessica stops. This is part of a sequence seen in both trailers that seems to be training of some sort, but I wonder if this escalates because of a debate over what to do about Elektra--Matt undoubtedly wanting to save her, with the others (perhaps goaded by Stick) believing she must die. I also think Stick might help teach Danny better ways to control and use his abilities--we know from comments made by Bakuto (IF) that there's much he doesn't understand about what an Iron Fist can do and who better to teach Danny than a member of the Chaste (also sworn enemies of the Hand)?

A later fight scene, one with Matt in full costume, appears to be in the tunnels underneath the city (likely the hole below Midlands Circle). This was barely seen in T1 (Danny fighting Elektra), but several shots appear in T2. It's uncertain the context of the fight, but it contains the biggest Iron Fist moment we've seen from Danny since the money shot in his final episode, as one punch blows back a group of Hand fighters. Whether this fight is leading towards the show's climax or not can't be parsed from what we've seen.

We've had it confirmed that the Punisher will appear in the show (SLT and elsewhere), but how much we don't know. Outside making an appearance we have no idea how much (or little) he'll contribute to fighting the Hand (or how this will connect to his own show, which was filmed beforehand). I'd guess he appears briefly--the show wasn't really designed for him and it makes more sense for his own show that he doesn't have a group of superfriends on-tap.

Beyond this there are a number of scenes that lack enough context to safely place them, but here's what I think we can squeeze out of them. The subway scene (T2) smacks of being towards the end of the show, but it could be shortly after they've all met.

More definitively is the scene of Matt weraing a suit fighting in an alleyway (T1). This seems part of the same phase, albeit beforehand, of the big Midlands Circle fight.

There's a scene of Colleen Wing fighting the resurrected Bakuto (T2). I'm assuming this is earlier in the show, as thus far it doesn't seem like Colleen fights with the group as a whole.

There are a pair of disconnected Luke and Jessica scenes (T2) that could be early or in the middle; one where they are fighting as a team, another where an upset Jessica is storming away from Luke (presumably the latter is earlier).

Finally we have two Daredevil scenes without context. One (SLT) he's leaping from a building to rescue a falling woman; in the other he and Jessica are fighting in what looks like a club of some sort (T2). We know these are later in the show because Matt is in costume.

That's as far as the trailers take us. It's reasonable to expect the first episode to largely be a recap, the second establishing the plot and villain, and things heating up beyond that. I think the dose of secondary characters will be light--we'll visit them all, but other than Colleen none are really able to battle the Hand in their current incarnation (if Trish was Hellcat we'd see her here). What's still unknown is what Alexandra (or the Hand) is trying to do. One of the frustrations of Iron Fist is the uncertainty of what the mystical ninja's were doing, but at last we will get some answers. I also expect Elektra to change sides--it's cliche, but also what happens to her in both of her comic book origins. I'm not sure how the show will make this interesting as it's entirely expected--perhaps she does it for selfish rather than romantic reasons (I don't think the show-romance between she and Matt has worked, so they're better off moving away from it).

The show will also serve as a way for Danny to grow up. In the comics Danny is a funny, light-hearted character, but to service the plot in his own series we saw none of the former and only a little of the latter. Given how cynical Matt and Jessica are, and how much of a loner Luke is, Danny is important connective tissue for the group. I'm also interested to see if the show serves to get rid of the Hand as central villains--this will be their fourth appearance (DD1, DD2, and IF) and for me that's enough--but they've been tied strongly to IF so we shall see.

Another interesting question is what impact this will have on the respective series'. Cheo Hodari Coker (LC) basically ignored the events of JJ (other than Luke's relationship with Reva; it was one of my major complaints about the show), while both showrunners of DD have been quite faithful in dealing with events occurring in other shows. Given the not-so-subtle hints that Misty will be joining the second season of Iron Fist I'd like greater awareness throughout, and I think Netflix would do well to follow the MCU's example to have more crossover between the shows. Time will tell.

Reviewers have seen the first four episodes of the series and the sentiments have been generally positive (the negatives coming from those who've been routinely negative about the shows previously). For those of you used to that catch-all criticism of MCU films being the colour-palate, here the default is "slow". Any time someone is reduced to things like that as a criticism they're simply looking for ways to criticise. In general I expect the show to both review well and be well-received by fans.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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