Friday, September 1, 2017

Defenders Review


The idea of The Defenders goes back to the deal struck between Netflix and Marvel Entertainment in 2013. The original plan was for individual Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage series' to lead into an Avengers-like team-up. While the specific path to the ensemble changed over time (a second season of Daredevil added and Iron Fist and Luke Cage swapping places), the eventual team-up never changed. Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, showrunners for Daredevil season two, were picked to write and run the series in April, 2016. The pair completed the script in May of 2016, getting impute from the showrunners of the other four shows. Petrie left the project in October, just before filming began later that month (31st, a few weeks after Iron Fist wrapped, although Finn Jones said he only had a week off; The Punisher was being filmed at the same time, beginning October 3rd); filming wrapped in March of 2017.

For convenience I frequently refer to the various shows by acronyms (so Daredevil season one is DD1, Luke Cage is LC, etc); the same idea is used to cite episodes (so The Defenders episode four appears as D.4).


Showrunners Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie wrote the bulk of the show, with Lauren Schmidt given credit for contributing to five episodes (she also wrote three episodes of Daredevil season two), and original Daredevil showrunner Drew Goddard is credited on one episode (D.6). I've brought up repeatedly that the show was written before Iron Fist or Luke Cage came out and was filmed before Iron Fist was released, but there were plenty of articles claiming elements of the show are a "reaction" to the reception of IF--I suppose if you're going to push a narrative it might as well emphasize your own influence. Whatever you think of the direction they took Danny Rand, it was decided long before the reception to his character was known. On the whole the writing itself is very good, although there are some issues with the plot (which I delve into below).


We were told the best directors from the various shows would be used to shoot The Defenders, so this is who they chose:
  • S. J. Clarkson - taken from Jessica Jones, having directed the first two episodes; was given the reigns for "Mean Right Hook" and "The H Word", also the first two episodes
  • Peter Hoar - directed three episodes of Daredevil season two (4, 10, 13) and one of Iron Fist (10); he shot "Worst Behaviour (episode 3)
  • Phil Abraham - directed the first two episodes from each season of Daredevil along with one of Luke Cage (12); he directed "Royal Dragon" (episode 4)
  • Uta Briesewitz - directed an episode of Jessica Jones (11) and Iron Fist (5); she helmed "Take Shelter" (episode 5)
  • Stephen Surjik - a director on every series (including the upcoming Punisher), DD1 (8), JJ (5-6), DD2 (9, 11), LC (10), and IF (13); he shot "Ashes, Ashes" (episode 6)
  • Felix Enriquez Alcala - is the exception to the rule as he was not on any of the previous shows; he directed "Fish in the Jailhouse" (episode 7)
  • Farren Blackburn - two episodes in Daredevil season one (5 and 10) as well as one from Iron Fist (7); he helmed "The Defenders" (episode 8)
Collectively the least amount of impact comes from the directors of Luke Cage, while Daredevil has the biggest (which isn't surprising given the showrunner). I mentioned in my Iron Fist review that the fight choreography improved in the second half of the season and it's not surprising that three of the four directors who took part in that show shot episodes after the first half (Hoar, Surjik, and Blackburn). On the flipside, the best parts of Luke Cage are early, but the two involved with it (Abraham and Blackburn) were from the latter half.

SPOILERS for all the Marvel Netflix shows below

Notable Easter Eggs

I was curious what sort of larger MCU tie-ins we might get--they've mostly served as background material or subtle hints previously--and there's no change here. There are no nods to the Sokovia Accords (from Civil War), to Agents of SHIELD (whose mentions have been confined to Daredevil), and no comments about Frank Castle, eg The Punisher (albeit the teaser trailer is attached).

These are the Easter Eggs in order: on the bus Luke Cage exits can be seen "Harlem Renaissance" (D.1), which is a reference to Mariah Dillard's initiative in Luke Cage; Trish Talk mentions "the incident" (D.2), ie, the attack on New York in the Avengers; in the same episode the framed photos that were on Ben Urich's wall in Daredevil season one are still there now that Karen Page has taken it over (with references both to the Avengers and The Incredible Hulk); Matt plays The Defenders theme song on piano (D.6); Jessica's joke in calling Iron Fist "Ironclad" references a Hulk villain; there's an L. Carter (ie, Linda Carter, ie, the original Night Nurse) reference on the wall of Misty's room at the hospital (D.8)--on the same chart is E. Wirthman, the name of Spider-Man villain Cardiac; Sister Maggie (D.8) is a reference to the "Born Again" storyline in Daredevil (Maggie is Matt's mother)


We knew from the outset that the four heroes would appear (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist), along with Claire Temple (the only person to meet them all); I've listed the heroes first, followed by the villains:
  • Matt Murdock/Daredevil: retired his superhero persona after the end of DD2; Matt doesn't put on the horns until D.5; he faces two struggles in the show--wrestling with whether he wants to be Daredevil or not (ultimately he does) and dealing with his feelings for Elektra (which get him "killed")
  • Jessica Jones: retired as a PI--it's implied that she's been unemployed since the end of JJ, but we can't be absolutely sure of the timeline (I discuss it more below); she's uncomfortable with her fame and her primary struggle in the show is to decide to get involved and return to an active life; the fact that she calls Matt a friend (D.6) is a pretty big step for her
  • Luke Cage: gets out of prison as the show begins (he was locked up at the end of LC); Luke's struggle is both working as part of a team and expanding his help beyond the confines of Harlem; we also finally get the reconciliation and friendship between he and Jessica (I think there's no hope for the comicbook relationship, however)
  • Danny Rand/Iron Fist: continues to hunt the Hand, which is where he left off in IF; the show in many ways is the completion of his origin story (something Finn Jones agrees with)--Danny's struggle with who he is, what being the Iron Fist means to him, and his desire to have a family all get resolved (he can let go of "my only purpose is to defeat the Hand"); Matt's sacrifice at the end is Danny's call to action--echoing Pops death for Luke Cage; we also get the interesting parallel's between himself and Elektra brought up (both taught to be the weapons for others; this seems like a logical continuation of a conversation Danny has with Colleen in IF.11); some of the best dialogue for him is his initial conversation with Luke Cage in Colleen's dojo and his subsequent chat with her afterwards (D.3), with Danny being forced to recognise who he is beyond simply his title
  • Claire Temple: was unemployed and Luke's love interest at the end of LC, which seems to be unchanged in IF; here we learn she's working at a shelter (D.2); there's no arc for her in the show per se, but she serves as emotional support for Luke and Colleen especially; there's no real payoff for her knowing all the heroes (only her relationship with Luke and Danny are relevant)
  • Colleen Wing: Danny's love interest and partner in IF, which continues in the show; her journey is moving beyond her past with the Hand and overcoming her creepy mentor Bakuto; she also has to overcome being shuttled to the side by the other heroes (put particularly bluntly by Luke Cage, D.7) and stand on her own
  • Misty Knight: since LC she's become part of a city-wide taskforce, taking her focus away from just Harlem; she's mostly used as connective tissue for various characters and plots, but she gets to help directly in the end (D.8), losing her arm in the process (echoing what happens in the comics), doing so while helping Colleen against Bakuto (an appropriate scenario given their friendship in the comics); she gets a connection to Danny by being helped at his hospital (D.8), although their comicbook romance is unlikely to be serviced; we're getting the beginnings of the Daughters of the Dragon (Colleen and Misty as a duo), which Jeph Loeb telegraphed will appear in IF2 at SDCC
  • Stick: when we last saw him in DD2 a number of the Chaste had been killed (a continuation of the attrition we saw in DD2); he'd been unable or unwilling to kill Elektra and had left to continue his war against the Hand; when he reappears all the Chaste are dead except for him (the implication is Elektra is hunting them, cf D.1) and he's been captured; his primary purpose is both to provide info about the Hand/Chaste and the Iron Fist; he also serves as character motivation; Elektra ultimately kills him, saving Danny in the process (in an odd way this echoes both Colleen killing Bakuto (D.8) and Ward killing Harold Meachem in IF--part of the process for these characters freeing themselves from a controlling mentor)
  • Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, Trish Walker, Jeri Hogarth, Malcolm Ducasse, NicoleFather Lantom, Turk Barrett, Marci Stahl, and Josie: these characters (from DD and JJ) appear to varying degrees (some are just cameos), but don't have actual arcs in the series. Karen and Foggy continue their struggle to accept Matt as Daredevil (which is getting tired at this point), while Trish and Malcolm continue to try to convince Jessica to help others; ultimately Foggy is the most active through his legal help for Luke (D.1), having Matt help Jessica (D.2), and bringing Matt his costume when it matters (D.7)
  • Elektra: I have a lot to say about her which I'll save for my review below; since DD2 she's been resurrected and Danny fights her in the opening sequence of the show (D.1); as Elektra tells Danny (D.7) she's been trapped her whole life by people telling her who she is (Stick, Alexandra, and Matt), but she finally knows who she is--a sociopath who wants to die with Matt or else live forever with him (D.8)--it's very Romeo & Juliet (so it works if you buy their chemistry)
  • Alexandra: created for the series as the leader of the Hand; from her (and Stick) we learn of the group's origin and their ultimate goal of immortality (they have a conditional kind when we meet them); her goals differ from the other four fingers of the Hand somewhat, both due to her impending death from cancer and simply her own goals--this creates internal conflict; her downfall is due to her arrogance--her belief in Elektra as both the key to her success as well as in keeping her from feeling alone--this confidence and trust leaves her vulnerable
  • Madame Gao: last seen in IF, but also a Daredevil antagonist, the savvy Gao continues to scheme, openly serving Alexandra, but having her own agenda; it's likely she escaped the fate of the other leaders, using her powers to escape the hole under Midland Circle (it's left ambiguous); she was teased as an IF2 villain and she's available should they want to continue with that (those plans might have changed with the new showrunner, however)
  • Bakuto: the most eccentric Hand leader, he returns from IF after having been killed but not beheaded by Davos; his primary function is as an antagonist for Colleen, whom she needs to kill before she can move on; his appearance here clears up some confusions about his motives in IF
  • Murakami: created for the series, we're told he was Nobu's boss (who appeared in both seasons of Daredevil--eventually killed by Stick in DD2); much like Bakuto his abilities are somewhat ambiguous; he's the most openly hostile towards Alexandra, threatening to kill her (D.5), but ultimately he dies at Jessica's hands at the bottom of Midland Circle; he doesn't have an arc in the show and serves as the primary internal problem for Alexandra
  • Sowande: the final leader of the Hand; he gets a couple of good speeches while captured, but ultimately he's the most ephemeral of the five fingers; Stick beheads him when he takes Danny hostage
There were also references to Mitchell Ellison (DD1-2), Kilgrave (JJ; not named but referred too), Blake Tower (DD2/LC), Bobby Fish (LC), Mariah Dillard (LC), Shades (LC), Diamondback (LC), Candace (LC), Claire's mom (LC), and Ward Meachem (IF). Invented for the series and given prominence are the Raymond family and Candace's brother Cole (who dies). I think it's very unlikely we ever see the Raymond's again (not due to performance, but I just doubt JJ2 will bother with them).

Comic Book Story Influences

There hasn't been a story quite like this in the comics, but it borrows most heavily from Daredevil's arc "Shadowland" (by Andy Diggle). All the Danny Rand/K'un-Lun stuff is invented for the show, as the Hand has no place in Iron Fist (many of these elements are carried over from the first season of Iron Fist).

The Plot

Long ago the elders of K'un-Lun learned how to harness the power of dragons for healing and used it to create the Iron Fist. Five of their own wanted to use that power for selfish purposes--immortality--and were banished for it (the problem seems less that they wanted extended life, but that attaining it required the death of others, cf draining the blood of the living in DD2 and IF). These five formed The Hand, whose activities transformed the role of the Iron Fist from healer to champion--a weapon able to destroy The Hand (D.4). The leaders of the Hand survived the centuries by using a formula of powdered dragon bone, blood, and ritual to both prolong their lives as well as come back from the dead (something only abrogated if they are beheaded or their bodies destroyed). Because K'un-Lun only appears on earth every 15 years (cf IF) a group of earthly warriors called the Chaste formed (Stick's group) to continue their battle against the Hand when the immortal city is elsewhere. By the time the show starts, Alexandra (leader of the Hand) has used the Hand's last remaining dragon powder to resurrect Elektra (who died in DD2), creating the Black Sky, a warrior created to destroy the Iron Fist (she's like a negative echo of the Iron Fist). The Black Sky idea is Alexandra's--she is the one who came up with the process for creating one. The only remaining earthly reserve of dragon bone is buried beneath New York, which Alexandra desperately needs as she's dying of cancer (D.1). Access to these reserves were secured by Nobu through his alliance with Wilson Fisk (DD1)--a deep pit was dug (DD2), over which was placed a building designed by John Raymond (Midland Circle, home of Midland Circle Enterprises). The Hand used the corporate side of the location to funnel much of their money via Rand Corps (cf IF; 243 million according to Danny, D.3). These final dragon remains had been sealed away by an Iron Fist long ago and only another Iron Fist can open the door that protects them (something Alexandra figures out early on, D.2).

It's worth noting that the above is not clearly spelled out in the series, but has to be pieced together from things said (both in the show and the previous series'). Part of the problem is that this plot was invented after the events of the other shows and it creates a few retroactive continuity problems. While I didn't find this confusing to follow, I've heard enough questions to realise that for some it's hard to follow.

When the show opens Danny Rand and Colleen Wing are continuing to battle the Hand wherever they can find them, having already chased them out of his company (IF). In so doing Danny encounters a dying member of the Chaste, who tells him the real threat is in New York.

Various circumstances lead all four Defenders to Midland Circle--Danny through research at Rand, Luke through investigating the Hand's activities in Harlem, Jessica by following her case (the architect John Raymond), and Matt through Jessica (having been asked to watch her by Foggy--who had been asked by Hogarth). They meet, fight off the Hand, and capture Sowande, one of its leaders. Stick realises that the Hand's real interest is in Danny and it's decided the safest thing to do is hide Danny away. This is a pretty odd plan given that he's trained to defeat the Hand (I think it's contrived in order to have the heroes fight one another)--he refuses to hide, but is overwhelmed by his teammates who refuse to let him simply leave.

While Danny is their prisoner Matt and Jessica learn of John Raymond's plan to blow up the structure and bury the hole the Hand has dug, but on their way back with that information Stick tries to kill Danny as a way of preventing him from being used by the Hand. Danny is saved by Elektra, who kills Stick and takes Danny away as a captive. The other Defenders are all defeated by her as she escapes, but she leaves them alive and they wake up at Misty's precinct. Danny is taken to Midland Circle where Elektra kills Alexandra and takes control of the Hand.

The three Defenders escape the precinct and hurry to save Danny, being followed by Colleen, Claire, and Misty. They agree to blow up the building, deciding the leaders of the Hand are too dangerous to let live. The three heroes descend to rescue Danny while Colleen and Claire plant the C-4 Colleen stole from the evidence locker. Elektra tricks Danny into opening the door and he is recaptured by Gao soon after. When his friends arrive he frees himself and the four battle the Hand while Colleen's former teacher, Bakuto, attacks her in the building--Misty arrives to help out and Colleen kills her sensai, but the timer on the bomb is triggered in the process. Jessica, Danny, and Luke flee while Matt chooses to remain in an attempt to make Elektra remember who she was. The others escape before the explosion, but Matt is believed killed.

In the aftermath Danny embraces Matt's request to help his city (which seems to be a nod to a time in the comics when Danny Rand took on Daredevil's identity), while Jessica and Luke return to their lives. The post-credit scene shows us Matt alive in a nunnery, hinting at where his third season will go (some version of the "Born Again" storyline that features the Kingpin, presumably).

Danny turns out to be the MacGuffin of the show (Dan Wickline thinks Midland Circle is the MacGuffin--an interesting idea, but we do know what the Circle is). This is a clever turn, since he's both the driving force to bring the group together and the one whose predicament keeps them together.


The basics: cinematography, directing, acting, etc are all excellent. With one exception I liked the music (I discuss that exception below). The writing is good, but the story itself (the plot) has some issues, which I'll delve into below. Overall I really enjoyed The Defenders--it's has it's own vibe, but still faithfully echoes all the elements that feed into it. The best parts are undoubtedly the interactions between the heroes and their supporting cast; I also liked the infighting within the Hand.

All the previous Netflix entries explored, either at their core or as a key part of their story, serious issues. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are the easiest examples of this, but even Iron Fist looked at the corporate world, the top 1%, and exploitation by big pharmaceutical companies. We can debate how effective these various efforts were, but they made the shows move beyond simply being heroes punching villains. The Defenders did not follow this trend, instead going with a very comic bookish plot featuring The Hand (attempting, I think, to echo the larger threat from the Avengers). While I don't think this is inherently a negative, I do think staying more grounded would have been the smarter choice (there's a reason the Punisher got his own series and Elektra did not--that grounded feel is what sets the Netflix material apart).

The principal question the series addresses is one of identity--who do the heroes want to be? Only Luke Cage has fully embraced being a hero ("I just want to help people," he says repeatedly)--all the other Defenders (along with Colleen and Elektra) have other people trying to define their role and they struggle with figuring it out for themselves. This is the lens through which the show needs to be viewed, because this is the fundamental journey the main characters go through.

One of the distinctive elements to the ensemble is that there's a lot of humour--Jessica in particular is given some great lines (hard to pick a favourite--calling Danny "Karate Kid" is a good one--you can see more of them here, albeit that list is not comprehensive). The comedy is sprinkled throughout the series and it's the most humorous of any of the Netflix shows thus far.

Character foibles are kept and cause friction--Matt's need to keep secrets causes problems, Jessica's desire to not get involved comes up frequently, and Danny's temper and impatience get him into trouble. For Luke there are fewer issues, but his desire to stick to Harlem causes some friction.

While the moment is brief Luke Cage brings up Danny Rand's privilege (D.3) and spells out issues that applies to other wealthy heroes (Iron Man, Batman, Green Arrow, Moon Knight, etc--billionaires who prefer to fight crime physically rather than use their wealth to combat its causes). What I liked about it is Danny immediately takes this to heart--he takes action and tries to do things a different way, which is a nice change from his general portrayal as stubborn. Of course, the reason comics don't follow Luke's advice is there's not much drama in someone trying to force governments and corporations to change how they do business through legislation and meetings (and if they succeeded their world would no longer be recognisable--for verisimilitude they can't truly pursue those things). Generally fans want heroes punching people or at least outsmarting them.

While I'm not a fan of the Hand as antagonists (they just don't mesh well with the gritty realism of the Netflix universe), this is the best version we've seen of them (as compared to DD1, DD2, and IF). We get clarification on who the Hand is and what they want, which is smartly tied to K'un-Lun and the Iron Fist (putting all our mystical ninjas in one basket). One of my few frustrations with Iron Fist were its ambiguities and these are finally put away. We also get a better explanation for the Chaste, initially introduced with a preposterous story from Stick in DD2, it now makes much more sense (rather than a nebulous founder somehow fighting off the Hand, it's a group working to help and support K'un-Lun). As for the Hand itself the name is given sense with its the five leaders; the in-fighting between Bakuto and Gao from Iron Fist is explained (with references to various attempted coups over time), and all the Hand plotlines in Daredevil and Iron Fist are tied-up and connected to what happens in The Defenders (as Gao says, there are no more dragons (D.8) and the New York deposits are their final remains). The way resurrection is framed is good, although it creates a backward inconsistency with Harold Meachem's immortality (IF)--his should have required some of the "substance", but that's clearly not the case. The continuity error isn't a big deal, as all the other resurrections conform to this expectation (Nobu, Bakuto, and Elektra). I'm happy that the story of the Hand is over--Marco Ramirez said: "Particularly for Iron Fist, we wanted to close that chapter [of the Hand’s story.]" Netflix needs a break from ninja antagonists.

I haven't enjoyed the Netflix version of Elektra (I delve into why here), and Marco Ramirez admits part of the reason Elektra remained a villain was due to audience response to the character (something oddly I can't find discussed in the press, despite the lack of enthusiasm being pretty obvious). This is a better version of the character than in DD2, but she struggles from the same foibles. One of the lines Elektra delivers is, I think, the primary problem, "This is who I've always been", as in, she has no real character development. Despite the efforts of the writers I still find her unsympathetic and don't think she and Matt have chemistry; regardless, I expected her to turn against the Hand, but instead she simply uses them for her own purposes. She functions as as a problem for Matt within the Defenders, as him keeping her secret and then constantly focusing on her causes friction with the group. She also makes an interesting comparison between herself and Danny (D.7)--it's apt and she's right that Danny has let himself be trapped by how others have defined him (just as she has until she kills Alexandra); I was correct that she'd survive the show (there seems no reason to doubt that she is the one who dragged Matt out of the pit (D.8)--Gao certainly wouldn't save him). I hope this is the last we see of the character for quite some time.

I was surprised at the quick pace of the show--this entirely because I'd read early reviews of the first four episodes calling it "slow." This boggles my mind--and not just mine, as even conventional coverage has questioned that critique (for instance). Other than the first episode, intended as both a recap and introduction for new viewers, the show is frenetic compared to the feeder series'. As for reviews in general, despite the pacing complaints and the ad nauseam attacks on Finn Jones, it was given a thumbs up as anticipated (moral outrage over white washing does, apparently, have an expiry date--only hatred of Scott Buck is forever)--even the backpedaling about the actor has begun.

There's no question the show is a success, but how does it compare to the others? I slot it as #3 amongst the various seasons--it doesn't reach the heights of the first Daredevil or Jessica Jones, but it's better than DD2 (also weighed down by the Hand and Elektra), Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Alexandra as a villain isn't as good as Wilson Fisk or Kilgrave, but she's miles above Diamondback or Nobu. When it comes to the heroes I think Jessica Jones stole the show--she gets the lion share of great lines and she maintains an outsiders point of view longest--saving the day memorably several times. Overall the writers did an excellent job keeping the characters true to themselves--each felt faithful to the shows they came from. Matt and Jessica have fantastic chemistry and I'd love to see them in a show together. While we only get a small taste of it, the Iron Fist/Luke Cage chemistry shows up in little moments (specifically the Royal Dragon, while Danny is tied up, and in the final fight). Stats from Netflix apparently also show fans liked what they saw from these combos.

I correctly predicted Stick and Alexandra's death and I thought both deaths were well executed--Stick's pathological need to defeat the Hand driving him against the heroes and his inexplicable attachment to Elektra getting him killed; Alexandra's pride and arrogance leading to her own death.


Critically the show sits at 74%, roughly the same score Daredevil season two achieved (via the exact same showrunners); I've pointed out before how absurd these ratings have become (Agents of SHIELD's pair of perfect scores illustrate the problem), but they are at least reasonable in this case. Popular opinion hasn't settled (the number of votes on RT and IMDB are far too small to judge it yet), but I expect it to settle somewhere in the middle of the other shows. As for myself, I have a number of criticisms despite very much enjoying the series.

As I mentioned above, I think they could have given Alexandra a moment to display her power--what it was that made her the leader of the Hand beyond simply her intellect and charisma (I believe the reason we don't see it is the writers never settled on what her powers were). Without that demonstration all we have is implication and a brief, awkward fight with Elektra--there's nothing visceral to make us really feel her strength. It's also not clear how Bakuto shrugs off being shot by Misty (maybe that's something they all can do?)--albeit ambiguity is not always a bad thing (this isn't a roleplaying game where we need to see Bakuto's stats).

I like Danny Rand and I enjoyed his series, but a problem from Iron Fist carries over to The Defenders: Danny loses too often (I have to wonder how much of this was to avoid the accusation that he's a white saviour)--in his own show he fails to protect K'un-Lun, gets outsmarted by Gao and Harold Meachem, surrenders to Bakuto (whom Davos ultimately kills), and Ward kills Harold. This means that while Danny is critical to all these events, he's never resolving them--it requires other characters to fix his problems. I think in an origin story this is something you can get away with (even if it's not ideal), but in reading reviews it underlies a lot of the complaints about him. The Defenders, while giving him more "wins", keeps adding up the losses: he gets captured by Sowande (D.5), his allies (D.6), Elektra (D.6), and Gao (D.8); twice his friends have to save him (Midland Circle and at the bottom of the hole). Stick calls him an idiot for calling Colleen (D.4; granted in terms of plot this is the only way Stick can find them), Elektra tricks him into opening the door (D.7), Gao calls him naive (D.8), and virtually all members of the Hand tell him he's the worst Iron Fist they've ever seen. All of this creates an impression of a bumbling fool (it also colours Finn Jones' performance, which is actually fine--he believably does the things the script wants him to do). Despite all this he does get some truly heroic moments (fighting off Elektra D.1, saving Matt from Elektra D.3, and blasting back the assembled Hand D.8), but it doesn't counterbalance the foibles. I suspect the main reason Danny is the one making all the mistakes is that it would be hard for audiences to accept Matt, Jessica, or Luke making them. Writers for Iron Fist season two are going to have to make Danny a smarter, more formidable opponent (and I think where we leave him at the end of The Defenders is the perfect place for that to happen).

As for the other characters, Matt's struggles are not new (the battle between his identities and his feelings for Elektra come straight out of DD2). The latter has never worked for me, but at least the consequences of it are more tangible than in DD2, while the former is bordering on tiresome (I'm glad it seems like this is the last time we have to deal with it). As for Luke and Jessica, the main complaints you could make is not much changes for either, but I'm not sure what could change in the context of this storyline.

The method of resurrection for the Hand is an interesting innovation, but it's unfortunate the showrunners didn't decide on this until so late, because it's clear prior to this that the idea was simply a three-day wait (very Biblical) and the person would come back--this is how it functions for Harold Meachem and it meshes with Nobu's return as well. It also puts aside the impact of resurrection (IF)--the impact that it has, losing more and more of the self until only unthinking violence remains.

Another minor complaint is that it's never quite made clear why Elektra let's Jessica live when she knocks out she, Matt, and Luke (D.6). We know why she won't kill Matt and she can't kill Luke conventionally (she could suffocate him, but thus far his vulnerabilities along those lines have been underutilized), but why spare Jessica? At a guess it's due to Matt's attachment to her, but it remains a bit nebulous.

It's a minor point, but the hip hop music used in the final team fight under Midland Circle didn't work for me--it's jarring and doesn't fit as seamlessly as when we hear it in the initial Midland fight tied to Luke's arrival.

I'll address a few other specific criticisms I've seen in reviews:
-Ramirez creates one of his own where he says Gao used the substance to create heroin; this makes no sense whatsoever (why would she waste something so precious on something so superfluous?); fortunately this is never stated in the show, so it can safely be ignored (we're told in IF that its synthetic and there's no reason to complicate that with dragon bone)
-Gao says she, Bakuto, Murakami, and Sowande just want to go home (to K'un-Lun), not pursue the same goals as Alexandra, and this makes their motivations confusing: taking Gao at her word is problematic--in the show she tells Alexandra she has her full support, but this is a lie as she's part of Murakami's decision to kill her until Elektra returns with Danny. All the Hand leaders are shown to be power hungry--they pursue power for its own sake and this is why they've repeatedly tried to kill one another
-Where are the Hand's soldiers? Sowande talks about the Hand having an army (D.5) and we see a lot of ninjas in DD2, so where are they now? The show doesn't give us an answer, but on a story level just how many do you need? Beyond the attrition the group has suffered over the last couple of years (from the Chaste and, briefly, the Punisher), the Hand can't just put hundreds of ninjas on the streets--police and army would cut them down easily (guns beat swords), and it would destroy the secrecy the group needs (lest they attract the attention of the Avengers); when the destruction is mentioned it's clear they mean collapsing blocks of the city from below, not through pajama-clad warriors
-Why doesn't the Hand use poison like they did in DD2 and IF? The show doesn't provide an answer, but given that both Danny and Stick have cured their poison without difficulty (Matt knowing how to do it as well), it's not much of a threat (Luke Cage can't be cut either)
-if raising Elektra used the last of the Hand's resources, how was Bakuto resurrected? This comes from the assumption that Elektra was raised immediately (or soon after) the end of DD2, but the only indication of timeframe when Sowande hands her over to Alexandra (D.3) is "months", which could easily be after Bakuto is raised (see the chronology below)
-Danny's fight choreography: a near universal complaint about Iron Fist (whose choregrapher, Brett Chan, was not used in The Defenders--it's worth noting that Finn Jones was given no time for training here or in his own series, whereas he's getting four-five months in preparation for the second season of Iron Fist), here it's "better, but" with the "but" dovetailing into complaints about the quick cuts in his fights; I don't have a huge problem with it (it's not dissimilar to what's done for Matt Murdock's fights without the mask), but for fight-fans this could still be an issue
-Some of the fight scenes are too dark: I didn't have this problem so I can't really address it

I don't think any of these complaints are particularly serious, but it is of note that some of the answers are not directly provided by the show and it can be legitimately accused of being overly vague.


In terms of Netflix chronology Iron Fist wrapped up sometime in July of 2016; the only specific reference we get to the time that's passed since then is that Colleen and Danny have been chasing the Hand for months (D.1; Alexandra says Danny's been "off the grid" for that time, ergo, after his show, D.3), with a list of six cities they've visited over that time: Sao Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Miami, and Phnom Penh (D.3). "Months" can cover a large swath of time, anywhere from three to eleven months (or October to June), but given other comments it's on the earlier side of that.

-Pompeii (79 AD): Stick says the Hand was responsible for its destruction (D.4)
-ancient times: Alexandra makes a couple of references to how old she is, but the oldest is mentioning Constantinople (D.3), which got that name in 330 AD and kept it until 1453 (the other is to Johannes Brahms who lived in the 19th century)
-Marseilles Fire (D.6): I'm not sure which fire this is referring too, but the cutoff point is the wine Murakami gives her related to that fire--in the right conditions wine can be as much as 170-years old and still drinkable, putting the terminus point for the reference at 1846 (assuming the writers know or cared about accurate wine longevity)
-before Stick was born: Sowande says he was captured by the Chaste (D.5), but they all wound up serving him
-Stick spent 10 years in jail before becoming a member of the Chaste (D.6)
-1986 (Chernobyl): Sticks says the Hand was responsible for its destruction (D.4); this is also likely the last time all members of the Hand worked together (something Stick saw for himself, calling it "a culling" when Alexandra asks him about it, D.4)
-May, 2015 (the end of Jessica Jones): Trish implies Jessica hasn't been working since Kilgrave's death (D.1), but that would be hard to jive with the work she did for Joy Meachum (IF.8)
-June 3, 2016 (D.1); Matt mentions this date in court as when the corporation was notified there was a problem with their product
-July, Bakuto is raised (Davos kills him in IF, but doesn't behead him)
-months ago: Sowande informs Alexandra they have Black Sky, aka Elektra (D.3); the Hand gets her in December of 2015, and "months ago" sounds like long after this and must be after Bakuto was raised in July; the gap seems to indicate Murakami (whose faction took her in DD2) took his time handing her over to Sowande (which makes sense given his hostility towards her)
-several months before the start of The Defenders: Misty says youth are being recruited in Harlem (D.1), which we learn subsequently is working as clean-up crew for the Hand
-September 29, 2016, Matt enters this date into court, D.1, as part of the evidence at the trail
-Luke looks at a parking stub from Midland Circle (D.3), but the date on it is not clear
-a week before the show Matt mentions a school board scandal story Karen wrote (D.1)
-a week ago architect John Raymond disappeared (D.1)
-November/December (show start), Matt tells us he was investigating the Hand "a year ago", meaning late 2015 (D.8), which locks the show into late 2016. We can see the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, so I'd guess it's November/December. From comments within the show the entire eight episodes takes place over just a week (Claire says Luke met Danny days ago (D.5), Luke says its been a couple of days since the Midland Circle fight (D.7), Jessica references it having been about a week (D.8), and Foggy says its been days since the explosion that buried Matt (D.8)).

The writers dodged the irreconcilable Elektra timelines set up in DD1 and DD2 by being deliberately vague about when Elektra and Matt first met (D.7)--this despite the two prior specific date references (DD1.5, DD2.5).

The Future

Matt's apparent death came as a surprise to me, but it's a clear nod to Frank Miller's "Born Again" (1986, #227-#233), which is a Kingpin storyline (and a very controversial turn for comicbook Karen Page that I don't think we'll see on screen). Speaking of Karen, Matt's death provides space for Karen to interact with Frank Castle in The Punisher (showrunner Steve Lightfoot was aware of how The Defenders was going to end before he started filming, but potentially not before he was writing--granted it's not clear it matters if the show is chronologically after The Defenders).

Dan Wickline's suggestions for the future are good ones (Renaldo Matadeen has virtually identical suggestions): give us the various expected team-ups, like Heroes for Hire and Daughters of the Dragon, and expand the universe by adding characters like Moon Night, White Tiger, Hellcat, and Shang Chi (the first two suggestions have been heavily rumoured, eg here and here). The only thing I disagree with is Shang Chi, at least on the surface, since I think the ninja thing is already tired. Something not mentioned that I believe in strongly: Marvel needs to stop introducing villains halfway through a season--it doesn't work (Nobu, Diamondback. Bakuto, etc).

When we get a Defenders season two I think (and I've seen this opinion reflected elsewhere) that the Kingpin is the right villain for the heroes to face. He's based in New York, he's grounded, and he can easily impact all four heroes.

In terms of how it set's up other characters:
-Jessica Jones: is ready to take clients again, but in terms of where we left her in JJ this doesn't feel like a change--what The Defenders does for her is update us on her connection to Hogarth and give her connections to the other shows
-Luke Cage: not much change here either--we get a tease for Mariah's continued activities (which were in motion at the end of Luke Cage), Misty's future as a cop is up in the air, but otherwise there's just him being free with his old conviction overturned
-Daredevil: huge changes since he's thought to be dead; this circumstance can't last long, but it might mean Wilson Fisk's threats against him (DD2) are postponed; one clever turn to avoid Fisk making the Murdock-Daredevil connection is that Daredevil was retired for almost a year while Murdock was still practicing law, meaning their mutual disappearance is less suspicious
-Iron Fist: huge changes as Danny has finally adopted New York as the city he protects; we also preserve Gao as a potential villain for the show; Colleen has cut the cord with Bakuto and her old life with the Hand, and we are on our way to the Daughters of the Dragon with Misty Knight

One interesting dance showrunners will now have to do is explain why the heroes don't call on one another for help (something the MCU has lot's of practice doing), but whatever the reasons given, at least we'll get references more frequently (and, hopefully, more crossovers).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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