This post contains spoilers for The Defenders.
The Defenders are a complicated bunch. You’ve got Luke Cage the unbelieving, Jessica Jones the miserable, Matt Murdock the liar, and Danny Rand the entitled. In a couple cases, these shortcomings were overcome to create some pretty decent shows. In others? Not so much.
Each member of the team has been insufferable at one time or another. Some are certainly more so than others, but the real question is whether bringing them into an ensemble show helped make those obnoxious traits entertaining, or at least bearable. Thankfully The Defenders does just that in three cases out of four. Danny, unfortunately, remains chronically awful.
The Defenders shines with its character pairings. Since it’s their first big crossover for these characters, everyone gets one or two moments with each other. There are specific partnerships that grow throughout the eight episode run, the best of them being Matt and Jessica. The two least trusting members of the team managed to form a bond that started with Jessica describing Matt’s father in the architect’s home, and continues to be represented until the end when she mourns the ‘death’ of her friend. Danny and Luke also have a couple swell moments together, playing off the natural chemistry that Finn Jones and Mike Colter have between them.
In addition to the big four, we also get a chance to see how the other characters interact together. Colleen Wing and Claire Temple have several scenes, and one or two of them are even pretty good. We get to see secondary characters like Karen Paige and Trish Walker interact and play off one another too, which goes a long way to bring the four separate worlds together.
Unfortunately, the character stuff is really all that’s good about The Defenders.
Marvel’s Netflix universe has stumbled a few times, but its villains usually shine. They’re given complexity and layers that sometimes make their stories more interesting than the protagonists we’re rooting for, and by doing so the individual show itself gets more meat on its bones. That is not the case with Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra.
Time and time again The Defenders hints at where Alexandra came from. It gives us tidbits about her and the other fingers of the Hand’s history, implying their long lives and involvement in the fall of other cities. There is so much opportunity to give detail and layers to this character. The tools to make her both fascinating and multifaceted were right there, and they were ignored in favor of feigned maternal instinct and implied threats at her compatriots. We hear time and time again that she’s a force to be reckoned with, and that their history should earn her their trust in her leadership, but the audience remains in the dark, knowing only of her illness and the small snippets she gives to Elektra.
The misuse of Alexandra (and by proxy Sigourney freakin’ Weaver) is even more of a shame when you consider that somehow, even at only eight episodes, The Defenders is too long. Our protagonists don’t meet in the first episode, then we wait until episode four for them to even end up on the same team. The first half of the season has some shining moments, but by and large nothing new happens. Yes, the first big fight scene when the team saves Danny was pretty on point all around, but that rings a little hollow when your overall song is still “Hand bad! No trust! My city!” with no new story angles or information.
Then there’s the story itself. It’s not terrible, there’s just nothing special about it outside of character development. Nothing’s surprising, or even interesting, about the plot. All that drives the show is the interaction between the unlikely team members. That said, special shout-out to whichever writer read the audience and knew what a great idea it would be to have Matt, Jessica and Luke kick the shit out of Danny. That’s not sarcasm. The moment is a season high-point, despite the weird angles and cut points that remain a constant through The Defenders.
So, what happened in The Defenders? Nothing, friends. If Matt Murdock survived the building blowing up on him, you can be certain at least one or two members of The Hand made it out too. Is Elektra among the living? Unfortunately, the answer to that question at this point is “who cares?” Elodie Yung is tremendous, and Elektra has endless potential to be interesting, but like Alexandra, that opportunity seems to have been squandered.
If you’re character driven, you’re going to be entertained by The Defenders. Despite the issues outlined above, I thought it was fun. There’s a lot to like in the character areas, and if that’s all you need you’re going to dig the hell out of it. The music is good (but not better than Luke Cage) and the fight choreography is back on par after a deeply unfortunate showing in Iron Fist. The show’s got problems, but maybe that’s appropriate for the little band of misfits it portrays.
At the very least, this first season sets up some sort of foundation for the next one, because y’all know you’re getting The Defenders season two (whether you want it or not).