So, I haven’t been here as regularly as I’d like to, and unfortunately that’s probably not gonna change anytime in the near future. I have Novel Writing Deadlines to meet, which means I’m instituting a hard rule for myself: no playing around on MGB until I’ve at least finished my weekly writing goal. Luckily, I’m doing pretty well on that right now, which means I get to talk about The Defenders. Which THANK GOD, cause y’all know I’ve got thoughts on The Defenders.
I’m gonna try to keep this brief, but let’s be real here. Brevity isn’t my strong suit, and we’ve definitely got some things to discuss.
Sorry, people. SPOILERS abound. Watch your eight episodes and come back to me. (Also, you might find SPOILERS for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, so, um, yeah. Block out a month of your life, and then come back to me.)
Matthew Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand come together, sorta, to stop Alexandra and The Hand from destroying New York City. Fucking New York, man. I’m asking, where are the superheroes in Wisconsin? NYC is always hogging the spandex.
(Also, Elektra’s in on the whole ‘destroy New York’ shit too, but I like how Alexandra and The Hand sounds. It’d make a pretty great cover band name.)
1. Look, let’s just get this out of the way: The Defenders has a weak ass plot. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the show at times. I totally did. There are plenty of scenes I’ve re-watched, I’ve been reading Marvel fanfiction again, and I’m excited to see more from our heroes (well, most of them.)
But I’m also really unclear on what the hell they even saved New York from. Like, okay, there was an earthquake, and The Hand managed to get their, er, hands on the magic dragon bone goop that lets them come back to life, or whatever, which is obviously not good . . . but it’s also not an imminent threat, either. Everyone in The Defenders acts like the goddamn sky is falling, but let’s be real here: the Chitauri aren’t invading. No mystical hell beast has come through the door that Danny stupidly opened. The Hand aren’t even summoning anything; essentially, it’s all just one big heist job, except for some reason, our heroes are running around screaming, “The stakes are so high! Oh my God, the city, THE CITY!”
So, yeah. The stakes, not so high. The bad guys have pretty vague goals and the plot is pretty murky as a result. Which probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering how poorly The Hand has been executed thus far. (I’m basing this primarily on Daredevil, as I still haven’t–and probably won’t–watch Iron Fist.) Christ, I’m so bored of The Hand. Hopefully, we won’t have to deal with them for a while, since they’re mostly super dead now. (Except maybe Madame Gao and Elektra, who I’m assuming are both still alive, you know, somehow.)
2. Briefly looking at the villains on an individual basis:
2A. Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) is okay.
Like, Weaver plays the part fine–she’s basically a super rich white lady to the power of a million–but I was also pretty glad when she got killed off. See, I turned against her early, when she talked down to Madame Gao, and MG was all subservient, and I was like, What is this bullshit? I sorta wish MG had killed her, honestly, but I understand that Elektra makes a little more narrative sense.
On the upside, Alexandra’s death was a nice surprise. I assumed it would happen much later in the show.
2B. Elektra (Elodie Yung) is also okay.
Once again, my dissatisfaction with Elektra has absolutely nothing to do with the actress, who I quite like in the role; it’s that for as much time as we spend with the character, she still ends up feeling underdeveloped to me. A huge part of this, certainly, is that the writers don’t seem any more confident on what it means to be the “Black Sky” than they did in Daredevil, Season 2. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop anyone from dropping those words every other sentence.
Here’s a quick poll: which is used more in this show, “Black Sky” or “The City?” You decide.
2C. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) continues to be awesome. I will always have a soft spot for Madame Gao.
2D. Sowande (Babs Olusanmokun) is deeply underused, like, you can’t just say a dude can slow people’s hearts down without letting him do that to an MC at least once. I’m okay with Stick decapitating the guy because hey, that’s Stick for you, but seriously. Let this guy be a badass first.
2E. I liked Murakami (Yutaka Takeuchi) in his introductory scene (even if I was totally making fun of the whole barehanded butchery thing, like, dude, you’re in khakis, and you’re not even rinsing off your hands before wiping them on white washcloths; what’s wrong with you), but he basically just becomes the guy who says “our leader sucks” over and over for the rest of the story. Still, I found myself intrigued by him and thought there could be a decent campy villain in there somewhere. I’ll expect we’ll never really get him, though, since Murakami gets impaled before a building collapses on him.
2F. Finally, Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) is apparently a villain from Iron Fist, and I gotta be honest: between him and Danny Rand, I’m pretty sure I’m never, ever watching this show unless someone pays me for it, cause Mek and I didn’t buy Bakuto at all. Like, we both immediately and independently began recasting him in our heads. Mek went for Pedro Pascal, while I ended up choosing Alfonso Herrera. Apologies to Mr. Rodriguez, but I feel either actor would’ve been a significant improvement here.
3. While we’re on the subject of needing improvements, let’s talk about Danny (Finn Jones).
I really, really tried to give Danny a fair shake, but it quickly proved nearly impossible to do so. And while I’m a little loathe to add to the dog pile, a fair amount of my dislike appears to stem from Jones’s acting.
All of Danny’s anger comes across as petulance. Like when he says, “Well, that’s the problem, Matt. I’m all out of calm,” I’m just thinking of an extremely watered down and whiny version of Bruce Banner saying, “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.” When Danny says stuff like, “I am the immortal Iron Fist,” I immediately start laughing–and while the show is also quick to laugh at him, possibly even a little too quick, I couldn’t take him remotely seriously, even when I was obviously supposed to. The Defenders really only needs one angsty white boy on the team, and Matt Murdock is by far the superior choice.
I also can’t shake the feeling that I’d have a lot more sympathy for Danny Rand if he was about 16-years-old. He kind of seems like a teenager, doesn’t he? I’d buy his mood swings a lot more if he wasn’t a dude pushing 30, especially when said dude spent the majority of his life with a bunch of monks. I’d empathize more with some of his shitty choices, like abandoning K’un-Lun to go run his father’s company, despite the total implausibility of such a plan. As a teenager, I can see that as an identity crisis mixed with both grief and too much self-confidence; as an adult, I mostly just see it as astoundingly poor decision making. And even when Danny’s trying to get the others to join Team Defenders, he kind of strikes me as the geeky comic book nerd who wants everyone to stop arguing, band together as a family, and defeat the bad guys for good.
If Danny Rand was Peter Parker with a glowing hand, I’d like him so much more.
4. Okay, some more thoughts on Danny. (Sorry, I can’t seem to stop!)
4A. Look, I know I just said I wanted to avoid the dog pile, but . . . but . . . okay, I was watching one of those press junket interviews, right, and Cox, Ritter, Colter, and Jones were each asked what their favorite Sigourney Weaver movie was. There are multiple acceptable answers to such a question. Alien, Aliens, Ghostbusters, and Galaxy Quest are all easy choices. (Colter also mentioned The TV Set, which I’ve never even heard of.) Copycat would have been fine. Snow White: A Tale of Terror would have made me laugh my ass off; it also would have made me fall in love with that actor for life. I’d even have taken either Jeffrey or The Cabin in The Woods, despite the fact that Sigourney Weaver only cameoed in both films.
But Finn Jones settled on Avatar. AVATAR.
Look, if you like Avatar, that’s okay. Personally, I was pretty bored by the story and I’ve never felt much inclination to watch it again, but it wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and plenty of people find some of my favorites questionable too. (Say, for instance, Snow White: A Tale of Terror.) But to pick that movie out of all the great Sigourney Weaver movies out there, like, really? Really? C’mon, this is, like, expert trolling, right? The dude who was heavily criticized for playing a white savior picked the one Sigourney Weaver movie heavily centered around the white savior trope? Honestly, I think I’d almost be a little impressed if I actually thought Jones had done this on purpose.
4B. Seriously, Danny’s decision-making skills are questionable at best.
The worst instance of this, I think, is soon after Luke Cage calls Danny out on white privilege (which, BTW, is a great moment) and how he uses his power against people just trying to get by and feed their families. This causes Danny to rethink his strategy against combating The Hand, which is great, except that his new plan, apparently, is to put on a nice suit, march into a Midland Financial CEO Meeting (who are all members of The Hand), less than politely introduce himself, and explain his master plan to bring down the corporate shell they’ve been hiding behind.
Now, trying to bring The Hand down through legal means is fine. It’s going to fail, obviously, but there’s nothing wrong with making the attempt. Still, why in God’s name would you tell them like this? Even if they didn’t immediately attack you (which they do, of course, to absolutely nobody but Danny’s surprise), why even give them a heads up on your big play? You understand that only allows them more time to prepare for it, right?
(There are only two good things about this scene: one, it leads to the first Defenders vs. Bad Guys fight, which is cool but totally could have been established in a way that actually made sense, and two, Sigourney Weaver is pretty glorious here. Alexandra’s condescension towards Madame Gao is unacceptable, but to the Immortal Whiny Fist Danny? Oh my god, LOVE.)
Danny also just tends to overreact to basically everything. When Matt tells him not to act like a kid, for instance, or the scene where the Defenders discover that The Hand wants to use the Iron Fist to open some mystical door. (Danny refuses to believe that this is possible with a vehemence that continues to make no logical sense to me.) The Defenders tell him he needs to sit this one out, and Danny pretty much goes ballistic. And at first I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, like, maybe he noticed how Stick was standing around ominously with his sword, cause yeah, I sure did. Maybe Danny was scared that Stick would try to kill him. (Legitimately scared, as it would turn out.) But it quickly became clear that Danny wasn’t nervous, just pissed–which, sure, is understandable to an extent, but you’d think that The Defenders had just kicked his dog and called his momma a bad name, rather than suggest he should probably hang out in this warehouse for a while instead of playing straight into the hands of The Hand.
Which leads to his other incredibly dumb move: Danny Rand plays straight into the hands of the The Hand.
So, Elektra kidnaps him, right? Okay, that’s not entirely his fault. But then she brings him down to the big mystical door, which he says he’ll never open . . . right before easily getting goaded into a fistfight. Elektra dodges a couple times, Danny punches the door, and boom: door open. Her manipulation isn’t even subtle. Danny Rand is just that dumb.
5. Moving on to briefly discussing the other Defenders:
A. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is considerably less of a dick than he was in Season 2, much to my relief.
It’s obviously nice to like Matt again. I’ve always had a soft spot for Daredevil (Charlie Cox’s version, anyway), which is why Season 2 was so awful to watch. This is a definite improvement. Matt’s scenes with Jessica Jones are some of my favorites in the whole show, like, I already ship the hell out of them–although I’d also be cool if they ended up platonic drinking buddies instead, you know, they kind who talk about their own personal traumas and call each other out on their respective shit.
I have absolutely no idea how Matt survived a building falling on him. (I’m presuming Elektra dragged him to safety, but like, before that part.) Regardless, I’m glad because if Matt had actually died this way, I’d have been pissed. I do buy his decision to stay behind with Elektra because it’s become pretty apparent that he’s a self-destructive character (something else that he and Jessica have in common), but anyone spinning that decision like it was somehow heroic? Nope, not buying that at all. And if I’m supposed to buy it, I really needed something else to happen, like, Matt tackling Elektra off the elevator before she can kill our heroes, or whatever.
B. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) remains awesome.
She gets the best one-liners, obviously, and just generally kicks all kinds of ass. She’s The One Woman on the team but somehow never feels like The One Woman, which is pretty impressive. (Possibly this has something to do with how many important supporting roles are given to women here. Claire, Colleen, and Misty, for example, are all actively engaged in the story.)
By the end of The Defenders, Jessica is ready to start working cases again, setting up for Jessica Jones, Season Two, which I’m obviously jazzed about. Also, can one of those cases be finding Matt in the nunnery? I know it won’t happen, but I’m super invested in these two sharing as much screen time as humanely possible.
C. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) also continues to be awesome.
Luke gets out of prison in Episode One, but otherwise seems to be the least impacted by the events of this show, though I do really like his last scene with Jessica and how it provides some closure for old wounds. (I don’t really ship them, unfortunately, but that might just be because I worry for what that’ll mean for Claire. If Luke/Jessica are endgame, that’s fine, but if Claire has to die to make that happen–or if she has to become shrill and annoying, or if Luke has to cheat on her–like, NO, that’s not okay, EVER.)
I think one of the most interesting things about Luke is that he’s kinda the moral center of the team. Jessica’s the damaged wisecracker and Danny’s the annoying rich kid and Matt might be the leader if he wasn’t such a secretive bastard and emotional fuck-up, but Luke, he’s the heart. Unlike virtually everyone else here, Luke Cage is not an “ends justify the means” kind of guy. Which is pretty great, actually. I like that he’s easily the most decent person on the team.
6. We should also briefly discuss the sidekicks and supporting characters:
6A. Trish and Malcolm (Rachael Taylor and Eka Darville) are the most underused characters in this story, and I miss them desperately. I understand why they have so little screen time here, but hopefully they’ll get much more to do whenever The Defenders join forces again.
6B. Foggy and Karen (Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll) get a little more to do, although nothing too hugely plot relevant. (Particularly not Karen.) Honestly, they both kind of annoyed me at first because they seemed super judgy about Matt being Daredevil, which is funny since I was totally on their side in Season Two, but Jesus, Netflix. The problem was never that Matt was a superhero. The problem was that Matt was an asshole. There’s a huge difference there, and for some reason I feel like Foggy and Karen are really the only side characters who don’t get that. Which is frustrating because I’m 100% NOT here for trumped up angst bullshit.
I did like that Foggy helped Matt at the end, though. (We’ll have to see how his guilt plays out in Season 3.) And the scene where Foggy and Karen hug each other when Matt doesn’t come through the door . . . look, I’m gonna be honest: I totally teared up.
6C. I continue to love Claire (Rosario Dawson) because CLAIRE . . . but I do feel like her attitude towards superheroes and vigilantes shifts a little for whatever the story requires. It’s not quite as bad as Foggy and Karen, I think, but it does bother me a bit. I’d also like to reiterate that I would be completely down for a one season show or even a Netflix special about Claire running a clinic for superheroes. I know she’s not technically Night Nurse, but seriously. Who cares, right?
6D. Misty Knight (Simone Missick) also continues to be pretty cool. I honestly don’t know that much about her from the comics, but I do know she gets a robotic arm, which The Defenders lines up after lame villain Bakuto chops hers off. I’m curious to see where she’s going.
6E. Colleen (Jessica Henwick) is a little difficult for me.
In the first few episodes of the show, I feel like she only gets Girlfriend Lines. You know the kind, right, where everything she says is pretty much about Danny’s pain? I do like that that the show focuses a bit more on her journey in the back half of the season, though. Also, I basically wanted to shake everybody who was treating her like she was Karen or Claire or something. Like, that’s not a knock against either Karen or Claire. I like both characters. But Colleen isn’t a civilian who needs to be protected. Colleen is a fucking ninja. I get that she doesn’t have the a glowing hand or anything, but Jesus Christ, that doesn’t mean she can’t be useful in a giant ninja fight. For fuck’s sake.
Personally, I’m with all the people who are hoping that Danny dies at the end of Iron Fist, Season Two, paving the way for Colleen Wing to take over. I think it’s actually possible, too. The Defenders certainly proved that Netflix is very, very aware of Danny’s unpopularity, and while I can understand that they might want to wrap up any loose ends (like, Danny’s totally-not-dead mom), I can’t help but think that they must also be savvy enough to realize that replacing Danny is probably a hell of a lot easier than trying to turn him into some magnificent comeback kid.
7. Finally, a few more random side notes:
7A. I’m pretty glad that Stick (Scott Glenn) died. Honestly, I like Stick well enough (for being a mean, ruthless fucker), but he felt a little played out, and it works for me that Elektra’s the one who kills him. Also, did anyone else find it kind of hilarious when he cut off his own hand? Like, he just chops that thing off with a sword. He doesn’t even have to swing it. He basically just pushes down.
7B. I’m totally amused that Matt plays his own theme song on the piano for Detective Reasons.
7C. As everyone on the planet has already noted in their own respective reviews, I like how the show cleverly uses color. I don’t have the proper vocabulary to get all technical about it, but it’s pretty cool.
OTOH, there were a fair number of shots that just seemed . . . weird? Again, my tech vocab is gonna fail me here, but the angles were strange. Like, when Foggy and Matt are at the bar and we see them framed awkwardly through glasses and beer bottles, or when Jeri Hogarth is shot off-center as she’s talking to Jessica Jones. There must be artistic or story-telling reasons for it, but I just kept finding it distracting.
7D. I haven’t really talked about the fight scenes yet, and that’s probably because I like them but don’t find any capital “A” amazing. Like, the office fight is fun, particularly Matt vs. Elektra, and I enjoy Matt, Jessica, and Luke all fighting against Danny, but there’s nothing here that makes me go, “Holy Jesus, that’s awesome.” It’s not a big complaint from me. I’m just saying nothing from this show is winning Best Fight Scene.
7E. Claire and Luke have a steamy hot sex scene in the first episode, and being me, all I could think was, “Jesus, guys, you couldn’t have waited 30 seconds to get to the bedroom? The kitchen table’s all broken now. Furniture’s not cheap, you know.”
7F. Okay, one last thing about Danny? He’s not exactly quick on the uptake.
Like Matt’s all “I’ll be right behind you” (TV code for “about to croak”), but then he whispers into Danny’s ear, “Take care of my city.” For some reason, though, Danny doesn’t seem to realize this as the obvious Will & Testament it is until after the building collapses, and I’m like, sweet Jesus, D, learn to read between the lines. I’m pretty sure that Matt entrusted his precious city to Iron Fist because he knew that if he’d said that shit to either Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, they’d have knocked his ass out and carried him to safety.
7G. Last but not least, I’ve begun writing The Defenders Drinking Game. Feel free to add more rules in the Comments!
The Defenders Drinking Game
Take a sip when
Someone says “the city,” “this city,” or “my city”
Someone says “Black Sky”
Someone says “K’un-Lun”
Someone makes fun of Danny
Jessica makes fun of anyone
Matt withholds information (or straight up lies)
Danny says “chi”
Danny says “Iron Fist”
Danny overreacts to something
Danny’s silly chest tattoo appears
Kid: “I’m already angry.”
Matt: “At who?”
Kid: “Everyone. I just want my life back.”
Matt: “They can’t give you that. Maybe to walk again. I hope so. But maybe you won’t. But your ability to get through it, as this gets harder, that is a hundred times more powerful than slapping a smile on your face and pretending like everything’s just fine. Do you understand? Hey, listen. No one can give you your life back. You, you gotta take it back.”
Trish: “You know what your problem is?”
Jessica: “Sentences that start like that.”
Foggy: “People call me Foggy.”
Luke: “And you let them?”
Malcolm: “Yooou took a case. I can tell. You got that glow about you.”
Jessica: “Who the hell uses payphones anymore?
Misty: “Don’t give me that “officer” bullshit. What did you see?”
Danny: “He punched me.”
Luke: “You punched first.”
Luke: “What’s the deal with that fist?”
Danny: “I earned it.”
Luke: “You what?”
Colleen: “He earned it. There’s this mystical place called K’un-Lun–”
Danny: “I can answer myself . . . there’s this mystical place called K’un-Lun–”
Danny: “I trained for years. There was a test. There was a dragon.”
(Luke starts laughing.)
Luke: “No, there wasn’t.”
Danny: “You know nothing about me.”
Luke: “I know enough. And I know privilege when I see it. You may think you earned your strength, but you had power the day you were born. Before the dragons, before the chi, you have the ability to change the world without getting anybody hurt.”
Danny: “Rand Enterprises has put together a case to take you down. Extortion, narcotics, human trafficking. There’s no end to what we’ll uncover.”
Danny: “And you can’t hide anymore.”
Alexandra: “Does it look like we’re hiding?”
Danny: “You’re going to lose everything just like I did.”
Alexandra: “You haven’t lost everything, Mr. Rand. Not yet.”
Jessica: “You look like an asshole.”
Matt: “It’s your scarf.”
Matt: “I still hear neon.”
Luke: “Who hears neon?”
Jessica: “We met, we drank, I shot him in the head.”
Danny: “Look, we need to figure out our next move.”
Matt: “There is no next move.”
Jessica: “And there is no we. They came at us, we fought our way out. Let’s call it professional courtesy, end of story.”
Danny: “Are those pork?”
Matt: “No, they’re shrimp. Oh, this guy’s got pork.”
Jessica (to Matt): “God, you’re weird.”
Danny: “Come on, I even put on a tie.”
Danny: “Bulletproof, blind ninja, whatever it is you are.”
Murakami: “He nearly killed me.”
Alexandra: “They always nearly kill you.”
Stick: “We call ourselves The Chaste.”
Jessica: “Ugh, these names are killing me.”
Matt: “Why are you here, Stick?”
Stick: “Because this one, the Immortal Iron Fist, Living Weapon, and Protector of the Ancient City is still a thundering dumbass.”
Architect’s Wife: “What time is it?”
Jessica: “Late. Or early, depending on your life choices.”
Jessica: “The scarf looked better.”
Matt: “Well, no one’s digging into your past.”
Jessica: “My past is none of your goddamn business, and isn’t actively trying to kill us.”
Luke: “Hey, why don’t you tell me again about how you punched a dragon and got your ‘magic hand’.”
Danny: “During the final trial of Shao-Lao the Undying, I plunged my fist into his molten heart—”
Luke: “Dude. I was kidding.”
Danny: “Seems like you’re just making this up as you go along.”
Stick: “I am, kid. That’s what survivors do.”
Jessica: “You took my case, I took yours. I just think we’ll work better together if we trust each other, don’t you?”
Matt: “That is the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Jessica: “Yeah, don’t get used to it.”
Matt: “I have no choice. He’s the Iron Fist.”
Foggy: “I’m not going to pretend to know what that means.”
Misty: “As of right now, you’re a person of interest. A witness to a crime.”
Matt: “A witness. What, do you want me to describe how it sounded, detective?”
Misty: “Perhaps you didn’t hear me when I said cut the shit.”
Claire: “We all know what The Hand is capable of. We’ve all been affected. They keep coming back, and when they do it’s not just crime. It’s horror movie murdery shit.”
Claire: “Colleen, the three of them have certain abilities.”
Collen: “I can fight.”
Claire: “Exactly. I’m saying as your friend, if I’m going to do this, I need your help a lot more than they do.”
Jessica: “Look, I don’t give a shit what you guys are doing down here . . . in your secret . . . cave thing.”
Colleen: “How are you feeling?”
Misty: “Great. Not quite whole.”
Luke: “I’m not hugging you.”
Enjoyable, but not epic. The writing is too sloppy for that, which is kind of a shame because I feel like the showrunners had time to work out a better story. Basically, I wanted at least 50% more of scenes like the ones in the Chinese restaurant, and a whole lot less of The Hand and their incredibly vague plans for destruction.
Noble sacrifice or needless sacrifice . . . just do whatever it takes to save THE CITY.
(Also, no one likes Danny Rand. Pretty sure that’s the true moral here.)