After years of build up and 5 different series, Netflix/Marvel finally premiered their superhero team up series, ‘The Defenders,’ last Friday. With all the build up and hype around the series, it definitely had its work cut out to live up to expectations, especially in the first two episodes where it is setting everything up, but the show does admirably in reminding you of who all the main heroes and their supporting cast are, as well as introducing the new villain, Alexandra (played by Sigourney Weaver), who we learn is the mastermind behind the Hand organization who has been plaguing New York throughout many of the other series.
The first episode was probably the slowest and had the most moving parts, and many fans might be disappointed to see that none of our heroes actually get to meet each other just yet, as the show takes the time to set up each of their storylines and how it ties into the main arc of the season. Jessica gets roped into it all by a new case where a woman asks her to investigate the disappearance of her architect husband, and while Jessica initially think it is just a simple case of a man abandoning his family, she soon discovers there is more to the story after a cryptic phone calling warning her away from the architect, followed by a lead that takes her to an apartment full of explosives, and a visit from the architect himself to her apartment that ends with him blowing out his brains before the Hand (in the form of the newly resurrected Elektra) can take him away. Jessica chases after Elektra, who now seems to have some extra strength in her toolbox, and while she does not catch the newest Hand recruit, she does run into Misty Knight, who is not happy about Jessica stealing evidence from a previous crime scene (the apartment of explosives). Misty takes Jessica in for questioning, and finally we get some crossover happening, as before Misty can ask too many questions, her “lawyer” shows up, and it is none other than Matt Murdock, with his meeting Jessica being the end of the second episode.
Matt’s story is a bit more depressing, as it has been a few months since the death of Elektra, and he has decided to give up being a vigilante and move on with his life, and try to repair his relationships with Foggy and Karen, neither of whom want him to be Daredevil (in fact they treat it like some sort of disease he has). However, it is clear it is something he still itches to do (even though he tells Karen he thinks New York is better off without Daredevil), and when an Earthquake rocks New York city at the end of Episode 1, Matt cannot help but jump back into action (even in his regular business suit) to save some looting kids from a shop owner with a shot gun, reminding the guy that they are just kids. The next day he meets up with Foggy who notices the bruises on his knuckles, and they almost have another fight, but instead Foggy starts giving Matt extra case work from his job at Hogarth’s law firm, saying he is picking cases Matt would be doing anyways since they are helping the downtrodden and less-fortunate, similar to the pro-bono work Matt has been doing for the past few months. Foggy meanwhile, has been tasked by Hogarth to keep an eye on Jessica Jones, who Hogarth knows has gotten involved in a case with an architect with ties to some bad people, which is why Foggy enlists Matt to be Jessica’s lawyer (I believe) when she is arrested by Misty Knight at the end of the second episode.
Danny Rand, who is most definitely the weakest link of the group, has not improved much since his solo outing in ‘Iron Fist.’ I do not care what his race or ethnicity is, Finn Jones does not embody the character from the comics, and instead still comes off as a whiny man-child whose constant assertions of “I am the Iron Fist!” seem even more tired and unimpressive now that he is being directly contrasted with real characters who we actually like and care about. It saddens me how much of the narrative is driven by the ‘Iron First’ backstory, and how the story of K’un Lun and the Hand are behind everything our heroes are facing, but it is what it is. Danny and Colleen return to New York after a trip to Cambodia to hunt Hand agents just as the earthquake hits, and Colleen assures Danny that the man they met on their trip (who died at the hands of Elektra) was an ally, and there might be more allies in New York for their fight with the Hand. Danny does not seem so sure, but then he and Colleen go and investigate a sword maker and discover a strange dojo whose members have all recently been murdered and who just happen to have a picture of K’un Lun in the main room. They hide as a group of Hand cleaners arrive, and once they realize the cleaners are going to burn down the building, Danny and Colleen attack. However, when Danny goes after one cleaner and discovers it is a young kid from Harlem, he is unprepared when Luke Cage himself steps in to defend the kid at the end of Episode 2.
Lastly, we have Luke Cage, fresh out of prison, who reunites with Claire Temple first, and then with Misty Knight, with both filling him in on what has been going on in Harlem during his absence. While Claire wants him to get a job, Misty points him in the direction of a neighborhood kid whose mother already lost her son and daughter (daughter was caught up in the Cottonmouth storyline from ‘Luke Cage’ Season 1) and Misty wants Luke to look after the kid as opposed to jumping straight back into doing more vigilante work. Luke takes her advice and meets up with the young man, Cole, but the kid wants nothing to do with Luke, clearly too afraid to ask for help. Luke eventually learns that someone is recruiting youths from Harlem to do their dirty work, and then killing the kids if they ask too many questions. He investigates and learns one of the culprits is a man in a white suit with a white Panama hat, who is dubbed Whitehead, and Luke tracks him down and calls Misty to get a warrant to arrest the guy. He hesitates when he sees Cole is with Whitehead and instead follows the group to the very same dojo where Danny and Colleen are, which is why Luke is there defending Cole when Danny attacks him.
In the first true Defenders meet up, Danny and Luke, of course, do not get along, as Danny has no idea why Luke is defending Cole, one of the thugs burning bodies in the dojo, and Luke does not appreciate Danny beating up on this young kid who clearly cannot defend himself. So they go toe to toe, and from the beginning it is pretty clear Luke has the upper hand. None of Danny’s kung fu moves have any effect on Power Man and his invincible skin, and he easily swats Danny around, almost making it almost feel like a meta moment where Luke is punishing Danny for bringing down the Marvel/Netflix corner of the MCU for having such a terrible series. Eventually, Danny powers up the old Iron Fist and punches Luke across the face, and this time, Luke feels it as he is knocked across the alley. Following that, the cops show up, and all our heroes flee in separate directions, while Cole is arrested.
On the villain side of things, we meet the enigmatic new villain Alexandra who we learn is dying from late-stage cancer, though she does give hints of being very old indeed, making us wonder why suddenly her body is giving out. She appears to be the true ruler of the hand, above even Madame Gao, and due to her health has decided to speed up the Hand’s plans for New York, though what those plans are at this point we are not sure. We know Madame Gao at least thinks it is a mistake to break with the original plan. After the earthquake which the Hand is somehow responsible for, we see Elektra with Alexandra, as Alexandra advises Elektra that cities falling is no big deal and should not be minded, making us wonder what kind of hold Alexandra has on Elektra who, before her resurrection, was not an entirely evil character.
As stated before, the first two episodes had a lot of set-up work to do, but still, it was very fun to see all of the characters in one show, even if they were not sharing screen time together just yet. Some small notes that I really enjoyed: I loved that every character carried over their lighting situation from their own show, i.e. Jessica being lit mainly blue/violet, Matt with a lot of red, Luke with yellow, and Danny with green, made every scene for those characters feel like it came from their series. I also really enjoyed that their theme music carried over, being a big lover of film scores and music, I love it when producers remember little details like this, it really makes it feel like this is the character we have come to know and love from the previous series when we hear the music associated with them.
Looking forward to seeing where the series goes now that the heroes stories are finally colliding!