If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
For a full episode synopsis, grab a read of our The Defenders #1.1: “The H Word” episode guide.
At last, it’s time to defend. Well, kind of, sort of.
Much like their big-screen cousins, when Marvel Television, ABC Studios, and Netflix brought four street-level heroes to your streaming screens, the intention was always to have them team up in Avengers-style in a high stakes limited series event. Eight episodes for the heavyweight championship of the boroughs of New York! Scratch that, seven episodes because our heroes don’t even meet in this opening hour.
One of the great things that the television format allows for these Netflix series is an opportunity for things to breath and to really spend time with these characters.
We get to experience their worlds and delve into their relationships to get a real good feel for what their individual crusades mean to them. This hour spends appropriate time in each of those worlds to properly set up the current mindset of each hero and the personal stakes in this game.
For good or for bad, Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, is the first of our heroes to reappear, opening the miniseries in a continuation of his hunt of the dreaded Hand following the vanishing of K’un Lun, the mystical city he was sworn to protect. Danny is, of course, racked with guilt over leaving his city undefended, and he and Colleen Wing have spent months tracking down the hand. In Cambodia, Danny runs into, of all people, Elektra Natchios. She’s back from the dead and plying her wares as an assassin for the Hand, trying to kill of the contact Danny and Colleen were looking for. He manages to fight her to a standstill and she disappears, but not before stabbing the contact. As he dies, he tells the Fist his fight is back in New York, so Danny and Colleen jetset their way on back.
For all of the issues that certainly exist in the first season of Iron Fist, a second viewing will show you that the series does actually get better towards its tail end. It’s still the weakest of the four series, and people will undoubtedly roll their eyes that Danny is the first on screen in this. Yet, Danny’s story was arguably more influenced by the Hand (with Matt Murdock’s a near second), so it makes sense to begin her. The action and atmosphere that open the hour are better than the majority of what was seen in Iron Fist, which bodes well for the character. It’s also serves as a bit of a tonic for the rest of the hour to come.
Most of the first episodes of each of these series tend to be filled with a lot of setup. Yet, it’s possible that the first hour of The Defenders might be the most exposition heavy of the entire enterprise. For good reason, to be sure, but also somewhat to its detriment.
The opening chapter is spent catching us up with where our characters are at following their most recent experiences. After revealing his secret to Karen Page, Matt has given up being Daredevil and devoted himself to a solo law practice. Private eye Jessica Jones has avoided taking cases and tries to steer clear of the media trying to capitalize on her battle with Kilgrave. Luke Cage was returned to Seagate prison, but he finds himself being freed and returns to Harlem. For what it is, it’s actually a solid setup for each, and the hour spends just enough amount of time with each in their respective scenes.
As with any pure work of exposition dump, though, it’s a rather slow hour, though. With only eight episodes to work with, it’s a bit curious to spend one focused solely on placing chess pieces on the board. By the same turn, it might be a brilliant stroke to get a lot of this out of the way now and let things rip going forward.
One thing that stands out about these various scenes is that each feels very much a part of each character’s series. The New York transitions between a few of the different scenes felt a bit much, but being able to retain the tone and touch of what made each series work while still feeling like part of a larger single piece was a nice success. In particular, the scene of Matt and Karen speaking in the diner was quite striking in its framing and angles meant to evoke Matt’s heightened senses. Contrasted with the sinewy, honey tones of Luke’s Harlem,
and Jessica’s dreary, blue-filtered noir world, it’s a lovely looking episode teeming with character, even when muted by the exposition.
In a wonderful move we’ve come to expect of the care these series tends to take with its villains, we’re introduced to Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, the seeming mastermind of the oncoming plot that will drive this team-up, in a rather vulnerable moment. She’s already aware of it, but a visit to a clinic confirms that she is mere weeks or months from death by an unknown ailment, likely a cancer of some kind. It’s a beautiful contrast for the kind of power we expect her to have, something they are able to express in the way she orders Madame Gao around. Humanzing these villains is what Marvel-Netflix does best, and while we still know very little of this person, we have a great understanding of her headspace and her reach. Elektra answering to her, confirming what we already knew when her identity was somewhat concealed in the fight with Danny, adds another voice to the chorus about Alexandra’s control.
Overall, the performances were good throughout. Weaver was the standout in that she was the new character and the others felt much like old friends we already know well. Her elegance and grace add a gravitas and presence without a word, but you’re also able to see that vulnerability beneath the strength that gives her “adversary,” as Weaver refers to her,
an actual heart.
The opening is capped by an earthquake rumbling through the city, portending things to come and showing the level of danger the Hand actually poses. So much is made of whether or not the Marvel-Netflix are actually part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or if it’s just lip service. Yet, one of the things I like about how things have played out is the Avengers are no longer camped in the city. They’ve moved to upstate New York and then have been fractured by the events of Captain America: Civil War, which perfectly leaves a threat like this open for a group like our Defenders to take wing against.
The first hour is a bit slow because of the setup involved in placing our characters where they are to be drawn together. And each feels exactly where they need to be, as people and in their roles to come. It’s a solid start and hopefully did a lot of the legwork to really open things up as we move forward.