Well, that was a mess.

Many of these Netflix Marvel shows end on rushed and ultimately disappointing season finales, and The Defenders is sadly no different. Try as they might, the story they were telling just never truly came together in a fully satisfying way (let down both by poor scripting and directing), and we ultimately end the season grateful that our hereos can finally go back to being themselves on their own shows instead of The Defenders‘ oddly cheap imitations of them.

Perhaps the fault is in trying to assess The Defenders as an actual TV show instead of treating it like the glorified crossover ratings stunt it really is. After all, whenever Arrow, Flash and the others hold their annual crossover events those episodes aren’t judged quite as harshly as normal ones because we all kind of understand it to be a special event with a different set of criteria determining bad or good.

It’s tempting to give The Defenders that kind of pass, but, no, they spent good chunks of Daredevil and nearly the entirety of Iron Fist setting this up. This is no ordinary crossover; it’s the culmination of seasons of build-up. The payoff, then, should have been better. We didn’t sit through all of that crap about The Black Sky on Daredevil to see it play out in such lackluster fashion her. Nor should we be okay with the answers to some of our Hand questions turning out to be as lame as they just wanted to collect immortality juice (that’s their big evil plan) and only really set up in New York to monitor the Iron Fist. And surely there were better city-threatening plots to be thrown out there than earthquakes as side effect of The Hand’s underground “substance” retrieval efforts.

The true failure of this show is apparent near the end of the finale when Luke, Danny, Colleen, Claire and Jessica look at the Midland building with sad, in some cases tear-filled eyes. It’s meant to be a monumental moment because here is Matt Murdock, the guy who started this whole universe, apparently dying while trying to save the woman he loves. We, of course, know he’s fine (well, maybe not “fine” what with the bruises and injuries, but definitely alive) because we already know there’s going to be a third season of Daredevil. However, they don’t know that, and while the scene is played for tragedy it comes off a tad awkward, with people crying over someone they barely knew (well, Claire knew him) and Jessica clearly struggling with knowing where exactly to stand. Plus, it doesn’t help that their special effects really let them down, dropping a New York skyscraper with all the believability of a SyFy Original Movie.

In retrospect, killing off Alexandra was a mistake. She wasn’t as compelling as she should have been, and her physical limitations proved especially problematic as the conflict started calling for less talking and more kung fu fighting. However, because of the Sigourney Weaver of it all she always commanded attention and carried a genuine screen presence with her. Moreover, we at least understood her. She was dying. The substance was the only cure, and she believed Elektra was the only way to get that cure (even though they used the last of the cure on her because, well, I don’t really know why). Other than Madame Gao, Hand figureheads and top lieutenants tend to be bland nobodies with ill-defined goals and regrettable tendencies toward cliche. Alexandra was not that, at least not completely.

Once Elektra took over, though, man did The Hand retreat into boring villainy, with Bakuto and his bear-hunting buddy reduced to glorified henchman while Madame Gao went back to doing her thing. And Elektra….well, I’m still not clear if she pulled a Harold Meachum and came back slightly wrong, or if that was the same woman from Daredevil: Season 2 but newly traumatized from her bout with death. Or if it was a combination of the two. The result is that we reach our final battle carried more by vague proclamations than clear-cut articulations of what the villains want (beyond self-preservation). For example, did Bakuto have some special plans for Colleen, or was his constant chatter simple about re-recruiting her to The Hand to be a normal foot soldier again? 

And, I’m sorry, Jessica and Luke still don’t look they have any place at a fight of kung fu masters. That’s just not really their world.

The Defenders, ultimately, is something which should be very familiar to comic book readers. It’s like a team-up book written by someone with a passing knowledge about all of the characters but only a real passion for some of them. As a result, while the adventure the characters are sent on together has its moments it can’t help but feel slightly off, as if that’s not quite the real version of such and such hero you know from his solo book. You don’t really mind because, hey, it’s kind of fun to see your favorite characters team-up. But you recognize that this is not them at their best, far from it, in fact. For that you wait for their solo books.

THE NOTES I WROTE WHILE WATCHING THE EPISODE

defenders-cast-finale.png

  1. “Sweet Sister” – Is that one of Luke’s catchphrases? I know “Sweet Christmas” is.
  2. Cool dragon bones, Madame Gao.
  3. Can we just make Colleen the new Iron Fist?
  4. Karen and Trish, the inquisitive blonde journalists. Mildly surprised it took 8 episodes for these to finally talk shop.
  5. “It’s complicated” – Yeah, no shit, Karen.
  6. At this point, it almost feels like Danny isn’t even really a part of The Defenders. He’s just someone they have to save over and over again.
  7. Getting a Terminator 2 vibe from them setting up all the C4.
  8. “Let’s go Ironclad” – Danny will always be the younger brother the other Defenders won’t stop teasing.
  9. Of course The Defenders’ version of The Avengers hero shot on the New York bridge would take place in a dimly lit, underground cave.
  10. Has Murakami had any lines of dialogue these past 2 episodes?
  11. Misty lost an arm. It’s almost like that’s a big part of what happens to her in the comics or something. Is a Misty and Colleen Detective Agency in her future?
  12. That’s the special effect we’re going with for the imploding building? Really? Alright.
  13. Nope. Not crying at Karen and Foggy waiting for Matt to return.
  14. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. It’s not like he’s really dead.
  15. And now I’m crying. Dammit. They just love him so much
  16. “Get some coffee”? Was that code for sex? I don’t remember. It’s been awhile since I watched Jessica Jones.
  17. You knew Matt wasn’t really dead, but dying in Elektra’s arms as a building literally crashes on top of them would have been a poetic way for him to go.

FAVORITE LINE

Didn’t have one.

And that’s it. You can read any my prior Defenders reviews here, and keep an eye out for a full review of the season soon. For now, though, I need to take a mental break from The Defenders and re-watch some Daredevil to remind me what’s good about these Netflix Marvel shows.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

37 Comments

  1. It’s a code for sex in Luke Cage, but Jessica doesn’t know that…hence Luke’s amused reaction.

    The hand was always the weakest villain in the whole MCU (I have been saying this since Daredevil) and ironically only Iron Fist made it work somewhat. But I think the main problem here is that the scrip writers didn’t really understand why the audience likes team ups like this. They seemed to think we want to see fights, so they throw in fights which are often pretty boring because there are next to no emotional stakes. But what we actually want to see is as many characters as possible interact with each other, creating either a rapport or animosity. Instead we barely get interaction between Jessica and Danny or Luke and Matt, we barely get interaction between the side characters despite most of them being in the same space for multiple episodes, and we get next to no interaction between the defenders and the side characters of the other defenders (with the notable exception of Colleen and some Jessica and Misty scenes). I don’t know…the show just had a knack to linger on stuff which bored me (especially Stick…Stick was terrible this season and he is still doing as much talking without saying anything as ever) and skipping over stuff I actually wanted to see.

    Reply

    1. Yep. Spot on.

      Reply

    2. Sonofa…dammit. Of course. I remember that now. That was the code Luke and Claire kept using toward the end of Luke Cage.

      “But I think the main problem here is that the scrip writers didn’t really understand why the audience likes team ups like this. They seemed to think we want to see fights, so they throw in fights which are often pretty boring because there are next to no emotional stakes. But what we actually want to see is as many characters as possible interact with each other, creating either a rapport or animosity. Instead we barely get interaction between Jessica and Danny or Luke and Matt, we barely get interaction between the side characters despite most of them being in the same space for multiple episodes, and we get next to no interaction between the defenders and the side characters of the other defenders (with the notable exception of Colleen and some Jessica and Misty scenes). ”

      Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Reply

  2. I’m leaving comments as I think of them while reading through your final review.

    I agree, this was a mess. My son and I really enjoyed it but it was also so disappointing compared to what it could and should have been.

    First off, this big “plan” of the Hand was simply removing enough “substance” that the land above would collapse??? That’s pretty lame.

    Second, are we to understand that somehow the Elders placed a magical wall barrier surrounding that whole cavern? Above, below, and around all sides??? And then they were foolish enough to make it enterable by someone holding the iron fist even without any knowledge of what he was doing? No incantation? No, combination? Just hulk smash with glowing fist??? lame.

    And the Hand’s whole objective over the past, what, centuries was to find and get into this cavern simply so they could harvest more stuff to allow immortality??? And somehow THAT created fanatical loyalty from who knows how many hundreds or thousands of minions???

    AND, they established that each time you come back from the dead you’re a little bit less human? Yet the FIVE seemed perfectly fine after probably dozens of resurrections? lame, lame, lame.

    More coming.

    Reply

    1. Marco Ramirez told EW that when they revealed the giant hole in Daredevil season 2 they had no idea what they were going to do with it. They just liked the twist of instead of the villains building straight up they were digging straight down. What for? Figure that out later.

      Lots of TV shows operate that way. Less so than maybe used to, especially since networks now often require prospective showrunners to create show bibles laying everything out and mapping out a multi-season plan before getting a pilot. So, digging a hole and having no story to fill it with isn’t necessarily a damning strategy, but it does help explain why so little of The Defenders truly adds up.

      To put it another way, they were making this shit up as they went along, and it shows.

      “They established that each time you come back from the dead you’re a little bit less human? Yet the FIVE seemed perfectly fine after probably dozens of resurrections?”

      Got me. Just as confused as you on that one. All I can say there is that the “they come back wrong” establishment came from Iron Fist in the form of Harold Meachum, Danny’s traiterous father figure. So, that didn’t happen on Ramirez’s watch since he had nothing to do with Iron Fist. Maybe that’s why The Defenders doesn’t really honor it (at least doesn’t do so definitively). It might also be that Harold only went south because he wasn’t worthy of/compatible with the substance, unlike Elektra. I don’t know.

      Reply

      1. I think we had a bit of that “resurrect wrong” thing in the guy Matt killed with fire.

      2. To be fair, we don’t know how often they came back. Iron Fist also established that the stuff they take is stopping the aging so for all we know they look exactly how they looked when they left. We know that Alexandra died at least once and Bakuto was killed once by Colleen, but for all we know the others might have simply continued to exist as they are (except maybe Japanese guy who kept nearly dying during his hunts for shits and giggles). A better question would be why bullets barely due something to Bakuto (honestly, have they additional endurance, too?) and why Alexandra’s body is failing after all those centuries (while Madam Gao still seems fine despite her age).

  3. I think the story would have been so much better if…

    * Each team member brought their unique skills to the adventure and it was only that combination that allowed them to prevail. And part of their struggle should have been how to embrace and appreciate their differences. The whole story was little more than brute force the whole way.

    * The Hand needed a much more sinister plan and a much better reason for pursuing it.

    * After such an incredible build up of the immense power of The Black Sky, they should have actually made the Black Sky something immensely powerful. Electra didn’t seem to have any greater strength, fighting ability, or power than she did before being brought back. And their explanation for that? It was never a real prophecy — just something Alexandra dreamed up. How disappointing.

    * I loved when we first saw Gao interact with Alexandra. It was the first time we saw Gao in a subordinate role and she actually looked rather nervous about what Alexandra might do. My son and I thought, “Wow! She must be extremely powerful to have Gao so nervous.” And when Alexandra was so dismissive of Gao as to give her the seeds and order her to finish feeding the birds, it made us believe Gao was practically a servant to this all powerful leader. But then we discover she was really nothing more than first among equals??? So, disappointing.

    * Finally, we should have seen every one of the Defenders grow in a meaningful way as a result of having worked together. But we got practically none of that. And they should have really bonded but really they just went from wanting nothing to do with each other to basically tolerating each other. And maybe a bit of begrudging respect.

    Reply

    1. “After such an incredible build up of the immense power of The Black Sky, they should have actually made the Black Sky something immensely powerful. Electra didn’t seem to have any greater strength, fighting ability, or power than she did before being brought back. And their explanation for that? It was never a real prophecy — just something Alexandra dreamed up. How disappointing.”

      By my reading, Black Sky turned out to just be the passion project of a very old woman who wanted another daughter. That’s it. Any talk of her power was just hot air because Elektra 2.0 turned out to simply be an even more kickass fighter with fewer moral restrictions. That’s it.

      “I loved when we first saw Gao interact with Alexandra. It was the first time we saw Gao in a subordinate role and she actually looked rather nervous about what Alexandra might do. My son and I thought, “Wow! She must be extremely powerful to have Gao so nervous.” And when Alexandra was so dismissive of Gao as to give her the seeds and order her to finish feeding the birds, it made us believe Gao was practically a servant to this all powerful leader. But then we discover she was really nothing more than first among equals”

      Agreed. That’s why I said something along the lines of “Madame Gao went back to doing her thing” in my review. It’s because after that initial promise of a new look for her, of building up the new villain by making the old villain subordinate to her, we ended the season with Gao back to doing what she always does. Sigh.

      “Finally, we should have seen every one of the Defenders grow in a meaningful way as a result of having worked together. ”

      They definitely tried to do that. This little side adventure pushed Jessica into reopening Alias Investigations, allowed Danny to feel protective of and at home in New York, re-iterated Matt’s dual identity crisis and re-stated his season 2 realization that he loved being Daredevil and didn’t want to stoop and … honestly, I have no idea what Luke’s supposed to have learned from all of this, other than there are other neighborhoods to protect than just Harlem.

      Of course, I said “they tried.” I didn’t say they did a good job of it.

      Reply

  4. The whole premise of The Iron Fist was ill conceived.

    First, we’re told his role is to guard the gates of K’un Lun. Yet Danny NEVER showed any ability to withstand any kind of force that might try to enter the city. Had Danny been there when the city was attacked, what could he really have done that the other monks couldn’t also do?

    Then we discover that Danny can only keep the Iron Fist going for a couple of minutes. Then it uses up his Chi. Well what good is that for guarding the city gates. All the Hand (or whomever) would need to do is send a first wave to get the Iron Fist to use up his Chi and then send in the A team.

    We’re shown a video of an Iron Fist that make both hands glow and he’s able to sustain it long enough to take out a huge army. And in all of Danny’s training, he never knew that was possible? Or the goal? At minimum, the Elders should have explained that Danny was still only an Apprentice Iron Fist. Not immortal and not ready to take on any significant foe. Danny’s lame excuse that he still had a lot to learn was woefully inadequate. In any realistic story, the Elders would have taught all the students what the end goal was and made sure they knew that just being able to make one hand glow was NOTHING to brag about.

    And what did the glowy fist ever really do for Danny. Certainly not make him immortal. It really just a combination of Hulk Smash and Captain America’s shield. The rest of Danny and his lame fighting skills were quite mortal.

    Next we’re told The Iron Fist is the sworn enemy of The Hand, yet he’s never supposed to leave the city to actually fight them? And in the end, it was actually his efforts to fight them that gave The Hand exactly what they wanted? Good grief.

    We’re told the training to become Iron Fist is intense and yet Danny never showed any real control over it. Never mastered meditation. And really never appeared to be even half the fighter Matt was.

    Reply

    1. It’s almost as if the people making Iron Fist AND The Defenders never could figure out what to do with the character.

      I’ll say this – we’ve had 21 episodes with this guy now, and he’s still NOT really Iron Fist yet. The training wheels are still clearly on. That…that seems like a problem.

      Reply

      1. Yep. (sigh)

  5. What was the deal with Matt staying behind. He said it was to turn Electra. Yet it was clear neither of them would be able to get out in time. So the logical conclusion is that he stayed to keep her from escaping and causing more havoc. Yet their fight really did seem like he was trying to reach her. And it felt more like foreplay than any real battle. It just seemed like a weak plot device. Either he thought he could “save” her and thus had a chance of getting them both out of there or he knew she was a lost cause and just needed to keep her from escaping.

    Either one of those scenarios would have been powerful if they’d embraced it. But they wiffed it by making it a bit of both.

    Reply

    1. Here’s Marco Ramirez’s explanation:

      To me, Matt and Elektra always felt like Edward Norton’s character and Tyler Durden in Fight Club except with a more overt sexual dynamic. [Laughs] And so, in the end, it felt more like the end of Fight Club… Emotionally, Matt knows and has to embrace the fact that she’s his burden to deal with, and though he’s fought for three episodes alongside Luke, Jessica, and Danny, Elektra is his problem, his cross to bear. That’s very Matt Murdock to say “Don’t worry about it, I’ll do this. I’m going to die for this.”

      Reply

  6. –> “In retrospect, killing off Alexandra was a mistake.”

    You’re probably right but my son and I loved it when she got stabbed in the back in the middle of her “I’m a god” speech. I half expected Electra to say, “Puny god!”.

    I also tried to envision how that worked. We have three Fingers staring right at Alexandra. There are no furnishings or walls or pillars for Electra to hide behind, yet somehow she walks out of the room and sneaks back in with no one seeing her. I imagined have another take where the camera is panned out and we see Electra crawling back in the room with her finger over her lips as she warns the other Fingers to not give her away — and the Fingers clearly seeing her and trying to look like they do. It was a very comical image.

    Reply

    1. “You’re probably right but my son and I loved it when she got stabbed in the back in the middle of her “I’m a god” speech.”

      Oh, it’s a great moment, one of the most memorable in the entire season. But it created a void they couldn’t fill, especially since they lost the plot a bit with Elektra.

      “we see Electra crawling back in the room with her finger over her lips as she warns the other Fingers to not give her away — and the Fingers clearly seeing her and trying to look like they do. It was a very comical image.”

      That does sound like something out of a How It Should Have Ended cartoon parody video. Definitely a funny mental image.

      Reply

  7. Any idea why only Gao and Alexandra seemed to have the Jedi power?

    Reply

    1. Because they were the best at harnessing their chi or anima or whatever? I don’t know. It’s more likely because from a practical stunt coordination standpoint the other members were easier to plan around whereas those two needed a little extra oomph to be believable as fighters.

      Reply

  8. –> “For example, did Bakuto have some special plans for Colleen, or was his constant chatter simple about re-recruiting her to The Hand to be a normal foot soldier again? ”

    Yeah, that was weird. I came to the conclusion he had a crush on her and wanted her to join him in immortality as his lover. But, if I can’t have you no one can!

    Reply

    1. “I came to the conclusion he had a crush on her and wanted her to join him in immortality as his lover. But, if I can’t have you no one can!”

      Makes more sense than any explanation the show offered.

      I’m sure that at some point in the writer’s room this relationship was meant to be set up by Colleen’s speech about her feeling lost without The Hand, and that she needed to take back the power in her life and defeat her former mentor/cult recruiter. So, Bakuto repeatedly making references to his plans for her speaks to her need to cast off those who would try to make her decisions for her.

      Then somewhere along the way all of that rapidly fell away and became, at best, subtext for those given to charitable readings of the episodes.

      Reply

  9. –> “Once Elektra took over, though, man did The Hand retreat into boring villainy, with Bakuto and his bear-hunting buddy reduced to glorified henchman”

    Absolutely right. In fact, they weren’t even very competent henchmen. The ones Matt fought in DD Season 2 were more of a challenge than these two.

    Reply

    1. It is sad to think that this evil organization built up over so many seasons of TV was reduced to bland cannon fodder once we finally met all of their leaders.

      Reply

  10. I am still really, really bothered by the inconsistent portrayal of Luke’s power.

    In a full on fight between the two, Danny was unable to move Luke a single inch. It was like he was punching a massive wall made of adamantium-vibranium. Even with a fully powered Iron Fist to the face, Luke’s body doesn’t move. Just a cool face wave special effect.

    But then later we see Luke fighting regular fighters from The Hand and they’re knocking him all over the place with nothing but mortal punches and kicks.

    We see Luke effortlessly bending gun barrels and breaking hand cuffs like they were made of paper yet grunting and struggling to lift or bend things that would not have been more challenging than those.

    And of course we see him full on hitting people in their faces and chests without creating massive craters in said heads and chests.

    Reply

    1. “And of course we see him full on hitting people in their faces and chests without creating massive craters in said heads and chests.”

      I think they tried to cover that with Stick’s line to him about pulling his punches, implying Stick’s the only one who noticed Luke was holding back so he wouldn’t seriously hurt or kill anyone.

      You could say the same thing about Jessica, though. She’s supposed to be nearly as strong as him, and other than her knockout punch on Danny we didn’t see much sign of that in the combat scenes.

      Reply

      1. Yeah, Stick’s line was a lame attempt at explaining it but it was at least an attempt. The thing is, if that’s what they wanted to portray, then he should not have looked like he was trying so hard when he hit people. In fact, he would be a bit more like The Tick in Amazon’s 2017 pilot.

        Good point about Jessica.

      2. That also doesn’t explain how the minions could hit Luke and he’d get knocked back while Danny couldn’t budge him an inch, even when his fist was glowing.

  11. I never really did understand the significance of blowing up the building. There was no one in it. How was that the key to stopping a world-wide organization? If it was just to kill the Fingers, it seems there were better ways to do that. In fact, they DID kill two of them before blowing it up. Might have been smarter to bring the C4 down to the bottom of the hole and detonate it there — though I guess that could have set off a massive earthquake. I think they gave us the impression that the digging caused that first one.

    You know who the Defenders REALLY needed? The Punisher. He could have said, “Never bring a sword to a gun fight.” and then mowed down all the remaining members of the Hand.

    Reply

    1. “You know who the Defenders REALLY needed? The Punisher. He could have said, “Never bring a sword to a gun fight.” and then mowed down all the remaining members of the Hand.”

      And then we would have had a Luke vs. Punisher fight on our hands because you just know that would be inevitable. Luke was consistently presented as the Defender most opposed to violence or murder. He wouldn’t know what to do with The Punisher.

      Reply

      1. Actually, I’d have been okay with that.

  12. BTW, what exactly was the reason for the Hand’s obsession with Iron Fist? Up until the middle of The Defenders, they didn’t even know there WAS an impenetrable wall keeping them from the “substance”.

    And then there was no reason to believe — or at least to be so sure — that Danny was the KEY to opening that wall. Elektra couldn’t read the writing. Neither could Danny. They never showed the audience that the HAND could read it, either. And for that matter, wouldn’t it have been rather foolish of the Elders to actually write the “combination” on the wall?

    Reply

    1. I don’t know that The Hand’s obsession with Iron Fist was any more thought out than simply that they ultimately wanted to get back to K’un-Lun and saw him as either their key or obstance to getting there.

      Reply

  13. Bear guy clearly understood perfect English. What was his reasoning for only speaking in Japanese?

    Reply

    1. I wondered that, too. There are some people who can understand a language but struggle to speak it, but in this case I’m sure it was more that they wanted to remind us that The Hand leaders are supposed to have gathered from all over the world. So, if there’s 5 of them at least one should be speaking another language the entire time. Then they realized that would be a pain in the ass and just figured “what if he can understand them, they can understand him, and then we get to keep our dude speaking in Japanese.”

      Reply

      1. That’s a reasonable conclusion. Still rather lame on the writers’ part. There are plenty of ways they could have established the core culture and language of each of the Fingers without one sided subtitles.

  14. –> “31. “Get some coffee”? Was that code for sex? I don’t remember. It’s been awhile since I watched Jessica Jones.”

    Yes. But I don’t recall if it was code used with Jessica. Misty and Luke certainly used that term to refer to sex.

    Reply

  15. So, the “substance” was dragon bones, yes? And apparently, the dragon bones were what was holding up the “caves”. And the destruction of New York was going to be due to removing the bones and leaving no support?

    There are two pretty major problems with that.

    1) New York was a pretty major source of income to The Hand, so it would have been quite reasonable and easily doable to simply replace the bones with man-made supports.

    2) and this is actually the more significant one — apparently the entire cavern was surrounded by an impenetrable wall. The lack of cavern supports should have meant nothing — unless we’re to believe that the entire protection disappeared when Danny opened the wall with his glowy fist. But that would be a rather stupid design by the Elders. Wouldn’t it?

    Reply

    1. “So, the “substance” was dragon bones, yes? And apparently, the dragon bones were what was holding up the “caves”. And the destruction of New York was going to be due to removing the bones and leaving no support”

      Correct on both points.

      “But that would be a rather stupid design by the Elders. Wouldn’t it?”

      Oh, the whole thing’s deepy stupid.

      Reply

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