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
- “Sweet Sister” – Is that one of Luke’s catchphrases? I know “Sweet Christmas” is.
- Cool dragon bones, Madame Gao.
- Can we just make Colleen the new Iron Fist?
- Karen and Trish, the inquisitive blonde journalists. Mildly surprised it took 8 episodes for these to finally talk shop.
- “It’s complicated” – Yeah, no shit, Karen.
- 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.
- Getting a Terminator 2 vibe from them setting up all the C4.
- “Let’s go Ironclad” – Danny will always be the younger brother the other Defenders won’t stop teasing.
- Of course The Defenders’ version of The Avengers hero shot on the New York bridge would take place in a dimly lit, underground cave.
- Has Murakami had any lines of dialogue these past 2 episodes?
- 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?
- That’s the special effect we’re going with for the imploding building? Really? Alright.
- Nope. Not crying at Karen and Foggy waiting for Matt to return.
- Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. It’s not like he’s really dead.
- And now I’m crying. Dammit. They just love him so much
- “Get some coffee”? Was that code for sex? I don’t remember. It’s been awhile since I watched Jessica Jones.
- 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.
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.