Prior to watching The Defenders I only read one review, and that was over at The AV Club where they took stock of the first 4 episodes (the only 4 made available to reviewers pre-air) and concluded the series was ultimately let down by the plot’s overreliance on its weakest link: Danny. I mostly ignored their criticisms because anyone who watched Iron Fist knows that to enjoy The Defenders means having to mostly ignore Finn Jones’ troubled acting, and through the first four episodes that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, instead making due with cracking little jokes about him in these reviews.
However, The AV Club might have been right. Danny is starting to become a problem because, damn, the plot really does center around him. As Colleen tells him in “Take Shelter,” this is his fight. Luke and Jessica have been caught up in it, and Matt has a love interest to deprogram. But The Hand is the sworn enemy of the Iron Fist, and they keep coming for him. Alexandra hasn’t even used the names of the other Defenders yet. She keeps calling them “his allies.” It feels a bit like if they made a Justice League movie with the Christian Bale Batman, Gal Gadot Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill Superman and Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern, and then made the plot all about Sinestro or some other such Green Lantern business.
The sad thing is how perfectly planned this has all been. First through Daredevil and then Iron Fist we have been drip-fed more and more information about The Hand, perfectly setting them up as the overall big bad in this little universe. Neither Luke nor Jessica were ever going to have much skin in this particular game, but Matt and Danny segway into this perfectly. If only they’d cast a better actor to play Danny it all could have worked so beautifully. Instead, we are again reminded in “Take Shelter” that Colleen is far more capable of playing out convincing tete-a-tetes with villains than Danny ever will be. SPOILER WARNING In fact, “Take Shelter” benefited from pulling back on Danny’s screen time and giving more to Colleen, who is still working through post-cult trauma. She gets to act her heart out while Danny gets to be easily bested by Sowande and taken hostage (until Stick steps in).
Sigh. Dammit Danny. You had one job.
Of course, “Take Shelter” begins with the rumble with Elektra and Sowande, which is over before it really has a chance to begin, a slightly disappointing choice but also perhaps a practical one. After all, like I said last review sometimes these Netflix Marvel fight scenes can get a tad monotonous. So, “Take Shelter” boils the fight down to its bare essentials and pairs everyone off for some either purely cool moments (Madame Gao’s a total boss, Luke got hit by a truck!) or character-informed interactions (Matt trying to get through to Elektra).
Then the episode turns into, oddly, kind of a repeat of “Royal Dragon” except this time we see the villains and sidekicks having their own get-togethers. And this is where The Defenders has something over on The Avengers. Those films simply don’t have the time (or contractually-obligated movie appearances to burn) to include all of the heroes’ notable co-stars, which is why Jane Foster never showed up outside of Thor-branded movies and why Pepper Potts no-showed Age of Ultron AND Civil War. However, a TV show has the time to give us a scene as fun as all of the love interests and sidekicks gathered together in one room, Trish and Malcom looking over and wondering who Karen is, Misty speaking for the audience and asking Colleen why no one ever tells her anything.
Again, if you are someone who watches the CW DC Universe you’ve already seen this kind of thing multiple times now, and the same goes for the Legion of Doom-esque meeting of The Hand, who are suddenly turning on Alexandra and her ill-formed intention of molding Elektra into her new daughter. Moreover, if you are someone who hasn’t watched Iron Fist or Luke Cage or whatever then these meetings don’t mean as much to you. Colleen’s conversation with Claire was heartfelt and lovely, building upon the friendship and trust they established on Iron Fist. If you don’t know that, though, you get the gist of the scene but not the full impact. And Bakuto’s presence sure means nothing to you.
As such, “Take Shelter” might be The Defenders in full fan-service mode, and that’s okay. This entire series is basically one giant act of fan service. However, buried somewhere in there was vital information about The Hand, namely that they are now working on a Plan B and are as vulnerable as ever since Alexandra used the last of “the substance” to resurrect Elektra. A total waste of resources, from the looks of it, since we end the episode with Elektra in the fetal position on Matt’s bed, sensing (if not actually remembering) the emotional connection she once had there.
- What, the only two black dudes in the opening scene have to fight each other?
- Something you’re really not supposed to nitpick: they all went into the sewer and came out perfectly clean?
- There’s been far too much telling and not enough showing with Elektra’s powers so far. From what I’ve seen, she’s still basically just a fancy ninja with maybe an extra oomph to her punch now.
- That villain-uses-knowledge-to-divide-and-conquer moment I was expecting from Alexandra last episode was saved for Sowande in this episode.
- And Karen’s finally back.
- Bakuto’s still alive? So, how do you kill one of these bastard. Hopefully Sowande’s beheading sticks.
- When Trish reached out to Jess the moment she was about to be stabbed I half-expected her to suddenly have super powers of her own and toss the assassin across the room.
- So, The Hand is totally planning on cutting off Danny’s hand and literally taking the Iron Fist, right?
- Stick and Hand didn’t hear Sowande breaking free?
- Twas love that bested the mystical resurrection and amnesia.
- It sucks super hard to be Matt’s girlfriend. Or ex-girlfriend. Or friend. Or…well, his anything, really.
Sowande: “Do I understand? You are the dumbest Iron Fist yet.” Odd how people who know the most about the Iron Fist legend keep saying things like that to Danny.