There might be slight spoilers for episodes 2-4 here.
How funny is it that I had to come back to the MCU to find fantastic female characters who are being treated well by their show? Given the MCU’s dismal reputation and track record with female characters, pretty d*mn funny, I can tell you that. The Defenders themselves may be 75% male, but they are surrounded by women in every shape, size, age and color*, who go about their business like the normal human beings that they are. Well, normal for a superhero comic book show.
Madame Gao, please never leave me. Please get a spin-off buddy comedy with Alexandra. With Black Sky as the disapproving young apprentice. I beg of you, Netflix, make it happen. You can market it as the next Grace and Frankie. But this one will be about how they never get old, and never try to do the right thing, and have never cared about ex-husbands or boyfriends.
Okay, okay, let’s talk about the show we already have.
We open with Danny Rand aka The Immortal Iron Fist (you can hear the capitals every time he says it) and Colleen Wing on vacation in the sewers of Cambodia. They’ve just about cornered a man they intend to question about their pesky K’un Lun/the Hand problem, when a whirling dervish of a woman in a black and red robe shows up and kills their source. I hate when that happens. Danny drives her away with the Iron Fist. As the man is dying, he tells them that what they are looking for in their battle against the Hand is back in NYC.
Cue opening credits, as broody as they are for all of the Marvel Netflix series, just in case there was any doubt about what the tone of the show would be. This isn’t Tony Stark’s section of NY, or even Peter Parker’s. This show is dark and gritty, with long slow camera movements, and a focus on character and cinematography. Even Danny, the most light-hearted of the four Defenders, has cut off his blonde curls to fit in with the rest of the gang.
Next we check in with Jessica Jones, and her foster sister Trish Walker. Jessica is still an alcoholic private detective with an insane amount of physical strength, and Trish is still a famous talk radio DJ. Jessica hasn’t worked much since the Kilgrave incident.
With a flip of the camera lens, we join Luke cage as he is being released from prison. He helpfully breaks his handcuffs off of his wrists with his superstrength before the prison guard can unlock them. Foggy Nelson, his lawyer and Daredevil’s former partner, meets him as he’s being released. Luke refuses his offer of help.
Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is dictating case notes and trying not to give into his adrenaline addiction. He’s given up the superhero business after the death of his partner, Elektra, but has a hard time ignoring the crime he can hear in the street. Even winning a multimillion dollar lawsuit for a disabled kid, as we see him do next, doesn’t help much.
He gives the disabled boy a realistic pseudo-pep talk after the trial. He tells the boy that he needs to take his life back and depend on himself, and not get too caught up in the “helpful” and unhelpful advice and opinions other people will thrust on him. So f*cking true. Everyone is an armchair quarterback, especially when the disabled person is a child. Unsolicited parenting advice x 100.
Next up for Matt is a run in with his former office assistant, Karen Page, who is now a reporter and wants a statement for her article. They agree to talk over lunch. Deborah Ann Woll will always be a baby vampire to me, and I’ll never get used to her not having red hair.
Colleen and Danny are flying home to NYC from Cambodia in Danny’s tricked out private jet. He has a dream about dead, butchered people of K’un Lun. A version of himself appears and accuses him of abandoning the people of K’un Lun, and leaving them to die. Colleen wakes him up, and it turns out that the plane is experiencing turbulence. Danny lost his parents and ended up stranded in K’un Lun 15+ years ago when the Hand and his father’s business partner sabotaged their plane. It went down during severe turbulence.
Danny’s insists he’s fine, but Colleen calls him on his frequent nightmares. They go over what happened in Cambodia again, and try to figure out what the Hand could want in NYC this time.
What’s going on is that Sigourney Weaver is being escorted into a changing room at her doctor’s office, prior to having some tests done. The test results show what she already knows: She’s dying. Her red blood cell count has dropped dramatically and all of her organs are failing.
Jessica Jones gets in a fight with her building’s elevator, then tries to turn down a new client. Her advertising method could use some work.
The potential client has a missing husband. Jessica dismisses it as a run of the mill adultery/abandonment case until she gets a phone call from a disguised voice telling her not to take the case. Silly, silly caller. Nothing will make Jessica interested faster.
The camera work makes sure we notice that zero repairs have been made to her apartment since it was heavily damaged during the whole Kilgrave debacle.
Luke arrives back in Harlem via bus. Claire Temple, the glue that holds the Netflix MCU together, is there to meet him. They decide it’s time to have their long-awaited coffee date.
It appears to be the hottest, most satisfying coffee date just about anyone has ever had. It’s so good, that Claire’s kitchen table ends up broken. In fact, remembering the “coffee dates” that Luke and Jessica used to have, makes me worry about Claire’s relatively fragile regular human body. Though, as they sit on the floor afterwards for pillow talk, she appears unscathed and pretty darn satisfied with her coffee experience.
Luke wants to get straight back into the business of being Harlem’s Hero, but Claire is worried that he’ll end up right back in jail. They are interrupted by Det. Misty Knight, who was apparently reading Luke’s mind. The two go for a walk.
Back to Matt and Karen, having their awkward lunch. Karen finally asks if Matt wishes he’d kept his secret a secret, and if he misses the vigilante life. He answers “no” to both questions. He is sorry that the truth drove some people away.
Karen denies being driven away. She just thinks they should figure themselves out for a while. I don’t think hearing relationship clichés is helping Matt to feel any better about things, but he’s a good sport.
She tells him that the police are keeping the city safe, but Daredevil did do some good for a while. Matt isn’t ready to talk much about Daredevil. Then they move on to the story Karen is working on.
Jessica Jones’ neighbor Malcom!! I love this greatest hits parade! He gives Jessica a reason to explain the research
on her new case that she’s done so far. The missing husband is a squeaky clean high-end architect. Malcom convinces Jessica to do a simple check of the number the phone call came from. It came from a pay phone by an abandoned building that heroin addicts use.
Misty walks Luke to a burned out car where a young man died recently. There has been a recent pattern of using young men as couriers, paying them in cash, and then they eventually turn up dead. This boy’s family is known to Luke, so Misty wants him to provide guidance and support for the one remaining son in the family.
Matt goes to confession for his sins of wanting to be a hero and a good person. The priest, who recognizes Matt’s voice, counsels Matt to work on getting over Elektra, the person he did his heroing with, and moving on.
Sigourney/Alexandra and Madame Gao sit on a bench in Central Park and feed the pigeons. Alexandra’s muses on the park and its history. Gao tells her that their project will be ready in a few months. Alexandra needs to move the timetable up, so that whatever it is happens before she dies. Gao hesitates, but agrees to inform the “others” of the change in plans.
Luke searches out Cole, the brother of the dead kid. Luke’s face acts as a free pass in Harlem. The boy isn’t easy to impress, though, or willing to work with Luke. Luke denies being a hero.
Jessica finds the room where her client’s husband has been hiding. It’s full of explosives.
Gao informs Alexandra that the arrangements she requested have been made. Gao asks Alexandra if she’s sure. She can still think it through.
Matt returns home just as an earthquake starts shaking NYC. Colleen and Danny step off of their private helicopter onto the roof of Danny’s building. Luke is in the street and saves someone from having a street lamp fall on them. Jessica is bewildered and alone with the explosives.
The woman who Danny fought in Cambodia appears on the rooftop with Alexandra. Alexandra assures her that it’s no big deal. She’ll get used to seeing cities fall.
When the earthquake ends, Matt hears the chaos in the streets, and stands in his apartment, listening, trying to decide whether or not to go back to being Daredevil. A bright rainbow of colored lights flashes in his living room windows.
It’s a running gag that Danny’s shirt will be hanging open (or totally off) to reveal the Immortal Iron Fist dragon mark on his chest as often as possible this season. I suggest a drinking game, or what ever your non-alcoholic replacement game of choice is.
Danny’s face when Black Sky slices across his dragon tattoo, then again when he sees the cut slicing his dragon in half in the mirror is hilariously pouty. He’s so proud of that tattoo, and now it’s ruined.
Alexandra has a fantastic wardrobe. She looks and carries herself like the queen that she is.
Was Misty waiting outside Claire’s door until it’d been a while since she heard any furniture crack, then she finally knocked?
This episode plays like 4 or 5 different, intercut episodes starring each superhero and Alexandra/the Hand. Each is made in the distinct style of that superhero’s show, so the transitions can get a little jarring. Each superhero’s sections are saturated with the color associated with that character: red for Daredevil, yellow for Luke Cage, green for The Immortal Iron Fist, and blue for Jessica Jones. And white for Alexandra.
Elements of the cinematography, such as the camera work, gradually come into closer alignment over the course of the episode. By the end, each character’s color is saturating the screen, but they all share the same background music and the sounds and camera shaking of the earthquake, as that is the unifying event that will eventually bring them together as a team.
IGN has put together a photo essay illustrating the use of color and light in The Defenders that goes into much more detail. It goes in the order of the episodes, but it covers the whole season, so beware of spoilers!
How Marvel’s The Defenders Uses Color to Define Its Characters
It’s a hard-working episode, since it needs to introduce viewers who are totally new to the universe to all 4 superheroes and the most prominent 2 or 3 supporting characters for each one, plus the new characters for this series. It also needs to catch viewers of the series up on what the characters have been doing since their respective seasons’ ended, while introducing the basic plot lines to newcomers, and introduce the new plot lines specifically for this season of The Defenders. Needless to say, that’s a lot to ask of one episode. We don’t get through all of it successfully, but it does pretty well.
*Except for “fat”. Let’s not go crazy with our expectations for female representation here. This is still America, after all. “Fat” is still the enemy. At least a significant number of these women appear to have BMIs above 18.
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