With Marvel’s The Defenders, almost upon us, Matt Waters is here to catch everyone up on the four individual shows of the Netflix-verse that got us here, acting as a primer for newcomers and a refresher for those with fuzzy memories. Starting with Dardevil. Heavy spoilers, obviously
Not satisfied with the unstoppable juggernaut that is the MCU (and the middling success of their various ABC shows), Marvel decided to dip their toe into the world of streaming with a new wave of adult-oriented drama series, starting in 2015 with Daredevil after regaining the rights to the character from Fox in 2012.
Given the absolute disaster that was the 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck and Marvel’s only so-so foray into televised content, nobody really knew what to expect of the show.
Pitched by Drew Goddard, who wrote the first two episodes before bouncing to go help out with Sony’s failed Spider-Man extended universe (though he continues to serve as a consultant,) Daredevil more closely resembled a gritty network crime drama than a bombastic superhero movie, a decision that paid off in spades.
Steven DeKnight, who took the reigns of the show following Goddard’s departure (and who would later leave himself to go help out with Transformers for some rea$on) did a great job carrying on that vision throughout the season, and I sincerely believe you could have zero interest in comic books or the movies they spawn and still greatly enjoy these thirteen episodes of television.
But what the heck is it actually about? What do you need to know before watching Defenders? To answer these questions we first need to meet the cast, many of whom will be popping up in Defenders.
Matt Murdock aka Daredevil
Blind lawyer/martial arts badass.
As a young boy Matt pushed an old man out of the path of an oncoming truck full of toxic chemicals only to be blinded by said chemicals himself. Shortly thereafter Matt’s father, a washed up boxer, went back on his agreement to take a dive in a match and was murdered by the mob in retaliation. Alone, Matt was raised by nuns, instilling his strong Catholicism, and was visited by the mysterious Stick who taught him to ‘see’ by focusing his other senses, as well as teaching him to fight. As an adult Matt went to law school where he met Foggy Nelson and dated Elektra. After graduating he and Nelson interned at a big firm before setting up their own practice in Hell’s Kitchen, where Matt secretly fights crime every night as the masked vigilante ‘Daredevil.’
Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson
Matt’s wise-cracking best friend.
Meeting Matt at Columba Law School, Foggy quickly became fast friends with our protagonist. The duo graduated and secured internships at Landman & Zack, but Matt convinced Foggy to leave with him after the firm’s horrific treatment of a cancer patient, and the two set up their own practice, Nelson & Murdock. Foggy initially comes across as a slacker but is actually a fantastic lawyer and an all-round good dude who does what he can to help others. Dates Marci.
Nelson & Murdock client-turned-secretary
Waking up next to a dead body with a knife in her hand but adamant she had nothing to do with it, Karen is the first client of Nelson & Murdock and luckily is found innocent. Determined to get to the bottom of what happened to her, she launches her own secret investigation, while also finding time to serve as one of Matt’s romantic interests.
Perpetually exhausted nurse.
The glue that holds the four shows together, Claire makes her debut by patching Matt up when he is left for dead in a dumpster outside her building. Given the inhuman amount of abuse he takes in his side-career, Claire proves invaluable, offering her medical expertise, some wise council, and even some smooches.
Frank Castle aka The Punisher
War-hero turned vigilante gunslinger.
Not currently billed as appearing in Defenders but I’d be shocked if he didn’t make a cameo. A decorated war hero, Frank Castle’s family were killed in a gangland shootout, causing him to put his considerable talent for murder to use in a quest for revenge. He’s VERY okay with killing bad guys.
Trained in the ways of the deadly ninja by Stick only to be sent to live with a Greek ambassador, Elektra grew up incredibly wealthy and incredibly bored by the easy life that wealth provided. Meeting and falling for Matt, the two had a steamy affair based on thrill-seeking that went sour when she tried to get him to kill his father’s murderer. The devil on Matt’s shoulder.
Matt’s grizzled mentor.
The man known only as Stick is another blind martial arts master and a prominent member of The Chaste, dedicated to combatting The Hand. He is more than willing to kill to achieve his goals (even children), and rejects both of his favourite students when they begin to see him as a father figure. He knows a great deal more than he lets on and is kind of a dick, but will be a vital ally if The Defenders are going to take on The Hand.
Downtrodden journalist/Karen’s mentor
Arguably the nicest character in the whole show, Ben’s glory days of reporting important news are long gone. He itches to write something that matters again, working with Karen to uncover the truth behind the conspiracy that targeted her.
“Meat grinder in a pencil skirt”
Foggy’s ex who took his job at Landman & Zack, Marci is pretty ruthless but reveals a softer side when she and ‘Foggy Bear’ rekindle their casual relationship, and actually ends up providing crucial assistance in one of Nelson & Murdock’s cases. After her firm is ruined she takes a job at Hogarth, Chao & Benowitz, later recruiting Foggy as well.
Local priest and confidante.
A devout catholic, Matt frequently visits confessional, engaging in multiple debates with Lantom about sinning, forgiveness and whether or not it’s okay to do bad things to help people. The angel on Matt’s shoulder.
Tough, no-nonsense bartender.
Owner of Nelson & Murdock’s favourite bar, she is extremely lenient with the duo’s long-running tab, which Foggy finally pays off at the end of season two to fully signify the end of their firm. She’s a hardy woman who gives Marci a glass of straight vodka when she orders a vodka martini.
The Kingpin of Crime
As a boy Wilson Fisk brutally murdered his father and then hacked up and disposed of the body, which had long-term effect on his personality. As an adult he spent years carefully building a criminal empire, becoming impossibly rich and powerful with police, politicians and lawyers in his pocket. Does not enjoy it when things don’t go to plan.
Kingpin’s assistant/only friend.
Right hand man to Fisk, Wesley does most of the talking for his boss and does whatever he can to make sure things go smoothly. Unflappable, suave and a little bit sinister.
Kingpin’s art-dealing girlfriend.
Fisk meets Vanessa at her art gallery and immediately falls in love with her. While she initially seems sweet and innocent to juxtapose Fisk’s evil and violence, she reveals herself to be much more than meets the eye.
The money man in Fisk’s operation, Owlsley is in a permanent state of too old for this, seemingly willing to go along with whatever will make his life easiest. Attempts to betray Kingpin and pays for it.
Elderly Asian stereotype.
One of Kingpin’s generals, Gao represents the Triads and runs a heroin operation. Kingpin respects her far more than his other allies. Despite seeming like a frail old woman, Gao can more than handle herself and knows a great deal more than she lets on.
Middle-aged Asian stereotype
Nobu heads up the Yakuza in Hell’s Kitchen and is another of Fisk’s key allies. Kingpin fears Nobu, aware of his membership in The Hand. He and Fisk have an agreement in place based around land acquisition.
Anatoly & Vladimir Ranskahov
Russian gangster stereotypes.
Distributing the drugs Gao’s people cook up, the Russian brothers have greater ambitions and are by far the most disrespectful of Kingpin’s allies. They did serious time in an incredibly Russian prison and vowed to never go back.
Inept small-time arms dealer.
Busted by Daredevil early and often, Turk’s exploits are almost comical. He goes to prison at least once but keeps coming back and even winds up a hostage of The Hand at one point before heading off to be in Luke Cage.
Meeting The Kingpin
Matt Murdock is a lawyer by day and masked vigilante by night, with both careers bringing him into conflict with the untouchable crime lord, Wilson Fisk.
Fisk and his allies capitalise on the devastation New York suffered in The Avengers, buying large swathes of land as part of a massive redevelopment of Hell’s Kitchen. This is of course a front for their criminal enterprises.
Daredevil’s battle against the criminals of Hell’s Kitchen begins to hinder Kingpin’s operation, with the Russians the first to fall.
Matt’s old mentor, Stick, attempts to recruit him into a war against The Hand. Matt is skeptical, but reluctantly agrees to help Stick stop them using a weapon known only as Black Sky on the condition that nobody dies.
When it turns out Black Sky is in fact a young boy, Matt is horrified when Stick goes back on their promise and murders the child. The two fight and Matt emerges victorious, banishing Stick from New York.
Stick goes to communicate with another member of The Chaste, stating Matt will play a key role in the war against The Hand.
Darkest Before the Dawn
With Fisk on the defensive, he agrees to let Nobu handle Daredevil, resulting in Matt being led into a trap against a Hand ninja, revealed to be Nobu himself. Matt barely survives, accidentally killing Nobu in the process. He tries his hand at fighting Fisk for the first time but is beaten half to death.
Foggy discovers Matt’s secret and is furious with him, both for his lies over the years and for his vigilante actions. The two eventually reconcile.
Dismantling Fisk’s Empire
Bouncing back, Matt deals Fisk a major blow by destroying Gao’s heroin operation, while Foggy, Karen and Ben’s work to uncover the truth behind Fisk’s business dealings and dig up dirt on his past pay dividends.
Fisk’s allies turn on him, attempting to kill his love, Vanessa, believing she has distracted him. Wesley takes Karen hostage but is killed in a struggle, leaving Fisk with few people to turn to. Karen and Ben find Fisk’s mother in a nursing home and she reveals he murdered his father. When Fisk gets wind of the visit he kills Ben.
Eventually enough evidence is gathered for his arrest, but he of course breaks free quickly. Matt, having acquired a costume upgrade, emerges victorious in his rematch with Fisk, who is jailed as the first season draws to a close.
With Fisk in prison and his criminal empire ruined, various local gangs seek to fill the void, including the Kitchen Irish, the Dogs of Hell and the Cartel… until members of all three groups begin to be violently murdered by The Punisher, Frank Castle.
Matt is bested by Punisher in combat and taken hostage, with Castle levelling accusations that he doesn’t go far enough in his crusade against crime.
The Kitchen Irish manage to capture Frank and brutally torture him until Matt rescues him. Castle then shares a touching story about his daughter before agreeing to turn himself in for his crimes.
Elektra & The Trial of Frank Castle
Digging deeper into Frank’s past, Karen convinces Matt & Foggy to represent him in court, discovering the District Attorney was partially responsible for the death of Castle’s family and then covered it up.
Complicating matters, Matt’s ex, Elektra, returns to New York seeking his help. Matt reluctantly agrees when he discovers she is investigating The Hand, and his exploits with Elektra put a strain on his budding relationship with Karen and distract him from Frank’s trial.
Against all odds Foggy appears to have the trial won when Frank suddenly throws his own case and is sent to prison. Angry at Matt for his repeated absences, Foggy takes a job with Hogarth, Benowitz & Chao as a named partner. Karen pursues a career in journalism at the behest of Ben’s former editor.
Kingpin Returns & The Blacksmith
Castle’s actions are the result of Kingpin sending a message to him from prison and Fisk manipulates Frank into taking out one of his rivals with the promise of information on the death of his family. He then has Castle freed and sets him off in pursuit of a drug dealer known as The Blacksmith.
Karen continues to try and clear Frank’s name despite Kingpin-arranged assassination attempts, and winds up discovering The Blacksmith is in fact Castle’s old commanding officer. She begs Frank not to kill him but he doesn’t listen, choosing his life as The Punisher, and disappearing off into the night with a mysterious CD.
During their investigation, Matt finds a Hand facility housing dozens of kidnapped children, run by a very much alive Nobu. The kids are pumped full of a bunch of chemicals and connected to a huge urn.
Rescuing the kids and sending them to Claire’s hospital, things get weird as the kids get their zombie on and The Hand come and steal them back. Claire quits her job in disgust when the hospital board state their intention to cover the incident up.
The Final Battle
Stick returns and reveals Elektra has always worked for him and that she is in fact The Black Sky mentioned in season one and that he took her in to try and prevent her from fulfilling her destiny.
Matt encourages her to reject Stick and run away with him if they survive a final confrontation with Nobu and The Hand but she is killed protecting Matt. The Punisher returns to save Matt, while Stick beheads Nobu.
Matt and Stick mourn Elektra, with Matt seemingly rejecting Stick’s teachings and giving up his life as Daredevil. He reveals his secret to Karen, while The Hand exhume Elektra’s body and place it in a device that appears to bring her back to life.
Of course there are a tonne of little plot points and character developments, but in terms of relevence to The Defenders, that’s about it… Except for the fact The Hand dig an enormous hole in the ground for no discernible reason. Oh, and Gao knocks Daredevil down in one punch and then vanishes. Both of those things are cool.
Matt has stopped being Daredevil, Foggy works for another firm, Karen might be a journalist, Punisher is a fugitive, Kingpin is in prison and Elektra is dead… or is she? We’ll presumably find out some more concrete details about what exactly her being Black Sky actually means and if it has anything to do with the MASSIVE HOLE.
Let’s do this all again tomorrow with Jessica Jones, shall we?