Season 1 of The Defenders is to the Netflix Marvel universe what The Avengers was to the MCU. Five television seasons featuring four main characters were all used to build to this team-up season. That may seem like an unreasonable time commitment to some, but not to the people with no lives who write for this website. Heavy spoilers, obviously.
1. Was The Defenders series a creative success overall?
Mike: I would say so despite it not being the blow-away homerun that The Avengers was for the MCU. Much like The Avengers, the main villain’s goals were appropriately grand but not particularly interesting for the lack of subtlety (NEW YORK IS GOING TO FALL~!). The real fun came from watching all the heroes and their pals interacting with each other. Some of the dialogue was a little clunky and some of the scenes felt a tad melodramatic and repetitive, but it was *just* fun and unique enough overall.
Matt: While it started off a little slowly given how long it’s taken to get here, I ultimately enjoyed the show a great deal. I wouldn’t say it’s the best of the 6 seasons of original Marvel content on Netflix but they did a good job of making it feel bigger and more important, establishing a visual style that looked flashier and movie-like than any of the four individual shows that led to it. It wasn’t just Daredevil borrowing some characters, it was its own animal that had cool fight scenes, fun quips and a touch of drama, though obviously they leaned more heavily into the high stakes than subtle pathos. The first meetings of the characters were joyous, and seeing them work as a unit even more so.
Ben: If we’re asking ‘was it fun to see these four characters interact after five seasons of television?’ Yes, yes it was. If we’re asking ‘did this feel like a satisfactory conclusion to all of these shows?’ God no. Defenders has the misfortune of being the follow up to the boring part of Daredevil season 2 and the entirety of the boring Iron Fist, so it was going to take a lot of work to get the plot stuff to be interesting, and it never really is. It’s held back by being on the wrong side of vague and some unclear editing choices, especially in the early episodes (if someone can explain what happened in that scene where Matt is tailing Jessica, I am all ears.) But as I said, when the show is just the four leads bouncing off each other, it can be very good, especially in that stretch from episodes 4-6 when they have Scott Glenn to bounce off as well.
2. Unlike the other Marvel Netflix shows which have all been (and seemingly will be) 13 episodes, The Defenders only had to fill 8 episodes. Given the complaints about the lengths of the other series, this seemed like a logical decisions despite essentially having four lead characters.
So, did the shorter length end up being a good creative decision?
Mike: Eight episodes was absolutely preferable to the standard thirteen episode length. That being said, it still felt like the pace could have picked up considerably and that show could have been accomplished more effectively in fewer episodes.
Matt: Yes and no. Four of the five build-up seasons felt markedly too long to me (Daredevil season one still reigns supreme) so it was a relief to finally break that cycle of the magical number thirteen that I understand has something to do with filming in New York. However it felt like they backloaded a lot of the drama, with the team not even occupying the same room until the end of episode three and the side characters not having enough to do, so I would prefer they split the difference with ten episodes for all their shows, but I’m aware there are business reasons not to do that.
Ben: It would have been if the show didn’t spend two episodes with the cast mostly separated, so by the end I kind of wished we’d had the opportunity to spend more time with the cast all together. This might be the first Marvel show I wished was longer, but only because the less interesting stuff happens early on rather than in the episode nine/ten range like every other one of the Marvel Netflix shows.
3. Iron Fist was the only Marvel/Netflix series to be roundly dismissed by critics, and the show/character has largely been a punchline for a lot of Marvel fans. Matt watched the show. Mike did not watch the show. Ben reluctantly forced himself through the show last week.
What did you think of how the character was presented here and how can they frame the character to be more successful with fans and critics in the future?
Mike: Honestly, there were points late in the show that felt like they may legitimately kill off Danny Rand, and I was perfectly fine with the idea of that. Finn Jones did perfectly well in a small supporting role on Game of Thrones, but he seems completely out of his element in such a prominent role right now.
He does play one beat very well though and that is the oblivious optimist who is wholly unprepared for the challenges ahead and the plight of others. That is not the stuff of a main character of a show, but it does make for a fine comedic relief character on a team. I guess that means I don’t really see how he can portrayed better on his own show.
Matt: As the world’s only Iron Fist fan, this question isn’t so much aimed at me but I’ll tackle it anyway. (People’s misconceptions about) Danny’s character needed some rehabilitation and they addressed that in two ways: firstly they had Luke Cage verbally bitch slap him for being a privileged white boy with a martyr complex, an accusation that Danny actually took on board, changing his behaviour. Secondly, by placing him on a team they unlocked a far more charming side of his personality, namely the wide-eyed optimistic kid amidst super-serious adults. Danny getting a kick out of the abilities of his teammates was charming, so I’m doubly certain they should just do away with the second seasons of Luke Cage and Iron Fist and go ahead and do Heroes For Hire instead.
However as they’ve already confirmed second seasons I think they should be less cowardly about what Iron Fist is and lean heavily into the mysticism. By trying to ground him to fit the tone of the other three they bogged themselves down with corporate takeover nonsense and Danny wound up taking a character hit. Drop that. Make a fun martial arts caper with an upbeat rich kid who doesn’t care about money. Give him a team. Take the subplot of him realising there are alternatives to what he was raised to be believe further. Etc.
Ben: He was presented better in Defenders than he was in the entirety of Iron Fist, but some of that comes down to the dressing down he gets from Luke. But it was a terrible decision to make the Iron Fist into the McGuffin that The Hand needed to get their other McGuffin. You know what the white saviour character doesn’t need? An arc highlighting how he’s the ‘important’ one of the four Defenders. Sadly I’m not sure there’s any way to improve Danny. His character is still fundamentally ‘that guy that went off to Asia for a few months and thinks he now knows everything about that culture’. Making it worse are the show’s hesitance to show K’un-Lun and the only characters in any position to call him out on his BS in season 2 being either his love interest or the future villain. The flaws are very deep in this interpretation of the character.
4. The show had three other main characters. Which of them were served best by this show and had the most compelling journeys?
Mike: I guess this really comes down to Daredevil and Jessica Jones, because Luke Cage’s journey did not really have much of an arc. Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones both started in a place in denial about how they could use their abilities to help people as superheroes and both ended in a place where they decided that this was the life they wanted. Unsurprisingly, a lot more focus was placed on Daredevil and he had a more substantive scenes to place (and with a far wider cast of supporting characters to interact with). Matt is clearly the Tony Stark of Netflix Marvel and will always get the most stuff to do in these team-ups until they realize Jessica is their Steve Rodgers.
Matt: Daredevil, obviously. Luke and Jessica felt like bystanders throughout the series, with a little lip service paid to what they’re about in the first three episodes, but as soon as the team was assembled they were left to the ‘say what?’ role while Matt, Danny and Stick got down to business. That’s not the say Matt’s journey only wins by default though; By starting the season with him having given up his alter-ego and clearly struggling with that, only to have him slip after the earthquake and then get dragged kicking and screaming back into full relapse, Matt was forced to admit he somewhat enjoys punching people in the middle of the night, despite what he tells himself and others, and that more importantly he is incapable of standing by while his city is in pain. Matt’s death at the end of the season would have been a poignant end for his tale, but obviously Daredevil is the moneymaker, so instead we get to meet his mother in season three.
Ben: Jessica Jones. Luke had already learned he needs to be the hero occasionally in his own show, and was sadly lumped with having to just act confused about all the ninja stuff. Matt spent half the season withholding information the audience already knew if they’d seen his show, and more Elektra brooding was not exactly what the audience is clamouring for when it comes to Matt Murdock (GIVE ME FISK OR GIVE ME DEATH!) Jessica got an actual arc where she manages to start to overcome the trauma of her confrontation with Kilgrave and realise that she might actually be a hero. And the shot of the Alias Investigations window at the end, feels like a statement of intent for Jessica Jones season 2, which I am all in on.
5. The Defenders ended up being the last stand of Scott Glenn’s Stick who appeared in the first two seasons of Daredevil. What did you think of his character overall and do you think he had a fitting end?
Mike: First off, between his work here and on The Leftovers, it’s clear that Scott Glenn is still ready to go all in on whatever he’s doing. People should be lining up to get him in their projects and whatnot.
Now for the actual question, Stick was a great part of the Daredevil corner of Marvel Netflix. He served as a poetic “this could be you” warning for Matt while also having perfectly legitimate reasons (as proven in The Defenders) for always thinking about the bigger picture and not getting bogged down in the “lesser” fights that Matt is always most concerned about.
His death here felt wholly earned as it not only gave the show some weight (it’s a war after all, and soldiers die in war), but there is also some tragedy in the fact that the only dude on the “good” side who has been warning everyone about this war forever was the first major character to go down fighting.
Matt: While his voice always bothered me, Stick was a fantastic character. In a perfect world he would have showed up in Iron Fist to fill in some gaps with his character and The Chaste generally, but Scott Glenn was busy so what can you do? Everything he did here was great, from nonchalantly cutting off his own hand to talking down to four people who could kick his ass, to the final twist that he was going to murder Danny, perfectly fitting with his character from Daredevil. I’m pleasantly surprised Claire made it out alive as she seemed the logical Agent Coulson death – the only character all four of the heroes gave a damn about – so while I’m sad to see Stick go, somebody had to and he was the second most logical choice given how all-in he was on the war.
Ben: Can we just take a moment to appreciate how good Scott Glenn was in this role? Just a really great mix of being utterly badass and unsettling. Stick was never written well enough to justify getting someone as good as Scott Glenn to play him, but if they hadn’t the character would have completely failed. Stick was never a particularly deep character, and his sudden turn into being all about how great Iron Fist is was… odd. But his attempt to kill Danny to stop The Hand getting a hold of him felt completely within character, and if any character other than Elektra had killed him it would have been a cop-out. Sadly the show never takes the time to see how this effects Matt or Elektra, because there’s mystical ninja stuff going on, and no one has time for pesky emotions or pathos.
6. While Sigourney Weaver’s character was important to jump-starting aspects of the plot for The Defenders, she obviously did not end up really being the big bad of the show in the traditional sense.
With that in mind, did the show make effective use of Weaver’s talent?
Mike: Weaver felt really wasted throughout the show and that was *before* she was killed off six episodes in. In retrospect, she really felt like a red herring designed to give The Hand some weight via her starpower. The Hand may have been heavily involved in the final battle at the end of the season, but that was but a vessel to get us to Matt vs. Elektra. I guess this has all been a long way of saying “no,” because Weaver’s work and character were wholly forgettable which you almost have to try to do when she is in a role.
Matt: I’d rather they’d spent less money on Weaver and gotten some bigger names for the other ‘fingers’ of The Hand. Alexandra was set up to be an intriguing character, being hundreds of years old and having witnessed a number of historical events in person. She also played the fun Gao card of being able to physically handle herself despite appearances. But I kept waiting for a big scene that never came, and maybe that was the point. Elektra murdering the man that raised her in her first life, and then the woman that raised her in her second was fitting, but I just wish more had been done with Alexandra first.
Ben: Apart from maybe Madame Gao, she was the best member of the Hand by far. But when you make the villains into a mysterious shadow organisation whose intentions aren’t clear, there really isn’t much to play with there, especially since at no point does the show seem interested in explaining why The Hand want to get back to K’un-Lun. Much like Scott Glenn, Sigourney Weaver does wonders with what she is given, but most of her role was being mysteriously old and acting motherly towards zombie Elektra. But she did get to do some kung-fu and went out monologuing with the best of them. But in the Marvel Netflix villain pantheon of Vincent D’Onofrio, David Tennant and Mahershala Ali, she doesn’t even compare.
7. Did The Defenders make you enthusiastic in future seasons of any of the other Marvel Netflix shows? Are there any characters (major or supporting) that are now in a place that you have you greatly interested in what they do next?
Mike: To strictly answer this question, I guess I have to say, “Yes.” It’s really fun watching Jessica Jones go through the world, and this show reminded me of that. Thus…yes, The Defenders made me enthusiastic for the next season of Jessica Jones!
Matt: I’m all-in for all of them anyway, but I don’t think The Defenders did a lot to make the individual characters more interesting (remembering that I already like Danny). Luke and Jessica embrace the concept of being a hero, but Luke had already done that by the end of his first season and the charm of Jessica is her flat-out refusal to go down that road, so going against that grain feels wrong to me. Also it’s now going to be a little weird when the four characters run into big trouble and don’t just call each other up for an assist. I’m intrigued by how the heck Karen is going to move on from a place of condemning Daredevil to being a series regular on The Punisher. Oh, and bionic-armed Misty is all kinds of yes.
Ben: Not Iron Fist. I’m more excited for Daredevil season 3 because of the teases for an adaptation of the ‘Born Again’ storyline from season 2, and the final shot of Defenders only reinforces that. At the start of Defenders, Luke Cage is ready to get his season 2 plot under way, and I’m excited to see the showdown with Mariah and Shades, but by the end of the season he seems to have forgotten all about them. But at heart I’m a Veronica Mars fanboy, and I am all for shows about independent female PIs. And as I said above, the Alias Investigations sign getting fixed felt like a statement of intent for Jessica Jones season 2. The first season has the best overall content from any of these shows, and if the follow up can tap into that without dragging it out for four episodes, then it could be something really special. Unless it’s about Simpson becoming Nuke. Fuck Nuke.
8. What do you want to see from The Defenders in future seasons?
Mike: I am such a broken record when it comes to answer questions like these, but I see no reason to change it up now. These sequels have to go smaller and make the stakes more intimate. The Defenders just saved New York from The Hand. Make them save themselves, their friends, a school bus, anything else but the entire city of New York next time. It is boring to watch the same heroes save the same thing. The show for the most part earned the larger stakes of this season, as they had gradually been building up The Hand and their plans. I beg them to not just create a new threat to New York City for the next team-up.
Matt: It’s tricky because in some ways there shouldn’t be a second season; while The Hand is an enormous global organisation that would of course carry on with new leadership, they can’t just revisit that concept for a second season. But at the same time, it’s incredibly difficult to create stakes high enough that demand the four of them unite, but not so big that S.H.I.E.L.D. or The Avengers wouldn’t step in. Logically speaking the four of them should just liberally crossover into each other’s shows. But of course there will be a second season so I suppose I’d want them to get the team together quicker and give the sidekicks more to do. Also, if they don’t get a mention, a background easter egg or a cameo in either part of Infinity War then I will be highly displeased.
Ben: No. More. Ninjas. Marvel have run the mystical ninja thing into the ground, and I hope they wait a good long time until they inevitably bring Madame Gao back. But really, I want less set up and more of these four being a team. Oh and have Misty, Claire and Colleen officially inducted as members, because all of them are the best and deserve that at this point. But really what I’m hoping for at this point is more interplay between the shows now that everyone has met. Obviously Luke and Jessica have precedent for teaming up, but a lot of these actors have really good chemistry with each other, and it would be a real shame if we have to wait another three years to get them all in the same room again.
Bonus Question: Without consulting any kind of wiki, what the heck is The Black Sky?
Mike: The Smoke Monster from Lost.
Matt: Just a really good assassin, I guess? The Hand worship it and act as though it’s very existence will let them do supernatural things, and while Elektra clearly has enhanced abilities after her resurrection, they actively attempted to prevent her death at first in season two of Daredevil so that apparently wasn’t vital. They also call her it pre-death. Honestly the vagueness of Black Sky was one of the bigger weaknesses of Daredevil and Defenders didn’t do much to clear it up at all.
Ben: The result of what happens when you have 3.5 different sets of showrunners trying to create a cohesive narrative arc over 3 seasons of television that was probably dictated before any of these shows had ever been in production.