Marvel’s The Defenders: Season in Review

80’s new wave band promotional poster from an off-brand Rolling Stone

All of Nexflix’s Marvel shows have been building to Marvel’s The Defenders when all of the “street level heroes” will join up and fight a common enemy. But, while that does in fact occur, the series feels less like an epic culmination and more like a forced team up.

The series focuses on the battle with The Hand, a shadowy ancient ninja cult that had been set up as an international drug cartel (Daredevil season 1), an ancient cult of magic (Daredevil season 2), and a shadow organization bent on world domination/ninja training school (Iron Fist season 1). Defenders introduces new characters to bring the casts of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones into the mix and the team up begins.

At the end of the third hour.

Defenders, unlike the previous series, is only 8 episodes* which means that it should have been even more important to get to the point faster. Instead, they sacrifice emotional beats and character moments in favor of getting to the action in a way that feels backed into a corner. The heroes themselves seem spend almost as much time squabbling with each other about why they need to fight as they do fighting. And, with episode 4 being basically the “explain the plot” episode half of the series run is spent an inciting action.

My problem with the series would have been fixable had this series been planned out. While the showrunners of all the series knew that this was coming, the series all existed in their own spaces which really hurts the crossover show. Had they been able to really map out what Defenders was going to be before they had even written Daredevil they would have been able to layer in more necessary plot points (Hand “mini-bosses” like Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) for example) throughout Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist in a way that would have made the events of Defenders personal to the entire cast and allowed them to hit the ground running. As it stands, Daredevil and Iron Fist are really the only relevant series to Defenders as a whole, with Jones and Cage providing mostly character backgrounds. But to have a 4-series mega crossover series in which half of your parent series are completely skipable is a missed opportunity.

All that said, they do what they can to both blend 4 disparate casts (or, most of 4 casts) into an ensemble as well as laying ground work for future seasons of each series and even manage to advance Easter-Eggy plots. It is very fun to watch Luke (Mike Colter) and Danny (Finn Jones) bond as in the comics they are the best of friends. And, while I love Luke and Claire (Rosario Dawson) together (since Luke Cage) seeing him interacting with Jessica (Krysten Ritter), his comics wife, again was a nice treat. But, I do wish that room had been found for the tertiary characters from the series, save Misty (Simone Missick) and Colleen (Jessica Henwick) who are well integrated into the narrative, to have some more to do.

Visually, they decided that each character’s “signature color” (red, blue, yellow, green) would be heavily represented in each scene. This leads to scenes that are Jessica focused to be shot with a blue filter and Danny scenes have oversaturated greens. Once you notice it, and it’s made incredibly apparent, it becomes pretty annoying. And, when characters meet up, their colors are all heavily represented in in ways that range from interesting to gaudy. This choice, along with the most jarring music cue I have ever heard in my life (episode 8, in the final battle for those that have seen the series)- seriously I thought my Netflix had suddenly switched audio tracks to some sort of hip-hop concert film for about 2 minutes- make for a viewing experience that feels a lot like the writing feels: too many voices trying to be heard.

Defenders does bring us a new villain the person of Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) who has maybe the best wardrobe on television and to say anything else about her would be a spoiler. Alexandra is one of the best parts of the series as Weaver is clearly having a great time playing her. And, an actress of Weaver’s caliber brings a whole new level of performance to every scene she’s in. And not in a scenery chewing way like Alfre Woodard or Mahershala Ali in Luke Cage either, just a great actress playing every note perfectly.

Marvel’s The Defenders is far from a perfect show, and considering it was planned from the beginning- and was in fact the entire “goal” of this whole Netflix deal, it feels rushed and slapped together. While it does hang together internally and does honor the characters involved, it uses too much of its 8-episode run to justify these characters interacting. And then justifying the fight. It suffers from everyone involved trying to do too much so they cut too many corners. If nothing else, the fact that these characters were always meant to exist in the same world, it is really nice to see them occupying that world. Netflix’s personal Marvel universe now has a lot of story possibilities to explore (assuming these shows stay on Netflix after the Disney deal expires) in future seasons. B-

*8 episodes by the way is a perfect run. The Netflix model has shown that shows shouldn’t be forced into a specific episode limits or runtimes. They should do what is needed to serve the story. I hope more Netflix shows- and network shows- will follow this example instead of artificially extending their runs to fill a set time. If your story can only support 6 45-minute episodes then so be it. The time of required 13- or 22-episode seasons is past.

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