The Defenders mini-series made its Netflix debut Friday, bringing together Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Iron Fist as Marvel’s street-level super team. We assembled Gita Jackson and Mike Fahey to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and how horrible Danny Rand is. So horrible.
Fahey: So, Gita. I was following your tweets this weekend, and I am under the impression that you weren’t 100 percent satisfied with The Defenders. Is that correct, or was I reading the really mean things you were saying wrong?
Gita: Mike, I was not overall thrilled by The Defenders. I was expecting a lot of campy fan service, and I got that, but I also just got a whole lot of bad show.
Fahey: That is impossible, Gita. This is a Netflix Marvel show. They can do no wrong. Except Iron Fist. And large chunks of the second season of Daredevil. But other than that, the track record is perfect. How could it be bad?
Gita: I actually really thought about this while I was watching the show because, you know, despite some weird missteps, I like three out of the four characters on screen. And we know that some of them have great chemistry and banter already. But it felt like I was getting a diluted version of four different shows, each with wildly different aesthetics, and it was like eating under-seasoned mashed potatoes. Like, it’s in my mouth, it’s a food I enjoy, but I cannot describe it to you if asked.
Fahey: I see where you’re coming from. I certainly got that vibe during the first of the eight episodes, which felt like four distinct shows with distinct voices, soundtracks and shooting styles getting mashed together.
My dissatisfaction mainly stems from the fact that the entire event is the culmination of my two least favorite story lines from the Netflix shows. Daredevil’s battle against the Hand, and Iron Fist’s battles against the Hand. I guess what I am saying is the Hand is not a good enemy.
Gita: For the life of me, I could not care about the Hand. I just really do not give a shit about the Hand at all. The show seemed to assume I’d care from the jump—any time Jessica or Luke asked what the Hand does that’s bad, Matt and Danny would both say, “Everything.” Sure, they do everything bad. That’s bad. But like, give me some specifics?
Fahey: I can’t, Gita. They’re too bad, the things the Hand does. So bad.
Gita: If the Hand were an organization that personally stole one of my socks so I never had matching pairs, I would care.
But apparently they just have a hand (ugh) in every pot of evilness to the point where I’m like, you must be joking, right?
Fahey: The plot is basically that the Hand is going to destroy New York City in order to get a mysterious substance that keeps the five core members immortal. To do this, they use up the last of the substance to bring Elektra, the Black Sky, back to life.
Why? Because they need her. For reasons.
Gita: I felt really bad for the actress playing Elektra. As you mentioned, the back half of Daredevil season two has issues, but Elektra was this weird, electric ball of energy and joy in a plot that suddenly made no sense. I didn’t know why she did the things she did, but by golly, I had fun watching her. Here, she’s mute, lifeless, boring, glum.
Fahey: She gets a bit better towards the back end, and that electricity is still there, but there never is a real explanation of what role she is supposed to play in the Hand’s plans. She is a weapon, but she doesn’t seem to have any supernatural abilities. All five fingers of the Hand are highly-skilled martial artists, so it doesn’t make sense they’d squander their life-juice to make a sixth. How far did you get in the series?
Gita: I just checked Netflix—I think I tuckered out around the middle of episode six. After realizing that the show didn’t really get going for me until episode four I gave it another two episodes and I was like…. how much do I care about this, actually?
I love dumb fan service. I live for that. But I was just… bored. I was so bored.
Fahey: I understand stopping. I watched the series between naps. Then you didn’t see the fate of Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver)?
Gita: I didn’t! I did like Sigourney—she always does so much with so little. And she was having a lot of fun being evil. Please, spoil me.
Fahey: Elektra murders her with sais.
Gita: You were typing for so long…… I really thought it was, like, a little more than sword murder.
I am laughing so hard in the office.
Fahey: Yeah, I did that for effect.
Gita: Thank you, Fahey. Thank you.
Fahey: I mean, she had to see it coming, acting like a mother figure to a deadly assassin named after a character from Greek mythology famous for PLOTTING THE MURDER OF HER MOTHER.
Gita: But yeah, there is a real pay off problem in The Defenders. We see Luke in the first episode, and he’s just like, not in jail anymore. It’s a thing they built up and the payoff is “oh he’s fine.” Colleen gets stabbed by her suddenly-not-dead-anymore mentor, and he just leaves, and she’s also fine. Sigourney gets sword murdered.
Fahey: But yes, Elektra kills Alexandra and assumes leadership of the Hand. This changes absolutely nothing concerning the Hand’s plans to destroy New York. It doesn’t mean Elektra is suddenly having second thoughts about being evil.
Let’s talk hero motivation.
- Luke wants to keep the kids of Harlem from being used and discarded by the Hand. Noble as fuck.
- Jessica takes a case from a woman whose husband, the architect of the Hand’s office building, has gone missing. The guy gets murdered in her office. She wants to make sure the family is safe and get answers. Detective as fuck.
- Daredevil wants his girlfriend back. He’s just horny.
- And Iron Fist wants revenge for the destruction of a city no one cares about at all.
This is your Danny Rand cue.
Gita: Yeah that’s a pretty good summation. Every time Danny meets someone new, he has to explain K’un L’un again… and at least later they start getting some good jokes out of it but, holy shit. Still don’t care about K’un L’un, my dude!
I think I could have tolerated Defenders if Finn Jones wasn’t a complete charisma void. He just has no screen presence, he’s bad at fight scenes, I don’t believe the conviction of his actions, and his character is just so stupid.
Fahey: He’s so grim about everything. And I get it—his imaginary home in the sky is destroyed. But also he has cool martial arts powers and a bajillion dollars. I cannot feel sympathy for a guy who goes from shoeless to billionaire and still whines. “It’s my sacred duty!” Oh shut up. You have a cool new friend. Just enjoy your new friend. He makes your fist glow.
My wife and I decided the fist is his “Better Superhero Detector.”
Gita: Hahahaha, that’s pretty great. Props to your wife.
Fahey: Like in the office scene—one of the two best in the mini-series. He just can’t get it up, then Luke Cage arrives.
Gita: That office scene was pretty great. I think they finally figured out how to shoot Finn Jones’s fight scenes (though he is quickly outclassed by everyone else). The key was not quick cuts, but good angles and having the stunt people really over-act taking the punch.
Fahey: There’s a bit in the final act, where the group is surrounded. Luke says to Danny, “Light it up,” and Danny punches the air and everyone goes flying. This was episode eight. Danny finally gets good in the final episode, after being completely insufferable the rest of the time.
Gita: I’m trying, desperately, to come up with a response to this. But I’m just floored.
Fahey: Did you catch the fight in episode six?
Gita: I think I was asleep by that point, to be honest. Unless you’re talking warehouse redux.
Fahey: The fight between Danny and everybody else?
Gita: Okay yeah, sorry, the other problem I have with this show is that it’s visually indistinct and horribly shot, so everything blends together and I can’t remember what happened when.
Fahey: You have a point. I kept re-watching bits I’d already seen, unsure if I’d already seen them.
Gita: Like, they spend so long in this warehouse that I mentally place it as “the boring shit from episode five,” but they STAY there for a while, and have another fight in six, and I forgot about it. If this second fight had even happened in the parking lot, it would have created a sense that time was passing.
Fahey: They find out that the Hand wants Danny because he’s the only one who can open the portal beneath New York, giving them access to the “substance.” Everyone decides the best course of action is to keep Danny away from them. Except Danny. No, he wants to go fight them, because he is an ASSHOLE.
So everyone kicks his ass.
Gita: The one thing I feel like is really deliberate about Danny Rand’s character and that I think Finn Jones is on purpose playing up is that Danny thinks his problems are the only problems in the world.
Fahey: That is exactly the case.
Gita: I have enjoyed stories about characters who get their shit together—I like Scott Pilgrim!—but man. Fuck Danny Rand.
Scott Pilgrim is just a shitty guy in a band. Danny is a billionaire with a glowing fist trying to tell a black dude from Harlem who just got out of lockup that his pain is the worst pain.
Fahey: They tie him to a chair but he ends up getting captured by Elektra, who takes him under the Hand’s office building to open the ancient portal.
Meanwhile, the most interesting non-superhero characters in the various series are locked in a police station for most of the series.
Gita: Did Defenders feel more like an Iron Fist season two to you, or was that just me? It felt like, in terms of character growth and plot importance, Danny was at the center.
Fahey: Luke were just there, doing their Jessica and Luke thing. Daredevil got to pine over Elektra some more, while his two best friends spent the mini-series trying to keep him from being Daredevil.
But yeah, it was all Danny and Colleen Wing. I like Colleen. And I really like Misty Knight. OH! You missed it.
Gita: Did Misty and Colleen finally get to be Misty and Colleen? Dammit!
You’re tempting me to watch the final two and a half episodes. I mean, the bodega down the street has beer and I am sure there’s vacuuming to do or something.
Fahey: They wind up in the office building while The Defenders are in the basement, facing off against Colleen’s former mentor, Naruto. He has a sword. You know what swords do?
Gita: Was there more sword murder, Fahey?
Fahey: How familiar are you with Misty Knight’s comic book incarnation?
Gita: Here’s an admission: I was a DC person.
Then DC started to become what it now is.
And now, I am lost.
Fahey: Note the right arm.
Gita: OH, she got armed.
Fahey: I have never cheered so loudly at a limb being amputated. They tricked us with that shit in Luke Cage.
Gita: We take our joy where we can get it.
The longer I get into this connected universe without having read, or really been familiar with, certain lore aspects of certain characters, the more I begin to feel like this is a failed experiment, you know?
I want to cheer when arms get cut off, too
Fahey: I feel like they are getting to a happier place. The friendship blossoming between Danny and Luke shows hints of the one they shared in the comics. Luke makes Danny a better person, and you can catch glimpses of it in The Defenders.
But there’s just so much heavy shit standing in the way. Danny’s whole K’un L’un thing. Luke being with Night Nurse instead of his comic book wife, Jessica. The epilogue hints that there’s something there, but it seems like the path to getting there is going to suck. And then we’ve got Daredevil dying at the end.
By the way, Daredevil “dies” at the end.
Gita: Ok, I take back my earlier curiosity about the final two episodes. At that point… who cares?
Fahey: Let me set this up for you:
So the gang defeats the Hand, knocks out Elektra and has minutes left to escape to the surface before the explosives Colleen stole from police lockup, as you do, go off and bring down the entire office building.
All they have to do is get on the elevator. But Matt’s all, “You guys go, I have to try to get through to her.”
There’s a nice fight between them with lots of violent cuddling. Then the whole thing explodes.
Cut to some time later and everything is fine. No one is in jail for terrorist acts. Luke and Jessica share a drink at a bar. Colleen and Danny talk about how Daredevil gave his life to save the city he loved.
Bullshit. Daredevil gave his life to try to save his girlfriend, for one. And then he wakes up in a convent hospital bed.
Gita: This is, like, a summary of all the comics tropes I hate. What I liked so much about Daredevil and Jessica Jones was that when people died, they DIED. There was no cheap, obvious resurrection or “they just got hurt in that explosion but they’re fine.” If I was going to live with these plot points I’d just read the comics.
Please do not tell me he has amnesia. I swear to god.
Fahey: We’ll find out in Daredevil season three! Though I am pretty sure it’s the convent or whatever where his mom supposedly went to, as hinted in a better season of television.
What I liked about Daredevil season one, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were the villains. Such amazing fucking villains.
Gita: Yes! I was thinking of that too. Jessica Jones, especially, has a really strong antagonist in Kilgore, and it allows Jessica to have a strong story arc in the show.
Fahey: Tennant was absolutely terrifying.
Gita: That one is my favorite of the three series you mentioned, because it has a very defined beginning, middle and end, and Jessica has a very clear Problem that Kilgore embodies.
And yeah, Tennant knocks it out of the park.
In Daredevil and Luke Cage, too, the villains are strong because they are the societal problems that the characters are also fighting. Kingpin is corpratism that kills New York, and the two villains that Cage fights are manifestations of oppressive systems that destroy places like Harlem.
Fahey: D’onofrio was an amazing Kingpin. Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth was powerful and nigh unstoppable despite being just a guy.
Gita: What is the Hand?
Fahey: Just a buncha ninjas.
One of the biggest conflicts in those series was each villain was a human, and each hero had the power to just snuff them out if they wanted to. Creating characters that wouldn’t do that—unless pushed to the very brink—that’s what made those series.
In The Defenders we have villains that everyone seems fine with killing, but there’s a whole bunch of them. Instead of interesting internal struggles, we get eight long, drawn-out episodes leading to a foregone conclusion.
Gita: We should take maybe four or five seconds to mention Naruto (actually Bakugo, Colleen’s evil mentor), who seems to be an attempt to give Colleen, at least, more personal stakes in what’s going on with the Hand. The problem here is 1) Bakugo is boring and 2) He shows up in episode five.
Fundamentally, on top of everything else, the show has a pacing problem.
The show only really seems to gel by episode four, and at that point it’s halfway done. And then, from there, you gotta build all the stakes and drive the plot forward.
Fahey: Netflix probably could have gotten away with making this an original movie rather than a mini-series. Come together, find out what the Hand is up to, stop them. Roll credits.
Instead we get shots of Alexandra’s whirlwind seated tour of NYC, Danny being Danny, Jessica rifling through records, side characters wandering around a police station, fights where everyone escapes to make it to the next fight, Daredevil fretting over being Daredevil and Luke being so sexy all the time.
Gita: This is an accurate summary of a disappointing Netflix show. Though if I’m being honest about Daredevil—he can still get it.
He technically died from horny, so, I feel like I relate.
Fahey: Wait, are you saying Matt Murdock over Luke Cage here?
Gita: Oh, absolutely not.
Just, like, if Luke was busy breaking furniture with someone else I wouldn’t mind Murdock as a second choice.
Fahey: Oh god, I just had a horrible idea about how they’re going to write out Claire. We need to stop.
Gita: Don’t speculate. You’ll be disappointed in due time.