This is the review for the third episode of The Defenders. To discuss subsequent episodes or the series as a whole, please visit our Spoiler Space.
Now, that’s a superhero team-up.
After two straight episodes of listless exposition and meandering story, I was deeply worried the creative team had severely misjudged how long it should take to get to the fireworks factory. And while the initial installments retain those weaknesses, “Worst Behavior” gets right most of what had previously gone wrong and proceeds to deliver a great installment, one that builds to a ferocious and funny battle sequence in the offices of Midland Circle Financial. The Defenders finally got all its heroes in one place, and the result is electric.
But let’s focus on that combination of elements I just mentioned, because it’s key to what makes this a thrilling episode of super-powered excitement. It’s not just good action—I expect that. No, it’s that “Worst Behavior” is liberally peppered with sharp, humorous dialogue that whips across the screen in flashes as quick as one of Danny’s punches. That balance between arresting fight choreography and genuinely good quips (no tag-team Marvel hero rumble worth its bone-crunching salt should be without quips) is a difficult balancing act, but the last 10 minutes here make it look as easy as breathing. Dare I say it, the show pulls it off as well as some of its big-screen counterparts. By the time Matt’s realized the deadly woman he’s been fighting is Elektra, Danny shatters her sword, and the four protagonists enter the elevator for that iconic image that’s been in all the promotional materials, The Defenders has shown that it’s capable of being the great crossover event viewers wanted it to be.
In some ways, this episode was practically guaranteed to be a slam dunk. After all the uneven table setting in “Mean Right Hook,” there was really nothing left to do but have everyone connect the dots that led them inexorably to Midland. After she refuses his help, Jessica and Matt play an entertaining game of who’s following who, as she doubles back and manages to get some pictures of him pulling some parkour moves that definitely aren’t within the purview of your average blind guy. Their interrogation room chat revealed that he already knows all about her, so turnabout was only fair play. And the good thing about Matt is that his abilities allow the show to bypass what might otherwise be clumsy narrative tactics to get everyone in the same room (or hallway, as it were). He hears the gun with the silencer fire, and his sense of obligation kicks in, full stop, taking them right to the fight.
Similarly, good old Claire is the suture that brings Luke and Danny together. Rosario Dawson has increasingly been the MVP of these series as they go along (strong in Luke Cage, and easily the brightest spot in Iron Fist), and now all that exhaustive time spent dealing with these superheroes’ multifarious problems pays off in narrative efficiency. Luke got punched by a guy with a glowing fist? “Just some skinny white kid,” as he puts it. Luke, meet Danny Rand. Putting them in a room together may end in Luke storming out, having delivering a sneering lecture about the privilege Danny refuses to acknowledge, but it’s an illuminating exchange in several ways. First, it gives us a chance to see someone challenge Danny not on his tactical stupidity, but on his inability to recognize his position in life. Colleen may be right—Danny’s a fighter, it’s the world he feels at home in—but Luke wasn’t wrong to point out all the aspects of Danny that the Rand heir has been ignoring. And Danny, for once, thank God, realizes that he’s been neglecting the rarefied air that could serve him far better strategically than running around threatening low-level goons.
Plus, the damn thing is just funny. Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Doug Petrie’s script nails the way Luke and Danny’s backstories and personalities can best play off each other, and hangs a well-crafted lampshade on just about every flash of belief-beggaring dialogue. From the opening exchange (“You punched me.” “He punched first.”) to the sharing of odd personal moments (“There was a dragon.” “No, there wasn’t!”), the banter felt inspired and alive. Claire may be playing the stern mom, forcing the sullen kids to play nice with each other, but her instincts again prove right, even if in the short term it looked like the plan was a bust.
Time and again, scenes that have been coming across as tonally off in previous episodes finally work. Luke going to visit Cole’s mother, which was the kind of scenario that threatened to turn into sodden sentiment, instead played as warm and compelling. Their conversation was natural and affecting, and made the encounter feel valuable even before Luke realizes Cole sent him to buy a scratch-off so that he’d find the roll of money with the Midland parking ticket. And Jessica’s somber sit-down with John Raymond’s grieving widow allowed us to get the fun playacting exchange at Raymond’s architecture firm, with Krysten Ritter seamlessly pulling off an inner boorish vapidity that came across as just the amount of smarm with which Jessica would sell it. (Let’s pretend she was channeling her Gilmore Girls character as an entitled grown up.)
And Finn Jones finally gets some scenes that play to the best version of Danny Rand: Namely, that he’s a lunkheaded but noble man-child with no social skills and a blundering inability to do anything but see or communicate whatever is most obvious at any given moment. His attempt to infiltrate Midland was pitch-perfect: He gets dressed up, strides into the building like an important businessman, than proceeds to open his mouth and deliver the most simplistic, revealing, heart-on-the-sleeve monologue imaginable. It’s very funny, and only gets funnier when Alexandra saunters in behind him, compliments his ability to not be as undisciplined as his reputation, and then thanks him for announcing his every intention. “I appreciate your candor,” she purrs with the easy confidence of someone dealing with an adolescent. She mocks his every attempt to intimidate, finally unleashing her Hand-warrior board of directors on him. She may have known he’d defeat them, but it was still a meeting that went more to her benefit than his.
And that fight. At long last, the one thing that almost all these shows have excelled at—fight scenes—was unleashed, and the results didn’t disappoint. The choreography was fluid and smart, giving just enough moments of power combinations while still letting each person kick ass in their own way. (Jessica irritably thumbing the elevator button after smashing a guy into the wall was a high point.) Luke and Danny took advantage of each others’ skill sets, and Elodie Yung and Charlie Cox were allowed to throw down with a battle that recalled their inspired action chemistry in season two of Daredevil. If every explosive encounter for the rest of the series is as enjoyable as this, The Defenders will have more than cemented its goal of being a can’t-miss Marvel event.
And all of this comes after a 15-minute pre-opening credits scene that threatened another episode of sound and fury signifying what we already knew. The flashback to the rebirth of Elektra as Black Sky wasn’t necessary, and at first, it seemed like overkill. But then we gained some important tidbits: Elektra’s memory is wiped, Stick and Alexandra have a long history, Stick is a proud advocate of K’un Lun, and he’s willing to cut off his own hand without a second thought in order to escape and get to the Iron Fist. But as always, the best stuff lies with Sigourney Weaver. Alexandra isn’t just an ancient soul who’s died and been reborn multiple times; she’s someone who is still capable of martial arts skills that can instantly subdue Elektra. (True, Matt’s former love was basically a newborn baby flailing wildly at the time, but the point stands.) Elektra is the tool Alexandra will deploy against our heroes, and even with Danny there to smash more swords, the Hand is ready to fight. Too bad they didn’t see the rest of the group coming.
- I have to admit, I was a little disappointed to learn Ward Meachum is out of the country. Tom Pelphrey was a standout in Iron Fist, and I would’ve liked to have seen Ward’s bemused reaction to the rest of the Defenders.
- Hero of the episode: Though Danny’s spot-on personality foibles almost take it, this one goes to Jessica for the endless barrage of withering one-liners and great comedic bits she deploys throughout. “I’ll hit you so hard, you’ll see” was a personal favorite, though her and Matt’s exchange as she gets off the elevator was a close second: “You look like an asshole.” “It’s your scarf.”
- A more awkward bit: The woman at Rand who goes from seemingly petrified of the Hand to totally on board with Colleen and Danny’s extreme explanation of their mission in five seconds.
- Though it was overly long, the Elektra flashback did have a nice moment when she fought the three men at once, mirroring the similar three-on-one training she did with Stick as a child. She’s literally becoming a deadly assassin again, the flip side of the same manipulative coin.
- Which, seeing Stick and Alexandra converse like familiar frenemies made the kidnapping take on emotional heft, as the series starts to portray them as competing versions of the same basic role: The zealot willing to do anything for their cause. “That’s the Alexandra I know.”
- “I know privilege when I see it.” Luke Cage delivers the most succinct summary of every internet critique of Danny Rand rolled into one.