This is the review for the second episode of The Defenders. To discuss subsequent episodes or the series as a whole, please visit our Spoiler Space.
I get the distinct impression The Defenders wishes it weren’t a TV show. It continues to feel less like a series and more like a very long movie haphazardly chopped into segments of roughly equal length. But to quote another man who couldn’t be stopped by conventional means, sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken. We may be in a transitional era, where binge-watching and streaming is beginning to redefine what makes for an episode of TV, but we‘re not there yet, no matter how badly Netflix may want us to be. This is a TV show, and Marvel is struggling against the format it’s working with. Only watching minutes 20-30 of a 90-minute thriller doesn’t make for a satisfying viewing experience, and that’s what this installment was—an exposition crawl that revealed almost no exposition, and only gets away with being acceptable because the final minutes bring together two sets of heroes, even if one consists of nothing more than Matt Murdock walking into a room.
The second episode is mostly noteworthy for how much toying around it does with the mystery that’s unfolding at a near-glacial pace. Despite the entire episode being barely more than our protagonists investigating their respective pieces of the puzzle, amazingly little information is delivered. The biggest reveal comes from our learning the kids from Harlem are functioning as criminal task-rabbits of sorts, cleaning up after the murderous messes caused by (presumably) the Hand. But even there, Danny and Colleen still have no idea these are just desperate young men or where they’re from, any more than Luke actually learns anything further about what his wayward charge was doing in that warehouse. There’s lot of ominous talk about things being way bigger than anyone realizes, and hints of coverups and conspiracies and government manhunts, but that’s all it is at this point—talk. Well, except for the beautiful string quartet Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra enjoys—that was some lovely music.
Matt continues to be the only one exploring new character beats, as we learn that it’s not just his desire to reconnect with others that’s fueling his attempt to end his vigilante ways. After his opening intervention outside the store, saving a couple of thieving kids from being gunned down, I had assumed his frustration stemmed from being torn between his desire to do good as a costumed hero and his standing in the eyes of those he cares about. But listening to Foggy and Matt talk about a bunch of noble cases as a way to keep Matt so busy he wouldn’t have time to think about becoming Daredevil, I realized the problem is more severe than that. Matt is literally thinking of himself as an addict, someone with an overpowering urge that he isn’t strong enough to fight alone. It’s an interesting arc, but I’m not sure eight episodes will be enough time to do it justice, especially when there’s a massive threat looming.
But Matt’s efforts to stay on the straight and narrow are worth it, because it leads him to walk into that police interrogation room and assume the role of Jessica’s lawyer. (It seems to safe to assume handing the case over to Matt was Foggy’s way of obeying Jeri Hogarth’s orders to keep Jessica’s problems far away from the firm.) After a frustrating episode, it was a nice beat to close on, the equivalent of snapping two puzzle pieces together. At last, Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock meet.
And Jessica could use a win after the day she had. Following her frustrated efforts to track down the source of the shell corporations after she pilfered the shipping address from the crime scene (in which we learn whatever organization’s behind this goes back to before 1820), she has the extreme displeasure of watching John Raymond kill himself in front of her, splattering his blood all over her face. Again, it’s a significant scene, but doesn’t actually reveal much. He won’t tell her why he’s in trouble, but it confirms her suspicion that he’s an amateur in way over his head, something doubly confirmed when he chooses suicide over being taken by Elektra. It’s over in under a minute, but it’s long enough for Jessica to realize there’s a dangerous new threat at work—and it wields a sword. She’s super-strong, but she’s as vulnerable as anyone to a blade.
Anyone except Luke, of course. After a nice moment that sees him lifting massive chunks of concrete, he gets the name of a bar frequented by criminals, which gives us a chance to say hello to Turk en route to learning about a mysterious new boss who wears fine white suits and orders Harlem’s desperate men around. But again, all this exposition dribbling out with the speed of molasses isn’t the reason we’re here. No, that comes after Danny and Colleen stumble into watching underlings spray down the site of a Hand-led murder spree, showering the bodies of men who are presumably potential allies of just the kind Colleen says they need. It comes when Danny rips the gas mask off of Cole’s head, gets ready to unleash an attack, and suddenly has his arm grabbed by Luke. It’s the Iron Fist/Luke Cage rumble, and it’s delightful.
What makes the brawl so enjoyable is that it delivers more or less exactly what you’d want to see. The key moment is a typical geek question—“What would happen if Danny used the fist and hit Luke?”—and now we know: The big man would go flying. But it wouldn’t be nearly as fun if we hadn’t first watched Danny flail pitifully in a match against Luke. All of his punches, flying kicks, and martial arts mastery don’t amount to a damn thing, and watching him try and repeatedly fail earns solid laughs. It was doubly cathartic after another installment of the stubbornly stupid Danny Rand show, with his being (metaphorically) dragged kicking and screaming by Colleen into acknowledging that there are other enemies of the Hand out there, and maybe finding them would be a good idea. The cops show up and ruin our fun before we’re able to get any additional fighting between the two heroes, and both scamper off without even a realization that they’re on the same side.
The most interesting character moments again come from Weaver’s Alexandra, who gets a nice the-plot-thickens scene when it’s revealed that she’s taken Stick hostage, and the two apparently have a long history. But the best sequence was again the string quartet. It gave us a few more details about who this woman is—a wealthy but not attention-seeking donor to the arts, knowledgeable about the history of orchestral music, and appreciative of the combination of ambition and bold gestures, as exemplified by her fondness for Brahms’ effort to deny Beethoven’s command of a particular key. We also learn that whereas Gao is tactically fluid, Alexandra’s stubborn—a bit like Danny, in that way. Perhaps the two of them will meet soon enough, as it’s implied that whatever K’un Lun holds most dear might be a key to “unlocking” the wall that’s standing in their way (whatever that means). This episode ended on a real “finally, we’re getting somewhere” moment. So let’s get there already, Defenders.
- Foggy’s still with Marcy. Good for him. After season two of Daredevil, he deserved some happiness.
- Speaking of Foggy, I did like seeing his and Matt’s halting efforts to rekindle their friendship in the bar. It felt awkward and honest, as did the judgment that came through in Foggy’s voice, no matter how much he protested there wasn’t any. “Your knuckles speak volumes.”
- This episode also improved somewhat on the premiere by allowing us to enter scenes and storylines via our supporting characters, from Trish finding out it may not have been an earthquake (and she’s being silenced on the matter), to Misty working her case.
- At this point, everyone’s gotten a chance to flex some muscles and throw a few good punches except for Jessica. (Yanking a car from a tow truck off-camera doesn’t count.) She wasn’t the only one hoping she’d get a chance to land a couple blows against Elektra.