No Spoilers, I promise.
Last night, seven thousand lucky fans at San Diego Comic-Con had the privilege of seeing the first episode of Marvel’s Defenders. I was one of those lucky souls, who put aside any professionalism to scream so much that I lost my voice for a little while in the middle of the show. Because when you watch Netflix with seven thousand friends, you occasionally need to scream a little in the middle parts. I would apologize to those sitting around me, but why interrupt somebody else’s experience with apologies?
No matter how much I want to theorize with all of you about what could be waiting in the subsequent seven episodes, I don’t want to spoil a single thing from this episode for anybody. But without giving away details, this first episode was exactly what it needs to be in order to pull off something that was preceded by 65 episodes from four different series. The casual Netflix watcher may have watched both seasons of Daredevil, but never met Luke Cage. There is a huge following for Jessica Jones who have never watched any of the other series. And (believe it or not) I have met two people that jumped into Iron Fist without first watching anything else (Those poor confused souls).
Therefore, one concern that I had for The Defenders was that dedicated fans would love it, but casual Netflix watchers would be in over their heads. During the first scene, I worried that I was in over my head, as I felt thrown into one character’s journey and thought that I should already know the characters involved. But in the end, these fears were unwarranted.
This first episode does a fabulous job of picking up each character at the end of their individual story, moving them toward the over-reaching arc of the series, and providing the audience an introduction to their world. Magically, this happens without obvious moments of exposition. There’s no moment where the audience is told, explicitly, that Jessica Jones is a super-strong private investigator with a drinking problem, attitude problem, friends she may or may not deserve, and was recently involved in a high-profile murder. But by the end of the episode, everybody will know this, even if they have never seen an episode of the stand-alone series focusing on her character.
The audience is introduced to Luke Cage as he makes his way back to New York, and becomes familiar with the names, locations, and relationships that are intrinsic to his character. There is no explanation of the definition of the word “Coffee,” but the audience will know that the bullet-proof man is not talking about a caffeine fix. In fact, the only detail the audience may still not know after the first episode is that Cage is bulletproof. If the detail is explained, it is in a subtle manner that won’t drive dedicated fans crazy.
Finn Jones‘ Danny Rand shows, rather than explains, his powers. His journey may leave the casual watcher confused, but Danny is confusing. Even dedicated fans will need to catch up with his story a little, and the first episode makes a good effort to let you know all that we need to know about Danny, his relationship with Colleen, his angst, and his powers, to get started.
Then, of course, there is Matt Murdock. If there was any character that the writers could assume the audience already knows, it would be him. With powers that are hard to describe and his many relationships that are in disarray, the story catches us up with him, providing a solid introduction to his situation in a way many viewers may not even realize. So many aspects of his life are offered in throw-away comments and conversations that if you are looking for, are extremely expository. But as a fan that has watched all of the Daredevil episodes more than twice, there were absolutely no moments that felt unnecessary in the process of this exposition. I feel like somebody who has never met the character would be just as prepared to see Matt Murdock move forward in all of his conflicted glory as those of us that have followed the character’s every action.
Then, there is Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra. Just as we were given snippets of the other characters, we are introduced to her as if we are just as intimate with her background. Just as we were thrown into the middle of the lives of the Defenders, we are thrown into the middle of her story, with understandably less explanation.
Without Alexandra’s entrance, it would have been a disjointed series that follows four characters in one city, with lives that only hint at inter-connectivity. The scenes were put together so that each character had their own distinct world which we moved between through creative transitions and glorious tricks of lighting, but the stories were independent. Something had to happen to change this, and it is clear that when the exposition ends, the action will begin.
After seeing this first eighth of the series, I’m confident that it is in good hands with showrunner Marco Ramirez and that we will not be disappointed when the whole thing is available on August 18th. Until then, no, I will not tell you more. But you can tell me what you are excited about!