The end is here. The Defenders has brought together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist to save New York, and like Karen Page, I have jumped in at the last minute to take on the daunting responsibility of reporting on something that requires far more eloquence than I can provide. But some of Stick’s incense was wafted towards Adam, and I’m having to jump in to finish the job.
There is so much in this episode that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. The majority of the action takes place in a fascinating set framed within the rib-cage of an ancient dragon. The imagery was beautiful as The Hand took up arms against our heroes, while the lesser-powered ladies of the show had their own battle above ground. Viewers were taken on an emotional journey while left with more questions than answers. Let’s look at some of the details.
First, in preparation for finding and saving Danny, who is at the bottom of the Midland Circle hole, three of our Defenders along with Colleen and Claire, come to the conclusion that blowing up a Manhattan skyscraper is the best approach to completely destroying The Hand. This decision felt like a means to an end, getting the plot where it needed to go, but not as much based on how incredibly serious such a decision would be. Upon my second watch I was startled by Jessica’s insistence that she just wants to go on with her life, because in what world does such a large action result in just going on with your life?
Perhaps there is a version of this plan where things go well, but that doesn’t provide for high-stakes drama, which is what we get when Luke, Jessica, and Matt make their way to Danny. There is a wonderful bonding moment where they all admit their fear before getting on the hidden elevator, with Matt describing what is waiting as they descend toward Danny in the bowels of the “dying” cousins of Shao-Lao. It finally feels like Matt is open and honest with the team, in almost every way.
The middle third of the episode is a lot of fighting. For those that came to the Netflix series to see a masterpiece in fight choreography, it does not disappoint. In addition to the main Defenders taking on The Hand, we get the addition of Colleen, Claire, and Misty taking on Bakuto, upstairs. In a universe where fighting is an emotional progression as much as a physical one, the fighting felt like it went on a little too long, that it had become fighting for the sake of fighting. But so many developments came about from these fights that, a week later and with a clear head, I can admit that there was an emotional progression to these fights.
Luke and Jessica may have had the weakest reason to endanger their lives, as the connection between the Hand and the investigations that got them to the other Defenders was less personal for them. However, mid-fight, you have to wonder if they continued on this journey because they wanted a reason to make up for past wrongs, and to reconnect with each other. We were never given reason to doubt Luke’s love for Claire, but something was definitely rekindled between him and Jessica at the bottom of that hole.
Danny and Gao had a cryptic interaction that implied that Gao was a part of Rand Enterprises long before Harold Meachum knew he would need The Hand to provide immortality. He fought for all that he had lost, and was inspired in the process. When the second season of Iron Fist comes around, we will see if his journey in The Defenders results in a character more comfortable in his own skin.
Colleen, with no enhancements of her own, defeated Bakuto, an ancient finger of The Hand who was impenetrable to bullets just moment prior to their battle. Try not to think about this whole situation too much, or it could distract you from the more exciting moments above-ground. Try not to think about how excited you were that Misty Knight lost her arm while Colleen and Bakuto fought. Think about how well the plot progressed while we also saw an epic fight continue, even though certain details, such as accidentally triggering a major explosion, felt a little bit forced.
Then there is Matthew Murdock, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, who accepted a team only to let them leave him behind to die with his one true love. Echoing the fight-as-foreplay that Matt and Elektra had in their college years, the pair took the concept to a whole new level while working out their emotions before embracing as the world imploded on their heads. The impact of this decision is seen in the actions of the team members that survived, above-ground, to continue defending the city in his memory.
With the episode title being “The Defenders,” one would expect a classic moment where all four characters line up and walk triumphantly through the streets, owning their city with a quiet but fierce presence. There would be an over-active fog machine to add to the seriousness of their approach, because their journey ended with them as the full on DEFENDERS. But just as these aren’t traditional superheroes, we never got this moment of fierce, calm, unity. We got chaos, from start to finish, and just as Jessica wanted, the survivors went back to their lives… changed.
This is where we would normally put a list of highlights. I would list all the exciting quips, the fact that Misty lost her arm and probably insert some shallow comments revealing how easily I am distracted by muscular biceps (Hello, Mister Darville). But there is a conclusion to this article, and it is harder than most, so I’d rather dedicate this space to evaluating this episode, which also feels like rating the series.
For a week, the editors here at the MCU Exchange have discussed how to rate this episode. For many of us, the first viewing was a let-down, filled with more questions and than answers, with the classic comic moments we wanted so badly over-shadowed by questionable decisions and details that we have had to explain away in order to accept. With 65 episodes leading up to this series, we expected questions to be answered, and to be amazed at how intricate the planning was along the way.
What we got was obviously more improvised, with The Defenders making up solutions along the way, taking the pieces of the past as it fit their needs, and leaving other details behind. The result was a journey that came so close to perfection, but fell short when it should have all come together. After my first watch, I felt let down. After a week, which was how long it took me to want to watch this last episode again, I had come up ways to explain away the little details that were so bothersome, and the episode was far more enjoyable.
In the end, I rate this episode 3 witty comebacks out of 5.
The episode was lovely despite all of the flaws. However, with all of the planning and anticipation, there were far too many flaws. It almost made me forget any and all objections when we finally saw that Matt Murdock survived, and when some anonymous nun summoned Maggie as he gained consciousness. You can’t always win me back with Charlie Cox‘s bare chest, Marvel, though I encourage you to try.
I sincerely hope that all of you enjoyed the series, and envy those that weren’t as caught up on the details. Finally seeing these characters come together is something that we should all celebrate, and there were so many fabulous moments that we will be talking about for years to come. Thank you, for being a part of the journey with all of us at the MCU Exchange.