The Defenders season 1 is part origin story for the supergroup known as The Defenders and part war against the Hand, a superevil power. Most of the supporting characters from the individual series for each of the 4 superheroes make at least a small appearance. There are a few mild spoilers in the review.
Setting the Stage
The first episode, “The H Word,” is a setup episode. It introduces the main characters and tells viewers where they are right now.
The Defenders opens with Danny Rand (Finn Jones), or Iron Fist, and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) fighting in the sewers of Asia while searching for the Hand. When he’s unsuccessful, he and Colleen return to the U.S. in his private jet.
Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is out of prison. He’s met at his release by lawyer Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) who helped spring him.
Waiting for him is Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). Since they were ready to have sex when the Luke Cage series ended and didn’t get to, they do it now. With enthusiasm. They’re basking in the afterglow when Det. Misty Knight (Simone Missick) shows up at the door. She asks Luke to help the police with a series of car burning deaths.
Luke looks into the deaths and finds kids who are given dangerous night jobs, in particular he finds Cole (J. Mallory McCree). The Hand is involved, but Luke doesn’t realize it until later.
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) stays drunk rather than take new cases or repair her smashed apartment. Her sister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) urges her to go back to work. Jessica is unconvinced.
When Jessica returns to her home/office a woman (Michelle Federer) and daughter (Chloe Levine) await. They want her to take a case involving a missing husband – an architect who just built a skyscraper. Jessica refuses. After they are gone, Jessica looks up the missing man and becomes interested.
Jessica’s neighbor Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville) lets himself into her apartment. Frequently. Together they look at the missing husband info on the internet. Malcolm is ready to help Jessica if she’s going to take this case. She says she isn’t, but she’s hooked anyway.
Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), or Daredevil, is practicing law and winning cases. He swears he’s through being Daredevil. Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), his former secretary, former lover, and a current journalist has coffee with him. They talk about themselves and she gets quotes for an article on the case.
The four main characters are calm and composed. Life is normal and uncomplicated. Now is a good time to meet the villain.
Meet Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver). She’s dying of some unspecified disease with only a short time to live. She meets up with Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) and tells her their plans must be moved up. Madame Gao returns later with the news that the timeline moved up.
Episode 1 ends with Alexandra Reid and Madame Gao enjoying a huge seismic upheaval under NYC. It wasn’t an earthquake, it was something caused by Alexandra Reid and her minions. It shook the whole city.
The Meet Cutes
Episode 2, “Mean Right Hook,” puts the heroes together. Jessica follows her lead about the missing husband to a motel filled with explosives and cops from every agency in the world. She lifts some of the explosives on her way out and Det. Knight sees it.
Jessica digs through old records of assets changing hands. She goes back over 100 years and needs to go further. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) shows up and tells her to lay off. Then Jeri tells Foggy to make sure what Jessica is doing doesn’t get connected to them.
When Jessica gets back to her place, the missing husband (Zack Robidas) is there with a gun on Malcolm. He talks about it and them but doesn’t say who that is. Elektra (Elodie Yung) pops in long enough to shoot him. [Oops. See correction to this in the comments.]
When Jessica chases after Elektra, she gets arrested by Det. Knight.
At the police station, Matt Murdock walks in and announces he is Jessica’s lawyer. Okay, Jessica Jones and Daredevil met.
Danny and Colleen go to a sword makers shop in search of a clue about the Hand. They find a room full of dead people. Guys in gas masks come in and do something to the bodies. The guys run, Danny and Colleen run. Danny stops a guy, rips off his mask and sees Cole, the kid Luke Cage was helping. Naturally, Luke Cage shows up at that exact second. Luke and Danny become acquainted by seeing who can punch each other the hardest.
Trish talks about the earthquake on her “Trish Talks” radio show and gets shut up just as a geologist tells her it couldn’t have been an earthquake.
Episode 2 ends when we learn Alexandra has Stick (Scott Glenn) in her clutches.
The Gang’s All Here
In episode 3, “Worst Behavior,” we see flashbacks: Alexandra resurrects Elektra and trains her to kill for the Hand. Elektra is supposed to remember language and her fighting skills when resurrected – nothing more.
Each hero follows their own set of clues to a particular skyscraper where a financial group headed by Alexandra and the Hand operate. The four of them are thrown together to defeat scores of fighters. Daredevil engages in a protracted battle with Elektra. He recognizes her and says her name – she gives him a funny look, like she remembers him.
A few other interesting details from episode 3: Alexandra is apparently hundreds of years old, Stick escapes, and Claire and Colleen are good friends from way back.
In episode 4, the heroes decamp to the Royal Dragon Cafe. There they talk, argue, eat together, and bond. Stick shows up. Jessica, ever the anti-social one, walks out. While she’s gone, Jessica figures out some info about Alexandra.
Alexandra shows up at the Royal Dragon wanting the Immortal Iron Fist to go with her. She brought Elektra. Just as Elektra is about to tear into them, Jessica comes through the front window in a car and bashes Elektra unconscious.
The four heroes and Stick agree to fight this fight together. We are half way through season 1, and the team is formed. They aren’t buddies, but they’ve agreed to work together on this one problem.
From episode 5 on, the war against the Hand begins in earnest. Much of it involves the Hand wanting Iron Fist. There were spectacular fight scenes, arguing and planning among the good guys and the bad guys, and plenty of plot twists.
Friends and family were spirited away to a safe location inside the police station. Having them all in one place made many plot points easy to deal with. Plus, we saw more of some of our favorite people like Karen, Claire, Malcolm and Trish who weren’t busy with the action.
The people you least expected turned out to be working with the Hand. The people you least expected got their heads chopped off.
Elektra became more and more dangerous and treacherous as the season drew to a close. She got her hands on Danny Rand and tricked him into doing what she wanted deep in the subbasement of the skyscraper where so much of the action took place.
When the team went into the skyscraper to get Danny back, it included not only Luke, Jessica, and Matt but also Claire and Colleen. Luckily, Det. Knight covered for these superheroes and their friends as the NYPD attempted to keep up with them and arrest them one more time.
The final episode was a series of battles followed by a lengthy meditative ending. The quietly thoughtful ending allowed everyone time to deal with their connections and feelings.
Although the final episode of the season was called “The Defenders” the foursome never referred to themselves by that name.
The Defenders was created and written by Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez. Only one episode was directed by a woman: Uta Briesewitz.
Everyone stayed true to character. Luke Cage was kindhearted and wanted do the right thing to help people. Jessica Jones was snarky and distrustful. Matt Murdock was a practicing Catholic who believed in the power of love. Danny Rand was an annoying rich kid.
The cinematography was often puzzling. Shots were taken upside down or from odd angles. There were conversations where faces were blocked from view by the back of someone’s head. Aerial shots were abundant. There were even shots from inside drawers! The color palette leaned toward dark and shadowy. The fight scenes, present in every episode, were often so dark it was hard to tell who was fighting.
The hip hop music tacked on the the last big fight scene was just wrong. No hip hop for 8 episodes and suddenly we’re supposed to bash to the beat? It didn’t fit.
Jessica and Luke were the standout characters in The Defenders for me. Elektra, though evil, was awesome. Sigourney Weaver added a degree of class to her evil character. Where would any of the Marvel superheroes be without Claire Temple? Really, she is the glue holding everything together.
The Defenders was wordy. The characters talked and talked about what they were doing. That created long sections of interpersonal drama between the action scenes. At times it was overly moralistic and almost boring, especially when Jessica wasn’t there to punctuate everything with sarcastic humor. Lengthy exposition about the Hand, the Chaste, K’un-Lun and Marvel mythology was deemed necessary to build up a unifying background for the team that would become The Defenders. This was the origin story for The Defenders, after all.