Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"Ashes, Ashes" Slowly Moves To Two Big Marvel Cinematic Universe Deaths!

The Good: Stick is proven to be the smartest character of the franchise, Good acting, Lines from Jessica Jones
The Bad: Dull, meandering, plot, Some serious technical and character issues
The Basics: The Defenders take time to regroup in "Ashes, Ashes" while The Hand does the same thing.

As The Defenders nears its climax, it is interesting to see what directions it chooses to go. Unfortunately, because the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so vast, it is tough for even the Netflix components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to retain some sense of originality. "Ashes, Ashes," for example, opts to go exactly where Luke Cage went a year prior in its handling of the (apparent) primary villain of the series and that is incredibly disappointing for fans - especially given how The Defenders had a limited amount of time and space to develop new adversaries. "Ashes, Ashes" uses Sigourney Weaver's Alexandra to reveal to viewers just how The Hand has operated for centuries and it manages to elevate Elektra to a level of villainy that justifies the fear Stick had in the Black Sky.

"Take Shelter" (reviewed here!) led directly into "Ashes, Ashes." As a result, the heroes of The Defenders are holed up at the outset together, The Hand is experiencing serious fractures and the sidekicks from the prior Marvel Cinematic Universe endeavors are all sequestered together at Misty Knight's precinct for their safety.

Alexandra is listening to a record when she notices, to her dismay, that it is warped. The Defenders are reeling from Stick having just killed Sowande in front of them. With Stick having realized that Rand is the key to something The Hand wants to unlock, Danny Rand freaks out. After the rest of the team incapacitates Danny Rand, Stick reveals to the team that Matt might know where the door The Hand wants to unlock is; in the hole beneath the skyscraper that is now Midland Circle. While Jones and Murdock head for the architect's house to get the plans, Stick and Cage dispose of Sowande's body . . . by Stick shipping his head to The Hand!

While Murdock and Jones visit Raymond's brownstone for information on Midland Circle, Madame Gao tries to work with and warn Alexandra of her place in The Hand's leadership. While Stick meditates, Cage and Rand actually begin to bond. Alexandra visits Elektra at Elektra's grave and works to bring her back to her cause as the Black Sky. After Jones and Murdock get the plans to Midland Circle and the hole beneath it, Stick makes a move on the Iron Fist, which leaves the team vulnerable to Elektra.

The Defenders seems incredibly derivative in "Ashes, Ashes" and not just from other Marvel Cinematic Universe works. Danny Rand is straight out of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer playbook when he whines at the outset of the episode that he is not a key. Sadly, Finn Jones is not a better actor than Michelle Trachtenberg. Furthermore, "Ashes, Ashes" reduces The Chaste to an analogy to Whedon's Knights Of Byzantium as Stick has the most pragmatic approach to Danny Rand. In fact, it is somewhat shocking that it takes Stick so long to make an attempt on Rand's life to try to save New York.

"Ashes, Ashes" is weird in that it gets a number of key character details wrong for the protagonists. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have their first genuine opportunity to converse since Cage abruptly ditched Jones near the climax of the first season of Jessica Jones. Cage abandoned her because she was tied to his wife's death; since then, he has learned that Reva was simply using him and was a part of the organization that violently gave him his unbreakable skin and exceptional strength. Cage, who is usually a good, stand-up guy, has the chance to end much of Jones's inner turmoil, but the dialogue is a bland brushing off of how their relationship ended and why.

The Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has smartly and slowly developed The Hand as an adversary. While the ninjas of The Hand have been disposable and easily-defeated, Madame Gao has represented a powerhouse of villainy for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gao shows deference to Alexandra and that instantly elevated Alexandra the moment she appeared on screen. Bokuto was a half-rate villain in Iron Fist, Sowande was barely in The Defenders before he was killed. In "Ashes, Ashes," Murakami is a non-entity, which helps to undermine the menace of The Hand. Gao and Alexandra seem the most competent members of The Hand leadership and it is shocking how milquetoast the other three leaders are/were.

The tragedy of "Ashes, Ashes" - outside Danny Rand being a whiny little toad who is completely upstaged by Luke Cage's biceps (it is impossible to deny in this episode that Mike Colter is not only an amazing looking guy, but he's got charisma coming out his ears - or more accurately, eyes, smile, and voice) - is that the climax finds Elektra revealing her true level of power . . . at the expense of one of the worthwhile characters from The Defenders.

Elodie Yung is good as Elektra and director Stephen Surjik captured her confused expressions as Alexandra indoctrinates the Black Sky quite well. Scott Glenn continues to portray the blind master Stick with a realism that is incredible.

"Ashes, Ashes" plods along with the characters regrouping - Murdock and Jones figure out just where they need to go to stop The Hand over the course of the hour while Stick resolves to prevent the Iron Fist from falling into The Hand's possession and Alexandra similarly getting Elektra back to her cause - before yet another significant battle and a "big twist" moment that is anything but big. The result is a bridge episode that feels like a bridge episode and fairly average television.

For other works with Sigourney Weaver, please check out my reviews of:
The Cabin In The Woods
Red Lights
Cedar Rapids
Baby Mama
Galaxy Quest
The Alien Quadrilogy
Annie Hall

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Defenders - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the street-level heroes here!


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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