Sunday, August 27, 2017

Blowing Up The Season Finale With "The Defenders"

The Good: Good performances
The Bad: Lousy direction, Obtrusive soundtrack, Virtually non-existent character development, Obvious plot
The Basics: The Defenders reaches its first season finale with its eponymous episode, which does pretty much everything one expects it to.

Before The Defenders began, I had a secret hope for two things that might happen within its first season. The first was that I hoped that Trish Walker would don a costume and become Hellcat to aid The Defenders in their fight, potentially setting up a Heroes For Hire Netflix series with Trish, Colleen Wing, and Misty Knight. Alas, that did not happen. I also hoped that Danny Rand's Iron Fist would die, perhaps going out in a blaze of glory that would have both justified the first season of Iron Fist and perhaps set up a second season with a different incarnation of the Iron Fist (perhaps the female version, maybe have her in the Heroes For Hire series?). My hopes on that second front were dashed in the two days before Netflix released The Defenders when Netflix and Disney announced that they had begun work on the second season of Iron Fist. Given that Finn Jones was part of that announcement, it seemed unlikely that Danny Rand would get killed off in the first season finale of The Defenders, appropriately entitled "The Defenders."

"The Defenders" concludes the events of the first season of The Defenders picking up in the very last moments of "Fish In The Jailhouse" (reviewed here!), which featured Elektra smartly sidestepping the Iron Fist and using her swords to push his fist into the mysterious door. While the three other Defenders prepared to join Danny Rand at the bottom of the Midland Circle pit, the audience saw what appeared to be the skeleton of a K'un-Lun-style dragon on the other side of the door that only the Iron Fist could open.

In the Midland Circle skyscraper, Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage debate with Colleen Wing and Claire Temple using the C-4 Wing brought to blow up the skyscraper. While Cage objects to the course of action, Jones turns the vote by observing that The Hand shows no signs of stopping and they have a willingness to kill all their friends and family. Madame Gao joins Elektra in the fossilized remains of an ancient mystical creature at the bottom of the pit. Gao encourages Elektra to remove The Substance from the fossils and get out of New York City before it collapses entirely. While the Defenders head to the now-open door to rescue Danny Rand, Wing and Temple rush to set the C-4 charges. Knight learns that the C-4 was taken and sets to creating a perimeter and trying to find a way into Midland Circle.

Cage, Jones and Daredevil arrive at the bottom of the pit to rescue Danny Rand, while Misty Knight breaks into the upper levels of Midland Circle. Knight rescues Claire Temple from a Hand ninja and stops the swordfight between Wing and Bakuto. As the three women try to hold off The Hand upstairs, The Defenders try to fight their way through the crowd of Hand ninjas to return to the surface. But Matt Murdock's attachment to Elektra may be his undoing!

"The Defenders" does a decent job of at least playing lip service to the idea that the heroes do not kill. Luke Cage refuses to go along with the "blow up the building" plan until the others commit to not allowing any innocents to die. Despite that, after they commit to that, The Defenders do not set off any sort of alarm to get out anyone like janitorial staff who might be working elsewhere in the building. But, at least on the surface, "The Defenders" provides the appearance that the protagonists care about protecting lives of those not in The Hand.

In an episode that leads to a painfully predictable climax and includes the usual overly-choreographed fight scenes and annoying shaking camera direction, the most enjoyable scene actually involves Trish Walker and Karen Page having a quiet discussion about their places in the lives of Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock. The scene features the two secondary characters sharing and withholding and Deborah Ann Woll and Rachael Taylor to play off one another in a way that is delightful to watch.

Unfortunately, that scene is one of the biggest character moments in the entire episode. The writers seem unable or unwilling to recall even the basic characterization of their protagonists. As such, when Daredevil needs a wall smashed to access the elevator down into the pit, he turns to Luke Cage. Sure, Cage has unbreakable skin, but Jones has super-strength that exceeds Cage's. One swift kick from Jones and the wall should have fallen. But, alas, the writers use the hulking Cage for the job instead of giving Jones a moment where she uses her super powers.

The Hand is troublingly represented in "The Defenders." Bakuto has been a terrible milquetoast of a villain in his time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the footsoldiers for The Hand seem pathetically disposable, like Stormtroopers in the Star Wars Saga. Similarly, Murakami is a virtual non-entity, making him fairly unbelievable as being on the same level as Alexandra, Elektra and Gao. Madame Gao remains impressive, deriding Danny Rand in their big scene together. Moreover, Gao is smart enough to beat a hasty retreat at a key moment, which sets her up to be the continuing villain she has always had the potential to be (despite an unnecessarily vague final scene later).

"The Defenders" is the necessary conclusion to the rising action of The Defenders as the prior episode opened the door and made obvious the endgame; destroying the Midland Circle building. Surprisingly little else happens in "The Defenders," though there are necessary denouement scenes that set up the next season of Daredevil and give Misty Knight a chance to move in a direction her fans from the source material will love. But the climax of the big battle sequences is undermined by the same thing that ruined my hope of the Iron Fist getting killed in the episode and the only redeeming aspect of the final scenes of the series are that they do not insult the viewer's intelligence or awareness of that. Unlike something like the fifth season finale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Joss Whedon's subsequent refusal to discuss over the season break how and when Sarah Michelle Gellar might return to the series, "The Defenders" goes for a big ending that seems to have the heroic sacrifice . . . but leaves the big players in play at the end of the season in an utterly disappointing way.

The result is an entirely anticlimactic season finale that does little to encourage viewers to tune in to the next Netflix Marvel series.

[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 Marvel Cinematic Universe season finales, please check out my reviews of:
"Valediction" - Agent Carter
"World's End"- Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Daredevil" - Daredevil


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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