Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Defenders Begin To Assemble Over "Mean Right Hook"

The Good: Decent performances, Hints of character
The Bad: Meandering plot
The Basics: "Mean Right Hook" begins to bring The Defenders together, albeit slowly, as various cases the heroes are investigating begin to overlap.

Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of The Defenders at the outset of the series is the fact that of the main cast, only Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have even met before, despite operating in a fairly narrow corner of New York City and the common character in the four protagonist's stories has been Claire Temple (the nurse, not only at night!). In fact, the only thing more problematic about the concept of The Defenders at outset is that now that the characters are all in the same time and place, how is it that Spider-Man is not a part of their burgeoning team?! Did the teenager just not notice the earthquake that rumbled through his city? Fortunately for the fairly compacted season of The Defenders, the characters are not kept artificially apart for too terribly long. In fact, by the second episode - "Mean Right Hook" - various heroes are beginning to meet.

"Mean Right Hook" picks up right after "The H Word" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the second episode without some references as to where the first ended. After all, while Jessica Jones has been hunting an architect who has gone missing and has a ton of C-4, Luke Cage, Matt Murdock and Danny Rand have been on more nebulous missions. "The H Word" climaxed with an earthquake in New York City and it is the first overt act of destruction carried out by Alexandra. Alexandra has Elektra by her side and when the earthquake hits, Alexandra is clear with Elektra that Alexandra is the cause of the quake and there is more damage to follow.

In the wake of the earthquake, Matt Murdock (uncostumed) takes to the roof to assess the damage and he goes streetside to stop looters. The next morning, Trish Talk goes on with Trish Walker trying to restore calm in New York City. When she has a caller claiming that the earthquake was uncharacteristically shallow, Trish is taken off the air temporarily. Misty Knight arrives at John Raymond's hideout, where she catches Jessica Jones lifting one of her files. A Colleen Wing's dojo, Danny Rand and Wing regroup and begin a search in New York for those who might have been hurt by The Hand. While Luke Cage cleans up damage in Harlem and Claire Temple assists people wounded in the earthquake, Alexandra visits the Lincoln Center for the performing arts and gets a private concert by a quartet she has funded.

When Jessica Jones discovers that the company Raymond built a building for appears to be ancient and Hogarth tells her to drop the investigation, leading Jones to pursue her investigation knowing that all sorts of federal law enforcement officers are on the case. Luke Cage interrogates Turk and learns that the person recruiting young people for late night work that results in them getting killed is White Hat. Cage finds White Hat, which puts him in the same time and place as Danny Rand, who stumbled onto a crime scene that The Hand needs cleaned up.

As one might expect - given that he has had the most airtime in the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - the first couple episodes of The Defenders have given Matt Murdock a lot to do. While Jessica Jones and Danny Rand are basically trudging through doing what they were doing when last viewers saw them and Luke Cage is reclaiming his life post-prison, Matt Murdock is in a very different place. In "Mean Right Hook," there is no Daredevil; there is only Matt Murdock. While it was heavily insinuated in the confessional scene in the first episode, Murdock is conflicted about giving up his vigilante alter ego. From the very beginning of "Mean Right Hook," Murdock is having trouble keeping himself in check from rushing back to the costume and the vigilante lifestyle. Director S.J. Clarkson and the episode's writers manage to make Murdock's journey feel appropriately tortured and conflicted. Scenes like Murdock simply unlocking his footlocker with his costume in it characterize well the internal struggle Murdock is going through. The friendship between Murdock and Nelson is reinforced in an intriguing way when Nelson brings Murdocks folders worth of work to try to keep him busy fighting the good fight. That friendship leads Nelson to use Murdock to keep Jones out of trouble for the firm in the second of two heroes meeting, resulting in one of the best episode endings for the series.

Luke Cage's return to Harlem is met with an interesting level of realism. Temple, who remained local while Cage was in prison, is more "in the know" about current events in the community. As such, Cage relies upon her in "Mean Right Hook" to know where to go to hunt criminals.

Alexandra's characterization continues to gain depth as the primary villain of The Defenders is fleshed out with an intimate knowledge of classical music works and their creators. Just as Gao has been insinuated to be exceptionally old, Alexandra is clearly ancient - a fact reinforced by Jessica Jones's investigation into a company started in the early 1800s that Hogarth waves her off of.

Poor Jessica Jones's door! That door cannot catch a break, as witnessed by Elektra cutting through the lock in the episode's climax.

"Mean Right Hook" would be a complete loss for The Defenders if it weren't for the character elements peppered through the episode. The plot meanders and when Danny Rand finally encounters Luke Cage, it is hard not to continue to think that the young billionaire is just a dick. That - and the fact that Iron Fist's titular right hook were shown in the preview trailer - rob the episode of a lot of joy that should have come from two of The Defenders meeting for the first time.

Ultimately, "Mean Right Hook" does what it needs to - albeit slowly - in moving protagonists together and elevating the antagonists, but not in any extraordinary way.

For other works with Charlie Cox, please check out my reviews of:
Daredevil - Season 2
Daredevil - Season 1
The Theory Of Everything

[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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