Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Defenders "Take Shelter" Together And Fight To Defy The Formula

The Good: Good character moments, Decent performances
The Bad: Meandering, slow, plot, Missed opportunities with the secondary characters
The Basics: "Take Shelter" continues to develop The Defenders in a quieter direction as the supporting characters are united, much like the heroes were in the prior episode.

One of the weaknesses of the superhero genre, even for the Netflix television shows, is that there is a sense of formula to much of the work. There are very few superhero works that manage to effectively defy their formula and still maintain the audience. Those hoping that the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be fundamentally alerted by The Defenders were left a bit disappointed by the show utilizing the formula, rather than defying it. The reinforcement of the typical superhero formula comes in "Take Shelter."

"Take Shelter" opens immediately after the comparatively serene episode "Royal Dragon" (reviewed here!), which found characters on all sides talking more than fighting and that was a somewhat refreshing change of pace. "Royal Dragon" climaxed with The Defenders actually coming together as a fighting force in advance of a battle within the Chinese restaurant, the Royal Dragon. "Take Shelter" finds that fight breaking out in the most predictable and obvious way a super-hero show could execute such a fight. The formula is then defied and the sense of calm returns for another character-building episode of The Defenders and "Take Shelter" works on that front.

Three other leaders of The Hand converge upon the Royal Dragon, intent on capturing Danny Rand. Amidst the fighting, Matt Murdock attempts to reason with Elektra, but he fails to reach her for more than a brief moment. Luke Cage is captured by Sowande's forces. The remaining Defenders retreat to Colleen Wing's dojo . . . where Cage arrives with a captured Sowande. Under interrogation, Sowande reveals that the Hand is only after the Iron Fist and he threatens the loved ones of the Defenders. The heroes scramble to get their loved ones to safety. While Claire Temple, Foggy Nelson, Karen Page, Malcolm and Trish Walker are brought to Misty Knight's precinct for protection, Colleen Wing is reunited with Bakuto, her old sensei and one of the leaders of The Hand.

Their loved ones safe, Stick interrogates Sowande and he is joined by Murdock and the others. The Hand convenes and is divided over a course of action as the resurgence of Daredevil leaves them fractured. When Sowande resists answering Murdock's questions, he is forced to come clean about Elektra. When he does, his anger leaves his new teammates vulnerable to Sowande.

"Take Shelter" is instantly notable for having Madame Gao in her most active role yet. Gao has been a villain in both Daredevil and Iron Fist and in the first season of Iron First, she was seen killing one person. Beyond that, Gao has been mysterious and more of a puppet master than an active participant in various villains' enterprises. In "Take Shelter," Gao shows off some Jedi moves and is fully revealed to be much more than the old lady she appears to be (though she still has not transformed into a full-on dragon).

Sigourney Weaver is finally given a great chance to perform as Alexandra in "Take Shelter." Alexandra's backstory is fleshed out when she explains some of her past to the Black Sky and she makes a comparison between her long-dead daughter and Elektra. Weaver transforms a simple exposition scene into a deeper character moment using the power of her performance. Weaver's emotional deliveries makes Alexandra empathetic and intriguing, more than a vessel to deliver backstory.

"Take Shelter" is a quieter episode of The Defenders and the real joy within the episode is seeing the secondary characters of the four Netflix Marvel shows interact. The episode does not end up being a sidekick's version of "Royal Dragon," though, as it remains focused still on the primary protagonists and the meeting of the antagonists. That said, fans of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics are likely to geek out completely over the first meeting and conversation between Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. Those who love Heroes For Hire will see that meeting as a key step in seeing that team realized in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

On the character front, Elektra's sense of conflict over not truly remembering her life before and her new programming to be the Black Sky makes her more compelling than the average villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her inner turmoil is well-executed in "Take Shelter" and actress Elodie Yung shines in delivering Elektra's more subtle moments in the episode. Hell, anyone who can make the act of laying down in a bed gripping television has something going for her! And Yung does exactly that.

The direction in "Take Shelter" is good and Uta Briesewitz quickly gets away from the fight sequences to focus on the rising character tensions between both the group of heroes and the group of villains. The result is a largely satisfying episode of The Defenders that continues to reveal and deepen the characters involved.

For other works with Finn Jones, please visit my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season 1
Game Of Thrones - Season 2
Game Of Thrones - Season 3
Game Of Thrones - Season 4
Game Of Thrones - Season 5
Game Of Thrones - Season 6
Iron Fist - Season 1

[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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