Since Marvel’s Netflix shows have been progressively more disappointing since the exciting launch of Daredevil in 2015, The Defenders gives the studio a chance to reset things by bringing Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist together for an eight-episode mini-series. The first episode provides a promising start, although the heroes still haven’t been brought together in a single room.
Although Marvel Studios should be trying to help us forget the terrible first season of Iron First, The Defenders has strong ties to that series. The main villain is still The Hand, which Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) spent 13 episodes trying to destroy. They also played a role in the second season of Daredevil, with Elektra (Elodie Yung) linked to the group. Danny and Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) also had run-ins with Madam Gao (Wai Ching Ho), who they assume is a major leader in The Hand. Danny found out he was wrong about that, as Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez) took over the group. In the first episode of The Defenders, we’re going to learn that even Bakuto isn’t as important as we think.
Since the first episode of The Defenders is more like four shows crammed into one, I’ll look at each story individually. There’s also some Easter eggs along the way.
The series opens in the sewers of Cambodia, far from New York City. There’s two shadowy figures fighting with swords, and slow-motion added for effect. It sure looks like an episode of Iron Fist. Just before the woman kills the other man, Danny swings in to stop her, leading to a fist-versus-sword fight. The woman gets to put her knife in the man, and runs off. Colleen tells Danny to find the assassin. Danny catches up with her, and she slashes his chest. His Iron First lights up and flings her back. But by the time Danny heads over to her, she’s gone.
Danny runs over to Colleen and the mysterious wounded man, who surprisingly knows who Danny is. “The war you’re fighting… it’s not here,” the man says with his last breath. “It’s in New York City.” (Cue really cool title sequence.)
After the first scenes with the other three heroes, we return to Danny on his private jet, flying back to New York. Danny is still uncomfortable flying – after all, his parents died in a plane crash. He’s having a nightmare, seeing the monks of K’un-Lun lying dead. A version of Danny confronts Danny to tell him that he let them all die at the hands of The Hand because he left. Colleen wakes him up and asks him to talk. Danny tries to shake her off, but she insists. He’s troubled by what happened in Cambodia and is convinced that The Hand did it. She doesn’t know, reminding Danny that the Hand didn’t tell her everything. (Remember, Iron Fist revealed that Colleen was a member of The Hand.)
After a lot of action in-between, we catch up with Danny and Colleen, arriving in New York City. “What do you need it to be?” Danny asks. “Home,” Colleen replies.
After the title, we find Jessica Jones (Kysten Ritter) doing what she does best – drinking at a bar. The bartender wakes her up by opening the blinds. It’s morning already and Jessica is late for a meeting with Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor). After Trish from having to deal with NYPD bureaucracy by saving her car, Jessica has to hear Trish pitch about a great opportunity to earn money by telling her story (see season one of Jessica Jones). Jessica still hasn’t gone back to work as a private investigator and doesn’t like hearing the word “superhero.”
Jessica arrives at her apartment, where she finds a woman and her daughter asking her to find her husband, John Raymond. She dismissed the case, assuming the man is just cheating on his wife. As the woman leaves, Jessica tells them she hopes she finds Raymond. When Jessica goes into her (still damaged) apartment, she gets a mysterious phone call telling her not to look for John Raymond.
(If you’re wondering, there is no Marvel character named “John Raymond,” although there is a DC Comics character.)
Malcolm (Eka Darville) comes barging in to find Jessica researching John Raymond. She learns that he is an architect and catches Malcolm up on what happened. Jessica still insists that she’s not taking the case, but Malcolm figures out that she’s already interested. So she picks up the phone and calls an operator to see if the call can be traced. It turns out that the call was placed from a payphone on the corner of 11th Avenue and 49th Street. Malcolm says he knows the place – it’s a building where people using heroin will go. Jessica storms out of the apartment to head there.
Jessica walks into the building, and banks on John Raymond’s door. When no one answers, Jessica breaks the doorknob and goes in. What she finds is scary – a box of explosives. “Holy shit.”
Luke Cage’s (Mike Colter) story begins with him getting out of Seagate prison, where he returned at the end of season one. After all, you can’t be a hero and a wanted man for escaping prison. He meets Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson), who helped get Luke out of jail early (legally this time). Foggy tells Luke that he has to thank his friend Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones), too. Luke was disappointed that Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) wasn’t there to meet him.
The scene also shows some rare levity in a Marvel Netflix show:
“People call me Foggy.”
“And you let them?”
As Luke Cage arrives in Harlem, he finds Claire outside his apartment and they get that “cup of coffee” up stairs. Luke tells her that her letters helped him get through the toughest times in prison. He noticed that she never told him about how things had changed in Harlem. It turns out that Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) is still doing the “same shit” she was doing before. Claire also suggests that he find something to do with his life. He says he wants to help people, but Claire thinks he should help himself.
There’s a knock and the door to interrupt them. It’s an old friend – Misty Knight (Simone Missick). Misty takes Luke for a tour of the changed Harlem. Misty says she’s still on the police force. Luke says he hopes to work with her to take down Mariah and Shades (Theo Rossi), which is good news for Misty because she’s sure they’re doing something illegal.
But Misty surprisingly tells him that a better idea would be to help Harlem in other ways. They walk by a burned-out car on the side of the road. A 25-year-old man died inside it, but Misty thinks there’s something else going on. She thinks Harlem’s youth is being used for “late-night duty.” Seven kids have gone missing after moving his mom out of the city. No one knows exactly what they’re doing.
Misty asks Luke if he remembers Candace Miller (Deborah Ayorinde). In Luke Cage, she was killed before she could testify against Mariah. There’s only one more sibling left. Luke offers to help find who’s behind it, but Misty thinks it would be better if he guides the young man in a new direction.
Luke shows up at Cole’s building, finding him in a poorly furnished apartment with some expensive shoes. Cole asks if he knew his brother, Sean. Luke asks if he thinks his brother’s death was connected to Candace’s. But Cole gives the same “official” story – that Sean died in an accident. He also doesn’t “know anything” about Sean’s new job. After noticing the sneakers, Luke asks Cole if he got a new job. He says he’s in between things.
When Luke offers to help Cole, Cole suggests he leaves. “It’s too late for all that,” Cole says. “Think about your mom… what she’s already been through,” Luke says. Cole tells Luke to leave, and that the only way to help him is to make him bulletproof too.
Matt’s story starts in his apartment, where he’s preparing for his closing statement in a case. His “Daredevil senses” are tingling, but he holds off on jumping out to save people. Instead, he heads to court, where he’s representing Aaron James (Gabe White), a client suing a company after he suffered an injury. The charismatic Matt wins $11 million for Aaron’s parents, but Aaron doesn’t seem happy. He’s overwhelmed by the attention. Matt tries to cheer him up… by telling him how hard his life will be.
“You realize you’re only at mile one of a marathon, right?” Matt asks him. Aaron tells him that he’s angry and wants his life back. “They can’t give you that,” Matt says. He tells the kid that his ability to face his challenges is more impressive than smiling and pretending everything is going to be fine.
“No one can give you your life back, Aaron. You have to take it back.”
Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who knows Matt is Daredevil, shows up to congratulate him. She invites him to lunch. There, the two catch up, with Matt complimenting Karen on her work at the newspaper. Matt says he’s happy with the pro bono work he’s doing. Karen asks him if he wished he didn’t tell her he was the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.” He nods, says he couldn’t keep lying to her. He even says he doesn’t miss fighting. It’s a “chapter of my life and now it’s closed.” Karen tells him that the police are working and that Daredevil might have made the city a better place. She turns the subject to work – she still needs that statement on the Aaron James case.
Later, we find Matt in confession, admitting that he told Karen a lie. He really has missed being Daredevil. Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie) tells him that this lie is a sign that his mind and soul are not aligned. “Ignoring doesn’t change anything, Matthew,” Lantom says. “God knows your heart. Let Him in so He can help.” Lanthom asks Matt if his heart is still in his “other life” or is his heart with the one who walked with him – Elektra. Matt says the things she brought out in him were wrong. Matt fears that Elektra would think he is abandoning her, but Lantom reminds him that he is moving on.
“There is nothing wrong with letting her go,” he says. “She’ll find her peace. I pray you find yours as well.”
Our introduction to the mysterious Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) comes in a hospital. After an exam, the doctor tells her that she is going to die. Alexandra knows – all her major organs are going to collapse and her red blood cell count is dropping. There’s nothing doctors can do, even with her resources. She has months or weeks left before dying.
Later, Gao meets with Alexandra in Central Park. Alexandra tells the story of the Dutch acquiring Manhattan for $24. “Ask me, they overpaid.” Gao says her contact in the mayor’s office and they can begin their plan in three months. But Alexandra says the plan needs to begin now. Gao warns her that if they speed the process, it will not be quiet. Gao says she will make sure to tell the others. Alexandra leaves, telling her to feed the birds. That establishes the power dynamic for us – Gao is her subordinate.
On the rooftop of Alexandra’s building, Gao tells her that arrangements have all been made. Gao reminds her that there’s still time to rethink this, but she orders her to go.
Matt arrives home. First he hears dogs barking, then his building starts shaking. It’s shaking at John Raymond’s place, too. And it’s shaking when Danny and Colleen land. A crack runs through their helicopter pad. The quake shakes Harlem up too.
Alexandra looks satisfied and turns to see a cloaked figure behind her. It’s Elektra.
“It’s just a city,” Alexandra says. “You’ll get used to watching them fall.”
The episode ends with the quake stopping. Matt hears all the pain it’s caused.