Netflix and Marvel Studios have been collaborating for a while now, giving us some great shows. We’ve seen two seasons of Daredevil, and one each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Now, just as the solo heroes came together to form the Avengers in the Marvel movies, the Netflix characters are uniting as the Defenders. Also along for the ride are much of the supporting cast from the individual shows, and the enigmatic Madame Gao, as well as Claire Temple, the only character to appear in all four series so far. I’m presuming that if you’re watching/interested in Defenders, you’ve seen the shows that came before it, so I’m not explaining every reference.
“The H Word” is the first episode of the series. Just as the various solo shows took their time to set up a story and gain momentum, the Defenders doesn’t rush things. In fact, the four heroes don’t cross paths at all this episode. Instead, we get a combination of taking stock of where the characters are, and what will eventually bring them together.
The show opens with a combination chase and fight in tunnels under Phnom Phen in Cambodia. Danny Rand is pursuing someone who is about as good as he is, and he gets cut for his pains, a nasty sword wound across his chest and his trademark dragon brand. He tries to save someone, and is too late to do so. The dying man urges Danny to return to New York. We also see that Danny is still with Colleen Wing, his love interest, sidekick, and kick-ass fighter in her own right from the Iron Fist series.
After this sequence, we get the title and opening sequence. Most of these haven’t really done much for me, and the Defenders one is kinda… there. Mostly, it’s about music and moody silhouettes that double as maps of parts of New York. As I said, it’s not exactly inspiring.
Speaking of not inspiring, Jessica is up next, and she’s passed out in a bar. Some things never change. Eventually, she staggers out into the street for a meet up with her best friend, Trish Walker. Personally, I’m still hoping Trish eventually adopts her comic book persona of Hellcat, but there’s no sign of that so far. They walk and talk, mostly Trish urging Jessica to get her life together after Jessica “liberates” Trish’s car from a tow truck. Trish calls her a “full blown superhero,” which Jessica is clearly not comfortable with.
The next sequence is about Luke Cage leaving Seagate Prison. The inmates cheer his release, but whether that’s them being happy to see someone get out, or relief that a superpowered hero type is leaving isn’t clear. Cage meets Foggy Nelson, and they banter about Luke’s case, Foggy’s nickname, and Luke’s opportunities. Luke leaves after getting to slip in the catch phrase from his series about “moving forward.” Of course, Foggy was from Daredevil, not Luke Cage, so maybe he hadn’t heard it yet.
Rounding out our quartet, Matt is at home dictating to a machine that prints out in braille, no doubt a very useful gadget for a blind lawyer. His work gets interrupted when we hear trouble out in the streets, but Matt doesn’t leap into action as his costumed alter ego. He does go to court, and shows that he’s a very skilled lawyer. After the case, he meets up with Karen Page, and they set up a date for later.
Colleen and Danny are on their way back so they can be in the same city as everyone else, enjoying the benefits of Danny’s corporate ties aboard his jet. Well. Colleen is enjoying. Danny is off in nightmare land, where he is dealing with the guilt of leaving K’un-Lun. He doesn’t share his dreams with Colleen, giving her a chance to get in one of the better lines of the episode involving the word “fine.” They both agree that whoever Danny fought in the tunnels is amazingly fast, although they’re not sure if the villain was part of the Hand.
While the jet-setters are coming home, we get to meet the big bad for this team up, Alexandra, as played by Sigourney Weaver. We don’t find out what she’s up to, but we get a pretty good idea as to what the catalyst for her as yet unknown evil plan is. As motivations go, it’s an understandable one.
Jessica makes her way back to her home/office, and shows she can’t even get respect from the elevator. She has potential clients lurking in the hallway in the form of Michelle and Lexie Raymond, but Jessica is completely disinterested in helping find the woman’s missing husband. The only person less impressed is Lexie, the daughter, who is apparently double majoring in scorn and snark. After they have a not really pleasant exchange, Jessica goes inside. Her apartment is still damaged from the big fight with Simpson during her own series. Then someone makes a big mistake, leaving a threatening message for Jessica about the case she already refused. The one-sided exchange does let us hear Jessica’s voice mail greeting, such as it is.
Cage makes his largely unnoticed return to Harlem, coming back by bus (there’s a contrast from Danny’s private jet) and watching various scenes through the windows. There’s a quick glimpse of the Barber Shop from Cage’s show before he meets up with Claire. They go back to her place (I’m guessing, since his places kept getting blown up) for a very enthusiastic homecoming. They manage to finish before Misty Knight shows up and takes Luke for a walk to talk about some problems in the neighborhood.
Matt and Karen’s dinner date is mostly filled with talk about what they’re up to now. She’s really enjoying being a reporter, and comments that Matt is doing well as a lawyer. Daredevil is discussed, but in the past tense. Apparently, Matt is putting his costumed adventures behind him.
Jessica, annoyed (her default setting) by the strange phone call, is poking around a bit about the missing architect. Malcolm, her sort of assistant, comes in for some verbal abuse, which he ignores. Malcolm actually makes some useful suggestions and helps Jessica figure out what she’s going to do next. I kind of liked Malcolm, so I’m glad he’s back for this show.
Luke and Misty reflect on the bad guys they beat in his show, but there’s a new problem in the neighborhood, endangering the young men. She’s not exactly asking Luke to take action as a vigilante, but does encourage him to try and be a mentor like Pop was. I think he’d rather be punching things, but he agrees.
Matt goes back to his church for confession with Father Latham, another character I’m glad to see again. We get a bit more insight into Matt’s current circumstances, and learn how he really feels about Daredevil’s “retirement.” They also talk about Matt’s late lover, Elektra. Matt is almost as good at guilt as he is at taking a beating.
The next scene gives us an idea about how much of a threat Alexandra is. She meets with Madame Gao in a park. Gao has been a threatening presence in several shows, and always been cocky and amused. She’s neither of those with Alexandra, and we see very quickly who is in charge. If Gao’s that worried about her, Alexandra must be bad news.
Luke tries to do what he said he would for Misty, and seeks out the young man Misty is worried about, Cole. Cole is Candace’s brother, the witness who we lost during Cage’s series. The kid sounds like he’s in a lot of trouble, but doesn’t want Luke’s help and isn’t really specific about what’s going on. Judging from one of the trailers, I think I know what happens next here.
As Cage leaves his fool’s errand, Jessica is on her own. She tracks down the man she refused to be hired to find (because broke PI’s don’t need money, I guess), or at least his apartment. Inside she gets a lot of surprises. Things are not what they seem, and this might be a bit much for even her powers to handle.
The episode wraps up with Alexandra being smug and dismissive of Gao again as their plan moves forward. We see all the heroes react to a rare event for Manhattan, and they are all taken by surprise. Personally, I think this has something to do with the big hole from Daredevil season two. But I guess we’ll find out.
What I liked: I’m a sucker for a good hero story, and love it when they end up teaming up. So far, the closest they have gotten is Foggy meeting Luke, but they’ll get there. I’m pretty sure I know who Danny fought in the sewers, but I think that’s fairly obvious. It’s a good build towards uniting the Netflix Marvel-verse. I was glad to see some of the smaller characters, like Malcolm and Father Lantom, made it to this show.
What I didn’t: Jessica’s alcoholism seems to be getting worse, and she’s being the really predictable “Don’t tell me to back off” PI here. I was hoping the characters would meet earlier, but it’s an ok start for that, I guess. Misty seems to be doing this odd “No, don’t help me, but please help” kind of thing with Luke.
It was a decent start. I’ll give a solid 3.5 out of 5 and see where we go from here.