Television: Defenders, and why it makes its characters better

Pretty much as long as there have been Marvel movies, audiences awaited a team-up film in the form of the Avengers. When they started releasing Netflix shows, everyone held their breath for a new, darker team-up of heroes and now it’s here. The biggest difference between the Avengers and the Defenders (other than the massive tonal shift, different characters and different medium), is the big-budget MCU movies had a whole two films before they realised that there was going to be a meeting of heroes. Netflix knew about their super-team-up from day one, and as a result, Defenders feels like the final episode of a series made up of all the prior Marvel Netflix shows.

Defenders opens a couple of months after the events of each show, but Iron Fist is the most direct lead into it (and for that reason alone I’m glad I watched the show). The main antagonists are The Hand, who were the main villains Danny Rand struggled against throughout his series, as well as Daredevil’s focus for season two. As a result of not having come across them before, and being more focused in their heroic efforts (Jessica on killing Kilgrave and Luke on protecting Harlem) neither of the other two heroes are particularly interested in this fight at first. Neither is Matt Murdock, although to be fair after the traumatic events that we last saw him in at the end of Daredevil season 2, it isn’t surprising that he has bowed to pressure from his friends to stop being the red vigilante.

DefendersDanny

That leaves Danny. And boy, if you have had to sit through his whinging in Iron Fist, will this be the show for you. Danny spends a good eighty percent of the show telling people what they should do, assuming because he is the Iron Fist he is the natural leader. Unfortunately for him, Matt is the better leader, Jessica has no interest in noble causes (and constantly surprises him with both her strength and rudeness) and Luke takes him to town on white/rich privilege. In other words, Danny Rand’s main role in the series is to be the butt of every joke. As he is someone who’s idiocy never ended up biting him in the ass in his own show, it is an absolute pleasure to see the other heroes take him to task for his shoddy work.

The main person arguing with Danny is Luke, as they meet early in the series through their mutual connection with Claire Temple. Luke is uniquely positioned to talk about privilege, not only being the only black superhero on the team but having just returned from an unfair jail sentence. This experience has made Luke realise that it is much easier to be a hero from a position of privilege, and while he remains determined to help Harlem, he is much more aware of what getting involved might mean he has to sacrifice. This isn’t a world where superheroes hide behind masks after all, and Luke doesn’t want to go back to prison for his part taking down the Hand. This is a more cautious, more world-weary Luke Cage, with the only real light-heartedness coming from his interactions with his girlfriend, Claire and former love-interest Jessica.

DefendersLukeandClaire

DefendersJessica

I am a big fan of Jessica Jones, both the show and the character, and she continues to be my favourite part of this series. Despite this she probably has the smallest role of any of the protagonists, mainly being there for story exposition (her client is the catalyst for many of the events of the show). I wonder whether this is also because the showrunners aren’t fully sure what to do with her yet, considering she and Luke are often part of a package deal in Defenders comics and Luke currently has a girlfriend preventing that from happening. It’s sad to see Jessica develop least of all the characters though simply because she gets the least screen time.

On the other hand, we have Matt Murdoch probably getting the most screen time. After a couple of episodes, you could probably call Defenders “Daredevil series 2.5”, as Matt often feels like the main character with the other Defenders featuring heavily like Punisher and Elektra did in Daredevil season 2.  If it had been set up in any other way, this might have felt disappointing but as Matt goes on the most emotional journey through the show it works perfectly. Not only does he struggle coming to terms with being the defacto leader of the Defenders, as he has the most hands-on experience fighting The Hand (pun intended), he also struggles with feelings of loss and grief throughout the show, due to the events of Daredevil season 2. He feels like the character with the most to overcome at the beginning, and by the end, it feels as if he’s completed the arc Daredevil has been on since the first episode of the Defenders, but the first episode of his show.

DefendersDaredevil

Ultimately Defenders was a good series. Although not managing the highs of Jessica Jones and Daredevil it was a solid show. Best of all it gave us insights into the characters that we might not have otherwise had the chance to see (and I’ve only mentioned the heroes in this blog). I hope that next time it’ll be a little more balanced showing us new character traits and power shifts (okay, let’s face it, I just want more Jessica), but that will probably be something that comes with time as more Marvel Netflix shows continue to come out and be bound together into more Defenders series. That’s the great thing about television, not only do we get to see the characters grow, we get to see the shows grow too, and I can’t wait to see what the next round of Marvel Netflix shows will grow into.

Defenders Background

This is the final post of the Defenders series that I’ve run for the last five weeks. If you want to read the other entries they can be found here:

Daredevil

Jessica Jones

Luke Cage

Iron Fist

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