Considering how the last episode ended, ‘Take Shelter’ begins fairly anti-climatically. We see the Five Fingers of The Hand slowly closing in on their targets while some pleasant classical music plays in the background. As they finally converge on the Chinese restaurant, we find our four heroes fighting off Elektra just as the big guns arrive.
What happens next is a crazily disjointed fight scene. With none of the Defenders used to relying on others, they bumble about trying to knock out as many soldiers and leaders as they can. As uncomfortable it was to watch them fight, there were a few fun moments: Luke acts as a human shield for Jessica and Danny (adorable), Matt and Elektra run away to have a one-sided chat/fight in an alley (talk about domestic), Sowande kicks Luke’s butt using his fingers (pressure points, anyone?), Luke gets hit by a garbage truck (‘cause he’s trash), Stick slices up a bunch of ninja with his sword (still better than The Hand when he’s one-handed, lol), and Madame Gao force punches open a barricaded door (apparently she’s a Sith).
Afterwards, once it’s clear that The Hand will go after their loved ones, the episode spends a majority of its duration bringing in all the supporting characters we saw in the first episode. Karen and Trish meet for the first time while Claire, Misty, and Colleen all clearly have some bigger roles to play based on the dialogue. The Defenders is definitely capitalizing on all the amazing cast members from each separate series to create a unified world for all these characters to live. It becomes a more tightly-knitted show as a result.
As the supporting characters start to come together at the Harlem Police Precinct, so does the show’s cinematography. We see Danny wearing a dark hoodie like Luke, the camera starts to stalk Matt from location to location, we see more emotional shots of Luke’s face, and Jessica appears to be out of focus and in the background in a lot of the group shots. Its a clever and interesting method of showing everyone’s worlds start to blend together. Read more about the show’s distinct cinematography here »
We also get to finally see Matt in his full Daredevil costume. With the suit back on, Matt stops pulling his punches and is determined to go after The Hand and Elektra with everything he has. Jessica’s undercutting of his costume — “The scarf looked better. Nice ears.” — when she first sees his outfit is perfect, and so is his response — “They’re horns”. It’s a nice moment of levity before the hard cut to Daredevil torturing one of the Five Fingers of The Hand.
The rest of the Defenders suddenly look on in awe and fear as Matt interrogates their hostage, Sowande, who was captured by Luke in a failed kidnapping attempt against Harlem’s Hero. With Daredevil’s return, the dynamics change once again. The others don’t trust Matt; he is still lying to them and refuses to talk about killing Elektra. Stick witnesses Danny’s lack of skill and naïveté and starts to doubt the Iron Fist’s leadership skills. Instead, he asserts that Matt should be the one to lead the team into the coming war.
The Defenders are growing in strength, but there’s still some team dynamics to work out.
The overall strongest element of this episode is that The Hand finally becomes a more credible, concrete, and engaging antagonistic force within The Defenders.
In previous episodes, The Hand appears as an intangible shadowy organization known only through inadmissible hearsay. Even with Alexandra acting as the face of The Hand, it never felt real. Now we have the evidence of power set behind all previous unbelievable stories.
What is most interesting is The Hand’s motivations. Although it is revealed that The Hand was behind the disasters of Pompeii and Chernobyl, they never had any ill-will against those cities or their societies (unlike Bane’s League of Shadows in The Dark Knight Rises).
With the identity of the Five Fingers of The Hand revealed, we now get to see the complexity of the organization and its goals. For example, each of the Five Fingers possess his or her own motivations, allegiances, and agendas which usually seem to conflict with the other members and their leader, Alexandra. The leaders of The Hand wish to return to K’un-Lun, their home, hence why they need the Iron Fist alive. But it seems that Alexandra might lust for eternal life for other reasons. So, as powerful and united as The Hand seems, the organization is crumbling from the inside out.
Alexandra’s character also gets from fleshing out in this episode. In a short exchange with Elektra, Alexandra tells of a daughter she had in her “first life”. The daughter’s death is the main catalyst for Alexandra originally seeking out K’un-Lun, and later being banished from it. It seems that finally, more than halfway through the series, we are seeing Alexandra in a new light, as opposed to the haughty and fanatical villain she was originally portrayed.
In conclusion, The Defenders continues to move forward strongly, with each episode more focussed on the motivations and divisions within The Hand. As the antagonists grow further apart, the Defenders grow into a stronger unit.
[media courtesy of Netflix]