After watching this episode three times, and hoping that I would like it more after each watching, I am sad to say that I am let down by what could have been a promising finale to The Defenders.
The plot starts to crumble throughout the episode — we are left with even more questions than before. What is The Hand’s plan? What was the Black Sky supposed to do? Where’s K’un-Lun? Instead of answers the finale leaves us with tiresome dialogue, forgettable fight sequences, and a disappointing conclusion. It’s all the more regrettable after the show finally picked up speed in the later episodes and offered several blooming character developments and possible friendships.
Here’s the breakdown.
After arguing about whether or not they should blow up Midland Circle and collapse the building into the hole, the heroes finally agree to let Colleen and Claire set the bombs while they go into the hole to retrieve Danny from The Hand. The argument itself seems pointless as they know the building is empty of innocent civilians and that by collapsing the building they would be saving the whole of New York City. Their plan is – as Jessica rightly describes it – an act of domestic terrorism. But to make matters worse, it’s Claire that convinces Luke and Jess this is the right course of action: Claire, the nurse who saves lives, the emotional anchor of the team, the one who is supposed to talk down everyone else when they’ve gone too far… The whole thing just doesn’t fit her character.
Now the Defenders are on on their way down into the creepy cave that’s 600 feet under New York to save a guy they barely know, who has clearly been the problem to begin with. As much as I liked Danny’s redemption-arc in The Defenders, compared to the hot mess that was Iron Fist, I have to say everyone would have been better off if they left him in the hole with The Hand. It would have saved us a whole lot of grief.
That being said, once Matt, Jess, and Luke make to the bottom of the hole, in probably the slowest moving elevator ever created, they take on The Hand in what is supposed to be the final boss battle of the series. Instead of an epic showdown, we get a relentlessly dull succession of fights between the heroes and The Hand’s henchmen (not even The Five Fingers — or, at least, not the good ones).
The whole battle is bizarre, disjointed, and everything that the Defenders are not. The Defenders’ entire premise is about Marvel’s street-level heroes defending their city against the smaller evils (gangs, murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and drug dealers) that super teams like the Avengers cannot hope to tackle. The finale seems to forget this fact and has our heroes fight a secret shadow organization of mystic ninjas in a secret subterranean cave under the streets of NYC within the skeletal remains of a dead dragon. It hardly seems like the proper setting for this battle to take place.
Down in the cave, the camera constantly pans around and around in search of excitement, but all it finds is the super-powered heroes effortlessly beating up anonymous henchmen. There is an obvious attempt to connect the single long camera take to the thrilling hallway fight sequence in Daredevil’s first season, but it really just falls flat. At one point, hip-hop starts playing for no discernible reason. It’s a weird choice a music that had thus far been relying heavily on beautiful orchestral music composed of string and wind instruments.
On the other hand (pun intended), The Hand’s diabolical plan seems to be even more convoluted than it was in the first episode when we knew practically nothing. First they wanted to return home to K’un-Lun, later they needed the Iron Fist to be their key, then they wanted the substance to gain immortal life, finally they would see NYC crumble to get the substance. In the end, it turns out The Hand is working more out of self-preservation than wanting to gain power over their criminal enterprises or than bringing New York City to its knees. What’s the point of it all?
Since the actual plot seems to have ended in the previous episode, all the actions of the Defenders seem to be repeated, just in a different location: they fight hordes of henchmen, again; they battle the Fingers of The Hand, again; and Matt and Elektra are evenly matched and emotional stunted, like always. It’s just a bit boring at this point.
There’s also a few random scenes scattered throughout the episode that don’t seem very well developed. Trish and Karen talk back at the Harlem police station about how they both know that the earthquake was not a natural occurrence. They are just walking around the station and looking at sensitive case files; aren’t they under protection and being watched? And they’ve never talked before, just awkwardly looked at each other across the crowded room. I can only assume the scene was supposed to give us a break from the tiring action in an attempt to make the series feel more interconnected than it actually was.
Similarly, while the four Defenders takes on the Hand underground, Claire, Colleen, and Misty have their own fight against Bakuto. What Bakuto is doing snooping around the building as opposed to help Madame Gao and the others take down the heroes is anybody’s guess… Well, apparently it is so Colleen can have a conclusion to her story arc and establish herself as an integral part of the Marvel-Netflix universe, much like Claire. We never expected to see Colleen win against Bakuto (he is a martial-arts master, after all), and as much potential Claire had to help her friends, Misty offers a very convenient deus ex machine — like, where did she even come from? Anyway, Misty saves Colleen but loses her arm in the process. Goes to show that you should let the super-powered beings do all the work, no need to be the hero yourself.
At the end of the episode, we see Matt sacrifice himself to stay behind and fight Elektra while the others flee the building which is about to collapse. The last 15 or so minutes of The Defenders series depicts the characters’ reactions to the destruction of Midland Circle, Matt’s apparent death, and what is to happen after the heroes part ways. Misty’s lost an arm and is in the hospital with Colleen, Luke and Jess seem a bit closer than before, and Foggy and Danny are guilty for their part in Matt’s demise. All together the slow ending lack excitement and just drags the episode into the ground. All the action is over but we see still see everyone just milling about.
The conclusion to The Defenders is quite a disappointment. The finale was dull and confusing, and the writers seem to forget what distinguished these heroes as relatable, street-level characters. The grounded look of the series is overshadowed by the The Hand’s fantasy story line. Elektra had the potential to be a captivating antagonist, but her motivations were so scattered that she didn’t come across as a real person. The fact that the heroes aren’t arrested and basically get away with domestic terrorism is ludicrous and should have at least been addressed.
Overall, the individual pieces of The Defenders are broadly entertaining and engaging, but if you attempt to understand each scene in of any kind of coherent story line you’re dooming yourself to a frustrated and disappointed evening.
I give the whole series 3.5 / 5 stars. Better luck next time.
[media courtesy of Netflix]