Netflix’s Defenders is officially out and I am in love! The trailer has had me on the edge of my seat for weeks now, and, I’ve got to say, every bit of anticipation was worth it.
Episode one, “The H Word”, starts off with a visually stunning swordfight in the sewers of Cambodia that immediately grabs your attention. What I love about this introduction isn’t just how well they used the contrast of light and shadow, but how they used the elements of the sewer, such as the sound of the water raining down around the characters, to add intensity to specific moments in the scene. It was captivating.
The opening scene serves as Danny’s introduction to the show, and the fight in the dark alley is what we’ve come to expect from him. After the opening title roles, each of the other main characters gets their own introduction. I was very pleased with how this was done and how well each intro perfectly fit the characters and what we love about each of them. We first see Jessica passed out in a bar as she continues to spiral since her encounter with Killgrave, Cage is being released from prison after voluntarily serving the rest of the term from his previous life, and Matt Murdock is back to focusing on being a lawyer after retiring from his street patrols.
In this episode, it’s not obvious how the show is going to pull all these characters together, which keeps you guessing as the story progresses. The one thing we are allowed to deduce is that the new villain, played by the lovely Sigourney Weaver, is going to be at the heart of it. Her character is first introduced as a victim to decaying health. There is a moment at the doctor’s office where we watch her lean against a door and you can almost feel the exhaustion and pain radiate outward toward the audience. This defining moment humanizes her in a way that will most likely be important the rest of the season.
As the show progresses, Danny is haunted by the failures of his past, and Matt spends much of his time trying to convince everyone around him that he is better off now than he was before, although it is clear he is miserable. Where the plot really takes off is in Jessica’s and Cage’s stories. Jessica is pulled into a case she initially refused after receiving a disturbing voicemail telling her to leave it alone. And of course, as we all know by now, telling Jessica not to do something is exactly the way to get her to do it. In the meantime, Cage makes it back home into Claire’s waiting arms but is immediately recruited into working with our favorite officer, Misty. She leverages Cage’s fond memory of Pops to encourage him to use his hero status to reach the Harlem youth and help steer them away from Harlem’s newest evil. Unfortunately for him, Cage soon finds out his new job isn’t going to be as easy or as straightforward as he thought.
Of course, as you might expect in a show that has multiple main characters, it was a little frustrating to shift constantly from one character to another. This problem is easier to overcome when each character is following the same story, but that isn’t the case here. Defenders suffers from having to show the audience each character’s story and how each plotline eventually intersects. It’s a tough problem to overcome, and with a fifty-minute pilot and five storylines, realistically, the audience only gets to spend an average of ten minutes with each character. This means that not only is the audience switching perspectives every few minutes, the plotlines of each character can sometimes seem to move at a snail’s pace. It’s a huge hurdle to overcome. Thankfully, the Defender’s did their best to attack this problem head.
The producers of the show used all the tools in the bag to their advantage. They worked to include elements from the previous shows that fans would know, recognize, and love as a way to bridge bring some continuity to the shifting scenes. For example, right off the bat, I noticed that the show went to great lengths to preserve the color schemes and thematic sounds from the previous shows. Jessica’s scenes continue to have very blue or gray tones that serve as a visual representation of her gloomy view of the world. By contrast, Cage’s scenes contain warm colors and are often accompanied by the same hip-hop soundtrack of his own show. It’s this attention to these small details that really makes a difference in how the show is experienced and appreciated.
With cameos from some of our favorite side characters, like Foggy, Misty, Trish, and Madame Gao, this first episode of the Defenders promises great things for the future of the show.
Overall, I think this episode served as a great introduction to the series, doing justice to each of the characters, introducing a new and intriguing villain, and providing just enough of a cliffhanger to keep us wanting more.
Do you have to have seen both Daredevil seasons, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and the Iron Fist to enjoy this show? I’m going to say, yes, you do. The show does its best to bring you a long, but there is also a lot of history, character relationships, and subtleties that can only be appreciated having seen the others.