We gave it a B-
After a very expositional hour that doubled as a hangout episode, The Defenders tries to regain some lost momentum in “Take Shelter”; however, it stumbles a bit because, after an exciting opening, it settles into table-setting, wheel-spinning mode. There’s a lot of talking in this episode that, at least for now, doesn’t amount to much.
“Take Shelter” rewinds a bit to the moments leading up to the Hand’s assault on “Royal Dragon” and tells the last few minutes of the last episode from the Hand’s perspective. Set to the fourth movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, which makes it feel all the more dramatic, we follow Madame Gao, Murakami, and Sowande as they gather forces to attack the Defenders. The sequence crescendos to the moment when Murakami bursts through the roof of Royal Dragon, and we head back into real time.
While viscerally exciting, the ensuing fight is undercut because it’s been edited to hell and it’s hard to really keep track of what’s happening inside of the restaurant. The Hand is there for one reason: to get the Iron Fist. Stick instructs the Defenders to stick together because that’s the only way they’re making it out alive, but Matt breaks away the first chance he gets for some one-on-one time with Elektra. Again, she hesitates to kill him, which worries Murakami, who witnesses it. In the end, they all — minus Luke, who was hit and pushed in front of a tow truck by Sowande —, manage to escape via the sewers.
One of the reasons Daredevil season 2 and Iron Fist were so weak was because the Hand, at least as conceived by those shows’ writers, are pretty boring villains. They’re evil because they’re evil. Sure, they want to escape death, but the shows fail to give that desire any kind of nuance or real human emotion that we can connect with. However, the show definitely kind of tries to do that in the episode, beginning with Alexandra, who has a very revealing conversation with Elektra when she returns to their hideout. She opens up about how her daughter died in her first life, before she found everlasting life in K’un L’un and the Hand. In the intervening years, Alexandra has come to realize she wasn’t supposed to raise that daughter; she was destined to raise the Black Sky — well, until Elektra stops being useful. Clearly, Alexandra is aware that Elektra messed up in the field. Murakami enters and updates her on the situation, and Alexandra assures him that reinforcements are coming from South America. (Who could that be??)
The Defenders head back to Colleen’s dojo, and Luke Cage joins them there later with a captured Sowande, which, I guess, is a win for the good guys. After some bickering about whether they should keep running, they all head to a warehouse, where a tied-up Sowande proceeds to burn the Iron Fist, which is what everyone does on this show. If you’ve seen any other action movie before, you know how this goes: Sowande threatens all of their loved ones. It’s not entirely clear how he knows so much about Luke and Jessica already when they just encountered the Hand for the first time a day ago, but whatever.
The Defenders head out to gather their loved ones and take them some place safe, which involves one annoying superhero trope. Claire asks Luke what’s going on, but Luke says she’ll be safer the less she knows, which makes no sense and is incredibly frustrating. Matt pulls the same move when he goes to see Karen, who is far less receptive to his attempts to help keep her safe because she hates that he’s “doing it again.” (Recap continues on page 2)