The Defenders recap: 'Royal Dragon'
Following last episode’s climactic fight, the gang is looking for cover. They settle on a nearby Chinese restaurant, and as they batten down the hatches, the Defenders continue to learn more about each other and their powers. Danny sees how strong Jessica is when she single-handedly moves a table to barricade the door, while Luke learns that Matt can “smell neon.” The owner of the restaurant is very unhappy with the situation, but Danny buys him off by paying his rent for the next few months and ordering one of everything from the menu. Sometimes it really does seem like Danny’s wealth is a way more useful superpower than his glowing fist is.
As the heroes stand around discussing what the hell just happened to them, we get some truly incredible Jessica Jones lines. Upon being informed that the ninjas they just fought call themselves “The Hand,” she asks with a priceless expression, “What are they really called?” As Matt tries to come up with a game plan, she reasonably asks, “Is there a plan where I get my scarf back?” Of course, Jessica Jones packs more than just good comebacks; she’s also a pretty smart detective who’s good at resolving conflicts. When Matt and Luke start getting testy, she breaks them up and tells Matt she figured out he’s “the devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Devil Boy. Whatever.” That gets him to open up and finally take her scarf off her face, allowing the heroes to sit down for a well-deserved meal.
Elektra, too, is rattled after her battle. Looking in the mirror, she realizes that her original death wounds are still visible. Alexandra tells her, “Your life is new. Your body, however, is not.” In other words, Elektra got resurrected Beric Dondarrion-style — life is back in her body, but there has been no healing or redemption. However, it seems her new life might hold some secret to prolonging Alexandra’s, as the Hand boss calls the Black Sky her “only hope.” So far, I’m pretty intrigued by this dark, almost matriarchal relationship developing between the two. Maybe it’s just a classic Palpatine/Vader situation, but Alexandra does seem to genuinely look on the new Elektra as an achievement, the culmination of her life’s work.
Even so, the Black Sky may not be enough. Having learned just how dangerous the Defenders are, Alexandra goes to ask for help. In perhaps the most self-consciously “prestige TV” shot of the series thus far, she asks for help from a mysterious man who is taking the insides out of a pig while they talk in a fancy apartment. This man (who we will soon learn is named Murakami) is dismissive of the Defenders as a threat but agrees to help Alexandra. Apparently this means the “five fingers” of the Hand are reuniting, and to celebrate, they share a strange-sounding motto: “We serve life itself.” (Recap continues on page 2)
For more on this, we turn to the Chinese restaurant, where Stick arrives after cutting off his own hand to escape. His careless telling of that crazy fact makes even Jessica speechless; suddenly she’s not the most sarcastic one around. Stick, as we know, is a member of the Chaste — the last surviving member, apparently. The Chaste is a counter-organization to the Hand (the antifa to their fascists, you could say), but now this is all getting a little too heady for Jessica. She leaves, and even Stick’s harsh “sit down and shut up!” admonition doesn’t work very well. Luke isn’t able to persuade her, either. Jessica maintains that this is not her fight, so she takes off for the moment.
For his part, Matt is none too happy to be taking lessons from Stick again, although this one seems important. He gives a history of the Hand. Since time immemorial, the elders of K’un-Lun sought ways to use chi, the energy of life, for the purposes of enlightenment. However, five rebels rose up in defiance, wanting to use the power of chi only for their own immortality. After the rebels were defeated, they scattered across the world, building up their own power bases on various continents before going on to found the Hand. It probably goes without saying at this point, but those five fingers are: Alexandra, Madame Gao, Murakami (the power behind Daredevil’s old foe Nobu, and the guy we saw disemboweling a pig earlier), Bakuto (upon learning he’s dead, Stick says, “Finally some good news”), and the African warlord Sowande (or as we’ve heard him described, “Whitehead”).
While on her hiatus from the group, Jessica learns that someone is stalking the Raymond house. In order to protect the widow and daughter, Jessica confronts the man and delivers her best line of the episode during the struggle: “Jesus, am I the only one left who doesn’t know karate?” Doesn’t seem like she needs it, as she’s able to drive the guy into the windshield of his own car. She decides to take the car for herself.
It’s perfect timing, too, as Alexandra has just shown up at the Chinese restaurant demanding the Iron Fist accompany her. She confirms that the five fingers (or what’s left of them, if no one’s replaced Bakuto) are uniting again, which means they’re going to attempt a “culling.” She asks Danny to join her to avoid all that, but obviously the heroes refuse and square up. So Alexandra summons her favorite undead puppet — who quickly gets run over as Jessica returns triumphantly by crashing the stalker’s car through the wall of the restaurant.
“Who missed me?” We all did, Jessica Jones. Please don’t leave us again.
Most Valuable Defender: As if it needs saying, this episode’s champion is clearly Jessica Jones. In addition to saving an innocent mother and daughter and coming through in the clutch there, she also has all the best lines. This exposition-heavy episode might have been insufferable without her.
- Looks like they’re setting up the fingers of the Hand as a Legion of Doom-type counterpart to our big hero superteam. But aside from Alexandra, we haven’t seen much interesting stuff from these villains so far. Whitehead’s henchmen got quickly wrecked by Elektra, and turning Gao into a big bad after seasons spent as a side character feels like the dark inverse of Phil Coulson. Characters who were initially designed to be discreet don’t often translate well to major roles. We’ll see if Gao’s up to the task. If not, hopefully Murakami gives us some cool stuff.
- One of the reasons I keep harping about Jessica’s great lines is that it proves how lifeless Iron Fist is. Compared to characters like Jessica and Luke — who have their own unique personalities, aesthetics, and motivations — Danny seems even more useless. Unfortunately it seems like he’ll mostly be driving the plot going forward, so we’re kind of stuck with him.
- Jessica and Luke seem on remarkably good terms — no messy ex drama here. Good for them.
- Now I hand it back to Chancellor, who really seems to be lucking out with all the series’ big fight episodes.