The Defenders finale recap: 'The Defenders'
Deep below Midland Circle, the heroes finally battle Elektra and the Hand for the fate of New York
So here we go — the big finale! Thanks for reading along with us this season. The final chapter of Marvel’s super Netflix show has a lot of blood and explosions, but it also leaves quite a few questions unanswered. Here’s the rundown.
The heroes are still debating whether it’s okay to blow up Midland Circle. I’m not really sure what the problem is with blowing up an empty building that was only used by an oppressive evil shadow organization anyway, but Luke seems to think it’s bad somehow. Luckily, they convince him to get on board, so the three people with abilities head down to find Danny while Colleen and Claire plant the explosives. Matt quickly uses his abilities to find a secret elevator in the walls, which they use to descend into the big hole we’ve been waiting a year to have explained.
So here is the explanation for what’s at the bottom of the Midland Circle hole: It’s a dragon skeleton. As showrunner Marco Ramirez tells EW’s Shirley Li, this is not the skeleton of Shou-Lao the Undying, whose heart Danny ripped out to gain the iron fist. This is another dragon — the last known dragon fossil left on Earth, according to Gao. It is the source of the Substance that keeps the Hand alive, the drugs they’ve been selling on the streets, and the structural instability that has been rocking the Defenders’ New York. The giant dragon ribcage does make a good set piece for this final confrontation; I especially like it because it reminds me one of my favorite modern fantasy novels, China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, which is set in a city whose defining landmark is also a giant ribcage left over from some dead ancient monster.
Not all the Hand is down there in the dragon bones, however. Bakuto arrives on the surface to stop Colleen and Claire, which makes sense since it would be unfair if his final fight were against anyone other than Colleen. Unfortunately, his arrival interrupts a fun conversation in which Colleen tells Claire she’s saved just as many lives as the superpowered Defenders and deserves to make headlines alongside them. She’s right! I would gladly give up The Punisher, Iron Fist season 2, and probably Daredevil season 3 in exchange for a Night Nurse solo series. How great would that be? Rosario Dawson has saved many of these shows from ruin (especially Iron Fist), so she more than deserves her own spotlight. Honestly, going forward, they should replace Danny with her in the Defenders lineup, especially since much of Danny’s story appears to get resolved here.
The Defenders realize they’re walking into a trap of sorts, so they come up with a plan on their way down. When the elevator arrives, greeted by Elektra and a whole party of Hand ninjas, only Jessica walks out at first. She complains to Elektra, “Ever since you burst into my office, my life has become one big kung-fu party,” and then Matt and Luke leap out of hiding to really kick off that big kung-fu party.
They may not get the cool backdrop of a dragon skeleton, but at least Colleen and Bakuto’s fight feels like a Star Wars lightsaber fight thanks to the empty industrial surroundings. The biggest disappointment for me is that this show had been doing such a good job at avoiding the typical Netflix show pitfall of making every scene incredibly dark for no reason. We had two whole episodes set mostly in a well-lit Chinese restaurant! But now everybody’s grappling at each other in the dark. Sigh.
The Defenders takes a big cue from Luke Cage here and blasts Wu-Tang Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck” while the heroes battle the Hand’s forces. If the producers had used hip-hop music like this more consistently over the course of the series, it would probably feel more natural, but it nevertheless injects some much-needed energy into this fight in the underground darkness. Gao tries her big Force-push again, but this time Danny meets her with the iron fist, and everybody goes flying. I don’t know what it is about Murakami, but for some reason he’s become the Hand member I most want to see punched in the face, so it’s great to see Cage wreck Murakami’s whole life by bending his blade into a knot and then sending him flying through a pillar. (Recap continues on page 2)
Unfortunately, Luke Cage’s friends are having less luck in their own fight. Claire tries to intervene in the Bakuto/Colleen duel, but the Hand master disarms his former pupil and puts two swords at Claire’s neck. When Misty rushes to help, Bakuto viciously cuts off her arm. It really seems like he should’ve aimed higher with that attack though, since it leaves him vulnerable to a brutal counter from Colleen, who finally manages to decapitate him. Although they’re never termed as such, the Hand appear to basically be vampires. They can live forever (so long as they take in a special substance), they love living in the dark underground, and they can only be killed by chopping off their heads. All I’m saying is: Don’t be surprised if Blade pops up in season 2.
With most of the Hand defeated, Matt pulls an extremely cheesy move and sends his three friends up in the elevator while he stays behind to deal with Elektra (though not before whispering something mysterious in Danny’s ear, Lost in Translation-style). His conversation with Elektra during their duel is clearly supposed to be emotional, but it speaks more to how empty the villains’ motivations were in this series. Alexandra was compelling because she seemed to have some kind of goal she believed in fervently, but she was killed for the sake of a plot-twist ending.
As much as I like watching Elektra fight and hearing Elodie Yung pronounce “Matthew,” it seems like she was The Defenders‘ only villainbecause this show was made from the pieces of its four predecessors and she happened to be available. Why was she even chosen as the Black Sky? What was she supposed to accomplish? Did she kill Alexandra in order to claim the Substance (and therefore immortality) for herself? If so, trapping herself in the hole with Matt and trying to take everyone else with them by destroying the elevator controls as the bombs’ timer runs down seems like a waste of that potential. At least she and Matt get to share one last kiss before Midland Circle blows up around them, I guess — plus, their wrestling match felt like a fun callback to their boxing gym sex scene from Daredevil.
Naturally, everyone in New York assumes Matt is dead. Foggy feels guilty for giving Matt the suit and helping him get to the place where he died, even though Claire tells him it was Matt’s choice. Similarly, Colleen feels guilty for the loss of Misty’s arm, even though the detective tells her it’s a risk of the job. Also, she’ll almost definitely be finally getting her cool robot arm in Luke Cage season 2, so it should work out in the end. Luke meets up with Jessica Jones in the bar, and they both admit they treated each other unfairly and are happy to see each other again. When Jessica says they should get a “coffee” sometime, Luke looks at her blankly and leaves — though since they’re canonically married in Marvel comics, it sure seems like they could hook up again at some point. That said, I would not want to get between Claire Temple and Jessica Jones, I’ll tell you that much.
For now, Jessica is happy to get back to work, and she reopens Alias Investigations just in time for the upcoming (and long-awaited) season 2 of Jessica Jones.
Oh, also Matt Murdock survived somehow, but you probably knew that already.
Most Valuable Defender: His heroic sacrifice obviously gets Daredevil this top spot for the finale, which means that Iron Fist never made himself the most valuable part of any episode. His mythology was central to the show, but he himself never felt like more than a plot device. I’m unconvinced we need to see more of him, even though we definitely will. Mike Colter and Krysten Ritter were once again great as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones — if there really is more The Defenders in the future, it’d be nice to see them become more important to the plot as well.
- For the final edition of our Bulletin, I’d just like to note that despite all the unanswered questions and unclear motivations, The Defenders was pretty enjoyable. An eight-episode season is a huge blessing, because even if the show’s not amazing, it doesn’t waste your time. If we can’t get every single Netflix drama to a season of this length, at least we can ask that every future Marvel Netflix show be eight episodes. It may not be perfect, but it certainly works better.
- The question I’ve been asked the most by friends about The Defenders is: “Do I need to watch Iron Fist to understand it?” Hilariously, I can now tell them the answer is definitely no. The show relies a lot on the mythology of Iron Fist, K’un-Lun, and Shou-Lao, but Iron Fist is barely about that stuff! It’s mostly boardroom politics — everything interesting either happens off screen or is explained in exposition. You can just read a plot summary (like, for example, our recaps) and you’re good to go.
- It sure seems like the production team doesn’t think it has the budget to build a whole K’un-Lun set, because despite all the talk about it, we’ve still barely seen it. If that’s the case…maybe consider not focusing so much on a mystical martial artist character, if we can’t see what makes him cool and mystical in the first place?
- I’m not sure killing Alexandra like that was the best choice. She was a compelling force in the early episodes, and as much as I enjoy a shocking plot twist, the show seemed to wilt a bit without Sigourney Weaver driving it.
Marvel's The Defenders