After a couple of duds (Daredevil season 2 and Iron Fist), The Defenders has the hard task of renewing our excitement about Netflix’s pulpy and grimy corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And this series premiere, slow as its pace may be, largely accomplishes that. “The H Word” basically functions as a 50-minute long “Where Are They Now” segment that somewhat stylishly catches us up with our favorite street-level Don’t-Call-Us-Heroes (or Legends), some of whom we haven’t checked in with since at least 2015. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist have all been through a lot, and The Defenders’ premiere asks if they’re capable of moving forward and becoming the heroes they need to be.
We begin in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The camera pans down from people walking on the street to the sewers below, where a vicious fight to death is occurring. This simple transition’s message is pretty clear: As the rest of the world goes along with its business, a war is being waged in the shadows. This latest bout is between the newly resurrected Hand representative Elektra (Elodie Yung) and some unknown opponent, and it looks better than almost anything in Iron Fist. Oh speaking of the annoying one, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) interrupts the brawl and tries to save the nameless man, but he fails, and Elektra fatally wounds the man before she escapes. However, this mission wasn’t a complete failure. With his dying breath, the man, who knows Danny is the Iron Fist, gives Danny and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) some important information: “The war you’re fighting…is not here. It’s in New York City.”
And cue the main title sequence, which screams, “Guys, New York is really a character in this show.” And from there, it’s time to check in with the other Defenders.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the first shot of Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) shows her being awakened by a bartender, who orders her to leave his establishment because it’s daytime. Our favorite self-destructive private investigator ventures forth into the day, where she meets up with her friend Trish (Rachael Taylor), who tells her that she has received more interview requests. Jessica is still recovering from her traumatic encounter with Kilgrave, so she has no interest in answering those. Some people may view her as a hero, but she doesn’t.
The last time we saw Luke Cage (Mike Colter), he was being transported back to prison to finish off his sentence, but it appears as though the prison stint doesn’t last too long. When we meet up with him in the premiere (as Mos Def’s “Sunshine” plays), he’s in the process of being released thanks to some legal maneuvering by Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), who is now working for Hogarth. Foggy tells Luke to call him if he needs help starting over, but Luke turns him down. “I’m not starting over. I’m moving forward,” he says (#RIPPops). For the moment, “moving forward” means “getting coffee with Claire Temple.” And by “coffee,” I mean “table-flipping sex.” (It definitely wasn’t quiet uptown.)
Whereas Jessica’s scenes in the episode are tinged with blue, Luke’s are bathed in warm, yellow light and feature hip-hop music, which makes them standout from the rest and lends the premiere some of Luke Cage‘s swagger. However, the warmth of Luke’s scenes also points out what distinguishes him from his fellow Defenders: He’s the most mature and well-adjusted one in the group. While Jessica, Danny — who is suffering from guilt-induced nightmares — and retired crime-fighter Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) — who is still grieving Elektra’s death — are struggling to move forward, Luke is optimistic about the future. He immediately jumps at the opportunity to help people when Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) updates him on the state of Harlem: Several young boys, who started doing some shady courier work, have all turned up dead. At Misty’s urging, Luke decides to use his status as Harlem’s hero to reach out to the brother of a recent victim. (Recap continues on page 2)