Marvel's The Defenders postmortem: Showrunner answers burning questions
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the entire season of Marvel’s The Defenders. Read at your own risk!
Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) finally united to defend their city from the shadow organization that threatened to tear it apart. But the War for New York wasn’t an easy one to fight, and if you haven’t watched all eight episodes of Marvel’s The Defenders, you should stop reading before proceeding further. The post below is chock full of spoilers, so for those who don’t want to know what happened, this is the time to look away. Going once…
And that’s as much warning as we can give.
The team-up series ended with several tantalizing developments: The titular quartet managed to thwart the Hand’s plans to harvest the life-preserving substance in the dragon bones buried beneath New York, but when Elektra (Elodie Yung) refused to back down, Matt sacrificed himself to fight her and wound up crushed under the rubble of Midland Circle. Meanwhile, Jessica and Luke managed to emerge unscathed and even had a brief heart-to-heart — with a mention of grabbing coffee — before heading back to their respective neighborhoods. And Danny finally donned a version of the green and yellow tracksuit fans had been hoping to see him in since the start of his own series.
Oh, and it turned out Matt actually survived the chaos — and has been in the care of nuns, including one who cries out for a sister named “Maggie.” Fans of the comics know Maggie as Maggie Murdock, Matt’s elusive mother, so what does this mean for the previously announced Daredevil season 3? EW hopped on the phone to ask Defenders showrunner Marco Ramirez — one half of the showrunning team behind Daredevil season 2 — that very question, along with a slew of other questions we had after binging the team-up series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s Aug. 18, and The Defenders is finally out. How are you feeling? No more keeping secrets!
MARCO RAMIREZ: No more secrets! It’s been out for a few hours now so if people get mad reading spoilers, I guess we’ve already put it all out. It feels like I can finally go on Instagram and share my on-set photos and [laughs] it’s like there’s no more secrecy around it, it’s out and it’s done.
Let’s start not at the beginning, where Jessica likes to begin her interrogations, but at the ending. Is this the definitive end to the Hand? What can you tell me about the status of everybody in the organization who didn’t get decapitated? That includes Gao, Murakami, and Elektra.
Well, in the Marvel world — and as Jeph Loeb, the Marvel TV head, would say — in the comic-book world, you can always find a way. The story finds a way, so who knows? But we definitely felt like we wanted this to be the end of this specific show, so while I don’t know if it’s the end of the Hand forever — who knows what will happen in the future — it just felt like it’s the end of this story in the lore. Particularly for Iron Fist, we wanted to close that chapter [of the Hand’s story]. I don’t know what the future holds. That’s a Jeph Loeb question [laughs] but for me and for the writers’ room, it felt right to end the story here.
That dragon skeleton — that wasn’t Shou-Lao the Undying’s, is it? It’s just a pile of bones implying that there had been dragons all over the world and one wound up buried under New York?
Yeah, it’s the second one. The idea of that was that there had always been this kind of mystery that the Hand can bring people back from the dead, but we never knew exactly how, and it made sense to connect the life-force idea of the chi in the Iron Fist to the idea of the life force [the Hand members] use for various purposes, so we’re just saying it’s dragon bone that they use, that that’s the substance. That felt like the cleanest way to tie everything in.
And it’s been set up since Daredevil season 1; Gao operates in the background of New York with drugs made from that ground into powder. It felt like we could make back alley drug deals in New York and dragon mythology all part of the same story, so that was my way of trying to tie them all in.
But then, do we know where the city of K’un-Lun went? A part of me thought that was Shou-Lao only because K’un-Lun disappeared, and New York did have a conveniently huge hole in the middle of it.
That’s a question for the Iron Fist showrunner, not me. Honestly, I don’t know where they’re going with that.
That’s for Iron Fist season 2. Your goal, on the other hand, was to make sure whatever was in that hole had to connect to Gao and the Hand in New York.
It’s like, we knew in season 1 of Daredevil that Nobu wanted a specific building in New York City, and that was why it was important for the Hand to get their hands on this one building, and then in season 2, we revealed that they weren’t building up, they were building down. What they were digging toward we didn’t know, so when we started on Defenders, we knew it would be Defenders versus the Hand, and we didn’t know what they were digging for, and we could come up with anything, you know? It’s kind of a fun thing that TV writers do. Like on Lost, the whole season is about the Hatch, but what’s in the Hatch? We’ll figure that out next season! That’s how these things happen.
So what you’re saying is that that dragon skeleton is your Desmond.
I’m running with it. Moving on to Matt’s near-death, why did he find it so important to stay behind to fight Elektra, knowing that he would probably not make it out alive?
To me, Matt and Elektra always felt like Edward Norton’s character and Tyler Durden in Fight Club except with a more overt sexual dynamic. [Laughs] And so, in the end, it felt more like the end of Fight Club… Emotionally, Matt knows and has to embrace the fact that she’s his burden to deal with, and though he’s fought for three episodes alongside Luke, Jessica, and Danny, Elektra is his problem, his cross to bear. That’s very Matt Murdock to say “Don’t worry about it, I’ll do this. I’m going to die for this.”
How exactly did he make it out alive in the end? Can you tell me?
I can’t. I can’t say anything.
You’re back to keeping secrets!
I know, I know.
Well, can you confirm for me that the Maggie mentioned at the end of the series is Matt’s mom?
[Laughs] I can’t confirm anything! I can say that visually that shot at the end of Daredevil’s story was definitely an homage, as were a couple of other scenes, to the comics. That’s one of my favorite Daredevil images, so regardless of who any of the characters are, I went to the production meeting saying this is the image we’re going for, we’re going to feel like this, and that came from that image that I purposely borrowed from the comics.
With that in mind, what can you tell me right now about where you are with breaking the story for Daredevil season 3?
I can say nothing. We’re getting into the stuff I can’t talk about. [Laughs]
Fine. Let’s go back to The Defenders. Before the Midland Circle showdown, Elektra brutally murdered Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, literally stabbing her in the back with her preferred sai. Why did you kill off who we thought was the Big Bad of the entire series at the end of episode 6?
Well, part of it was just about giving the audience a little something unexpected. Audiences I think sometimes expect that a major storyline or major character is going to end in the ultimate or penultimate episode so they go, “Oh all right, something’s going to happen here at the end of the story,” so it just felt like a jolt, and it was exciting to write. The second part was really in a way we introduced Sigourney’s character a little bit to highlight Elektra’s story. I like to think that we wrote a really fun cool character for Sigourney but really it was also a way for us to say this is the journey that Elektra is going on.
When did you know Elektra would take such a prominent role in this series bringing all the Defenders together? Like, when you were casting for Elektra, did you know she would eventually be the Bigger Bad, or did the idea come about as you were working on season 2 of Daredevil and saw that she could become a standout character?
I think it’s half one and half the other. I definitely think Jeph Loeb really wanted the idea of an Elektra resurrection storyline to be a part of her story, and I think that once we got to where we got organically by the end of season 2 of Daredevil, the idea was pretty clear that she’s coming back.
When Jeph and I made the phone call to Elodie before the [script for the season 2 finale] came to her because she was getting killed, she was made aware [that Elektra would die in the finale]. We were like, “Hey, we’re really sorry you get killed. Also, though, you come back from the dead.” [Laughs] She was kind of like, “So why are we having this phone call?” [Laughs] Which was funny, but I would say half of [why we made her so important] was because it felt like that’s the story to tell, and she’s a major figure in the comics, she’s really beloved by the audience, and her resurrection storyline is very iconic.
Did you have any other ideas for how you would kill off Sigourney Weaver?
Honestly, it felt like of the four Defenders, none of them are particularly—
Right, none of them would get to the place where they’re taking a life. They would really have to be pushed there… [Having Elektra kill Alexandra] felt more in terms with this conceptual mother-daughter dynamic that we wanted to explore thoroughly. We wanted to build that so we could subvert it and have [Elektra] say “I’m taking over.” We wanted to show Sigourney as a regal maternal figure and a master, and for Elektra to basically say, “I have no master.” To me, it’s organic in the writing of Elektra, because Elektra has been told by many people in her life what she is, whether it was Stick or Matt, it had been them telling her who she is…. So when she kills Alexandra, it’s really her saying, “People need to stop telling me who I am. This is who I am.” And I think there’s something particularly interesting about that idea.
You mentioned Stick (Scott Glenn). The thinking behind that kill was similar to why she killed Alexandra, right?
Absolutely. And he’s the one who had always been saying, “The war for New York is coming, the war for New York is coming,” so really, if there are going to be any casualties in the war for New York, it’s going to be the guy talking about it.
But yeah, that was very much a part of Elektra’s rejection of him as her paternal figure, and then her rejection of her maternal figure in her life, and then the rejection of the romantic figure in her life as well [when she fights Matt]. She’s really saying, “I am making my own destiny,” and so Elektra’s ending to me is a bittersweet one, but I feel like at the end of episode 8 there is truth in what she’s saying, which is, “I’m leaving, I’m finally, completely free. Matt, you’re not going to try to tether me to anything, this is who I was born to be.”
I feel like maybe the same goes for Danny and for Luke and for Matt and for Jessica Jones, you know? The idea of rejecting the identity that the world is trying to put upon you, and having to embrace the identity you want, of “This is who I am.”
On that note, the four Defenders were always fun to watch when they got to interact and banter. I noticed they tended to pick on Danny — was that at all a meta reaction to the reaction to Iron Fist?
We were shooting the finale of The Defenders when Iron Fist season 1 was premiering, so by the nature of it, we couldn’t have reacted to it. Any interaction they have to Danny is all based on just the dynamics we wanted to build. It felt like, if somebody came in and said, “My fist glows with chi and I punched a dragon and turned into this,” there’s no way around the fact that Jessica Jones is going to say, “Bullsh–, you sound like a crazy person.” Even if the dragon were in the room with them, Jessica is going to be like, “I don’t believe that, what the f— are we talking about?”
So that’s the natural dynamic of what we wanted to build, because Matt and Luke and Jessica had already been introduced, and for comic-book shows, they’re all so grounded and so gritty, but like if a guy walks in to these rooms with a glowing fist saying, “My chi is expanding,” all of them will say “I don’t buy it.” That’s the natural thing for them to do.
Were there any pairings you wanted to explore but didn’t have the time for?
Of course. Because of the nature of it, we built a Matt-and-Jessica story and a Danny-and-Luke one, and there are certainly versions of the opposite pairings that I would have loved to see. I would love to see Matt and Luke, and Jessica and Danny interact because we’ve now established these two sets of relationships. But we weren’t going to do it just for the sake of it.
Back when the series was still filming, Jeph Loeb had said this series could end with these characters telling each other they never want to see each other again. So to you, at the end of this season, what would you call the Defenders? Are they teammates? Friends? Acquaintances?
I think of them mostly as like people who were on the same bus when it got in an accident, and then they all filled out paperwork together, and they all went to the hospital together, and now they’re going home. And it’s kind of like, “This was a great adventure to have with you, I’d be okay with seeing you again, I’d also be okay with never seeing you again.” It’s more like a bond that happens in a crisis. People are intimate now, but it’s not like you’ll be inviting them over for dinner every Tuesday. [Laughs] We designed it so they could go back to their individual worlds, but it’s not like they’re apart permanently in any way.
You did also spend some time giving a lot of fans what they really wanted out of secondary characters. I’ve never been happier to see an amputation happen than when Misty’s (Simone Missick) arm got cut off — now she can get that bionic one! — but there were some moments that didn’t make it, like a scene between Claire and Matt. And more importantly, why didn’t Luke get to say “sweet Christmas”?
Well, “sweet Christmas” is something that I have to leave for Cheo [Hodari Coker, the showrunner of Luke Cage]. That’s something Cheo did in season 1 of Luke and I don’t want to take his greatest hits, you know? For other things, well, all of the writers were like, “Oh, this interaction didn’t happen, and this interaction didn’t happen,” but at the end of the day, we had limited real estate and we couldn’t slow down the forward-moving train of the story. Some of those interactions [we really wanted] made it in. One of the scenes I’m most proud of is the stuff we got between Jessica and Luke outside of the Chinese restaurant, and those scenes between Misty and Colleen, and Foggy and Karen, that’s what we know fans want. Because there are so many combinations, there’s always going to be some stuff we didn’t’ get to do. There are many more episodes of these stories you can tell.
Speaking of which, will there be more episodes? Will The Defenders return for a season 2?
That’s another Jeph Loeb question. [Laughs]
Guess I’ll have to grill him soon for all these answers.
Please do! And then tell me what he says.
Marvel’s The Defenders is now streaming on Netflix.