Marvel's The Defenders Study Guide: 24 Essential Episodes to Binge Before the Team-Up
The Marvel-Netflix Study Guide
The War for New York catches the Defenders — Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) — off guard, but luckily for us, there's a way to prepare before the foursome teams up for Marvel's The Defenders when it hits Netflix on Friday, Aug. 18. In this gallery, EW has put together an under-24-hour binge guide for Marvel-Netflix veterans and newbies alike — but beware, spoilers abound!
Daredevil Season 1, Episode 1, "Pilot"
This should be a no-brainer. Dive right into the world — or rather, 10 blocks — of Hell's Kitchen in the first episode of the entire Marvel-Netflix universe. The hour establishes Matt's code as a vigilante, connects the story back to The Avengers via a mention of "the incident," and clearly demonstrates the series' gritty tone.
Daredevil Season 1, Episode 2, "Cut Man"
"Cut Man" isn't just the Hallway Fight Scene episode; it also marks the first appearance of Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple and connects Matt's childhood to his mission of the week.
Daredevil Season 1, Episode 5, "World on Fire"
You'll have skipped over Wilson Fisk's (Vincent D'Onofrio) first mesmerizing appearance by the time you hit play on "World on Fire," but this episode serves as a better introduction to the first season villain's plans when it brings him together with Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) and his other cohorts. Plus, Gao is essential to the storyline involving the Hand, which in turn is essential to The Defenders. (Also worth noting: Matt's "World on Fire" speech to Claire will help you better understand his powers.)
Daredevil Season 1, Episode 7, "Stick"
It's all in the episode title: Stick, played by Scott Glenn, is the blind man who trained Matt and has fought his entire life against the Hand. The episode is essential for its flashbacks, its deep-dive into the mythology of the Marvel-Netflix universe, and its tantalizing final scene which still hasn't been fully explained.
Daredevil Season 1, Episode 11, "The Path of the Righteous"
Claire leaves (for Jessica Jones – we'll get to that), while Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) heads down a darker path. Matt questions his role as a self-appointed protector of Hell's Kitchen, and it's a good episode for getting insight into how Matt and the people around him have been affected by Fisk's operation.
Daredevil Season 1 Finale, "Daredevil"
Matt suits up, horns and all. Enough said.
Daredevil Season 2, Episode 5, "Kinbaku"
We know — skipping four episodes means skipping a good chunk of the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and his debut on the show, but the introduction of Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) is arguably more important, as she plays a crucial role in The Defenders. "Kinbaku" tells the story of Matt and Elektra — and also teases Elektra's more manipulative side.
Daredevil Season 2, Episode 7, "Semper Fidelis"
At its core, Daredevil is a courtroom drama, and this season 2 episode dives deep into Matt's abilities as a lawyer. In addition to that, the end of the hour poses one of the biggest unanswered questions so far in the Marvel-Netflix universe: What is a giant hole doing in the middle of New York City?
Daredevil Season 2, Episode 8, "Guilty as Sin"
Ninja battles! Stick! A whole lot of explanation about the Hand and the Chaste and the yakuza and what they're doing in New York and — look, all of this has to do with The Defenders, and there's no better Scott Glenn-delivered summary of what's going on behind the scenes than this episode.
Daredevil Season 2, Episode 11, ".380"
This one's the one with the children being drained of blood. Yeah, the Hand works in mysterious, absolutely messed-up ways, but at least this hour also offers Claire Temple, the Punisher hunting down an old enemy, and Stick gearing up for battle.
Daredevil Season 2 Finale, "A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen"
Some more threads get connected in the final hour of season 2: Foggy (Elden Henson) joins Jeri Hogarth's (Carrie Anne Moss) firm, the Punisher helps Daredevil against the ninjas, and most importantly, the Hand take Elektra's body. It's safe to say, especially if you've watched The Defenders trailers, that she returns thanks to them.
Jessica Jones Season 1, Episode 1, "AKA Ladies Night"
Meet Jessica Jones, hard-drinking P.I. with super-strength and a traumatic past that haunts her and follows her straight to her doorstep in this gripping pilot. But this episode manages to squeeze in two Defenders introductions: Jones also meets Luke Cage (Mike Colter) at his bar — and they grow very close, very quickly. (Bonus Defenders connection: This pilot's directed by S.J. Clarkson, who also directs the first episodes of the team-up series.)
Jessica Jones, Season 1, Episode 6, "AKA You're a Winner!"
Because Kilgrave (David Tennant), the villain of Jessica Jones, has little to do with The Defenders, feel free to skip ahead to nearly halfway into the season, where the show peels back layers on why Jessica is so intrigued by Luke. The two share a difficult past, and there's a reason why the two don't greet each other too warmly when they see each other again in The Defenders.
Jessica Jones Season 1, Episode 8, "AKA WWJD?"
This episode follows Jessica as she confronts Kilgrave in her childhood home and sheds light on Jessica's childhood and life before the car accident that tore her family apart and, it's implied, led her to her powers.
Jessica Jones Season 1, Episode 11, "AKA I've Got the Blues"
The hour explores Jessica's history with her best friend/sister-from-another-mother Trish (Rachael Taylor). The relationship is crucial to Jessica's character, and Trish will make several appearances in The Defenders. There's also a subplot in this hour that involves the origin of Jessica's super-strength...
Jessica Jones Season 1 Finale, "AKA Smile"
Jessica (with some help from Nurse Claire) saves Trish, Luke, and herself from Kilgrave in a satisfying finale that also leaves some questions open-ended. What is IGH, for instance? And what will Trish find in all those documents?
Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 1, "Moment of Truth"
Re-meet Luke and properly meet Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who will play a role in The Defenders. Also make way for the two-punch power performances from Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard as a pair of villains Luke has to face.
Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 4, "Step in the Arena"`
Luke's past is finally revealed in the fourth episode in a series of flashbacks that explain the origin of his unbreakable skin and why he goes by Luke Cage.
Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 5, "Just to Get a Rep"
Now that you've learned Luke's history, it's time to properly learn Claire's! The nurse and honorary fifth Defender turns up in Harlem to visit her mother and naturally crosses paths with Luke. This episode also dives deeper into the operation around Judas bullets, weapons made of leftover alien tech from "the incident" and capable of piercing Luke's skin.
Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 8, "Blowin' Up the Spot"
When Luke gets hit by a Judas bullet, Claire takes him to a doctor from his past (Michael Kostroff) to remove the shrapnel that's killing him. But the eighth episode isn't just a good way to understand the vulnerabilities of Luke's powers; it also brings Luke face-to-face with Willis Stryker a.k.a. Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), an important figure from his past. (This is the last essential episode to watch from Luke Cage — just know that in the finale, Luke accepts his past and turns himself back in to Seagate, where he still is at the start of The Defenders.)
Iron Fist Season 1, Episode 5, "Under Leaf Pluck Lotus"
Skip the slow-moving opening episodes and jump right to this one, in which Claire (who else?) shows up and connects Danny's story back to the rest of the Defenders'. Oh, and Madame Gao gets reintroduced into the narrative, thanks to Iron Fist's close ties to the Hand — and by close ties, we mean "being the Hand's mortal enemy" — as her heroin operation arrives in New York.
Iron Fist Season 1, Episode 6, "Immortal Emerges from Cave"
Danny gets lured into a multi-stage combat in which he has to defeat increasingly threatening Hand members to save an innocent girl. It's an episode that spotlights Iron Fist's fighting skills and shows off Gao's mysteriously magical ones.
Iron Fist Season 1, Episode 10, "Black Tiger Steals Heart"
Colleen takes center stage when she and Danny travel to the martial arts academy where she trained under a "good" arm of the Hand, led by Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez). There, they learn more about the history of Iron Fist — fans will enjoy the footage of a previous Iron Fist wearing his signature mask from the comics — and discover that Davos (Sacha Dhawan), a man from Danny's past in K'un-Lun, has arrived to bring him back to his post.
Iron Fist Season 1 Finale, "Dragon Plays with Fire"
No worries if all the Meachum twists are confusing by the time you've skipped to this finale; the key to understanding The Defenders lies in focusing on Danny's scenes with the Hand. The final scene in particular sets up the team-up series to come, as Danny and Colleen arrive at K'un-Lun, only to discover the city has disappeared. To where? Hmm, there is a giant hole in the middle of New York...
Marvel's The Defenders debuts Aug 18 on Netflix.