Friday, August 18, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Defenders' - The Stories Slowly Come Together in Awkward and Combative Ways in 'Mean Right Hook'

Netflix's The Defenders - Episode 1.02 "Mean Right Hook"

As a new conspiracy takes shape, Matt finds old habits are hard to break, Jessica gets in over her head, Luke tracks a lead, and Danny meets his match.

The Defenders is purposefully being a slow burn when it comes to bringing its four main protagonists together. It's probably not what the majority of the audience was expecting when they thought about the project. There is definitely some more crossover in "Mean Right Hook" than in the premiere. And yet, it is still just brief teases or the characters being paired against each other not knowing they are on the same side. It's frustrating while also kinda understandable as well. It would seem forced if the premiere ended with Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny all coming together and working together against a common enemy. It would feel mandated by the powers that be who demand it so because it would be easier to market. The creative decision that was actually made could be infuriating. But it does allow the show to spend more time in each of the characters' worlds as well. Each of them have their own unique stories. Stories that have their ebbs and flows to them. However, the show is juggling five main stories when you include what's also going on with Alexandra (who is given that name here). As such, the show is cutting from one plot point to the next. So, it's difficult to feel that the big moments where things come to a head in an individual story are earned because they are a bit abbreviated. It's complicated by other characters getting in the way. But it's also just a lot of groundwork that will hopefully pay off in the remainder of the season.

These issues are prominent throughout Luke's story. He's the character who most cares about the community around him. Matt is resisting and failing the urge to be a vigilante again. Jessica's interest was piqued by a unique case with strange circumstances. And Danny is just a selfish asshole who only really cares about things that affect him. Luke cares about the community of Harlem. He genuinely wants to stop criminal elements from taking advantage of young Black men. To the people of The Hand, they are easily disposable. They can be used for various clean-up jobs around the city and be discarded. It's so impersonal to them. But to Luke, it's absolutely life-changing because it's an outside party destroying families for personal gain. It's all told through the context of Luke trying to save one kid from this life. His brother and sister have already been killed. One by The Hand and the other because she knew too much about Mariah. He's still pulled into this world because it presents as a good opportunity. He doesn't know much about the work he is actually doing. He also sees no escape from it after it's clear he's cleaning up dead bodies. Luke wants to protect him but he still ends the hour in handcuffs. That's a moment that should be absolutely crushing. Luke has just returned to Harlem and has failed to save this kid from a dangerous life. Instead, it feels rushed and like a minor detail to the fight that happened between Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

Of course, that fight that occurs near the end of the episode is still pretty fun to watch. It works because it is so entertaining to see Danny get beat up so easily. He truly believes himself to be the greatest warrior in the world. He was chosen to be the Iron Fist. And yet, he ran away from his responsibilities. Now, he believes that decision has ruined the world that took him in when no one else would. He has a profound sense of guilt because of that. However, he's still an entitled white man. He has no problem beating up an innocent black man for information. He doesn't care to hear the full side of the story. Of course, the show presents that situation as not all that relevant. The story just wants Luke and Danny to be in conflict for this brief moment in time. Their first meeting ends in a fight. It's thrilling to watch - especially since Colleen just got done telling Danny that they most likely had allies in this fight against The Hand. Luke has no idea what's actually going on in the city. He just knows he needs to do something to protect people. Danny just selfishly wants to carry the problems of the world on his shoulders. It's foolish and the audience knows it. That's why it's so satisfying to watch him fail miserably in his fight against Luke. Danny really only has a magical hand that glows. That's his only skill set in this world. He's an okay fighter but the fist is the thing that makes him special. Luke, Jessica and Matt have so much more than that and are much more impressive throughout the rest of the narrative.

Danny and Luke feel the urge to be a part of this action though. They feel personally motivated to actively seek out what's going on in the city. Matt is the opposite of that. He feels the persona of Daredevil to be a burden. If he wears the mask again, he'll ruin every good thing in his life. He told his closest friends. They are still there for him when he needs it. But they also talk to him as if he's an alcoholic who is one disaster away from taking a drink. The mysterious earthquake motivated Matt into action. He didn't even have time to put on the mask once more. He needed to move quickly because a guy was in danger of getting hurt and the police were overwhelmed by the chaos. All of this comes across as a relapse for Matt. He did something he promised never to do again. It's a murky situation for him. Not only did he beat up looters for trying to steal things but he also beat up the owner of the store who wanted to kill these teenagers. He's crossed the line of morality once more. Daredevil is possible of making a difference in Hell's Kitchen. But Matt also feels like he went too far as well. Foggy even calls him out for doing so too. Of course, he presents a possible solution to the situation too. He gives Matt a pile of work to do to keep his mind preoccupied. It's a solution that clearly won't work at all. But it's something both of them are desperate to try because they want a better future for both of them. One where Matt never has to worry about needing to protect the city he loves so much.

But again, that's just not possible because it goes against the basic premise of the show. The show even plays into that at the end of the episode. Matt shows up to serve as Jessica Jones' lawyer. He does it because Foggy needs to keep an eye on Jessica without involving Hogarth's firm. The two of them interacting like this is bound to bring them even further into this complicated story. Right now, Jessica does seem at the center of it even though she's very reluctant about it all. She stuck around the apartment with the C4 after the police arrived. She's cooperative while still doing her own investigation. It allows Jessica and Misty to cross paths as well. Misty seems to be the only person capable of calling Jessica out for her behavior. Of course, the big plot development is the husband Jessica is searching for actually shows up in her apartment with a gun pointed at Malcolm's head. It's an abrupt moment. It comes right after Trish is speculating that something mischievous is going on at the station. That tease is just casually tossed aside so that Jessica can show off her weak negotiating skills. She isn't able to pull many answers out of this guy. He's just in complete fear for his life. That's proven to be true because Elektra comes barging through the apartment to kill him. He commits suicide before she has the chance. But this moment is more about Jessica meeting Elektra and realizing that freaky things are happening around her once more. She tries to save Misty from that but she's already too involved for that worry. So, it's ultimately nice that Jessica and Matt are together in the end. But hopefully, it leads to a big team-up sooner rather than later.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mean Right Hook" was written by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Marco Ramirez and directed by SJ Clarkson.
  • Alexandra is threatening to destroy New York City because there's something underneath it that she really wants. But despite the recent earthquake blast, the wall surrounding it hasn't fallen. But she is still determined. She believes the Iron Fist can unlock the wall and give her what she wants. So, that puts her on a collision course with Danny.
  • Alexandra has also taken Stick captive. That's quite a surprising introduction this season. He seems likely to be the guy dragged out of the room where Danny and Colleen are investigating. Alexandra won't have much patience for Stick. He has information that she needs. But mostly, it will be so great to see Sigourney Weaver and Scott Glenn acting opposite each other in the next episode.
  • Elektra seems to be a killing machine and not much else in these opening episodes. That's weird and strangely frustrating. Yes, there were problematic elements of her character arc in Daredevil. But at least she seemed like an actual character. Now, she has joined the ranks of faceless ninjas working for The Hand. She's just more skilled.
  • Both Luke and Danny know Claire. So, will she point out to both of them that they shouldn't be fighting each other? Or will they be able to figure things out on their own by talking? Which option would create the most interesting story though? Both seem a little obvious and forced. But the show needs to get moving in bringing its characters together.
  • Jessica's story also involves her going to the building of records to research the shipping company that brought the C4 into the apartment in the first place. What she discovers is a bunch of files detailing transfer orders from company to company for centuries. It's so old that the original records aren't even stored in this building. That's an ominous though mundane tease as well.
  • Danny thinks he's being so clever with the moves he uses against Luke. And yet, they all seem really obvious when seeing how ineffective they actually are. It's amusing to watch because Luke is a great character prevailing against a weaker one. But Danny still gets that final punch in that truly surprises Luke. That serves as confirmation for him that something more is going on here.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.