Saturday, August 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Defenders' - A Thrilling Fight at Midland Finally Brings Everyone Together in 'Worst Behavior'

Netflix's The Defenders - Episode 1.03 "Worst Behavior"

Elektra's secrets are revealed. Danny changes his tactics. Matt gives Jessica some legal advice. Luke searches for the White Hat.

Well, it finally happened. After three episodes, the Defenders have united. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist engaged in a battle with The Hand together. Of course, it still largely plays as just a tease. A small snippet of the grand team-up this miniseries has promised. But the action at the end of "Worst Behavior" definitely brings them together. The show can no longer just be willfully ignorant of their paths not converging. They are now bonded together in this experience. That's thrilling to think about because it will more than likely streamline the narrative for the next portion of the season. So far, there have been lots of stories to service because the four protagonists each have been carrying their own portion of the narrative. Their stories all brought them together at the headquarters of The Hand at the same exact time. That's a huge moment. But for the most part, this episode has Luke and Danny off in a story together and Jessica and Matt off in their own world. The stories are coming together. But there still isn't the urgency to unify everything and make it a clear narrative for everyone involved. That moment is still on the horizon. Again, the final sequence makes sure of that. It makes it easy to want to press play on the next episode right away. Though this hour still holds the desire for deeper analysis as well.

In fact, "Worst Behavior" confirms that only a couple of months have passed since the end of Daredevil Season 2. The story jumps back in time a little bit to show Alexandra's involvement in Elektra's revival. She's clearly the woman in charge. She's the one delivering the orders. When that tease first happened in Daredevil, it was difficult to see the purpose in it other than it being a plot complication Matt will need to deal with at some point. It's still not clear what being the Black Sky actually means in the grand scheme of things. But now, Elektra's revival actually seems like it came from a person with a clear agenda. Of course, Alexandra is still very mysterious. She's been through this procedure as well. She's died and come back to life. She has the ability to coach Elektra through this experience. But she also claims that language and skills as a warrior will eventual return while her memories won't. That's clearly important to the story because Elektra needs to have forgotten everything that she had in life with Matt. But how exactly does it track for Alexandra? It's been so amusing to see her make references to events that happened long ago in the past to bewildered reactions from other people. It's played off as her having an appreciation for history. But it seems more likely that she actually experienced them. So if she lost her memories, then how does she know these intimate details of past experiences? She's shifty. And yet, that's the point as well. It's thrilling to watch Elektra train as this new warrior. Sure, it's unclear what she does in the dark with the ninjas with no weapons. But she emerges victorious as the weapon The Hand needs right now in order to win in their endeavor. Plus, the show forges a bond of intimacy between Alexandra and Elektra that feels genuine.

Telling that story in the beginning limits the amount of time spent on the other stories in the episode though. And yet, that doesn't prove to be a big deal. Matt has almost no personal story in this episode. A lot of things have been told from his perspective this season. But here, it's just important that he's following Jessica around at all times. He's doing more work in order to keep himself busy instead of being a vigilante throughout the city. But this new case is working for an individual with powers. It's not just an inconvenience that he stumbles upon in the end as well when he lands back at Midland. He has full awareness of who Jessica Jones is and the experience she had with Kilgrave. He read her file and understands that she has abilities as well that can lure in danger. The two of them are incredibly untrustworthy of each other. That seems to define a number of the big relationships in this story. To Jessica, Matt is just the latest lawyer Hogarth has sent in order to reign her in. She's surprised by how quickly he is able to move around. She even gathers physical proof that he's not as blind as he seems. That surveillance sequence is pretty intriguing and intense. It's fun that the show goes back-and-forth on who is really following whom. At one moment, Matt is following Jessica. But then, she is able to turn the tables on him. Even when Jessica seemingly loses Matt, he is still there to give her that warning that trouble allows seems to happen at Midland. Despite that, they are still pulled into battle.

Elsewhere, it's not particularly surprising that Claire helps Luke and Danny realize that they are on the same side in this war. But it's also the show pairing its best character with its worst one. It's fitting that Luke is the one to call Danny out on his entitled white privilege. His actions are very much out of personal vengeance. He doesn't care about anyone but himself. Luke doesn't truly believe all of the mystical nonsense Danny and Colleen are talking about either. Sure, he can laugh about the prospect of this scrawny white guy with a glowing hand defeating a dragon. But the situation is much more serious than that. Of course, things are always serious for Danny. He is always so gravely serious. And yet, it's still laughable to watch because Danny continually comes across as a petulant child who is mad that things aren't going his way. He and Colleen tracked The Hand all across the world. But in a few key strokes, Danny's company is able to find The Hand's headquarters in New York. It's very impressive and only makes Danny seem more incompetent. He's also so determined to do all of this by himself. It makes it so he's in need of rescuing from the rest of the defenders in the end. He goes to The Hand to threaten them. He's finally going to make them pay for killing his parents. But absolutely no one takes him seriously. Alexandra isn't worried and neither is the audience. It's just so difficult to care about Danny because he keeps saying the same thing over and over again. He's the immortal Iron Fist. We get in. Just move on already and be smarter both in life and in combat.

Of course, it's still rousing when Luke bursts through the doors to help Danny defeat the operatives from The Hand. The two of them shouldn't get along because they have such drastically different experiences of the world. Luke has seen injustices first hand. He's trying to help a kid who is now sitting in a jail cell. Danny would have killed him because he was working for The Hand. Luke knows the situation is more nuanced than that. And yet, Luke still charges into battle the moment he learns about Cole's death. The Hand has robbed an innocent woman of her entire family. Luke needs to find justice for that. So now, he's willing to throw punches and fight this mysterious enemy. He's doing it for the right reasons of trying to be the hero the Harlem deserves. Jessica is trying to do the right thing as well. She's just working for a client whose entire world has been turned upside down. She's seeking answers for what shady things this guy got into before his death. She's curious as to who he was so afraid of. She saw Elektra in action. She's still determined to forge ahead. Meanwhile, Matt just gets pulled into this fight. He knows this building is dangerous. But after hearing gun shots, he jumps into action. It's a thrilling fight sequence. It shows a level of technical proficiency that is impressive to see. It's much more of the action from Daredevil than Iron Fist. Victory means the protagonists survive. They defeat all of the operatives while Matt has new suspicions about Elektra still being alive. They escape to an elevator together. It's just a brief moment for them to catch their collective breath. Once they sit down and figure everything out, it will be really exciting. They can be quite a powerful team if they want to be.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Worst Behavior" was written by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Douglas Petrie and directed by Peter Hoar.
  • Alexandra is searching for Danny. She's kidnapped Stick in order to learn his location. She fails to get any information out of him. He proves himself to be just as capable a warrior as ever despite being handcuffed to a pole. It seems like the protagonists have bought some time because of him. And then, Danny just shows up to deliver an empty threat. Again, it's very frustrating.
  • In order to escape though, Stick had to cut off his hand. That's a very brutal moment. Marvel is able to censor itself from being too gory. But that moment still lingers for awhile as well. Plus, it hinders how far Stick is able to travel in this world. He makes it to Colleen which proves he always knew where Danny was. But he seems on the verge of death as well.
  • So, it's wildly inconsistent over when Danny can use the powers of the Iron Fist and when he can't. In the heat of battle, it fails to glow for him. That's intense and precarious. But later on, when Matt needs saving, it's there to save the day. It's a beat that shows Danny still hasn't perfected the art of harnessing his chi. But it also feels like a plot point to make things happen.
  • Luke visits the grieving mother who worries that her third and final son will be taken from her soon. Luke is doing the right thing by visiting her. And yet, she has helpful advice for him as well in saying that he deserves to be happy for doing something good in this world. Of course, the situation is more complicated than that as her son really is dead. That's such a devastating moment because the show plays into the emotion of the situation.
  • For the most part, partnering the four heroes into two groups of two was successful. Jessica and Matt had their own unique dynamic and so did Luke and Danny. It also deliberately keeps Luke and Jessica apart despite their personal history. They have familiarity with each other but the show needs to build up the trust with other characters as well to make that final scene work.

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.