Saturday, August 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Defenders' - The Defenders Learn If They Can Trust One Another in 'Royal Dragon'

Netflix's The Defenders - Episode 1.04 "Royal Dragon"

As the Defenders get to know each other over dinner, they're greeted by a series of party crashers - none of them friendly.

After teasing a team-up of four superheroes for so long, they finally came together at the end of the previous episode. It was a very climatic moment where the four of them needed to rely on each other and their skills in order to escape the headquarters of the nefarious organization known as The Hand. And now, the four of them are on the run together. They know the threat is dangerous and hunting them down. The tension is still high at the top of "Royal Dragon." But there's also time for the four heroes to catch their breath and come to know the other people on their team. This is the episode the audience has been waiting a long time for. We are now seeing what it's like to have Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny interacting together. They have a common enemy. Some are willing to work as part of a team while others are more reluctant to do so. Matt believes in the power of a secret identity while the others couldn't care less. Danny has a personal vendetta against The Hand while the others don't want to take his mystical conspiracy stuff seriously. It's a tense and uncertain time for all of them. And yet, this episode succeeds because it's these four personalities finally coming together. This hour provides a lot of clarity with the main plot as well. As such, it's still pretty expositional. But those moments of pure thrills still work remarkably well too.

The four heroes need to team up in order to save all of New York City. The entire city is under siege because of The Hand. It's easy to understand why Danny and Luke are the ones eager to join the fight. For Danny, it's all incredibly personal. The Hand killed his parents and manipulated his company. They need to pay for that. That motivation has gotten so one-note and repetitive over the course of this season though. The show seems aware of that with the other characters always cutting Danny down for how crazy he talks or how immature he is acting. The show knows that Danny can be insufferable and entitled. That awareness is one thing. He's a constant punching bag within the dynamic of the group. But in the context of the show, Danny has so much importance because he's the Iron Fist. He's the weapon Alexandra is trying to procure. She got what she wanted with Elektra. Now, she's trying to convince Danny to join her side because he has powers he isn't even aware of yet. That puts Danny at the forefront of this story in a way that he just shouldn't be. Danny isn't the most captivating character. The other heroes needing to team up in order to protect him just seems lame. He's not totally helpless. But he's still incredibly selfish and not as skilled as everyone else in the room.

Meanwhile, Luke doesn't totally believe all of this talk about mystical worlds and the search for immortality. He is just willing to go along with all of it because it will do some good for his community. He started this season trying to do right by one kid and one family. He failed to do so. He showed up at Midland in order to have his vengeance. In a way, Luke and Danny are similar. Their personal feelings can overwhelm their sense of morality. But Luke is trying to find justice for other people while Danny is too caught up in his own feelings. Luke doesn't want to call this a team. Danny is suddenly willing to accept that he has allies in this fight with The Hand. Before, he was all about doing it all alone. After seeing the other three save his life in a precarious situation, he believes they all should be fighting alongside each other all the time. Luke doesn't believe that. He still just wants to do right by his community. He hears about the threat that's coming for New York and is willing to do whatever it takes to stop it. He doesn't need to believe in the power of bringing people back to life or chi gifting people with incredible powers. He's just using his powers to save as many people as possible. To him, every life is precious which stands in stark contrast to the mantra that Alexandra keeps preaching. She's in pursuit of immortality but the lives of every day people don't mean much to her at all.

Jessica refuses to take all of this seriously as well. She lives in a heightened reality too where mind control was used against her and the people she loved. But there's still only so much crazy she is willing to take. She's just intrigued by her simple case that is getting weirder and weirder with each passing moment. She and Luke can trust each other because of the history they have. That bond is deeper than the relationships they have with Danny, Matt and Stick. They can trust each other and openly talk about how crazy all of this sounds. But Luke is willing to stay and fight. Jessica needs to be convinced because of the facts of her case. It's not surprising that she bails on the rest of the team. But the evidence she has collected points to someone being alive for hundreds of years and simply changing her name. It's weird and someone clearly wishes harm on her clients. When she hears about The Hand having found her allies at the restaurant, she jumps right back into the action. In fact, it's pretty rousing to watch as she throws a vehicle through the window in order to stop Elektra. That's such a badass moment. All of this needed to happen in order for her to be convinced to be a part of a team. She works better alone. But the only way she is going to get any answers is if she protects the people who have the same understanding of what's going on as she does.

And finally, Matt takes a lot of convincing as well. He's reluctant to put on the mask again and fight as a vigilante. He promised his friends that he would give up that life for good. And now, he's being pulled back in just because his client is Jessica Jones and she was heading into a dangerous situation. He has a past history with The Hand as well. He's had loved ones taken away from him just like Danny has. And yet, his inner turmoil is much more interesting than Danny's. His pain feels real and nuanced. It's not just him saying the same thing over and over again. Yes, he does keep warning his potential new allies that they can't trust Stick and they are fighting a very powerful enemy that will destroy all of their lives. He is repetitive somewhat. And now, that's all informed by his pain. It's also because of the uncertainty of believing Elektra to still be alive. He is the way he is right now because of her death. And now, he's had an almost lethal run-in with her. He believes she hesitated in their fight. He believes the woman he loves is still in there. There's a lot of talk about that not being true. Both Stick and Alexandra say so over and over again. But the actual action forces the audience to be unsure. Elektra is staring at her death wounds. She's thinking about her former life. She wants answers while still being a weapon for The Hand. Sure, she can still be taken down by a vehicle flung at her. But she's very dangerous and about to go head-to-head with the four protagonists and Stick. That's an exciting tease for the start of the next episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Royal Dragon" was written by Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Danny is able to convince the restaurant owners to get them to stay. But he's also the one foolish enough to make a call and tell someone where he's at right now. Again, every time he seems resourceful or helpful the story needs to prove that he's incredibly stupid as well. It's fun to see Stick call him out as a dumbass too.
  • Stick also clarifies that the leaders of The Hand are five elders from K'un-Lun who were banished after wanting to use chi to become powerful and immortal. Alexandra is the leader. The other four are Madame Gao, Bakuto, Sowande and Murakami. Of course, Bakuto was killed in Iron Fist. Though it seems likely that he's been revived somewhere since Alexandra promises the five of them coming together again.
  • Alexandra has an intriguing conversation with Murakami as he's skinning a beast. It's largely about him questioning how she never gets her hands dirty herself. She has her new weapon to do it all for her. Stick also teases that Murakami is the man who trained Nobu, the warrior who almost killed Matt in Daredevil Season 1.
  • Jessica worries that they are all about to be arrested because they've just committed a bunch of crimes. It feels like something the show mentions just in order to have the semblance of reality. But it quickly goes away with Luke saying that they can trust Misty and her ability to help them get out of complicated legal messes if they need it. Of course, Matt rightfully worries about bringing anyone else in on this.
  • Jessica and Luke have some catching up to do. She didn't even know that he went to prison. Does she know that he's the hero of Harlem? I would guess so but can't be sure because she's been off in her own life for a long time. Of course, now isn't the right time to be catching up either. The familiarity is there but time has changed both of them as well.
  • Alexandra suffers some symptoms of her dying body in the middle of this episode. For the most part, she is able to remain calm and collected as she's making plans and delivering threats. But in this one moment, she's falling apart and needs her medication. That will only keep her alive for so long. She needs what she's after before she dies otherwise it will have been for nothing.
  • Matt and Stick are keeping the fact that they know Elektra a secret from the rest of the team. That's a mistake that is just waiting to blow up in their faces. Secret keeping never ends up working out in the superhero genre. Also, doesn't it seem likely that Stick is destined to die at some point in this war?

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.