Monday, August 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Defenders' - Matt, Jessica and Luke Just Don't Want to Explain Themselves in 'Fish in the Jailhouse'

Netflix's The Defenders - Episode 1.07 "Fish in the Jailhouse"

Matt, Jessica and Luke embark on a desperate search. Colleen and Claire debate heroism. Elektra tries to recruit an all-important ally.

Crossovers can be a lot of fun. It's the chance to see characters interacting with other characters they normally don't get to interact with. The mix-and-match of those pairings can be very fun. And yet, The Defenders really hasn't aspired to do that. Yes, the four leads have come together and their dynamic can be a ton of fun. But it still took awhile for that to happen. The season started with each of them off in their own distinct shows with a handful of supporting characters. Even after the four heroes came together, the supporting characters largely stuck to their own worlds. All of them were literally brought to the police precinct together because they were in imminent danger of being killed by The Hand. They were even in the same room. But it may have been like they were still worlds apart. The characters from Daredevil don't interact with the characters from Jessica Jones or Luke Cage or Iron Fist. Claire has had meaningful interactions with all four of the heroes. But this season only wants to highlight that she is Luke's girlfriend who also knows Danny and Colleen. There isn't some big moment where everyone realizes that they all know Claire. Instead, the story saddles her with a really weird moment where she wonders how she got caught up into all of this seriousness. It's a moment that may have worked early in Daredevil Season 1. But now, it's just incredibly silly because she has done and seen too much to question just how crazy this world can get and her purpose within it. And yet, the show gives her that moment because it's somewhat important to the plot.

That's what the problems of this season ultimately come down to. It's all about the seriousness of the plot. There are brief moments of fun. Jessica has a number of truly terrific lines where she is truly surprised and sarcastic about how commonplace all of this talk of mysticism is becoming. This episode has a humorous visual of Matt, Luke and Jessica on the subway traveling to Midland Circle without getting detected by the police. Those moments are great. But again, they are just brief moments. The actual story of this season is deadly serious. It leaves no time to explore possible new character pairings. In fact, the characters of the four shows often stand in opposition to each other. They are obstacles that get in the way of the heroes winning in this war for New York City. That's been such a frustrating quality of this season. The creative team probably thought it would be weird if all of the characters from all four shows were introduced and trusted each other early in the season. But now, it's abundantly clear that that won't be happening at all. Otherwise, why in the world would the penultimate episode of the season spend so much time at the precinct with Misty nagging the protagonists about not letting her in on the investigation?

Misty Knight was a great character on Luke Cage. But the showrunners of The Defenders just have no idea how to write for her or how to incorporate her into the story. She's simply Luke's ally on the police force. A way to show that there are realistic consequences and concerns in the main plot. That all of this is still technically vigilantism. There are two dead bodies that must trigger a homicide investigation. The police are aware of a mysterious organization up to no good in the city. But that's not an important part of the story. That investigation isn't going to lead to some new detail being unearthed that will help Matt, Luke, Jessica and Danny in their fight against The Hand. Everyone at the precinct is completely clueless as to what's truly going on. That's so frustrating. Secret keeping has been a cliche in the superhero genre for a long time. The people with super-powers keep the people they care about in the dark about the serious threats they are facing because they believe ignorance will ultimately keep them safe. In the end, it never works out that way. Those relationships are still attacked by the main villains. Plus, the supporting characters are much more interesting once they are let in on the central premise of the story. These showrunners have written for Karen Page in the past. But this season, she is incredibly one-note and comes across as the wet blanket girlfriend who can't understand why anyone would want to be a vigilante superhero.

So basically, this episode plays as even more table-setting and exposition in a season full of it. Seriously, this season has explained over and over again how these characters know each other and what is actually happening in the plot. If the season got rid of that all together, there's probably only a two-hour movie to this actual story. That's not good. It makes it feel like the creative team is stretching things out. Not so that the complications can be more interesting or that more characters can interact with each other. But because they have eight hours of story to fill. Pacing has always been a problem for the Marvel shows on Netflix. That still seems to be the case at eight episodes for The Defenders which is just so odd. It makes it seem like they still haven't learned their lesson. They are too successful a corporation to think that anything could possibly be wrong. But spending a significant amount of this particular episode with the defenders sidelined is just bad. It makes no sense. It only happens because Luke believes Misty shouldn't be let in on what's truly going on. She trusts him to protect the city but things have gotten so out of control lately. And in the end, there's no reason for all of this to happen. She still lets the defenders go and do what they need to do to protect the city without knowing what's going on. She's willing to stale the police for them. It's not an earned moment because the previous 30 minutes of the episode have established her as a character who needs the truth and will only become an ally once she gets it. But she never does.

Of course, Elektra is a character who previously appeared on Daredevil and is now the central antagonist for The Defenders. That character has such an interesting journey. It hasn't all worked. She was problematic on Daredevil. The creative team seemingly got a do-over here. She was served well because of her proximity and closeness with Alexandra. It made it so her final betrayal actually felt earned and shocking. So while it's sad to see Sigourney Weaver go, Elodie Yung seems ready and willing to step up to the plate. But this hour spends a significant amount of time on the politics of The Hand as well. The other three leaders want to know how Elektra plans on leading them since Alexandra has always had her hands in so many global markets. The story basically just makes it clear that Elektra has no intention of being a ruling member of The Hand. She just wants the substance underneath the ground that will give her immortality. She has faced death and didn't like what she saw. She feels like her life and death have been controlled and manipulated by other people. She was always fighting someone else's war. Now, she's doing what she wants to do. It's empowering to see her have her freedom. It makes her more sympathetic in the end. That will make her a more complicated villain - especially if it's the show's destiny to have Matt kill her.

But again, the show is just setting up that inevitable confrontation. Matt, Luke and Jessica arrive at Midland Circle and immediately go into battle with Madame Gao, Bakuto and Murakami. Meanwhile, Elektra and Danny fight in the underground structure. It's a very chaotic and jumbled action sequence. It is literally dark in the Elektra and Danny portion of the fight. And it's just confusing and erratic with the fight above the ground. Plus, there's no moment of actual consequence. Matt, Luke and Jessica fight The Hand for a little while. Colleen shows up to help as well. But then, the three leaders of The Hand are quickly able to make their escape. That allows the defenders to actually commit to the plan of blowing up the building - once Matt confirms that no innocent people are inside. And then, the episode ends with the big reveal of what's behind the wall The Hand is so desperate to get inside. But it is too dark to fully distinguish what is actually going on down there. Plus, it's long been teased that the powers of Iron Fist can be used for more than superhuman strength. That's the only way Danny has used the powers but they can be harnessed for more as well. So, it's frustrating that all it takes to open the door is for Elektra to trick Danny into punching it. That's such a letdown because it once again confirms how stupid and misguided Danny is. It also reveals nothing new about the powers of the first - which is just lame.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fish in the Jailhouse" was written by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Marco Ramirez and directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá.
  • Was that opening scene of Stick and Elektra talking before her death all that necessary to see? It's included largely for the people who didn't watch Daredevil and didn't trust the tons of exposition already fleshing out her past with Matt and Stick. As such, it's just reductive in a way that doesn't really enhance the story. It just shows that she killed both of her masters for this cause.
  • Matt's secret identity is still somehow intact. That happens largely because he wasn't wearing the suit when he was knocked unconscious by Elektra. The police still recover the suit. But the detectives largely think he is an innocent blind lawyer throughout all of this who has gotten into a complicated mess because of two super-powered individuals.
  • Also, this episode paints the police force as completely incompetent. First of all, Foggy is able to recover Matt's suit for him. He's able to deliver it to him while Matt is in his confidential meeting with Jessica and Luke before their big escape. No one sees that happen at all. And second, Colleen is able to walk into the evidence room, take the schematics of Midland Circle as well as a ton of the C4. It's all driven by plot necessity but the police really come across poorly as a result.
  • The show also seems to suggest that Madame Gao is the most powerful of the three remaining members of The Hand. She faces off with Luke and Jessica single-handedly. Meanwhile, Matt is fighting Bakuto and Murakami all by himself. All of this is somewhat believable too - largely because I like Wai Ching Ho much more than Ramon Rodriguez and Yutaka Takeuchi.
  • Why is Claire at Midland Circle as well? It's not for everyone to realize that they know her and trust her abilities? It seems more likely to put her into harm's way and distract Luke from the mission. She can handle herself in combat but it seems doubtful that she can realistically face off with these opponents. So again, what's her purpose at the moment?

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.