The second episode of Marvel’s The Defenders makes a strong argument for the benefits of having a shorter, eight episode season. Its brisk pace and tighter construction means the main plot is continuing to move at a brisk pace, but “Mean Right Hook” manages to move the story forward but still retain enough of a sense of mystery so that things remain intriguing.
The first episode concluded with Manhattan suffering a freak earthquake caused by the machinations of the enigmatic Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). All of our Defenders are back in the city at this point, and this episode finds each of them pulling on their respective threads, following them closer towards the central mystery, and each other. Jessica Jones’ (Krysten Ritter) search for a missing husband had led to her to discover a cache of explosives in a mid-town hotel, bringing her to the attention of NYPD Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and causing attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) to warn Jones to be careful of what she’s getting involved in. The earthquake and the chaos it causes give Matt (Charlie Cox) an excuse to return to his life of violence, even as he struggles to remain retired, but it’s his life as a lawyer that will introduce him to a fellow Defender. And Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Danny Rand (Finn Jones) each follow the same thread from a different end to come together, but their first meeting is more combat that conversation.
Sigourney Weaver’s character continues to be among the most formidable and enigmatic in all of the Netflix series to date. Unlike the Marvel Films, the TV series have been blessed with compelling antagonists, from Wilson Fisk to Kilgrave to Frank Castle to Madame Gao to Mariah Dillard. Weaver’s mysterious Alexandra is, so far, another fine addition. Weaver’s innate sense of power adds to the enigmatic tidbits revealed about her character so far. She both seems to have lived far longer than your average person but is also seemingly dying. A drive to survive has motivated many villains over the years, but I like how Alexandra’s impending mortality isn’t entirely the motivator for putting her plans in motion, but instead making her accelerate them. That acceleration is what threatens to bring too much attention to their efforts, as pointed out by Gao (Wai Ching Ho), and it’s nice to see a bad guy’s mistake motivated by such an understandable, human reason.
This might be a good time point out the larger, and very welcome, presence women have in the series so far. Not only are all of our main antagonists (Alexandra, Gao, Elektra) women, but the support networks for most of our protagonists are filled with smart, competent, resilient women motivating the heroes in variety of ways. Admittedly, there are a few romantic relationships on display, but from Colleen to Claire to Trish to Misty to Hogarth women are at the center of hoping things get figured out, and it’s kind of refreshing to see how our main heroes literally couldn’t function without their contributions.
“Mean Right Hook” does continue a problem with the first episode of Marvel’s The Defenders, namely in continuing to show Danny Rand as largely ineffectual. Even at this early point, I’m done with scenes of him being frustrated and Colleen (the always great Jessica Henwick) giving him a pep talk. Matters aren’t help by showing him getting into a scrap with Luke Cage, which is largely focused on showing how Danny’s kung fu has no effect. That may be true, but given the reception to “Iron Fist,” maybe make Danny a bit quicker on the uptake and more resourceful than spending a long time futile jumping around Luke? It’s resolved well, in a satisfying way, I just wish they had gotten to the endgame in a quicker way. If Danny’s going to be as central to the story as he seems to be at this point, it’s even more important to ensure he’s on a journey towards becoming a likeable, effective component. If the show runners want to save that kind of character development for his own series, that’s a huge mistake in my opinion. Danny can’t finish The Defenders the same petulant dude-bro he started as.
But everything else in the episode is great. SJ Clarkson continues to be a strong directorial presence. The fight scenes in the episode are terrific, even if the Danny/Luke one is one-sided at least it really does look as if a martial arts master is fighting a super-strong invulnerable man. Matt Murdock gets a brief but satisfyingly visceral fight scene at the opening of the episode that delivers some thrills. It’s not a huge amount of action, but enough to whet our appetites for more to come. The pace of the episode continues to feel energized, and though some critics might take issue with the way the plot is still at the early stages, it’s important to point out that at this point in other Marvel/Netflix series, we’d still be at least one or two episodes away from the Defenders getting together. The shorter episode count means that we see two halves of the ultimate team assemble by the end of this episode. And even though we’re still waiting to uncover the ultimate aims of Alexandra and the Hand’s plan, the investigation into it does reveal a bit more and certainly we get a better sense of the stakes and the players and how all the lives of our heroes are circling whatever the Hand’s final plan is. So even if we still don’t actually know much about what is happening, the episode does give us the sense of learning and uncovering more, so it’s not unsatisfying.
The second episode of Marvel’s The Defenders is as engaging as the premiere. If I’m not blown away yet, I am enjoying all of these characters and the well-constructed way their worlds are already starting to collide. 8/10