After a stellar and action-packed third episode that delivered our first look at the eponymous team united, this fourth chapter in the first season of Marvel’s The Defenders down-shifts considerably into an exposition-heavy bottle episode. And though it’s a bit of a come down after the thrills of the last episode, “Royal Dragon” has considerable rewards in how it further cements the differences and similarities between the Defenders themselves. This, plus the still witty banter peppered throughout, turns what could have been a slog into an effective chamber piece.
Matt (Charlie Cox), Luke (Mike Colter), Danny (Finn Jones), and Jessica (Kristen Ritter), have slugged their way out of Midland Financial and decide to hole up in a closed Chinese restaurant called The Royal Dragon. After Danny uses his wealth to placate the owner, the four uneasy allies sit down to a feast and attempt to find some measure of trust. While Danny is eager for them to team up against the Hand, Jessica is in dismissive disbelief, Luke is on the fence, and Matt is resisting paying the cost of getting involved. None of these issues are solved when Stick (Scott Glenn) arrives. His sparkling personality and dire pronouncements only make things worse, and one member of the Defenders decides to split. Even as Stick gives the other more information on the threat posed by the Hand, Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) and Elektra (Elodie Yung) prepare to resolve the situation their own way.
Make no mistake, “Royal Dragon” is centred around a pretty massive info dump. Stick spends much of the episode laying out the threat the Hand poses not just in Marvel’s The Defenders, but also revealing information and filling in back story that affects both seasons of “Daredevil” and the recent “Iron Fist.” That’s a lot of heavy lifting from an expository point of view, and the script by Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez isn’t always that artful about dealing with it. A lot of what’s revealed in this episode is basically the result of Luke or Danny or Matt asking Stick, “Just what the hell is going on?” and that’s not exactly the cleverest way to deal with having to get a lot of info out.
Still, this episode of Marvel’s The Defenders proves to be very enjoyable and only slightly awkward. Where the script does excel is in taking four people who all have considerable trust issues, and different reasons for having them, and providing them with their own motivations over the course of the episode for sticking around and signing on. Also, the contained setting of the restaurant allows us to get more terrific moments of each of the four Defenders learning about each other. Only Luke and Jessica know each other, and there’s plenty of gold in the way all of these people spark off each other.
It begins with Matt’s increasingly silly reluctance at exposing his identity to the others. He’s the only one who has chosen to operate in a super-hero suit, and it’s truthful to what we know of characters like Luke and Jessica that they would find Matt’s headscarf thing pretty ridiculous. But it also makes sense that Matt would guard his identity so closely, after having seen the woman he loved seemingly killed and almost every relationship in his life detonated by his vigilante activities. This is just one way that the show continues to depict a form of combat, another battle that will forge them into some kind of unit. The previous episode was about them being thrown together and being forced to team up just to get out of danger. Now, they have to actually make a choice, and to do so will require each of them coming to their own conclusions about what there is to gain and/or prevent from their partnership.
Another bright spot is that, finally, FINALLY, we get the Danny Rand that I thought would work best all along. Danny is the naive, but noble, goofball. I don’t think Jones goes into raged-tantrum mode even once this episode, and instead he becomes a character we actually like. He’s earnest and boyishly charming and though he’ll never be have as many hilarious one-liners as Jessica Jones, he does provide us with some of the best quips of the episode. If they can keep threading this needle of making him likably earnest but still nobly committed to his mission, then Marvel and Netflix would have an Iron Fist I’d come back for.
“Royal Dragon” ends on a terrific cliffhanger that indicates that this fourth episode of Marvel’s The Defenders is a solid mid-season breather before launching into another action-heavy episode. As the threat of the Hand gets more defined, and the stakes therefore rise, this episode does its job in building the suspense for the climax ahead. 8.5/10