Bad Beginnings: The Defenders

Netflix’s The Defenders dropped on Friday morning, and I considered dropping it Friday night.   Why?  It’s an eight-episode story, and at the end of the third episode, the four protagonists finally met.   Everything up till then?  Exposition and back story.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Of course, it’s good for me to see this as I’m cutting the first act of Nita because it reminds me of the Basic Rule of Beginnings: Establish your contract and then get to the story, preferably on page one, definitely by page two.  Do not think, But I have to set this up for the reader.  No, no you don’t, you’re setting it up for yourself, not the reader.  The reader wants the damn story.  It’s like getting on a roller coaster and having the attendant say, “But first let me give you the history of roller coasters and a look at the blueprints . . . ”  No.  People will leave to get funnel cake and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl.  

I recognize the problems The Defenders story present to its writers.  For starters, you have four protagonists, and so far, nobody’s standing out as the Main Guy.   Matt Murdock (Daredevil) is a blind pro bono lawyer, Jessica Jones is a cranky super-strong PI, Luke Cage is the invincible hero of Harlem, and Danny Rand is the Iron Fist, the younger, dumber spiritual brother of the first three, a white guy who has inherited the vaguely Asian mantle of a superhero with a fist that glows and can punch through walls.  Yeah, it’s an odd group.  The first Daredevil series was excellent (get Vincent D’Nofrio as your antagonist and  a lot of good bad stuff happens); the second not so good and I never finished it.   The first Jessica Jones episode was excellent, but I couldn’t handle the whole rape-revenge undercurrent (although David Tennant was excellent as the antagonist) and I bailed on that one, too.  The first half of the Luke Cage series was equally good; then they killed the great antagonist (Mahershala Ali) at the midpoint and I dropped out, even though they still had great Bad left (Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi); do not get rid of the antagonist at the midpoint, people, because that finishes the contract.  I got through about three episodes of the Iron Fist and realized I was hoping that the bad guys would take out Danny so the series could be about his girlfriend, and quit that, too; it didn’t help that Danny was a whiny idiot with a bad case of affluenza.  

But I love a good team story, so I started The Defenders.  Since none of these characters knows any of the others, they have to be brought together by a combined resistance to the antagonist, which in this case is a super-serious Sigourney Weaver who is the almost-immortal leader of a supernatural Evil Group called The Hand.  Points for getting Weaver who does the best she can with bad dialogue but who is dressed in a series of curtain-ish costumes that remind me of Carol Burnett’s “I saw it in the window” Tara dress. By three-quarters of the way through the third episode, I was thinking, “Yeah, not watching any more of these.”

And then the set-up finally began to creak into place when Luke and Danny’s girlfriends bring them together because they’ve figured out their guys are fighting the same Evil Empire.  Girl as Facilitator is better than Girl in Refrigerator, but still annoying and a huge waste of Rosario Dawson and Jessica Henwick, who should have their own show.  Then somebody from Jessica’s past asks an underling to ask Matt Murdock to get Jessica out of jail, and Matt and Jessica meet and it’s magic: she hates him and he doesn’t care, he’s just there to do law, so the snark rages; they also should have their own show.   Next Danny Rand goes to the white-walled boardroom of the Hand to tell the black-suited diverse execs there that he knows all about them and he’s going to take them down.  Why would he do that?  Because he’s Danny Rand, the Iron Moron.  Since Luke Cage has now met Danny, he knows he’s a moron, so he follows Danny to the boardroom, which is a good thing because all the suits in the board room turn out to be ninjas who, not surprisingly, decide to kill Danny Rand.  

Let’s pause there: A white boardroom full of black suits that turn out to be ninjas.  That’s genius.  And now that the story has started, it’s fun, especially since Jessica follows a lead about a murder into the lobby of the Hand company and Matt follows her to say, “This is a bad place,” only to have his super-hearing tell him that somebody’s shooting upstairs, and they run to join Luke and Danny to fight an unlimited number of corporate ninjas in a white hallway.  If you ever have to fight a Marvel hero on Netflix, stay out of the hallways.  They’re amazing in hallways.

The four of them manage to escape and hide out in a Chinese restaurant where the manager tries to evict them until Danny pays his rent for the next six months: the Iron Trust Fund saves the day.  Then the four of them look at each other with disgust and loathing and take shots at Danny for being dumb as a rock, and I thought, Wait.  This could be good.   If this had been the end of the first episode, I’d have been completely on board for the rest.  It reminded me vividly of the beginning of the first season of Sense8.  It’s like the writers looked at the length of time they had and said, “So let’s squander a quarter of the story on set-up; I’m sure viewers will stick with us.”  No, no we won’t.

The beginning has to hook the reader, yes, but more than that it has to start the damn story.  I’d do a recap of the first two episodes for you except that I don’t remember a damn thing except for Jessica’s stuff because she was actually doing things, instead of angsting over her identity. The story didn’t start until Danny the Dumbass went into the boardroom and  the ninjas put down their iPhones and went for him.  Start where the trouble starts, start when everything but the action is over, start at the damn beginning and not before then.  

However, since I made it this far and it did get good at the end of episode three, I will watch the fourth episode to see what happens at dinner.  Also, now I want potstickers.

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41 thoughts on “Bad Beginnings: The Defenders

  1. Carol Burnett’s “I saw it in the window” Tara dress … conjures images because it was the BEST TV SKIT I EVER SAW ! I was an 80s/90s Carol Burnett Show kid so I saw this from the first show in a recap of some kind.

    I sometimes struggle with the bloody-ness of Marvel Netflix series. There’s a bit of a Hong Kong action influence in the spatter. I don’t mind gritty but it’s also lit a bit too dark. So it becomes grainy.

    Stories that are mostly set up don’t work for me. I keep wondering when will something happen? John Grisham’s Pelican Brief in both book and movie form have this plodding start. And Heroes a bit, seeing as how parts of ‘Murica are experiencing solar eclipse, I remembered to mention the show.

    I didn’t like Daredevil or Jessica Jones enough to watch S2 of either. And I didn’t bother with the other series as a result.

    2+

    1. I really liked Daredevil One. I’m going back to Jessica Jones One when I get a little firmer grip on dealing with aftermath-of-rape stories. The first half of Luke Cage was great Harlem Gothic. Feel free to skip Iron Fist; the supporting cast was terrific but the lead, not so much.

      1+

      1. Jessica Jones is great, but she goes it alone for a lot of the episodes because part of her aftermath-of-rape is not trusting people mixed with not trusting that she won’t bring down death and destruction on people.

        But then in the last episode or so, the pieces coalesce, and she let’s herself have a team. And it’s magnificent. It’s a really good show, but until she gets the team it’s not a fun show.

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        1. She’s definitely the best part of the Defenders, especially when she’s paired with Matt because neither of them has any time for the other or for The Hand. When Daredevil puts on his mask and she says, “Nice ears,” and he says, “They’re horns,” I pretty much want them to take over the show. She’s so angry and he’s so repressed, and they’re both really good at what they do, plus smart. Luke and Danny are in mission mode, but Jessica and Matt are pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into the fight, which is a lot more fun. It’s also a great female/male pairing where there’s not much indication of a romance beyond the snark, which is a nice change.

          1+

          1. One thing I really love about Jessica Jones is that she slots nicely into the “unrepentant asshole with a heart of gold” trope and female characters don’t often fill that role.

            She’s also the smart, practical one in the group (and the one who will risk taking the elevator in the service of getting to the gunfight faster).

            1+

          2. I love her because she so often says (or has an expression that telegraphs) what I’m thinking. The way she deals with all the macho guys around her is so efficient. Matt parkours up a blocked staircase; she takes the elevator. Danny says proudly, “It’s my chi.” She say, “No it’s not.” People say, “This fight will be incredibly dangerous and you might not survive,” and she says, “I’m out then.” She’s a great character.

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  2. My husband LOVES setup. He loves infodump. He loves prologues and epilogues and everything you can possibly do in between to give him MOAR INFO NAO!!! It is, as you might guess, a trifle wearing. He binge watched every single one of these series and longed for more.

    I played Xbox in the other room.

    The Defenders left me cold. I’d walk through and say, “Oh, they’re fighting. Did Danny do something stupid again?” and the DH would nod and I’d sigh and walk out of the room. The thing that kills me, though, is that when he reads or watches something that might be considered romance (because his superheroes and his action heroes and his westerns in space could NEVER be seen as male driven romances–NEVER) he says it’s too slow because there’s all this talking and feeling and interpersonal stuff. When are they going to tell me what kind of gun she’s carrying or what the geopolitical situation around them is like? (bangs head on keyboard)

    It’s a good thing he’s funny.

    6+

  3. “No. People will leave to get funnel cake and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl.” Haha! That line was perfect. Also, thanks for the reminder about story.

    And, once again, I am plugging Korean Dramas. Some are so so so good. I think they have mastered the tv format. They get to the heart of the story immediately, and their characters are usually well-rounded. They arc. It is a beautiful thing.

    There are stories for every taste. For a superhero story, try My Love From Another Star. For quirky horror romantic-comedy, try Master’s Sun. For writing and suspense, try Signal. For team, you might try Liar Game (the Korean version, not the Japanese version) or Bad Guys (which is too bloody for me, so I can’t vouch for the ending because I chickened out). And for action, City Hunter (the show, not the movie) or Healer. And for an artistic gender-bender with fun and good angst, try Coffee Prince. And for a straight-up romance, try One Percent of Something (not 1% of anything because that’s the 80’s version – If you see big hair and shoulder pads, skip it).

    You can watch for free on Viki, DramaFever, and sometimes YouTube and you can watch on Netflix (although NetFlix’s selection seems to be all of my least favorite dramas in one spot).

    I just think kdramas nail story completely. They have complete character arcs. I think you would watch and think, hmmm…this is really great tv. Where has this been hiding? What have I been missing? Why didn’t I know? Just sayin.

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    1. Mermaid, did you watch Goblin? Currently, it’s my favorite Kdrama. The story, the great character development, the romance, the bromance, the performances. When it ended after 16 episodes, I thought “it can’t be over, what am I going watch now?” The answer: nothing. I had to sit with this for a few days, it had that much of an impact. And can we just have a chat about Gong Yoo? Oh, mama! That is one gorgeous man.

      But I agree with you about kdrama. Some are good, some are not so good, but when they are good, they tend to be very good.

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      1. I’m bingeing on Goblin right now. Love it!

        I think one of the things about the Asian dramas is that many of them are based on books or manga, so they’re going somewhere. One of my friends pointed out that what she likes is that they build to a clear conclusion (usually a HEA) rather than spinning story out just to keep the series going. You know you’re going to get the pay-off for watching. Or, as I mentioned to her, you get your orgasm rather than just years of foreplay.

        2+

        1. Haha! Yes! The format has real satisfaction in it – because the characters complete their arcs. The contract is made and the promise fulfilled. I got so burned by Western shows because the money involved began to trumped story in so many instances. I watched so many shows that just kept going past their shelf-life. And I love telenovelas, but their long episode count makes it difficult for them to maintain a strong story structure. I honestly think for a viewer, this kind of format is the most satisfying and the payoff most closely related to reading a novel.

          1+

    2. I need a good review site for K-Dramas that lists any plot elements that might throw people out of the story. I’ve started and given up on so many dramas because there’s something big that throws me out of the story – a young woman who takes out a loan against her father’s house WHICH HE BUILT, WITHOUT HIS PERMISSION because she wants to start her own business. A psychologist hero who is violating so many psychology ethics, it’s throwing someone who knows nothing about psychology out of the show. A hero who thought it was better for his reputation to let people think he sexually assaulted a woman, than for them to know he was blind.

      I have found a few dramas that make me swoon – Atelier is a gorgeous and lush Japanese drama I loved, and Just You is a Taiwanese drama that transcends low production values with the sort of storytelling that had me legitimately invested in the death of a gold fish. For multiple episodes. So I know there’s good stuff I’ll really like out there. I just don’t have the necessary familiarity yet to navigate efficiently to the stuff I like. So instead I’m giving up on a lot of things part way through.

      0

      1. I have the same problem with all stories, regardless of origin. I’ll never watch John Wick again, even though it was good. Do not motivate your heroes by killing their puppies if you want me to come back; I’m still traumatized from Old Yeller. Do not have your protagonist do something stupid because it’s cute (I give you the romance in Hitch). And then there are prologues . . .

        1+

          1. There are no prologues or epilogues in Bet Me.
            Prologues are the stuff that come before the story starts. Bet Me starts “Once upon a time . . .” No prologue.
            Epilogues are the stuff that come after the story ends. Bet Me starts “They all lived happily ever after.” End of story, no epilogue.

            0

      2. You might try reading the recaps on Dramabeans, or try finding their listing of drama ratings. They changed the site, so I am not sure if it is still there.

        I usually go to the final recap, try to avoid spoilers, and look for a few hints in the last lines of the thoughts section. They’ll usually give a balanced view of how the show turned out. There is nothing worse than investing eighteen hours in a show, only to have the last episode ruin it.
        Some people have recommended My Drama List, too – but I haven’t tried it.

        1+

    3. Downside: I rarely like the ladies in them. I just recently went back and finally saw the early seasons of Arrow, and S1 Iris and Laurel really came off like Kdrama heroines. I have yet to see one give me a Root, or a Shaw, or a Parker, or a Sophie, or a Nikita, or an Alex Udinov, or an Amanda, or a Control, etc. etc. You rarely even get an Elizabeth Keen that doesn’t get derailed in the back half. No Buffy, no Faith, no Fred, much less Illyria, no Cordelia, maaaaybe a Willow?

      That said, apparently a Korean action film recently came out with a kickass-to-the-end heroine?

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  4. I LOVED Goblin! However, I got busy and had to drop it and… (following the recaps) the sadness at the end got me. Happy, but I had wanted her sacrifices to earn her immortality. Sigh. However, that was the most beautifully shot drama that I have ever seen. And Gong Yoo. Perfection. Glad you thought of that one. Epic.

    0

  5. Okay, I just listened to the ost again on YouTube. Goblin has to go on the list. How could I forget. Thanks Dayna!

    PS – I think most people think I’m recommending anime or an obscure subculture genre, but this is just legitimately great tv – no matter where you live, no matter your country.

    0

  6. One of these days all the Marvel shows will probably be dumped in a format I can watch (not paying for another service) but till then I will just enjoy hearing about them. 🙂 Sounds like “Defenders” is a possibility as long as I start in the middle of episode 3. And as long as I am assured that Knucklehead, aka Iron Fist, gets beat up a lot.

    0

    1. Okay, this comment confirms that I’ll likely never watch them. I like light & sweet, like the Great British anything – Bake Off, Sewing Bee, Pottery Throw Down…

      0

    2. You might like Goblin or My Love From Another Star. Goblin has a lot magic and mythology woven throughout. MLFAS has superhero elements. Both have romance at the forefront though and there is a definite sweetness to both.

      0

  7. So I’m a former comic book nerd, and I am compelled to add that in the first Jessica Jones, she did have a fair amount of great sex with Luke Cage. But – spoiler – so they broke up.
    I may just skip the first two shows, and defy my completist nature.

    0

  8. Mostly The Defenders reminded me how much I liked the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. And made me want season 2 of Jessica Jones as soon as possible. Nothing would make me happier than Matt and Jessica popping up in each other’s shows occasionally to help each other.

    I was really hoping Danny would be less of an idiot this time around, so it was incredibly frustrating that he was still a moron. It didn’t even really improve over the course of this 8 episodes. Honestly, what does Colleen see in him?

    My main concern going into this was that The Hand hasn’t really worked for me as an antagonist when they’ve shown up before. Madam Gao herself was great, but the endless army of anonymous ninjas who are trying to kill the protagonist because Evil just wasn’t terribly interesting. I can’t even remember what they wanted in Daredevil and Iron Fist. Maybe Elektra in Daredevil? But if they said why they wanted her I don’t remember it. Also, a vast and shadowy army that can never be defeated is really unsatisfying as an antagonist for me because they just keep coming back, and we can never move on to another story. So the thing The Defenders did that worked for me was finally explain who the hell The Hand is and what the hell they want. They did it mostly with info dump from Stick, but at least they finally did it. Also it seems we won’t have to see them again so there might be an end to that story now.

    Maybe I should ‘re-watch Daredevil and Jessica Jones now…

    0

    1. I liked the way everybody in The Defenders essentially treated Danny like a dumber, younger brother. I kept expecting Luke to slap him upside the head and say, “THINK, you dumbass.” I have no idea what Colleen sees in him. She’s kind of lost after the betrayal in the Iron Fist series, so maybe he’s the one thing she trusts in the world. He doesn’t lie to her, and he really cares about her, so that might be enough.
      I think all stories rise or fall on the strength of the antagonist; the antagonist is what shapes the narrative. D’Nofrio in the first Daredevil was brilliant; he wasn’t mindlessly evil, and you could see clear motivations and almost begin to sympathize, and then he beat somebody to death with a car door and you’d remember: this guy is a brilliant nutcase. I understand David Tennant was also a great antagonist for Jessica (shudder). I think in the little bit I’ve seen of the Defenders, the antagonists are too diffuse. I know Weaver is supposed to be the main one, but there are so many people running around making portentous statements that it’s diluted.

      I may just fast forward through and only stop for Jessica and Matt. I like Luke, too, but if he’s stuck with Danny . . .

      0

      1. David Tennant was fantastic, but then he always is. It was horrifying how Kilgrave really convinced himself he was in love. In some of the interviews he gave to promote the show, Tennant talked about how the character was basically incapable of understanding that what he did was wrong after a lifetime of being able to impose his will on everyone and everything, and he really sold that aspect of Kilgrave throughout the series. And even knowing what he was doing was indefensible, you could still David Tennant’s charm, which of course only makes him that much more interesting as an antagonist. He’s appalling, but you can’t look away.

        I still don’t like The Hand, I’m just relieved that they seem to be done with it. They better be; if they show up again, I may just stop watching. It is pretty diffuse, and I admit that it took me way longer than it should have to recall all the antagonists’ names. It helped that a couple of them were familiar.

        I guess it’s true that for Colleen, Danny is one of very few people capable of understanding her experience with a murderous cult, and he does love her. So I guess there’s that. I will say this for Iron Fist, they picked a romantic subplot and committed to it. No love triangles and will they/won’t they. It would have worked better if half the romance wasn’t an immature idiot, but they had the right idea. Can’t take another full season of it though. That’s what Wikipedia is for.

        0

  9. I thought it was just me. I watched the Luke Cage part, eagerly watched the Jessica Jones part, tried to figure out the blind guy part and fast forwarded the fist as all he does is whine and reject ant help or ideas. I have no idea why the woman with him doesn’t smother him in his sleep!!! I finished the second part and was still waiting for them to get together. Thank the Goddess you say they so in the the third episode as I was going to cash it in. I couldn’t watch the Jessica Jones series as I 1) hated seeing David Tennant as a psychopath and 2) had trouble watching her struggle with the aftermath of a rape but I really really liked her.

    0

  10. Imagine a Leverage where episode 1 ends on Sam’s death. Episode 2 details his spiral into alcoholism, and the end of his marriage to Maggie. Episode 3 finally introduces Dubenich giving him the pitch, and at the end of the episode he walks into that room with his earpiece on and speaks to Hardison, Eliot, and Parker for the first time. Sophie doesn’t show up until episode 5.
    Ugggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

    Like, even Legends of Tomorrow figured out that you get the entire team on the ship in the pilot, even when the premise is that they’re adorably garbage as a team.

    Like, even if you have to pull a “get them in that elevator together in the scene, then flash back” structure, by George do that. We should be getting into the promise of the premise FUN TRAIN in the second act of the episode! But the Golden Age of TV is all about filmmakers jumping over the longform and treating these shows like one long film, so they think the second act is in the 4th episode.

    0

    1. There’s a theory floating around that the slow starts are because the writers know the series will be binged, which is a dumb, dumb, dumb idea. I’m not binging anything that leaves me cold for three episodes.

      Leverage is still my gold standards.

      0

      1. Theory: you can generally expect good things from shows whose first episodes work as their own mini-film. Buffy, PoI, Leverage, Eleventh Doctor, The Blacklist, Chuck, Luther, Firefly

        Obviously there are many great shows that don’t, but I think predicting a show’s quality based on the first episode alone, a good standalone is far and away the more reliable indicator.

        0

        1. You know, the Legends pilot wasn’t bad, and the first season was grossly uneven. But in general, I think you’re right. It’s a weakness in the binge shows that they don’t have to grab that audience in the first episode.

          0

      2. If anyone wants to see the cutting edge theories behind tv and movies, the TSL Screenwriting summit has some amazing speakers. This weekend they are offing $40 off (code Weekend40). I loved Neil Landau’s class on the changes in television.

        Here is a link (or you can Google TSL Screenwriting Summit):

        https://summit.thescriptlab.com

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  11. Hi Jenny,
    I’m usually just a lurker in your blog. I fell in love with it when I read your analysis on Arrow’s first meet. Loved that. I love to write but I have difficulty writing stories. So I just get my fix from your blog, haha!

    Anyhow, I wondered if you’ve ever read the Harry Potter series, and if you’ve ever written about it. Not sure if this is where I should be asking this question but I can’t seem to find a way to send a message to you. 🙂

    Take care and have a great one!
    Hazel

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  12. Watched Iron fist trailer, was not a fan, he’s like Batman lite,

    trust fund check, family business check, orphaned & learned martial arts check

    Also not attractive to moi which is very important.

    Will have to watch Defenders another time, but they have no excuse not to set up team in the opening episode, Leverage first episode seven minutes in and Parker jumps off a skyscraper, though they pretty much had me in the first seven, when Elliot put his coffee mug down and at Parker’s back story where her house exploded. That is how you get people’s attention.

    I only got half way through Jessica Jones, due to the darkness, they overdid the collateral damage, the sheer volume of innocent people getting hurt was unrelenting. I was exhausted watching

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