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.