'Mean Right Hook' unites some heroes and divides others, but still feels like prologue as The Hand fail to provide any significant threat just yet.
Finally, we can cheer “Defenders assemble!” – sort of. After season opener ‘The H Word’ reintroduced us to the street-level heroes who we’ve got to know over the past two years, ‘Mean Right Hook’ began moving the series towards the much-anticipated team-up. While it is somewhat frustrating that we are now a quarter of the way through the season and the titular heroes have not quite yet formed a team (or, in Luke Cage‘s (Mike Colter) case, even met the antagonist of this series – The Hand), we did still get some exciting scenes towards the end, as well as some interesting sleuthing courtesy of Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones.
The Defenders may not yet have teamed up (or in the case of Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) and Luke Cage, even met), but at least they all begin in the same city this time around. However, with each character pursuing different threads (Murdock battling against his desire to become Daredevil once again, Jones investigating the architect’s mysterious disappearance, Cage looking into the troubling rise of the so-called “White Hat”, and Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) actually going after The Hand), the story still feels rather disjointed.
That’s not to say any one of the heroes’ plotlines is particularly bad – it’s fascinating to watch Murdock continue to struggle against the pull to be the Daredevil once again, and Jones is in fine form as she sleuths after the architect. I also found the use of colour – all red when we’re with Daredevil, more yellow lighting when in Harlem with Cage, for example – and the dynamic cuts of public transport around New York as we jumped from hero to hero are effective pieces of visual storytelling. It’s just a shame that, with all the threat that The Hand posed in Daredevil and Iron Fist, they haven’t yet shown why they should be a credible threat for our heroes to take down, and as such it’s unsurprising that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are all busy furthering their own story arcs rather than uniting to fight a common enemy.
There was of course the “earthquake” that concluded Episode 1 in dramatic fashion, but it’s so far unclear how this was part of The Hand’s plan, and we hear little of the real devastation it caused (Did anyone die? How many are injured?). That said, the disruption it causes to the emergency services provides ample reason for Murdock to return to fighting crime, even if just for one night (and if shot bewilderingly – when did weird angles and quick edits take over from the masterful corridor and stairway scenes?). Having tasted what it’s like to be Daredevil again however, you’d expect this to be the incentive for Murdock to don his suit again when the time comes.
Hopefully that time comes sooner rather than later. We still have no idea what The Hand’s plan is (besides the vague “toppling New York City”), although we did get a brilliantly tense exchange between Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra and Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao. We see their differing ideologies, and through a brief snippet where Alexandra implies she personally knew Beethoven and Brahms, there’s a suggestion that there are some supernatural forces at work. Weaver is again fantastic as the coldly single-minded Alexandra, but it would be great to see her pose a real threat to New York or any one of the heroes we’re told she’ll come up against. But for now at least, we’re stuck watching these heroes as their stories slowly interleave.
All that said, the two scenes in which the Defenders do encounter each other are fantastic. Luke Cage and Iron Fist believably find themselves on opposite sides of a crime scene, as Cage means to redeem one of the clean-up crew whilst Rand intends to interrogate him. Watching the Iron Fist attempt to take down his bulletproof foe is great fun, and it’ll be interesting to see how Cage responds to being on the sour end of the titular “mean right hook” – and how this fight will affect the Defenders’ group dynamic – as our heroes eventually team up in coming episodes. Meanwhile, Murdock dramatically walking in on Misty Knight’s (Simone Missick) interrogation of Jessica Jones is a perfect episode-ending cliff-hanger, and I’m very excited to see how these two greatly differing heroes work together as the series progresses.
Which makes it all the greater shame that the Defenders still haven’t teamed up yet. Yes, each of the character’s individual story arcs is strong (save perhaps Iron Fist’s until he comes up against Luke Cage, as he follows the same sort of trajectory as he did in his disappointing solo series), and it’s interesting to watch characters from the separate source shows come up against each other (Knight’s interrogation of Jones, for example), but we really came here to see a badass superhero team-up. None of this is to say that ‘Mean Right Hook’ is a poor hour of entertainment – it’s not. Rather, my main issue is that, a quarter of the way through and The Defenders still feels like prologue, positioning characters ever closer, and still finding a way to make The Hand feel like a threat. Furthermore, beyond Daredevil’s fight at the start, and the fight between Cage and Iron Fist at the end, it feels like the only person doing anything of note is Jessica Jones, which is odd when so much time is spent with other characters. That said, we do get to see some great scenes showcasing Murdock’s internal conflict, whilst Cage is slowly but brilliantly taking up the mantle of Pop. Now that we’ve had some rather thorough character introductions, I hope we can see our heroes team up to take down a terrifying common enemy.
All episodes of The Defenders are available to stream now on Netflix.