Although the chemistry between the four Defenders remains, Episode 8 fails to provide the satisfying ending that it deserves.
The final episode of The Defenders had a lot of responsibility weighing on it. It had to serve as a conclusion to the Hand saga, which has spanned multiple seasons of multiple shows. It had to pave the way for each of the four Defenders to return to their own shows. It had to provide appropriate conclusions for certain characters, while opening new doors for others. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it had to be a whopper of a finale for a grandiose show; the culmination of three years of delectably binge-able televisual cake. So, does the finale episode of The Defenders achieve these lofty aims? Well, yes and no. But mostly no.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a truncated episode count would make it virtually impossible to round off this story in a completely organic and satisfying way, but there are parts of this episode that feel flat-out lazy. Everyone gets completely let off the hook for imploding a skyscraper in the middle of New York. Expertly-trained supernatural ninjas get knocked out with ease. A villain built up to be terrifying and nigh on unstoppable is easily dispatched.
The biggest problem with this final confrontation is just how safe it feels. The Hand, a supposedly-ancient and unstoppable force basically all crowd at the bottom of a hole and stand around aimlessly as their enemies swarm in and take them out. Characters like Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), who was such a terrifying presence on Daredevil (Charlie Cox), are reduced to cannon fodder. Although she’s far and above the best character on the show, Jessica Jones’ (Krysten Ritter) casual waltz into the evil baddy lair basically sums up the atmosphere of the entire showdown. If your characters aren’t concerned, then neither are your audience; the writers seem to have foregone simple narrative alchemy. Elektra (Élodie Yung) seems to have forgotten her villainous motivation entirely, and she just kind of stands there, sneering and telling everyone that she’s doing evil stuff because she ‘feels like it.’ Oh, Sigourney Weaver, please come back!
Moreover, the threat is dealt with two-thirds of the way through the episode, leaving a solid twenty minute chunk where almost nothing happens, save some obligatory set-up for the next seasons of the individual shows. Obviously there needed to be some denouement, but frankly having enough ‘endings’ to rival The Return of the King left no room for a satisfactory close to the conflict. The Hand – as well as Matt Murdock, who everyone believed had died for precisely zero seconds – all just get blown up. If this truly is the end of their clan, it’s very disappointing.
However, there are still a lot of good aspects to the episode. The banter between our four heroes remains an absolute joy to watch, with even Danny Rand (Finn Jones) emerging as a more-likeable character. Luke (Mike Colter) is the heart of the show and he owns it, delivering karma through both his words and his fists without coming across as preachy. The dry witticisms of Jessica and the stubborn heroics of Matt deserve mention too, even if the latter’s soap operatics with Elektra grew a little tiresome. Special kudos goes out to the conclusion of Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Bakuto’s (Ramón Rodríguez) relationship, it felt deserved and impactful in contrast to the demise of the other Hand leaders. The death of her mentor allows Colleen to spread her (bad pun incoming) ‘wings’ a little more, and I look forward to seeing how she will develop from here.
So, on the whole, a finale episode to go down in history? No, not even close. But The Defenders is at its best when it remembers that strong characters and satisfying emotional arcs are what drive a story, and that spectacle is nothing but a hollow facade without the essence of stakes.
All eight episodes of The Defenders are available to stream on Netflix.