Where the first two episodes of The Defenders laid down the building blocks of each character’s personal life, the next two began intertwining them until the four are forced to finally become a team. If the pacing of the previous installments was too slow for you – and admittedly it was for me – then “Worst Behavior” and “Royal Dragon” certainly make up for it by by paying off the minor connections that began developing in the premiere, making the story feel well thought out and executed for the most part.
The weakest part of the series thus far may be Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) as the villain, but this is through no fault of Weaver’s impeccable performance. Her demeanor subtly swings between refined and repellent at all the right times, and her scenes with her fellow fingers of the Hand never fail to set a sinister mood. The issue is simply that her desires seem so personal – to ensure her currently fading immortality, for one – that it’s hard for me to grasp why there is a global organization behind her. Meanwhile, it’s still unclear how she plans to use Danny Rand (Finn Jones) if he ever submits to her control, so that threat feels far less pressing than the one of preventing a seismic disaster from destroying New York City. But how will the Hand manage it if they just spent their last resources on resurrecting Elektra (Elodie Yung)?
Speaking of Elektra, her story is in fact one of The Defenders’ strongest points so far – mostly because the writing has clearly placed her as the lynch-pin of the conflict and managed to connect the individual stories through her. The most impressive part of this is that it’s done without making her feel like simply a man’s motivation, which would be easy to do considering how shaken up Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox) is over her death and now apparent resurrection. His desperation to save her is emotional to watch, but we are also given enough glimpses of her own hesitation and hints of inner turmoil – not to mention her grueling training sessions in which she becomes a formidable living weapon before our very eyes – to recognize her as a valuable character in her own right. The creepy mother-daughter vibes between Alexandra and Elektra are compelling, as the latter gains control of language and begins to question her existence. The way Elektra’s person-hood is erased is a quiet terror to behold, but the means Alexandra will choose to achieve her endgame remain unclear.
Of course, everyone wants to watch The Defenders for… Well, the Defenders! And though the first two episodes were light on their interactions, merely allowing them to cross paths through attorney-client meetings and fist fights in dark alleyways, “Worst Behavior” starts kicking the team-up into high gear before “Royal Dragon” cements the alliance for good. Jessica (Krysten Ritter) and Matt’s first in-depth clash in episode 3 is both humorous and heartwarming, showcasing how both their characters are able to go from sarcastic quips to genuine emotion within seconds. Even Danny (Finn Jones), whose solo series was my least favorite of the four is well-served here as the one earnest warrior amidst the group of reluctant heroes concerned with smaller-scale operations.
But it is Luke (Mike Colter) who carries a lot of the heavy emotional weight in both episodes, and he does so with aplomb. His quest to help what’s left of Candace Miller’s family is both honorable and heart-wrenching. And while at some points it felt like the show was heaping unnecessary tragedy at his feet when he would clearly be willing to step up for less, Colter’s performance never feels less than genuine. His relationship with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is very sweet, but his charged scenes with ex-girlfriend Jessica also provide some of the best moments of episode 4. The connection between Luke and Jessica remains present, even if they’re both moving in separate directions for now, which is a testament to Ritter and Colter’s chemistry and talent. And of course, his blossoming friendship with Danny is a delight to behold – especially when Luke is allowed to call him out on his privilege in a way that other characters can’t seem to.
However, at times it feels like the Defenders actually have five members. Once Stick (Scott Glenn) comes into the picture again, he takes over the lion’s share of exposition and clearly acts as the team’s guide. While it is a neat way to connect Matt and Danny’s backstories, it can sometimes feel a little redundant when other characters like Jessica are in the middle of onscreen investigations that lead to the same conclusions as Stick’s speeches.
That being said, Jessica’s side quest is absolutely worth it for the scene of her return and the words: “Who missed me?” One thing The Defenders unquestionably has down-pat is making each team up moment feel epic and earned. And, furthermore, the choreography of the fight sequences has improved from each of the respective solo series. In fact, the only thing I would request at this point – aside from a clearer motivation for Alexandra’s villainy and what the Hand’s motto of life and death means – is more screen time for Misty (Simone Missick) and Colleen (Jessica Henwick). Otherwise episode 4 leaves the series at a great midway point, with the promise of more intense action and more delightful team-ups to come.