This post will contain spoilers for the full show, stay away if you’re not done watching it! I’ll keep this relatively brief though, as this is not a definitive review. I’ll probably have more to say after I’ve at least had a chance to watch it again (I have a Defenders marathon scheduled with some friends tomorrow).
So… Wow. And not a good kind of wow, I’m afraid. Despite some excellent moments, scenes and characterizations, I would argue that this is the weakest show out of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration to date. And it mostly comes down to the plot.
But, let’s start at the beginning, and the beginning is actually very good. The early reviews of the first four episodes where somewhat mixed, and many pointed to the fact that it takes a while for the four heroes to get together as the biggest weakness of those early episodes. After having watched the whole show, I felt like their time apart, each pulling at one string of the bigger mystery, and their gradually moving into each other’s orbits was the best part of the show. And I very much enjoyed watching the first three episodes. Within the context of the story, it made sense that things would have to happen for these four character to have a reason to get together, and that this needed time. I thought Jessica’s bit was especially good, as I do like a bit of detective work, and I loved how Matt ended up in Jessica’s story through Foggy.
Their big fight/meeting at the end of episode three did its job, and was fun to watch, as was these characters feeling each other out during episode four, even though I’d argue that this is where the real pacing issues begin. That’s right, as the bigger story starts to pick up speed here, my feeling is that this is where the creators start phoning it in, relying too much on the chemistry between the characters to keep us hooked.
And that chemistry is there, definitely. I hope The Defenders gets a second season so that we can see these guys team up again, I just really hope they get to do so in a story that makes sense. And, I’ll say it, even the scenes they are in could, in many cases, have been much better written. I had actually expected more banter, more of them getting to know each other. I found the scene where Jessica tells the story of Matt’s father to be very moving, and the dynamic between those two is perhaps the best, but even with the five full episodes they had to devote to these characters existing in the same world, much less is actually accomplished than I had expected.
So, my big issue here has little to do with Matt/Daredevil, who I think has a strong outing. Sure, the fact that they’re trying to replay the emotional drama with him and Elektra from the end of season two at the end of this show (and having it feel even more out of key on account of Elektra’s transformation), is not my cup of tea, but for the most part, Charlie Cox gets to put in a fine performance. My big issue is the plot holes. Let’s make a list:
Why does the Hand need to destroy New York? I’m serious. Aside from wanting to cause mayhem, and because it’s their M.O. (they were apparently the bastards behind Pompeii and Chernobyl), why would they want to go the extra step beyond mining whatever is behind that wall that only Iron Fist can open? The destruction of New York beyond what is needed for their mining operation makes no sense. And, if it hadn’t been for their discovering that wall that they need Danny to open, wouldn’t they have been pretty much done after the first tremor?
How would the three month plan have been different? In the first episode, we see Alexandra and Madame Gao meet at the park to discuss their plans, and Gao says she’s got someone in the Mayor’s office. Alexandra, who has recently learned that she’s dying wants to speed things up. Gao points out that doing so will not be quiet, which is presumably why they have to go the plan B earthquake route. And, if I’m understanding this right, the point of the earthquake was to aid in the mining operation to get the substance that lets them live forever (at which point they come across that wall and suddenly realize they need an Iron Fist to get them all the way). But is Gao suggesting there was a less messy way of doing this that would have involved the mayor’s office? And if that was less messy, then it makes even less sense to speak of war and the destruction of New York.
Why is Alexandra dying a problem when they just tried to kill her themselves? When Elektra gradually grows a mind of her own, and decides to kill Alexandra, the remaining “fingers” of the Hand seem to have a problem with this, as she is needed for their front activities. If that’s the case, why did they conspire to have her killed something like the day before?
Why is Elektra suddenly so big on immortality?Elodie Yung is fantastic and I really dig her performance here, even tough I think she gets way too much air time in the context of this story. However, there are a lot of things about her that don’t quite make sense. First of all, the fact that she starts to “wake up” as early as the first time she comes across Matt really brings into question whether the Hand can do anything right. I know there’s supposed to be some “oh, but he was the one she loved” kind of magic going on here, but that kind of feels like a cop out.
Once she does begin to find herself, she goes off on her own, and even visits Matt’s apartment. So, you definitely see her humanity coming back. Which is why it comes out of the blue when she decides to kill Alexandra and take over. I get that she’s starting to realize she’s being manipulated and thus would want revenge on a personal level. But the way she puts herself in the driver’s seat when it comes to the Hand’s big plan seems contrived to me, and not something that follows naturally from anything we’ve seen from her previously. I mean, I guess is shows that her dark side won, which Matt foolishly still decides to ignore, but it’s a plot twist that, while shocking and at least a little interesting, doesn’t feel earned.
And the big one: In what way was Elektra/The Black Sky essential to any of this? The Black Sky, as a concept, was introduced in season one of Daredevil, and has remained somewhat enigmatic ever since. Clearly, there can be more than one at a time, they seem to be a particular kind of endowed human (though everyone in the know appear to treat them as things rather than people), that can be trained and activated to become a very powerful fighter with what looks like superhuman strength.
This is all well and good, and excellent reason to want to have one of these in your stable of ninjas. But, in a world where the weaponry and how battles are fought have moved on a bit since the Hand was formed, I don’t quite understand what’s so essential about having a “living weapon,” or why it would be so disastrous for it to fall into enemy hands (if that’s even a concern). More to the point, I don’t understand what having this living weapon has to do with the plan to mine more of that immortality substance from underneath New York City. I, too, would question Alexandra’s reasons for spending the last of their resources on resurrecting Elektra, unless she actually wants an ersatz daughter (my favorite explanation at this point, since it at least makes sense on some kind of twisted human level). The fact that no one else in the Hand leadership actually thought the Black Sky was essential to their plan should tell you everything. Is the Black Sky, at the end of the day, just a big red herring?
Two seasons of Daredevil and one season of Iron Fist building up to this mess of a resolution is just a damn shame. I can and still do enjoy spending time with these characters, but we should be able to expect more from this Marvel/Netflix collaboration. I at least hope we’re done with ninjas for a long time, because I’d much rather see these guys team up to address street-level threats (shoot me, but I actually cheered when Stick died).
I had other problems as well, with Foggy and Karen in particular. The way Foggy is written is, at times, so unsympathetic that I wonder if they are preparing fans to celebrate his possible death in an upcoming season. And for Karen to be so anti-Daredevil, given her stance on vigilantes (and his having saved her life more than once), doesn’t feel like it’s consistent with her earlier portrayals at all. It feels as if they’re using Foggy and Karen as mere plot devices to thwart Matt’s desire to put on the suit again, and build up this false notion that there is no way Matt would truly want to pursue a life outside of (and in addition to) Daredevil. Please, please let us see this put right in the third season of Daredevil. I just fear there’s so much groundwork to be done, they’ll run out of time, with Matt and Foggy’s relationship in particular.
Oh well, these were my thoughts after seeing the show once. If you guys felt this show brought everything you asked for and more, I’m not going to argue. In fact, I envy you. Maybe I’ll be more forgiving after a second viewing (this has actually tended to be the case for me for all of the Netflix shows). I’m just a bit frustrated by the missed opportunities. Comment away! Full spoilers allowed, obviously.