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The Defenders brings together four different heroes and their supporting casts into a single miniseries (only 8 episodes) in order to deal with a threat larger than any of them. The parallels between The Defenders and The Avengers are obvious, and I will try to avoid harping on them during my reviews, but there are at least a few things that need to be said. First, The Defenders includes two less heroes (depending on whether or not you want to include Colleen and Misty in the team) but close to four times the runtime, allowing for greater character interaction and more buildup as the characters are introduced and allowed to come together naturally. Second, while The Avengers pulled all of the heroes out of their own series and away from their supporting casts and plopped them all down into an entirely new setting with a new cast of supporting characters, The Defenders merges the settings of all four constituent series together and draws the casts of the four series together, allowing for the supporting characters to interact in interesting ways.
However, at this point we are just talking about the first episode, before any of the heroes have interacted (beyond Luke and Jess in Jessica Jones season 1). At this point the four prequel series are all distinct and their influences on The Defenders are obvious. The showrunners do an excellent job of allowing the mood of each series to shine through as each Defender is introduced. Matt’s scenes focus on him as a lawyer, hinting a bit at his struggle to keep the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen (metaphorically) contained. Jess is back to her old ways of drinking, ducking her friends, and avoiding cases until they practically grab her by the shoulders and shake her. Luke is being released from prison and returning to Harlem and to Claire to resume his role as the Protector of Harlem. Danny meanwhile is tracking the Hand across Southeast Asia until a lead sends him back to New York. It’s not as clear in the Matt and Danny scenes, but the color schemes of the individual scenes echo the primary colors of the hero’s series—Yellow for Luke and Purple for Jess in particular—and the soundtrack picks up the themes from the hero’s series, as well—hip hop for Luke.
There isn’t too much to say about this episode, actually. Most of what it does is laying the foundation for the rest of the season. It establishes where the characters are, introduces some connections between them, such as Foggy representing Hogarth as Luke Cage’s lawyer, and starts drawing them together in a single “investigation” into the Hand.
There isn’t a ton of action in this episode; the biggest action piece involves Danny and Colleen fighting a mysterious assassin who turns out to be Elektra in order to save a secret contact who is revealed to be a member of the Chaste. It’s really poorly-lit, so the action can’t really be seen. That’s actually a serious problem in the Marvel Netflix shows: the action needs better lighting so we can actually see it!
Of course, since this episode does so much to set up the rest of the season, there isn’t all that much more to say about it without talking about the next episode.