Marvel and Netflix’s Defenders is finally heading to our TV and computer screens.
A blind lawyer, a snarky detective, a bulletproof hero, and a man with a mystical iron fist all have one thing in common; they are not team players. Yet Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand will be assembling in this long-awaited miniseries to fight a mutual enemy.
The road to this finale has been one of ups and downs for the four heroes. It is hard to remember now that at one time the gritty and visceral opening of Daredevil was a fresh take on the story and left audiences shocked but invested. Jessica Jones followed with an emotionally complex story packed with trauma and redemption but weak on pacing. Luke Cage was a bold and poignant tale of a black superhero defending Harlem but suffered from a less remarkable final villain. Iron Fist was to be Marvel’s magical martial arts series but became Marvel Studios' first critical failure.
Each series has strengths and weaknesses and each character will bring something special to the new season.
In preparation, we will be counting down the 8 Best (And 7 worst) Marvel Netflix Episodes.
15 Best: Luke Cage - 1x11 "Now You’re Mine"
Luke Cage is a hard-hitting story of race and class conflict. Episode 11 begins to bring the disparate plot threads of the season to a culmination. It unites all the key players into one place for an exciting hostage showdown.
Misty and Luke really connect while hiding out in the basement and Claire proves once again that her common sense and quiet strength is the only thing holding the rest of the characters together.
Claire and Misty also interact in a fulfilling way. Misty is badly injured but proves her grit and determination as she manages to take down an attacker with Claire’s help.
This is the episode that puts all the characters on the same page and the pace begins to pick up. Luke is finally given the chance to really prove himself the hero, and he shines.
14 Worst: Jessica Jones - 1x01 "Ladies Night"
The first episode of Jessica Jones takes time to introduce the main players. Jessica Jones centers around an ex-superhero turned private detective and its themes include abuse, shame, and PTSD. It is a gritty and emotionally complex series but that very nuance unfortunately contributes to the main complaints surrounding the season.
"Ladies Night" introduces Jessica and her past, as well as serving as Luke Cage's debut. We also meet Hope, the innocent victim who has suffered similar abuses to Jessica at the hands of Kilgrave, the season’s stylish villain. It is a lot to take in during the first episode and it is delivered in an arguably dry manner.
The gut-wrenching twist that finishes the episode is enough to keep this episode from featuring lower on the list. Yet it is still a far cry from the intensely charged episodes to come.
13 Best: Iron Fist - 1x03 "Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch"
It is no secret that Iron Fist was not received with as much approval as the other three series. Despite inconsistencies, the season has some memorable moments and episode 3 stands out.
"Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch" has Danny finally confront the Meachums, and Jeri Hogarth make a surprise appearance to pledge her razor-sharp mind to help win Danny’s fortune back. Madame Gao also cements herself as the uncompromising, mysterious villain of this world as she makes Harold crawl through glass for disobeying The Hand.
Yet Colleen Wing is the real star here. A down-to-earth dojo owner, she has strong views on fighting for money but she takes part in a private fighting ring to raise cash for her students under the name "Daughter of the Dragon." It is a satisfying and elegant fight, demonstrating that Colleen is not only a powerful force but a far more interesting character than Danny.
12 12. Worst: Daredevil - 2x12 "Dark at the End of the Tunnel"
Daredevil manages to deliver murky, hyper-violent storylines, while retaining characters that you care about. The show centers around Matt Murdoch, blind lawyer by day and supernaturally enhanced vigilante by night. Overall the seasons are very well-received but as the story progresses, it falls into the trap of over complication.
"Dark at the End of the Tunnel" is a controversial addition to this list. The episode was set up as the culmination of several mysterious plotlines but ended in a twist completely out of left field. The fact the episode delivers the reveal for both the Blacksmith and Black Sky plotlines should have made it notable but instead many fans disliked the direction they took with Blacksmith.
It was also a little late to be digging into Elektra’s backstory. Although the revelations from her past were solid, they could have been introduced some time earlier on to develop her character.
11 11. Best: Daredevil - 1x08 "Shadows in the Glass"
"Shadows in the Glass" is packed with stern character development.
It ranks highly in part for its impactful Wilson Fisk scenes. This time, the emotional punch is delivered in a flashback which explains what happened in Fisk’s past causing him to snap.
There is more exploration of Foggy, Karen, and Matt’s relationship. Foggy and Karen reveal that they are looking into Union Allied Construction and Matt is furious that they are putting themselves in danger, proving to the audience that he is not only a masked vigilante but a hypocrite.
We also see more of the incomparable Madame Gao, who appears in Fisk’s apartment and delivers a calm ultimatum to the man we had thought was the main villain, knocking him off balance and leaving him furious.
10 Worst: Iron Fist - 1x08 "The Blessing of Many Fractures"
Iron Fist’s eighth episode takes the fight to China in pursuit of Madame Gao. Unfortunately, rather than leap into the anticipated thrilling action sequences, time is wasted as the characters spell out their particular issues to each other in the least subtle way possible.
Despite the undeniable awesomeness of Claire, she seems oddly out of place during this adventure. It was beginning to feel more than a little convenient when she appeared in Colleen’s dojo but she brought with her a much-needed breath of fresh air. Taking Claire on the mission to China seemed forced and she was obviously out of her comfort zone.
Zhou Cheng is undeniably the highlight of the episode but he is not given enough time to make up for an episode of prolonged waiting.
9 Best: Luke Cage - 1x07 "Manifest"
While Luke is unmistakably the hero, Cottonmouth and Mariah are nuanced villains.
This seventh episode takes the time to explore Cottonmouth and Mariah’s childhoods under the thumb of mobster Mama Mabel. The sickening violence and abuses that both young people experience goes far to explaining their bloody ambitions in the present, with Mariah in particular suffering. The power vacillating between Cottonmouth and Mariah is fascinating to watch and cumulates in Cottonmouth’s shocking demise.
Meanwhile, more is revealed about Luke’s real past with Diamondback, the surprise primary villain. Luke is shot and wounded by Diamondback with his Judas bullet, effectively raising the stakes as we discover there is a weapon that can actually injure the man with unbreakable skin.
8 Worst: Iron Fist - 1x07 "Felling Trees with Roots"
This seventh episode of the series begins to reveal the connection between the mysterious criminal organization, The Hand, and Danny’s family’s business.
We discover that The Hand has been squatting on the 13th floor of Rand Enterprises in order to use the corporation to distribute their synthetic drugs.
Unfortunately, it is these very corporate machinations which fail to resonate with audiences. Danny’s investigation into Madame Gao and her drug empire is slow and obvious. The surprise coup within Rand that removes Danny, Joy, and Ward from the boardroom is equally predictable.
However, there are some standout moments involving Ward as he finally snaps, murders his father, and dumps the body. This rapid descent into madness is far more compelling than the sluggish development of Danny and Joy.
7 7. Best: Jessica Jones - 1x13 "Smile"
David Tennant’s Kilgrave is perhaps the most chilling villain in the Marvel Netflix Universe. The Purple Man is skilled at using mind control to influence his victims but he is all the more disturbing as he does not see what he is doing as evil. He truly seems to believe that he is motivated by his twisted ‘love’ for Jessica.
Like any abuser, Kilgrave’s affection turns to anger when he finds he can no longer control her. This final episode of the season ups the stakes as Kilgrave orders a whole jetty full of people to try to kill each other to stop Jessica getting to him. Jessica defeats her abuser in an arguably simple manner, but the real story lies in the journey up to that point.
After seeing the pain Jessica endures throughout the series, the bleak, blunt end to the charismatic villain is undeniably satisfying.
6 Worst: Luke Cage - 1x13 "You Know my Steez"
For a story that elsewhere succeeds in portraying challenging themes with biting accuracy and dignity, Diamondback is an uninspired and futile villain.
His whole motivation lacks the same layers as the other characters. He is out of place in the thorny world of Harlem and has none of the aching depths of Cottonmouth or Mariah.
His penchant for spouting bible verse is about as subtle as his end plan: kill Luke. The final confrontation with Luke in this final episode is both obvious and tedious. The armor that gives him "unbreakable skin" in the same manner as Luke looks surprisingly lame.
There are definitely aspects of the finale which absorb audiences for a second season but these are more hints to the future for Misty and Claire than the two leading men.
5 Best: Daredevil - 1x04 "In the Blood"
The emotional range that this episode delivers is what makes is so memorable.
The villainous Wilson Fisk is first mentioned in the previous episode and the audience has a certain expectation before he even steps into a scene.
Fisk is first introduced curiously positively. We find ourselves sympathetic to Fisk’s blossoming relationship with art dealer Vanessa Marianna. We watch the endearingly awkward moment when he asks Vanessa to go on a date. Then, equally enthralled, we watch as he beats a man who interrupts the date to death with a car door.
This is the episode that truly sets the tone for the rest of the season. It sets Fisk up as a villain with more depth than most and leaves you unsure as to what he will do next.
4 Worst: Iron Fist - 1x06 "Immortal Emerges from Cave"
The Netflix Marvel series have individually worked hard to deliver a more realistic take on the comic book characters while retaining the wonder of the original source material.
"Immortal Emerges from Cave" moves away from this to show Danny battle various jarring comic book style challengers on the way to rescue a hostage - all the while, Madame Gao looks on impassively. In a universe that tries so hard to be realistic, an opponent like the Bride of Nine Spiders, who battles Danny with nothing but a corset and the power of sex appeal, is not really fitting.
The most satisfying part of the episode is when Madame Gao ignores the rules of the ceremonial combat despite his victory and offers Danny a different deal. His choice to save Sabrina over his Iron Fist objective lacks any impact as we are not yet invested in what it means to be Iron Fist.
3 3. Best: Daredevil - 1x02 "Cut Man"
It has to be admitted that, at heart, many superhero plots are a little silly. Two episodes into Daredevil and the grittier, darker aesthetic is really hammered home, but the show is still far from one-note.
During this second episode of the season, we are treated to some of Matt’s pre-accident past, as well as the introduction of the incomparable Claire Temple.
On the one hand, we watch Foggy and Karen deal with events so far with some light-hearted bonding over heavy drinking. Meanwhile, Matt undertakes a gruelling hallway fight scene. The fight is a full six-minute, staged, choreographed and shot in one ongoing take.
We are left with a sense of each character’s point of view as well that punishing fight. This is an episode that does everything right.
2 Worst: Iron Fist - 1x13 "Dragon Plays with Fire"
It is no secret that Iron Fist had some tough acts to follow as the fourth of the Marvel Netflix offerings.
Set up as Marvel’s magical martial arts series, it unfortunately does not deliver much in the way of magic or martial arts. "Dragon Plays with Fire" is the finale of the season and, for a show about a character who punches things really hard, it fails to hit home for most viewers.
The final "twist" from Harold was seen coming by everyone except Danny Rand. The naïve hero’s inability to see the obvious only compounded the realization that his character had not evolved at all throughout the series.
There was a satisfying fight which viewers had been clamoring for since the show began. Yet, perhaps purposefully, the finale did not end on anything to hook viewers in for a second season.
1 Best: Jessica Jones - 1x10 "10,000 Cuts"
This tenth episode of Jessica Jones' first season is particularly packed with trauma.
The main thrust of the entire story centers around Hope, a young woman who suffered similar abuses to Jessica at the hands of Kilgrave and murders her parents while under his malevolent, supernatural influence. Jessica promises to prove her innocence and, throughout the series, Hope represents Jessica’s redemptive arc. This is the episode where that arc dies.
The macabre tone is cemented and the body count starts to rise. This episode also includes developments in the story of Jeri Hogarth, who adds a biting wit to every episode in which she features.
With the end of this harrowing episode, Jessica essentially fails in her hero’s journey and her only driving desire becomes to kill Kilgrave. At this point, it is impossible to do anything except binge the rest of the season.
The Defenders will be available to stream on Netflix on August 18, 2017.
What's your favorite Marvel Netflix episode? Let us know in the comments!
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