Warning: This article contains spoilers for the entire season of The Defenders!
After five seasons of solo heroics, some of which were received far more positively than others, it was about time that Netflix's equivalent of the big screen Marvel superhero team up finally happened.
That's not to say that the team we see form in The Defenders is anything like their cinematic predecessors, The Avengers, who have now teamed up with (and against) each other in several films, with two more coming in the near future. For starters, don't even get the Defenders started on the use of "The H-Word," as the first episode's title suggests. And there's no denying that this team is a whole lot scrappier than the Avengers, their world of Hell's Kitchen grittier and more tinged with realism than the blockbuster heroes' worlds have ever been.
Yet for all their tonal differences, The Defenders know how to have just as much fun with comic callbacks and universe tie-ins as the supercharged cinematic adventures do. From allusions to events past and glimpses of future storylines, along with some pop cultural and artistic commentary, The Defenders packs such a punch in addition to its meaty action scenes that you probably didn't even notice some of the references they made. But don't worry: take a look at this list of 15 Things You Missed In The Defenders and catch up on all the most important ones.
15 Fun with cinematography
Netflix has made a name for itself in terms of putting together projects that are beautifully and uniquely filmed. All of their Marvel projects so far have experimented with shadow and light in intriguing ways, usually reflecting of the plot at hand, but no series has taken lighting to such a cheeky, meta level in the way that The Defenders has.
In each of the Defender's solo plot strands, particularly in the series' first three episodes before the team unites, their respective scenes are lit with a color gradients matching their signature color: Matt's scenes are red-hued, Luke's Harlem adventures are tinted a soft yellow, Jessica's gritty investigations are awash with purple, and Danny's travels to New York are tinged with green.
Even more meta, the neon sign at the Royal Dragon Chinese restaurant contains each of their colors, hinting that this will be the place where they properly team up for good.
14 Elektra Lives Again
As one of the MCU's most enigmatic and ruthless characters, it was obvious that Elektra's rebirth was going to be a dramatic event. (We didn't really expect it to be literally earth-shattering, though.)
The Defenders depicts Elektra's return to the living at the hands of, well, The Hand; her brutal reprogramming and training sessions; and her multiple assignments as an emotionless assassin meant to carry out The Hand's plans. This intensely vicious imagery will be familiar to fans of Frank Miller's 1990 work, Elektra Lives Again.
While the comic deals with zombies and Bullseye, and also has Matt living in a nightmarish dream state, the MCU version of Elektra's rebirth does borrow much of the same plot, including multiple violent confrontations/reunions between the complicated lovers, The Hand's involvement in her resurrection, and Elektra's eventual violent demise once again...
...possibly, at least, if things are what they seem (and which they rarely are).
13 Oh, hey Stan Lee!
Is it really a Marvel project without a Stan Lee cameo of some sort?
Whether he's getting drunk on Asgardian booze in Avengers: Age of Ultron, delivering a package to Tony "Stank" in Captain America: Civil War, or working as a poor librarian just trying to get his damn job done in The Amazing Spider-Man, the godfather of all things Marvel sure knows how to steal each and every scene he appears in.
But if you're trying to find him in The Defenders, it will take a real eagle-eyed effort to find him. About 26 minutes into the third episode, while Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones are engaging in a back and forth game of cat and mouse, Lee's ever recognizable face can be spotted on a bus stop advertisement for the NYPD.
12 Poking fun at DC
It's almost impossible to avoid the dreaded question: Marvel or DC? And while it would be better for all parties involved to identify as both, it's foolish to think that this dispute will be going away any time soon, particularly as the MCU and DCEU ramp up—and even more so as the DCEU begins to make a real name for itself.
Yet as exhausting as the DC vs. Marvel battle is (and always will be), The Defenders might have stoked the fires—albeit playfully—with one particular eyebrow-raising joke. In response to Danny calling the quartet a team, Luke Cage is quick to shoot that offer down: "Look, I'm not looking for super friends." The line is innocent enough...unless, of course, you consider the 1973-1985 DC animated series, Super Friends.
The line is clearly meant in jest, so there's no real heat to be found here. But there's also no denying that the line feels particularly intentional, and might have unintentional consequences within the long-standing feud.
11 Getting cheeky with art
We've already discussed the fact that Elektra defies death at least once in The Defenders. The exact nature of the way that she returns to the living, however, presents quite a spoiler, and a really muddled, supernatural story at that.
The first 15 minutes of episode 3, "Worst Behavior," detail the lengths to which Sigourney Weaver's enigmatic Alexandra went to in order to bring the rogue assassin back to life. The whole ordeal is pretty bizarre, involving a mysterious "substance" made from dragon's bone and the cabal of immortals known as The Hand.
But it's not until episode 4, "Royal Dragon," that the series gets a little meta about its own narrative. Botticelli's famous painting, The Birth of Venus, is featured on prominent display in Alexandra's office. As a quasi-god bringing life into the world, Alexandra clearly believes herself to be in illustrious company.
10 Teenage Mutant Ninja Defenders?
In episode 5, "Take Shelter," the Defenders and Matt's onetime mentor Stick go head to head with Elektra and the members of The Hand. The fight is ruthless, resulting in Luke being surprisingly subdued and taken hostage for a brief period of time. In order to get away, the remaining trio of Defenders and their tag-along partner retreat to an alleyway behind the Chinese restaurant.
And that's when Stick suggests the sewer as an escape route.
The parallels here are hilariously obvious. Not only do the ragtag team mirror the scrappy style of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (besides, you know, having a ninja or two on their side), their color scheme almost perfectly matches that of the sewer-dwelling turtle squad. Plus, Stick himself served as an inspiration for the sage rat Master Splinter, so perhaps this was Marvel's way of tipping their hat back at TMNT after all these years.
Can't unsee it now, can you?
9 Defenders: Civil War?
TMNT isn't the only big name franchise that The Defenders seems to offer its own tribute to. As always, the Netflix Marvel series aren't afraid of offering their own commentary on and versions of the events of their big screen counterparts.
In episode 6, "Ashes, Ashes," the Defenders come to a real point of contention as they can't decide what the best course of action is regarding dealing with The Hand, who need Danny in order to proceed with their nefarious plan. Danny feels as though the rest of the group is keeping him hostage, and he also highlights a lack of transparency on Matt's part as a real issue. When Luke tries to assure him that "we're all on the same side here," Danny is quick to brush that off: "It doesn't feel like it. Not anymore."
What follows is a small-scale recreation of Civil War's grand-scale fight scenes, with one unified team fighting against itself as they are drawn toward diametrically opposed goals. The real question: #TeamDanny or #TeamMattLukeandJess?
Just kidding. Literally everyone is on the latter.
8 What's in the box?!?!
Marvel series are known for their tendency to be mind-blowing, whether it's in the choreography of their insanely impressive fight scenes or their astounding faithfulness to impossible comic scenes and plots. Yet they're also mind-blowing for the characters within them, as more often than you'd think, someone's bound to lose their head.
In The Defenders alone, major players Alexandra and Sowande of The Hand are the unfortunate victims of particularly grisly decapitations. Sowande has the even worse fate of having his head delivered in a box to the remaining members of The Hand in episode 6 as a sign that the Defenders mean business. Because Stick's a badass.
But this isn't the first time someone from the Defenders has used a head for their own intimidating purposes. In episode 7 of Jessica Jones, Jessica falsely confesses to a murder...by walking into the precinct with the murder victim's head in hand. Tact has never exactly been her strong suit, sure, but that's one hell of a way to get your point across.
7 Expectation vs. reality
Few relationships toe the line between supposedly romantic and genuinely 100% psychotic more frequently than the one between Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios. In episode 6, The Defenders offers one sickening parallel that summarizes their relationship in the MCU perfectly. Elektra, who has been slowly regaining her memories of her past life, has the upper hand over her former mentor Stick, when Matt implores her not to kill him: "You don't have to do this." But, of course, she does it anyway.
The bloody moment echoes a scene in the eighth episode of Daredevil's second season. Matt, upon realizing that an intruder is merely a teenager, backs off from attacking him. Elektra, however, is having exactly none of that, instead viciously slicing the kid's throat. "This is who I am," she tells a dumbfounded Matt with a face sprayed with blood, in true psycho killer fashion. "Do you still want me?"
One miniseries and countless senseless murders later, the answer unfortunately seems to be yes.
6 Hydra 2.0?
Few MCU villains have been as threatening (and then forgotten...) as Hydra. The global, fascist syndicate had its tentacles deep in countless organizations. While Hydra has mostly been forgotten by the MCU, in the comics, the so much more than polarizing decision to have Captain America be revealed as a secret Hydra leader all along continues to infuriate readers to this day.
The Hand is possibly the most comparable set of villains that the MCU has offered since Hydra was abandoned. Consisting of five "fingers," all of diverse global and historical origin, the group seem to possess unlimited power, wealth, and, until recently, time. So when Colleen Wing refers to The Hand as a snake whose head needs to be cut off before it gets too powerful, the slight allusion to Hydra should make viewers fear for what comes next...
...except for the fact that by the end of the miniseries, four "fingers" are confirmed dead in violent ways, and the mysterious fifth in Madame Gao very well might be, too.
5 Misty Knight's loss and gain
In Luke Cage, Misty Knight was a no-nonsense Harlem detective with a chip on her shoulder who would stop at nothing in her attempts to uncover the truth.
In The Defenders, Misty Knight is presented as exactly the same for most of her appearances...until she soon finds herself caught up in aiding and abetting the Defenders in their definitely not legal adventures. As a result of this help, she forms an unlikely alliance with Colleen Wing, which is perhaps hinting at where the MCU could go next on Netflix.
Yet it's also because of this new partnership that Knight experiences a particular trauma: the loss of her arm at the hands of Wing's mentor Bakuto, which represents a shift toward the bionic armed badass of the comics. Now that Bucky Barnes is in cryo sleep following the events of Civil War, clearly, the MCU is in desperate need of a metal arm or two.
4 Luke and Jessica getting coffee?
Luke Cage and Jessica Jones didn't exactly have the most conventional romantic relationship in season 1 of Jessica Jones. After all, finding out that your potential new girlfriend was, under mind control, responsible for the tragic death of your wife will put a damper on even the most promising of partnerships.
Luke moving on in his own series was therefore only natural. But a recurring theme crops up in the series that has us wondering about Luke and Jessica's future after The Defenders. Prior to his sexual encounters with both Misty Knight and Claire Temple, the suggestion of getting coffee is made...even though Luke doesn't even like it.
So when Jessica offers a future get together over coffee at the end, she might not know what she's suggesting...but oh boy, do we. And we cannot wait.
3 Hell's Kitchen's new guardian
As the foundation of the Netflix MCU, Matt Murdock's Daredevil is the hero who has the closest relationship to the city they all strive to protect. Hell's Kitchen is Matt's home, and he has proven time and again that he will do whatever it takes to ensure its safety.
However, given the shocking death defying experience that Matt has in episode 8, it's looking like Hell's Kitchen might need a new guardian—at least until the Defenders and Matt's loved ones learn that he did, in fact, make it out of Midland Circle alive.
Matt's final plea to his teammates is simple: "Protect my city." By the time episode 8 draws to a close, one particular Defender has taken Matt's mantle upon himself: Danny, who ends the series watching all of Hell's Kitchen from the rooftops, with his Iron Fist poised and ready to strike.
2 Daredevil's Mom???
The final images and words of The Defenders make for quite the cliffhanger for fans of Matt Murdock everywhere: the devil of Hell's Kitchen, laid up and seriously injured in a convent. "Get Maggie," the nun keeping watch over him says. "Tell her he's awake."
For comics fans everywhere, this would immediately suggest what is to come in season 3 of Daredevil: the introduction of Matt's absent mother, Sister Maggie Murdock. In the comics, Maggie's absence is explained by the tragic reveal of her suffering postpartum depression, which forced her to abandon both Jack and Matt and seek refuge in a church.
Matt is reunited with his mother in Frank Miller's Born Again series, in which Matt, having had his life utterly destroyed by the Kingpin, is nursed back to health by Sister Maggie. It's possible, then, that season 3 will offer a variation on this theme—in which Matt, broken emotionally and physically by his relationship with Elektra, will forge a relationship with another important, yet long-missing female figure from his life.
1 Looking ahead: The Punisher
It's pretty standard fare to stick around after the credits in a Marvel movie, as you're all but guaranteed a first tease of what will be coming next in the cultural behemoth known as the MCU. Netflix, never one to miss out on anything, has also taken to ensuring that viewers stick around after the credits of their Marvel series, even if dialogue prompts try to sway you otherwise.
If you did stick around until the very end of The Defenders' last episode, and made it all the way through the credits, your patience was rewarded with a grim, chilling first look at the Jon Bernthal-led series, The Punisher. Due out on Netflix in November, The Punisher is clearly going to be even darker than the usual fare for the Netflix MCU.
And given how dark things got for the Defenders at the end of this miniseries adventure, that's really saying quite a lot.
What other easter eggs did you notice in The Defenders? Let us know in the comments!