In the last decade, Marvel has spent a lot of time asking us to just be patient. We waited four years from Iron Man until Avengers came out. Then, Marvel teamed up with Netflix to do it again.
Daredevil joined Netflix in April 2015. That partnership then spent the next two and a half years building to another team up, the Defenders. Now, the team is assembled and the eight-episode show is live on Netflix. But watching five seasons of television – two of Daredevil, and one each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist – is a lot of work. If you’ve missed a bit here and there, don’t worry. We’ll get you up and running with a basic primer for each of our heroes and what’s happened so far.
We’re talking about 65 hours of television here, so we’re not going to go into every single detail. And hey, there might even be a couple spoilers along the way.
Who are the Defenders?
The Avengers began as a team assembled by Nick Fury. They weren’t exactly official S.H.I.E.L.D. but had a plan in putting the team together. The Defenders come from no such plan, and aren’t terribly interested in working with each other, for that matter. But that’s what the show’s all about, so we won’t spend too much time talking about the team. The Defenders in the comics have had a varying lineup over the years, but in the Netflix corner of the MCU, they team is made up of four main members: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist
The Defenders kicked off with Daredevil in 2015. When we pick up with protagonist Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), he’s already working as a vigilante at night, putting a black bandanna over his face to conceal his identity. By day, Murdock is a blind lawyer who focuses on the kind of clients who can’t usually afford legal support. He and his law partner Foggy Nelson have just set up shop in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York City.
While some characters are super strong, invincible, or something like that, Murdock has super senses, given to him in a car crash involving toxic waste when he was a young boy. After his father died following a rigged boxing match, Murdock ended up in a Catholic orphanage, where he met a man named Stick. Also blind, Stick trained Murdock to harness his superpowered senses instead of being in a constant barrage of sound, smell, and touch, and trained him in combat as well.
Following the alien attack at the center of the Avengers film, land developers are working to restore parts of the city. A woman who stumbled across some shady dealings within her company found herself accused of a murder she didn’t commit. As both a lawyer and vigilante, Murdock can’t resist looking into this.
His investigations bring him in contact with a businessman named Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has as much of an anger-management problem as he does business acumen. Murdock takes on the Russian, Chinese, and Japanese mafia before eventually coming to blows with Fisk himself.
In the second season, Murdock takes on a new vigilante who doesn’t have the same sense of mercy as him. Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), better known as the Punisher, has his sights set on taking down every last scrap of organized crime in the city, one bullet at a time. A mob hit ended the lives of his wife and daughter, and Castle is focused on revenge. The two fight it out, and Castle ends up behind bars. Murdock and Nelson try to defend Castle in court, but Murdock’s torn commitment to his vigilante work and his day job fractures the firm and causes the team to lose the case. It’s around here that we get our first taste of what the Defenders will be facing.
Elektra Natchios (not Electric Nachos), an old flame of Murdock’s, comes to visit. Like Murdock, Elektra is a highly trained warrior, and she shows up with news that a group called The Hand is plotting something big.
The two of them and Stick take on the Hand, with Elektra dying in the process. The last scenes of the season show Elektra being resurrected by the Hand.
While Matt Murdock is just starting his tenure as a superhero, Defenders member number 2 Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) has already hung up her tights. Jones has super strength and limited flight powers – also known as ‘jumping really high – and when we meet her she’s using her abilities in a very limited way to work as a private detective between drunken benders.
While Daredevil was a more traditional superhero tale, Jessica Jones is a story about post-traumatic stress disorder, abusive relationships, and all the pain and trouble that surrounds those. Jones’ superhero career was cut off early when she met a man named Kilgrave (David Tennant), who had developed the ability to control people with his voice as a result of experiments by his scientist parents. Kilgrave took advantage of Jones in every way possible, leaving her broken and scarred.
The series is about her coping with that past and her guilt and shame regarding them. Kilgrave reenters Jones’ life with the intent of reclaiming her, using his powers to spy on and then blackmail her. The series ends with a climactic scene between her and Kilgrave that has her finally resisting him and leaving him dead on the ground. During the show, Jones has a brief romance with another super-powered person, Luke Cage.
Luke Cage (Mike Coulter) received his powers as a result of government experiments. A former cop framed for murder, Cage was forced to fight for his life in a prison fighting ring and then experimented on. When the experiment went wrong, Cage was given super strength and unbreakable skin.
Following his short romance with Jones, Cage has taken up residence in Harlem, working at Pops’ barber shop. Cage tries to mind his own business at first, but a criminal element in town, controlled by a man named Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, forces him – like Murdock – to do something. Cottonmouth’s cousin, “Black” Mariah Dillard, is taking a slightly different path to power, as a city councilwoman. Cottonmouth’s failures push her to kill him, though – she’s every bit as ruthless as him – and team up with a man named William “Diamondback” Stryker.
Unbeknownst to Dillard, Diamondback is Cage’s half-brother and has a vendetta against him – and access to weapons made from materials recovered from the alien attack in the Avengers movie. Diamondback manages to penetrate Cage’s unbreakable skin with this alien tech, and the two eventually end up fighting in the streets of Harlem. Cage, still technically an escaped convict, ends up in police custody, though his friend Claire – we’ll get to her – knows a certain Hell’s Kitchen lawyer that she thinks can help him.
The last of the four shows is Iron Fist. I don’t really want to sit and explain this one, because it was a pretty bad show. Yeah, it was really that bad. The basic story goes like this: Danny Rand (Finn Jones) was lost in a plane crash over the Himalayas as a child and now, as a grown adult he returns to New York, newly minted as the Immortal Iron Fist, a warrior whose hand is imbued with mystic powers that make it as tough as iron. On top of that, Rand is supposed to be a martial arts expert.
Instead of a dope martial arts story, though, we get a bunch of scenes taking place in board rooms and apartments, with people in suits arguing about how to run a business. It’s as boring as it sounds.
Along with this, though, came the last bits of preparation for Defenders.
How are all these shows connected?
All four shows take place in New York City, where the four heroes live and work. The main point of connection between the four is a woman named Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson).
Temple entered the picture when she pulled Matt Murdock out of a dumpster and stitched up his wounds. Her association with Murdock eventually had her in the hands of the Russian mob, beaten to within an inch of her life before he was able to find her.
In the second season, the Hand – the other big connecting point – attacks the hospital where she works, forcing Temple to resign from the hospital.
Temple meets Jessica Jones when she brings in the unconscious Luke Cage, concussed by a shotgun blast to the head. As with Murdock, she’s able to stitch Cage up. Her relationship with Cage developers into something romantic during his season, as the two work to prove his innocence and understand his powers. The final scenes of his season have her pulling a tag off an ad for martial arts lessons with someone named Colleen Wing.
Her time spent training with Wing introduces her to Danny Rand. With Wing and Rand, she further explores the relationship the Hand has to the city.
The Hand has plans for New York City, and Elektra is just one part of them, as is the land they intended to capture via Wilson Fisk. Rand discovers that warring factions exist within the Hand, one led by a charismatic young man named Bakuto, and another by a woman named Madame Gao, a seemingly omniscient woman with skills that put her out of both Rand and Murdock’s ranges despite her advanced age. What exactly they’re trying to do, aside from distributing really dope dope, is still unclear. That’s what Defenders is all about.
Murdock and Rand both know who and what the Hand is. All four characters know Claire, and she’s acted as a point of sanity for each character at some point, which will let her be a grounding point to help each of these tortured loners work together.
What can we look forward to in the Defenders?
Along with the Hand and the fearsome Madame Gao, a new villain will surface in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, who has been described as a “very powerful force in New York City.” Supposedly she’s a brand new character not pulled from the comics, meaning that we have no idea what to expect from her, other than a badass performance from one of Hollywood’s most badass actors.
The four heroes will come together tentatively at first. Each has his or her own trust issues, and part of the season will just be about getting the band together. We can expect Luke Cage to shake off his past pretty quickly, and for the relationship between Cage and Rand to start developing. The two characters came together in the comics for the infamous “Heroes for Hire” team-up, and their relationship has been a fan favorite for a very long time. Despite this being about all four characters coming together, this might be the most-anticipated aspect for many fans.
We can also expect both Murdock and Jones to keep hurting. Daredevil season 2 left Murdock with the belief that Elektra had died because of his actions, and the Defenders series begins with him trying to leave Daredevil behind. Meanwhile, Jessica Jones’ very public takedown of Kilgrave has given her some newfound fame, and she’s not taking it well, according to actress Krysten Ritter.
Lots of characters from the solo shows will pop up, too, including characters like Murdock’s law partner Foggy, Jones’ friend and radio host Trick Walker, lawyer Jeri Hogarth (played by Carrie-Anne Moss from The Matrix), and more.
Marvel’s Defenders is live right now on Netflix. At a scant eight episodes, it’s a shorter show than the previous Marvel Netflix shows. Are you going to binge it this weekend? I know I am.