“Take Shelter” was directed by Uta Briesewitz and written by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez
1. This Is A Pretty Good Episode
If you were to count “The H Word” as something of a prologue, more of a mood piece than a traditional episode, “Take Shelter” might just be the single best episode of The Defenders. It functions like an episode of television. The pre-title sequence sets up the overall plot of the episode and initiates a thematic motif that is carried throughout the episodes plot threads before climaxing with the beheading of Sowande. Praising something for handling the basics of drama seems odd but considering Netflix overall issue, it’s worth noting.
2. Soundtracks Can Make A Scene Or Break A Scene.
So much of good filmmaking is really quality audio, competent visuals, and slick editing. A good soundtrack can make or break a piece. The Defenders “Take Shelter” has quality examples of both cases in the scenes that bookend this fifth episode.
I’m sure you could competently edit anything with Brahm and it’d be cool, but setting the opening minutes to Brahm’s First Symphony Movement IV felt inspired. It’s sweeping movements when mixed with the visual buildup of weapons being loaded and vans amassing gave everything a sense of scale. A scale that was promptly lost when the music stopped and we got a bland, claustrophobic, series of medium shots that hide choreography.
In contrast, the series score for Elektra’s final moments creeping throughout Matt’s apartment did nothing but highlight the emotional and storytelling disconnect. I’m sure there’s an argument to be made about the long held disconnected notes and the burgeoning awareness Elektra is supposedly developing. But it didn’t work for me, it felt intrusive. Like they wanted to quickly rush through their finale.
3.How Do You Solve a Problem Like A Elektra?
If it suddenly turned out that the Five Fingers all had excellent singing voices and sang a thematically appropriate rendition of ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,’ The Defenders would be the greatest show ever. Period. Sadly, this doesn’t happen but there is the question of solving the problem of Elektra. To be clear, this isn’t really an Elodie Yung problem, it is a writing problem. Elektra’s problem is she is plot device made flesh in the worst way. The show is sending conflicting signals, it wants us to believe one thing for her supposed arc and leaves other questions just dangling.
Questions like: What is/does a Black Sky mean or do? Why can’t this show develop this thread? It isn’t like show runners, Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, didn’t plant it in Daredevil Season 2, or weren’t in the room when it first appeared for Season 1. When Alexandra is there giving her quasi-Mother Daughter heart to heart speech, maybe explain what that means. All this does is hang the character with tangible details, as FilmCritHulk calls it, that obfuscate for the viewer with the emotional truth of the scene and character.
Even when details don’t cloud things, how the show treats the character is still objectifying. From the very start, there was a awkward power dynamic between Alexandra and Elektra, the former basically petted and treated the latter like a pet. At first, I thought it was the show playing with, but not remarking upon, a bit of a queer subtext with how Weaver was playing things. And then it got better … or worse depending on your point of view.
Daredevil Season 2 already flirted with some lame orientalist typing with how it handled the Hand. With the dynamic between Alexandra and Elektra it only gets more exasperated. Alexandra views Elektra, played by a French-Cambodian actress, as nothing more than a vessel for her sexualized killing and beauty. Elektra isn’t a person. Elektra is a thing, the Black Sky … whatever that is. Their dynamic is straight out of Indochine.
At the same time, the show is trying to sell us that Elektra is really in there somewhere. Matt won’t shut up about it. And with Elektra escaping, we’re supposed to buy into this newfound awareness. Except, having Yung stare off into the distance and silently creep on Matt’s house and curling up into the fetal position doesn’t really do it. It’s poor material and kind of vapid symbolically. Of the Defenders crew, maybe Mike Colter could sell these moments of solitude. Yung as Elektra is fierce, but she needs someone to play off of. Her little interaction with Matt on rewatch actually sells the spark of self-awareness, certainly better than how the episode ends.Continued below
4. Supporting Casts Converge
The supporting cast of the 4-feeder series are the secret MVPs of the Netflix borough of the MCU. Without their characterization and flair their flabby nature would make everything very tedious (and even then they may not be enough.)
For Defenders, recognizing the supporting cast is the key to “Take Shelter.” In the case of Daredevil, it gives Matt a chance reconnect with Karen Paige. For Jessica, it gives a nice reminder of the awesome power of sisterhood she shares with Trish. Their run in with Murakami also gives the lighting team a chance to bathe everything in reds and purples for some truly beautiful shots that even make the DD suit look good.
These are, ostensibly, the people they are fighting for … besides the anonymous masses. Getting to see all the supporting cast converge is a lot of fun, I just wish they did more with it as the series goes on. There are structural reasons why this isn’t the case, but just imagine the awkward knowing conversations everyone gets to have with one another as they slowly realize their subordinate status to someone else’s story.
It isn’t all subordination and forgotten existence, Colleen’s run in with the mysteriously resurrected Bakuto* sets her off for her little character arc for the series. It’s a solid one, and it gives the show a chance to remind everyone that Claire really is the best. I just wish the writers had been able to do more with all these pieces they had to play with.
* Add Bakuto resurrection to the list of things that is never really explained in this series. I guess he had a spare supply of the Substance™ and didn’t tell anyone else.
5. DTA: Don’t Trust Anybody
If the pre-title showdown at the restaurant didn’t highlight it for you the climax of “Take Shelter” certainly does, the titular Defenders aren’t much of a team, yet. This isn’t too surprising considering a bedrock of the marketing campaign was Scott Glenn talking about how none of them could save themselves, much less NYC. They’re all together now, it is just a matter of getting them to trust each other.
Of the myriad catchphrases Steve Austin created as part of his run in the Attitude Era, “DTA” is one of the lesser remarked upon ones. DTA or Don’t Trust Anybody epitomizes the chaotic neutrality of his character and describes just about every relationship in The Defenders thus far. With Matt getting around to telling them about Elektra being the Black Sky, what little trust that has been formed in battle is beginning to crack like a blade that has been quenched to fast. Still, their anger at a lack of trust is nothing compared to the 5 Fingers passive aggressive sniping at Alexandra and her selfish plans. Unlike the new group, this one has had plenty of time to bond together and it turns out nobody really likes one another. And, of course, there’s Misty Knight: Detective and Baby Sitter to the Supporting Stars. Simone Missick does a fine job selling her characters increasingly perturbed attitude at the vagaries used to justify the situation, but this won’t be the last time she hears variations of “it’s better for you not to know.”
All of this built-in tension gives the back half of this episode a real dramatic crescendo. These three incidents are separated spatially from one another (a fact that really undercuts the NYCness of this series) but come together to daisy chain tension and build to a legitimately tense moment of Iron Fists near capture. It actually made me think they’d go with a captured Iron Fist plot considering how low of an opinion I and this show have of Finn Jones and how well it was setup.