And the elliptic structure of Defenders strikes again as the series goes from a high to a sorta middling episode. For a series that operates on a 24 condensed structure, there sure is a lot of waiting around.
“Ashes, Ashes” was directed by Stephen Surjik Written by Drew Goddard & Marco Ramirez
1. Elektra Flashback – a Happier Time
In the last episode, I talked about how Elodie Yung staring off into the distance isn’t a good idea. Showing a memory that represents why the relationship between Elektra and Matt worked is a much better way at pointing towards a smoldering fire of self-awareness. Their relationship isn’t healthy, she awakens “dark” things within him, which is even worse when you consider the lame Madonna-Whore dynamic S2 of Daredevil plays at with Elektra and Karen. But, unlike his relationship with Karen, Matt can be brutally honest with Elektra in a way he isn’t with anyone else She sees him completely, and this brief flashback is a nice reminder of why that relationship held dramatic weight, even as it strained on the overall structure of the season.
This flash also provides context for what Yung is doing when she inevitably wakes up. There is that bright spark before everything slowly fades and coheres around her … and things settle into an awkward stare at the floor. Using the medium to explain why someone is staring is a much better decision than showing someone just staring.
2. What’s Her Name?
Having re-watched up to this point, there is a bit more of a bread crumb trail laid out for Elektra coming back than previously imagined. It still isn’t great, like her awakening it comes in moments before fading into a blank stare. It almost feels worth it to see Yung chew the scenery as she murders Alexandra. Asserting her personhood and love (maybe not love) for Matthew in the face of the woman who would deny her the self and only see her as an amorphous, undefined, killing machine. Elektra was already a killing machine, it was part of her charm.
This thought isn’t just about Elektra, it’s about her victim as well: Alexandra. What was the point of Alexandra? Try to remove the general screen presence of Sigourney Weaver out of the equation. She was committed to a prophecy about the Black Sky, one the show never bothers to explain. She honestly didn’t do all that much but give us exposition that sounded good. Weaver never got physical like the rest of them – during Murakami’s little show I thought we were going to get a sweat fight but alas no dice. The character of Alexandra is epitomized by the shot of her rolling down her window after the assault on the restaurant in “Take Shelter.” She’s there to look cool but doesn’t really do all that much.
Her end feels fitting for someone who couldn’t see the humanity in her supposedly InHuman killing machine. Especially one that uses the hidden dual blades, before reclaiming her iconic sai. But like several things in this series, it feels like the sign posts were all there to tell the story, the show just didn’t do a good job stringing it together and tell that story.
3. Heroes Fighting Heroes
Heroes fighting Heroes is an overwrought trope in cape comics, but when they first team up it can be done well. If you think about it, their initial conflict is a good way to introduce readers not in the know about a guest character what their powerset is. While Defenders featured some of this in “Mean Right Hook” and “Worst Behavior,” those were more one-off interactions. “Ashes, Ashes” gives us a proper fight and when it’s everyone beating up Iron Fist can you really complain?
Securing the Iron Fist was a nice pre-title opener, one that carried over the tension from the previous episode to a logical conclusion. Stephen Surjik staging helped to slowly turn up the tension as everyone got into their inevitable positions. Everyone got to show off their stuff and look good.
4. Iron Fist and Luke Heart to Heart v2.0
Character interactions are the secret sauce of television and these crossover series. Packing things with engaging character interactions and exploration can make up for a lot. If we like a character spending time with them is not a pain. The scene from “Worst Behavior” where Luke calls out Danny’s privilege and inability to see beyond himself is likely one of the top moments in this series (and Netflix MCU) overall.Continued below
Now “Ashes, Ashes” gives the second hand to that interaction, and it’s the kind of thing that a potential Heroes for Hire series could spring from. As Danny struggles against is not- shibari, Luke pays him a visit and gets him to open up a bit. The Defenders explains (or at least references) fundamental parts of the Iron Fist mythology that the show didn’t even glance at … and makes it sound cool. It’s all a bunch of faux-mystic gobbly gook, but what matters about the scene is how Fin Jones plays it. At first, Jones is playing Danny as he always does with Tough Guy Face, but he slowly lets all that angst exit his person. Like the bad chi being expelled making room for the good chi. In the moments where Jones is talking about dipping his hand into the molten heart of Shou-Lao the Undying, he sounded and ACTS something like the Danny Rand from the comics. Maybe a little impressed with himself (understandable), but zen about it and not trying to be super cocky.
By the end of this series, I wouldn’t say Fin Jones and Danny Rand are fully rehabilitated. But scenes like this make me willing to not automatically write of a second Iron Fist season. New showrunner Raven Metzner past work gives me pause, but all of this is leaps and bounds closer to watching than I was when Defenders started.
5. That Piano Gimmick Makes No Sense
Look it takes a lot for me to claim unbelievable storytelling with these kinds of shows. Once you have mystic undead ninjas, traditional realism is out of the window. That said, Matt and Jessica finding the plans to Midland Circle in the piano is the dumbest non-character thing they do this series. Sure, with Matt’s certain set of skills there is a heightened perception, but the scene doesn’t make it clear if Matt thinks there is something in the piano. He just hears “piano” and decides to play a tune, while other people are trying to talk (rude).
These plans are important … if only to fuel a somewhat surprisingly dramatic character turn, but that was inelegant. Especially coming right after Jessica diagnosis of the root of Matt’s sadomasochism, which was a nice character moment.