It’s a penultimate episode, the episode of maximum drama and no pay off. Defenders goes for maximum drama and falls well short of it in the execution.
“Fish in the Jailhouse” was directed by Félix Enríquez Alcalá and written by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Marco Ramirez
1 Oh, Iron Fist – A Good Fight
Now Danny using his magic hand after being told explicitly that’s the thing the Hand wants him to do, sounds like prime “Danny is a Moron” material. And my only method to justify this is plot necessity, which is always something of a flimsy leg. However, vague plot necessity is pretty much how this series has operated for its entirety. As well as the fact that it’s staging is exemplary of what makes this Danny-Elektra fight so good and the “fight” above them so terrible. This was a moment that had to happen and was well setup, like any good pro wrestling match.
Remember how terrible Danny and Elektra’s fight was at the very beginning of this series? If you don’t, you are likely a better person for it. The core substance of my critique was the cinematic storytelling operated in such a way to obscure and breakdown any sense of environmental awareness. Down in the pit of Midland Circle, the environment is easily explained: There’s the elevator area, cave area, and that wall/vault that Danny really shouldn’t go near.
This space is functionally one long corridor. So as Danny and Elektra battle it out, often silhouetted because of the overall darkness of the stage the viewer isn’t confused as to what is going on where. Best of all in order to get that silhouette view, the camera has to pull out to a rough medium shot which means we can watch the choreography.
The editing in this fight is different from the one above, the rhythmic slow motion gives this fight a mid-budget kung fu flair to it. It also makes use of Elodie Yung’s costuming which is something these series have rarely done.
In the end, of course, the door is opened and we get that sweet cliff hanger shot of a SKELETAL DRAGON. The purpose of that dragon will be revealed and it’s real dumb, but for a moment just savor the chesse greatness of this entire series revolving around unlocking ancient dragon bones deep beneath NYC. Adventures in Dinosaur City eat your heart out.
2 Everyone Else – A Bad Fight
If Danny and Elektra was a good pro wrestling match, like Kazuchika Okada v. anyone in 2017, this is the equivalent of mindless spot monkey’s doing things, but never really having a coherent match.
First consider where Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones fight it out with the remaining Hand Fingers. It is essentially a small section of parking lot, one big open space, which is good when you’re filming a sequence involving 6 combatants. How do you screw that up? It’s one big room with some cars in it.
At the core of this failure is how it was shot. Danny and Elektra recived nice medium shots that let viewers see the choreography. This one you get a couple of very brief low angle shots (that out context actually look pretty nice) of Daredevil taking on Murakami and Bakuto, and than a bunch of close up shaky cam stuff that wishes it was Michael Bay. By going so close we lose any sense of space for where things occur. It all just blends together into this fugue state of a fight scene. Take, for example, of Luke ripping a pipe off of the wall, tossing it to Jessica for to take a swing. Everything in that sequence is shot so close to the vest it is incomprehensible. It denies us the pleasure of seeing Madame Gao take a big pipe to the body. It’s the kind hero shot, you expect from a superhero genre TV series.
Like Defenders overall, this sequence feels like it could’ve used if not one more pass in the edit bay, greater pre-planning with how to execute these kinds of sequences. Defenders really needed one more draft in general.
3 Chekov’s Plastic Explosives
This has to be one of the stupidest plans I’ve ever heard, and it certainly isn’t better the second time. On one hand, I like the return of Chekov’s Plastic Explosives. On the other, Colleen’s justification for it, in the context of her supposed arc, and series overall just feels so under baked. She literally steals plastic explosive from the police! Stuff like this is why Iron Fist being tricked into doing the thing fly.Continued below
4 Colleen’s Arc And The Downside Of Condensed 24 Style Structure.
24 may have had some terrible politics, but man when that structure was on it was beautiful. One of the most consistent critiques about the Netflix Original Series has been how haphazard they are from a structural standpoint. Theoretically, Defenders having a condensed episode count would be able to counter this fundamental flaw by simply not having that much time to play with. This hasn’t been the case. The series’s shift to a more condensed state is an improvement, however it fails to fully capitalize on the condensed storytelling of 24.
In 24 seconds counted, and with the development of digital frames suddenly one screen becomes an old school video art installation. It let us view phone conversations concurrently. With multiple frames, we could visually check in on everyone at every act break. Defenders never develops that supporting cast, which is an odd thing to say for a series that dedicated a good chunk of an episode to putting all the supporting casts together in one place. Instead we’re stuck with the leads for the majority of the runtime, often just sitting around. The running ‘C’ plot throughout the series has been following the Hand. While the leads breaking off into groups would generally be noted as the ‘B’ plot, a better use of that time would’ve been to check in on all the supports hanging out together, commiserating. It would’ve provided more fun moments of crossover, who wouldn’t want to see Malcolm and Foggy hanging out?
Extra time would’ve made Colleen’s arc in this series more effective. Instead what we get feels sudden, not totally out of place, but very sudden. Last time we saw her she was getting an excellent pep talk from Claire … that seems to have really worked. All of this takes place over the span of long night, but part of 24’s greatness was showing condensed character arcs strung out over long periods of time. There was a fundamentally sound episodic structure to that series, that Defenders lacks. Defenders just propels forward, because the next episode is going to play in 15 seconds.
5. Misty Knight, How Do You Still Have a Job?
There isn’t much to say except, how does she still have a job? I mean, that lack of a job is probably how we’re going to get a Daughters of the Dragon series. But that would require the writers to remember the agency that character had in Luke Cage. In Defenders, Knight becomes a repetitive device for the show to fulfill one of the worst traits in superhero TV writing: not telling people pertinent information for no reason. Not letting people in on the secret takes previously multi-faceted characters and renders them flat and pointless. Misty Knight isn’t a character at this point, she’s a plot device and that’s a shame.