The Defenders: Royal Dragon

“I’m not looking for superfriends.”

I love a good dinner party scene for the same reason I love bottle episodes: they allow characters to interact and recombine in new and exciting ways while limiting outside interference. Although “Royal Dragon” is not all dinner party, and not a bottle episode properly speaking, it has the magical elements of both. Along with a bear, dumplings, and a whole lot of exposition.

The pre-credits scene, in which The Defenders figure out whether to stay in the restaurant, whether to eat pork or shrimp, and whether they can be friends, is perfect. Director Phil Abraham shoots the foursome from all angles as they combine and recombine in personal (Jessica and Luke), defensive (Matt), and clueless (Danny) postures. Jessica tries to grab her scarf from Matt’s head; he jumps out of reach. Danny uses his black card. Luke Cage is a beacon of sanity in an insane world. Each character is doing exactly what that character would in this situation, and I loved every bit of it. Just look at the magic of this scene:

Danny Rand: “I’m the Immortal Iron Fist.” (Said with a tone of complete certainty that they will know what that means and they will believe him.)
Luke Cage: [scoff] (That speaks for itself.)
Matt Murdock: “Come again?” (This—coming from a man with supersenses—is hilarious.)
Jessica Jones: “What are you on? Lithium?” (Jessica, an alcoholic, jumps immediately to the obvious answer of drug abuse.)

The dialogue and acting are so on-point that it’s tempting to just walk through every scene, listing all the great lines and squealing quietly with glee. We have a wealth of riches here: Jessica telling Matt she knows his identity, and him asking “What do you want?” (When did he get so cynical?!). Matt taking off the mask and introducing himself right before we cut to the credits…

I’m just listing stuff again, aren’t I? Let’s try to pull this together:

I blitzed through The Defenders in two days, and I loved it. The show has some weaknesses (the fight scenes are hectic) and some problematic areas that I won’t get into here. But it’s filled with excellent character interactions throughout, and that’s exactly what I wanted it to be.

The previous three episodes were a slow buildup to the team coming together. The first 15 minutes of this episode show what happens when they do. Our heroes get to know each other; each articulates a mission statement once they sit at the table. We get to figure out how they interact with one another. And just when everything seems to be settling into an admittedly uncomfortable pattern, Stick walks in.

In other words: the tension ebbs and flows throughout. Just when it looks like our heroes might manage to become The Defenders, writers Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez throw another wrench into the works.

Stick serves a fascinating purpose here. Sure, he’s an exposition-delivery device: would Jessica and Luke believe Danny if someone else didn’t back up his ideas? How else would our heroes know what to call Alexandra? But he’s a foil to the emerging team, a solitary vigilante who might fight by their side, but isn’t one of them.

Stick is also the impetus Jessica needs to fully commit without losing her sense of self. After Jessica says she’s done “with this tinfoil hat shit” Stick commands her to “sit down and shut up.” In a beautiful moment that reminds us of all that she went through with Killgrave, whose every word was a command, she walks out the door with nothing more than a dismissive glare.

Is it her conversation with Luke that changes her mind? Her discovery of the long history of the Hand just in NYC? A realization that her clients need her help, that their problems can’t be solved by just one person? It’s likely a mixture, but the result is the same: Jessica returns, hits Elektra with an SUV, and joins the team. Stick pushed her too far, but she chose to pull herself back in.

Throughout the episode, the writers juxtapose our team of Defenders with the solitary Alexandra. She speaks to Elektra, alone, and tries to master that conversation. She speaks to Murakami (not the author, I assume) and it’s a battle of wits. Alexandra wants to win all of her personal interactions; our heroes want to win the fight against evil, writ large or small.

But there’s also a parallel between Stick and Alexandra. Right after a scene with Stick shrugging off the loss of his hand, we get a scene of Alexandra succumbing to the pain of organ failure. Later, Stick talks about avoiding ties to non-supers, but Alexandra tells Danny about avoiding ties to anyone, super or not.

Both of those juxtapositions reminds us that every superhero crossover event is about the idea of teamwork and compassion for others as the motivating force. We root for our heroes because they are rooting for us, the little guys. And they’re fighting not just for themselves, but for the very idea of community and friendship.

Capes and Cowls:

• Danny: “They call themselves the Hand.”
Jessica: “What are they really called?”
I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that Jessica never gets over how stupid that name is. Because Jessica is awesome.

• Jessica to Matt: “You running around like a Russian gymnast didn’t help.”
Now would probably be a good time for me to mention that I 100% agree with Lamounier’s plea: “Jessica and Matt were an absolute hoot together. Marvel Powers That Be, please, let these two crossover to each other's shows. Please!”

• Danny: “I don’t [get it]. You’re blind!” Trust Danny to keep harping on that.

• Danny: “Bulletproof! Blind ninja! Whatever it is you are!”
Jessica: “Classy.”

• Stick: “We call ourselves The Chaste.”
Jessica: “Ugh! These names are killing me.”

• The Chinese restaurant uses all of the team’s colors, which makes the contrast with Elektra’s barren cell even more obvious.

• Whenever we cut from the restaurant to an outside scene—like Murakami gutting the bear—there were flashes of the New York skyline that reminded me of the same technique on Angel.

• If I had room to write another thousand words, I’d talk about the variety of interpersonal communication styles Matt Murdock has. We’ve seen his puppy-dog innocent thing where he stammers as he talks about sadness. And there’s his guilt-ridden Catholic thing, which has a strong puppy component. (It’s like a six as opposed to a ten on the puppy scale.) We’ve seen his Daredevil persona, which takes no prisoners. And the almost dude-bro delight he experienced with Elektra in his college days as he stretched his powers. But this episode was one of the few times we saw Matt going full lawyer, talking constantly about being rational and logical. Some of those shifts are the effect of different showrunners from the first two seasons of Daredevil and this season of The Defenders, but the more I see of Matt Murdock the more I wonder which is the “real” him.

Instead, I'll just end with this shot from Krysten Ritter's Instagram:


Four out of four Russian gymnasts.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

10 comments:

Billie Doux said...

What incredible fun. I loved nearly every moment. (Maybe not the bear.) And what they did with the color scheme in the restaurant kept making me laugh.

Jessica and Luke were their own wonderful selves throughout. The way Matt kept pointlessly trying to be secretive was really funny and sort of stupid. And for some reason, this was the first time I actually liked Danny Rand. I hate to admit it when I've disliked him so much, but his character actually works when he's with the other three superheroes. In fact, what Lamounier said. Couldn't Jessica and Matt have a season of just the two of them at some point?

Terrific review, Josie.

Lamounier said...

I will sound like a broken record here, but Jessica is beyond amazing. Right after I watched this episode, I went back and rewatched every one of her scenes. I'll do what you tried to avoid, Josie, and list what I liked best:

- Every reaction she had to Danny's story.

- Separating Luke and Matt before they started a fist fight.

- "I'm a PI, I put two and two together."

- Her entire conversation with Matt was great. I also thought it was interesting that Matt assumed she wanted to take advantage of what she knew. Jessica is better than that, Matt, you should get to know her better. :)

- Completely ignoring Stick's order. I totally thought she was going to punch him through a wall. Josie, you brought up the parallel between her past and her reaction to Stick's command. Good one, I didn't catch that. Also, Jessica and Stick are both straightforward and rude, it's no surprise they wouldn't get along.

- Telling the guy who was watching her client's house that that family had gone through enough.

- Asking him if she was the only one who didn't know karate. Hahaha. I'm still betting on you, Jessica.

- Throwing the car into the restaurant and hitting Elektra with it. Now THAT is an entrance. And I absolutely loved her mad stare at Elektra.

Again, I thought there would be more tension between her and Luke. But I loved their little moment alone anyway. Their story is clearly unfinished. I hope Luke gives Jessica forgiveness for killing Reba, she deserves it.

I liked that Jessica went away and had her own little arc. I'm not sure the episode would have worked if it had been inside the restaurant at all times, but Jessica's side investigation gave it the right balance.

It seems to me that things are much easier to Luke and Jessica, who don't hide their identities, than to Matt. Maybe he should think about that. He was so extreme about not revealing who he was. Thank god Jessica convinced him otherwise. It was her scarf anyway.

Danny Rand Moment of the Episode: Luke, calm and collected, tells Danny to calm down. Danny nervously gets up and replies: "you calm down". What? I wonder if the director went off script there or if the script intentionally makes Danny look foolish. However, like Billie, I'm starting to like him.

Why didn't the guys try to kill Alexandra? They had the perfect opportunity. Was there something impeding them?

Luke said he was trying to help a kid. But the kid is dead. I wonder if the writers initially didn't intend to kill off Cole and forgot to change that line afterwards.

The flashes technique also reminded me of Angel. And I loved the colors in the restaurant. Very, very good.

TJ said...

Danny: "Whatever it is you are!”
Jessica: “Classy.”

LOLLOLLOL!

And I love the shot from Ritter's Instagram:)

Anonymous said...

Lukes 'Were not here to eat'' made me laugh hard.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

I agree, I so want Matt and Jessica to interact within their own shows! I'm glad the writers decided to pair them up early within The Defenders. "It's your scarf" will never not be funny. Are they knitting more of them?

I think this was one of Danny's better episodes, even though he was still annoying. His desire to get everyone to team up mirrors the blatant desire of everyone watching (c'mon, it's episode 4! We've been waiting years for these guys to work together!). I liked him facilitating the much-needed meal, too. But he still needs to outgrow the whiny kid with Chosen One syndrome if he wants to succeed at putting together a found family to replace the one he lost.

I also didn't catch Jessica leaving when Stick commanded her as a callback to Kilgrave. But then, rebelling against what anyone tells her to do is kind of her persona.

An Honest Fangirl said...

I loved this episode. It was relatively laid back, but had so many wonderful character moments. Finally, these guys were all sitting down and talking to each other! It was just a treat to watch.

The colors in the restaurant were absolutely stunning. Everyone was accounted for and it somehow didn't feel too garish over overwhelming. I also loved how the characters themselves, specifically Stick, were lit were Danny's green lighting when they were talking about the Hand. Kinda drove home the fact that we really are in Danny's world now - not Jessica's or Luke's - and that includes mystical ninjas that date back centuries.

Patryk said...

Finally we get the four characters interacting together. The opening 7 minutes were the best part of the episode. It is interesting that while Daredevil is the most recognizable of the 4 as the starter of all the Netflix show, it's Danny that's the center of the story thanks to his connection to the Hand. I wonder if by the end of the Defenders we will be glad that Iron Fist is getting a 2nd season. :)

yodudeyo100 said...

If you think about it, did she develop that persona because of Kilgrave? Something to ponder.

yodudeyo100 said...

I think so, I actually kinda liked him, but now I think he has really come around! I definitely like him a lot more by the end of Defenders!

yodudeyo100 said...

I'm talking about Danny