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The Defenders – The Defenders (Review)

If The Defenders is fundamentally a story about New York, then it seems inevitable that it should return to the city’s defining tragedy.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the events of 9/11 changed the course of world history. They fundamentally altered the foreign and domestic policies of the United States, the world’s strongest superpower. Inevitably, they also changed New York itself. It could reasonably be argued that the twenty-first century began with the 9/11 attacks, at least culturally; the atrocity brought an end to the global peace and stability that had defined the nineties, ushering in a new world order.

“Um, Danny? Hero shot?”

The Defenders is a story very much invested in New York City, with characters repeatedly referring to New York as “my/your/our city.” Of course, each of the four series leading into The Defenders imagines a different city. Daredevil is set against the backdrop of an early eighties version of Hell’s Kitchen, one never tamed nor gentrified. Jessica Jones unfolds in a vast and anonymous and disconnected city. Luke Cage imagines Harlem as an ideal, a cultural hub. Iron Fist treats Manhattan as the stage on which familial conflicts might play out.

The Defenders is about bringing those separate versions of New York together, of integrating them into a single story set against the backdrop of a single version of the city. Inevitably, that version of the city is the city as it was defined at the start of the twenty-first century, a city united by catastrophe and destruction. However, there is more to it than that. The Defenders embraces the 9/11 subtext seeded through the first season and plays the idea out to its logical conclusion.

“What? Am I supposed to look serious doing this?”

The season culminates in a bizarre inversion of 9/11, in which our heroes lay siege to an empty skyscraper. They decide that the only way to save Manhattan is to demolish the building. Although the episode is edited in such a way that the audience never sees the collapse of the skyscraper in question, The Defenders is still structured in a way that evokes the most uncomfortable paranoid conspiracy theories about the events of 9/11. With the structure destroyed from the inside with architectural precision, this change to the New York skyline really is “an inside job.”

It plays almost as a grotesque and uncomfortable attempt to reclaim a traumatic image, to take ownership of the atrocity. It is an attempt to construct a heroic iteration of the terrorist attacks that forever changed the city, as if that may somehow provide an opportunity for healing and reconciliation.

Take it as red.

The 9/11 attacks were horrific. They are also immortalised. Whereas previous tragedies like the attack on Pearl Harbour or the dropping of the atomic bomb had been documented after the fact, the 9/11 attacks unfolded in real time. The first plane stuck the first tower just after a quarter-to-nine. The second plane struck the second tower just over fifteen minutes later. The southern tower stood for less than an hour after that second impact. The northern tower remained standing for over one hundred minutes after the first impact, before collapsing into itself.

One hour and forty minutes. It was about the length of an average film. The attack on Pearl Harbour lasted slightly longer. The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima reached its peak in ten minutes. However, the 9/11 attacks unfolded in the early twenty-first century in a densely populated city in a wealthy nation. Those one hundred minutes of terror, and their aftermath, were painstakingly documented. People living in the city were able to record footage of the attacks as they were happening. Television and radio could react to the horrors as they were happening.

Picture this.

More than that, footage of the attacks played over and over, recycled as part of the 24-hour news cycle. This 24-hour news cycle helped to create a sense of constant and urgent panic, as if 9/11 had not just happened over one morning but was happening again and again and again. Studies suggest that the level of threat generated by the 24-hour news cycle is actively harmful to people. Much like the O.J. Simpson Broncho chase or the trail, 9/11 became an event experienced vicariously and repeatedly through the medium of television.

It is important not to trivialise the events of 9/11, which resulted in the deaths of nearly three thousand people and may be responsible for thousands of deaths in the intervening years. However, it was also a tragedy that was very much framed in terms of the unreal. It was captured and reflected through screens, played around the clock on cable television. It has been cited as the most watched television event of all time. Despite the existence of these concrete (and widely-seen) records of the atrocity, a vocal minority of Americans dispute the official account of what unfolded.

No bones about it.

More than that, the entire atrocity was choreographed in a way that consciously evokes the spectacle of blockbuster movies. The attacks on 9/11 were a real-life version of the disasters depicted in films like The Towering Inferno or Independence Day or Titanic. For many watching, these films were the only frame of reference. As Matt Zoller Seitz argues, the attacks seemed to break reality itself:

The image of the burning towers destroyed the psychic wall separating life from its representation. It sent us down the rabbit hole and made us doubt the evidence of our senses. On that morning, New Yorkers looked out their windows and saw more or less the same image they saw on their TVs; the screen was a window frame, the window frame a screen.

When each plane hit and each tower collapsed, the immense structural and human damage and the media’s multiplicity of camera angles (custom-designed for rapid cutting and instant replay) unwittingly combined to evoke the visual grammar of a Hollywood action flick: like a movie/not like a movie/like a movie. One wonders, did the image maker know that because we are Americans — and Americans as a people excel at mixing rage and sentimentality — that before the day was done, TV news channels would air highlight reels backed by soupy orchestral soundtrack music? Or was that just an unforeseen bonus?

British artist Damien Hirst talked about the attacks as if they were some monstrous work of art, observing, “I think our visual language has been changed by what happened on September 11.” The imagery associated with 9/11 made an incredible impact upon the public consciousness, and would reverberate through twenty-first century pop culture.

“I’ll be Bakuto!”

This is most obvious in the way that modern pop culture imagines mass destruction. In films like Armageddon or Deep Impact, the destruction of cities is very much informed by the imagery associated with the atomic bomb; rising clouds and shock waves, viewed from a distance. In contrast, more modern depictions of apocalyptic violence tend to be framed in terms that evoke that footage of the 9/11 attacks. There is rubble and chaos, clouds of dust, bent support beams and hunks of concrete. In particular, the collision of flying objects with buildings.

There are almost too many examples to list; the carnage of War of the Worlds, the destruction of landmarks in Cloverfield, the city-wide devastation in The Avengers or The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the attack on Asgard in Thor: The Dark World, the battle of Metropolis in Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman, the hellicarriers smashing together and into the Triskelion in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the hole in the sky in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

“Would you miss him? Would you really?”

As Robbie Collins explains when discussing the trailer to Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, even the basic iconography is evocative:

So, we shouldn’t be surprised that the most arresting image in the trailers for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice turned out not to involve either iconic superhero costume, but Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, in a waistcoat and suit trousers, dashing through the streets of Metropolis towards a billowing cloud of ash. It’s the same ash we saw in the news images of New York City that September morning, creamy grey and snowstorm-thick, with skyscrapers looming on both sides like canyon walls. A second shot shows Affleck kneeling on the ground, surrounded by debris, holding a little girl close to his chest, and looking upwards in confusion. Again, we know the pose – and remember the feeling.

The 9/11 attacks might look like a grotesque blockbuster spectacle, but they have since been processed and reflected back through blockbuster spectacle.

Everything burns.

There are any number of reasons why films might choose to evoke this imagery. In pragmatic terms, the audience watching these films now knows what urban destruction looks like. They have seen a real event on the magnitude of that presented in blockbuster cinema, so on-screen depictions of such horrors demand an uncanny verisimilitude. These action movies need to have a veneer of authenticity to them, and so conforming to audience expectations of such horrific events makes sense.

However, there may be more to it than that. There is something more profound in the way that blockbuster imagery continuously and repeatedly revisits the horrors of the attacks upon the World Trade Centre. After all, it isn’t only the details of the attacks themselves that linger in the popular memory. In the years following 9/11, horror came to be dominated by the “found footage” genre, which borrowed much of the formal language of those first-hand recordings of the attacks; impossible and shocking events captured on hand-held cameras, stitched into a grotesque narrative.

Getting shafted.

Naturally, given the company’s close geographical and spiritual ties to the community, Marvel Comics also reacted to the horror of 9/11. Perhaps the most obvious example is J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita’s infamous Spider-Man #36, a well-intentioned but ill-judged tribute comic that features scenes of Doctor Doom (who has destroyed and remade the entire multiverse) and Magneto (who Grant Morrison summarised as “a mad old terrorist twat”) crying in the rubble of the Twin Towers. Even Straczynski acknowledges Doom’s tears as a misstep.

However, the Marvel Universe was shaped and defined by the War on Terror. When Brian Michael Bendis moved New Avengers to the centre of the Marvel Universe, he used the title to explore themes of power and security, trust and confidence. A string of major Marvel events during the early twenty-first century worked through these anxieties in a thinly-veiled manner: Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Siege, Fear Itself. Evidently, the trauma lingers; the past year has seen Civil War II and Secret Empire dealing with similar themes and conflicts.

Trish talk.

Understandably, the attacks of 9/11 left an indelible mark on American popular consciousness. They changed the country, ushering in the War on Terror. As Thanassis Cambanis contends, many of those changes still define contemporary American culture:

The first signs of America’s transformation after 9/11 were obvious: mass deportations, foreign invasions, legalizing torture, indefinite detention, and the suspension of the laws of war for terror suspects. Some of the grosser violations of democratic norms we only learned about later, like the web of government surveillance. Optimists offered comforting analogies to past periods of threat and overreaction, in which after a few years and mistakes, balance was restored.

But more than 15 years later — nearly a generation — we have not changed back. Shocking policies abroad, like torture at Abu Ghraib and extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo Bay, today are reflected in policies at home, like for-profit prisons, roundups of immigrant children, and SWAT teams that rove through communities with Humvees and body armor. The global war on terror created an obsession with threats and fear — an obsession that has become so routine and institutionalized that it is the new normal.

Against all odds and reason, Guantánamo Bay is still open. While he campaigned against the creeping power of the executive branch in the wake of 9/11, President Barack Obama actually expanded those powers.

Hard to keep track(suit) of it all.

This fear and paranoia tended to fester. The effects of the policies enacted in response to 9/11 are reflected in various facets of American life. The government has spent over one trillion dollars to keep Americans safe. In late 2014, the public noted the used of military equipment and tactics by local police forces in response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. These days, passengers using air travel are constantly reminded of the threats that they face, forced to remove their shoes and subject themselves to invasive questioning.

Some lasting consequences of 9/11 are even more concrete. Authorities are still identifying bodies from the collapse sixteen years later through DNA and forensics. Families of 9/11 victims are in the process of suing Saudi Arabia for its involvement with the attacks, in a massive violation of long-standing norms of international politics. More than a decade and half after the attacks, Donald Trump’s advisor Roger Stone insisting that Saudi Arabia should “pay for 9/11.” There is a sense that people are still trying to make sense of the events of 9/11, to bring some order to them.

“Malcolm, this isn’t what I meant when I said that I just needed to get plastered.”

The 9/11 attacks even cast a shadow over the most recent United States presidential election. Considerable quantities of digital ink were expended on what both candidates were doing during and immediately after 9/11. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly shared the apocryphal story about Arab Americans in New Jersey celebrating the attacks to stoke anti-Islamic sentiment. Donald Trump bragged that the ratings for his Inauguration were higher than those for 9/11.

It also seems reasonable to draw a direct connection between the 9/11 attacks and certain strands of anti-immigrant sentiments that shaded and defined rhetoric during 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump’s campaign was built on fear of a racialised “other.” He launched his campaign by arguing that the United States was being flooded with rapists and criminals from Mexico. One of his key promises was to erect a border wall to keep foreigners out. One of his highest profile policies was a ban on travel from certain countries, which was described by Trump proxies as a “Muslim Ban.”

“Um, one of us should probably say something to Foggy and Karen.”

Even in the world of The Defenders, 9/11 is presented as a formative tragedy. Of course, the characters are technically referring to “the Incident”, the Chitauri invasion at the climax of The Avengers. Nevertheless, it serves the same narrative purpose. It was a chaotic and horrifying event that completely changed the way that New Yorkers looked at the world. The first season of Daredevil suggests that New York was literally and figuratively rebuilding from the trauma. Early in Luke Cage, street vendors appear to be selling first-hand footage of the events.

More than that, the imagery and iconography of the series is very clearly framed in terms of 9/11. More than any other corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the shows leading into The Defenders are anchored in New York City. If the characters have to be brought together by a single massive threat to that city, it makes sense for the threat to couched in terms that evoke 9/11. In Guilty as Sin, Matt discovered that the Hand’s evil plan for New York revolved around a giant crater in Manhattan. In Ashes, Ashes, it is confirmed that there is a skyscraper atop that hole.

If you gotta Gao…

Matt is very precise about what exactly is under Midland Circle. “There was a hole there, hundreds of feet deep,” he states. Luke is confused, “In the middle of New York?” That certainly suggests the destruction on 9/11. When Jessica makes reference to “a tunnel”, Matt clarifies, “It’s not a tunnel, it’s a hole. Straight down.” In The H Word, Alexandra make it clear that New York will “fall.” The Defenders makes that explicit, revealing that the entire city will collapse in on itself when the Hand enact their master plan. The imagery evokes the collapse of the Twin Towers.

More to the point, at the bottom of that hole in the centre of Manhattan is a graveyard. The extended climax of The Defenders unfolds inside the remains of a long-dead dragon, a representative of a more innocent age. “These creatures once roamed the green valleys of my home,” Gao explains to Danny. “These fossils are all that remain.” All that is left of them is dust and bone, to be harvested by construction teams. The final showdown in The Defenders takes place in an underground cavern with bones jutting out from the rubble.

A cut above.

The idea of terrorism haunts The Defenders. Jessica finds an apartment full of explosives in The H Word, clearly intended for use in the city. A caller to “Trish Talk” in Mean Right Hook mentions “terrorism” and “the Incident” as possible causes of the earthquake that struck the city. The Hand themselves evoke a terrorist organisation, with each of the five fingers serving as a separate cell and all of them working to undermine various facets of New York through assassination, infiltration and subversion.

The comparison is explicitly discussed in Royal Dragon. Matt summarises the Hand for the group, “They live by a fanatical ideology and every member is willing to die to protect it.” Luke asks the obvious question, “So they’re terrorists?” Matt disagrees, drawing a clear dividing line, “No. Terrorists want the world to know what they’re doing. This is something more secretive, more evil.” However, following her coup in Fish in the Jailhouse, Elektra makes it clear that she wants the world to know what the Hand is doing. “This isn’t power. Living underground. In hiding.”

Mook it count.

However, The Defenders lies on a number of very conscious inversions this 9/11 imagery. In Mean Right Hook, the Hand make a curious discovery underneath Manhattan. There is an impenetrable wall build around their objective. Alexandra seems confused by this. “We’ve never encountered a wall before,” Alexandra reflects. The Defenders lives in a topsy-turvy world where the horrors of a collapsing skyscraper is built atop the foundation of an impenetrable boundary wall, and not the other way around.

More than that, the series culminates in what can only be described as a conscious inversion of 9/11 imagery. At the end of Fish in the Jailhouse, the team decides that there is only one way to stop the Hand. They need to blow up the skyscraper at Midland Circle, collapsing it into the hole so as to prevent the Hand from attacking the literal foundations of New York City. The significance of this action is not lost on the team. “They’ll have us on obstruction of justice… and domestic terrorism,” Jessica states. The eponymous team end the series as much terrorists as the Hand.

Blowing up the spot.

The Defenders imagines an uncannily sanitised version of 9/11, where skyscrapers are blown up by heroes and the rubble at the heart of Manhattan is a sign of the city’s security. When Luke understandably objects to the plan, Colleen dismisses his concern. “These people aren’t really alive,” she assures him. Matt uses his radar sense to assure Luke, “Plus the building is empty. There’s no one else here, just us and them.” No innocents will be harmed in this destruction, the characters assure one another. Matt even reassures the audience of this a few scenes later.

In many ways, the staging of the climax of The Defenders evokes half-remembered conspiracy theories about national tragedies, the type of half-baked story logic that gets shared in email threads and incoherent social media posts. Conspiracy theories latch on to the idea that people reported killed in horrific events might actually have already died earlier, that the were already dead before the events in question and their bodies are just props that can be used to stage a narrative predetermined by the authorities.

“Maybe we should rethink the whole ‘Undying’ thing, then?”

Some “truthers” believe the planes on 9/11 were flown by remote control. Robert McIlvaine is convinced his son was killed by a blast to the chest in the lobby of the Twin Towers, not the upper floor; he also believes that his son might have been killed before the first plane hit. Theorists latched on to a typo on the death certificate of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza that suggested he actually died the day before the massacre in question. The attack on Midland Circle fits with these conspiracy narratives, populating the rubble with bodies of people who were dead long before the explosion.

Similarly, the destruction of Midland Circle plays into one of the most persistent beliefs of the 9/11 “truther” movement. The charges are purchased by, and placed in accordance with the intentions of, architect John Raymond. They are positioned in such a way as to bring the skyscraper down without causing too much collateral damage. This evokes speculation that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre were actually carefully-controlled demolition; that the buildings came down too neatly to be explained by the impact of two planes.

Admiring their Hand-iwork.

In fact, The Defenders is a story that leans quite heavily into the notion of conspiracy theory, as one might expect for a television series about heroes opposing a secret conspiracy headed by five immortal refugees from an ancient mystical city. The Hand are everywhere, and behind everything. Petrie and Ramirez might have eschewed importing “the Beast” from the comic book mythology, but the Hand definitely evoke “the Beast” as suggested by decades of new world order conspiracy theories. The Hand are a new age Illuminati, clad in vaguely Asian archetypes.

The Hand have enough power to silence Trish’s seemingly innocuous inquiries about the earthquake in Mean Right Hook, feeding into paranoid conspiracy theories about how the mainstream media is controlled by “special interests.” In Royal Dragon, Stick offers a stunning alternate history of the Hand that ties them to the destruction of cities like Pompei and Chernobyl. Those “catastrophes”, Stick argues, were actually “cover-ups.” In The Defenders, the Hand seem to exist as the living embodiment of paranoid conspiracy theory.

NYPD blew it.

To be fair, popular culture is saturated with secret societies and sinister conspiracies, of evil tendrils creeping into seemingly innocuous lives. However, there is something disconcerting in the way that The Defenders ties all of this back into its own bizarro version of 9/11. Against the backdrop of a world where audiences cannot seem to agree upon a single shared reality, where almost a third of voters believe in a well-organised globalist conspiracy to control the world, all of this seems ill-judged and ill-advised.

In particular, there is something disconcerting in how The Defenders approaches the act of the cover-up. Early in the finale, Trish and Karen discuss how sinister forces silenced Trish’s investigations. “At my radio station, I tried to float that the earthquake was a cover-up for something else,” Trish explains. “I was shut down.” This is understandably treated as a demonstration of corrupting and subversive the Hand can be. However, The Defenders culminates in both Trish and Karen engaging in a cover-up of their own.

Working at cross purposes.

“Finally getting some answers to all the mysterious shaking and sinking around the city,” Trish reports at the end of the episode. “The mayor’s office confirms that unpermitted construction around Midland Circle is to blame.” Trish becomes wilfully complicit in a cover-up she earlier cited as evidence of the Hand’s perverse power. Similarly, Karen declines to tell the story of what really happened. “I mean, if I reveal what happened at Midland Circle, then all it takes is someone like me figuring out superhero and lawyer go missing at the same time.”

As a result, the Defenders do not expose conspiracies and lies, they perpetuate them. They are rendered complicit in this deception of the city, but their deception is justified by virtue of their heroism. These characters are the good guys, and they are lying to New York and its citizens to keep them safe. The Defenders has a conspiratorial mindset. There are lies everywhere, even from the heroes of the piece.

Gotta have faith.

The Defenders seems to suggest an inverted version of 9/11. The Hand build a gigantic skyscraper over a hole in the island of Manhattan, a very clear reversal of what happened on 9/11 when two skyscrapers were reduced to a gaping wound on the surface of the island. When the skyscraper is demolished, it is blown up by the heroes rather than the terrorists; it is taken down by a controlled demolition, rather than by an outside collision; the bodies inside the structure are already dead before the demolition takes place.

This inversion is occasionally literal. Some of the horrifying images of 9/11 were those of individuals trapped in the top storeys of the buildings, some of whom even jumped to their deaths to avoid the collapse. One of the more controversial memorial images was that of “the tumbling woman”, while “the falling man” conveyed the sense of tragedy. The Defenders reverses this, placing the team underground beneath the collapsing skyscraper. Matt is not trapped on the top, he is buried at the bottom.

Best laid plans.

Demolishing the skyscraper stabilises the city, rather than scarring it. “Take down the building, or the Hand takes down New York,” Colleen explains in very helpful terms. It seems that the hole in the middle of Manhattan is load bearing, something that seems to support the entire city. In a perverse way, this might reflect the way in which the horrors and tragedy on 9/11 served to bring the city together in a way that felt novel to most New Yorkers. That hole in the ground is in some ways a foundation of contemporary America.

To be fair, The Defenders avoids borrowing too much overt 9/11 imagery. The explosion in the Midland Circle building is presented like a more conventional explosion than the collapse of the World Trade Centre, with very little attention paid to the actual collapse of the skyscraper. There are a few quick shots of the explosion travelling up the building and glass shattering, but the disaster is contained. The clouds of dust are small, looking nothing like the images of 9/11. Most of the eponymous team even get to keep their clothes clean.

“And we kissed, as though nothing could fall.”

The only member of the team who gets swallowed by a dust cloud is Matt, who spends the climax wrestling with Elektra at the bottom of the hole. However, their final embrace is not explicitly framed in terms of 9/11, instead evoking an older image of disaster. Matt and Elektra embrace as the cloud swallows them, evoking the popular image of two lovers consumed by the atomic bomb. It is a popular image, perhaps most notably evoked as “the Hiroshima Lovers” in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. More recently, the image was recreated at the end of Rogue One – A Star Wars Story.

Nevertheless, the aftermath of the explosion is treated in terms that consciously evoke a disaster. Karen and Foggy mourn Matt, even without a body to bury. “I can’t shake this feeling, like it’s like it’s not real,” Karen states. “Or even if it is, like, it’s not over, because they’re still digging, right?” Danny watches the Empire State building lit up in honour of Matt, suggesting a city in mourning. Colleen even visits Misty in hospital, an acknowledgement of the lingering wounds inflicted by these horrific events.

Need a lift?

Interestingly, The Defenders is not the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has attempted to invert the horror of 9/11. As Matt Zoller Seitz notes, the climax of The Winter Soldier was built upon a similar reversal:

It’s warmhearted and intelligent, and plugged into a version of political reality—a parable about the United States’ recent response to terrorism, with the Battle of New York representing the attacks of 9/11, and S.H.I.E.L.D’s terrifying surveill-and-destroy plan standing as this franchise’s version of The War on Terror. The moment in which the helicarriers crash into S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters is basically an inverted 9/11, with Cap and his allies becoming homegrown terrorists in order to prevent a corrupt national security state headed by the unwitting ideological descendants of World War II fascists from carrying out millions of extrajudicial assassinations.

Maybe The Defenders is doing something similar, attempting to rewind the tape on the chaos and the disorganisation that followed 9/11 by playing out the events in reverse.

The pew, the proud…

After all, superhero stories are built upon repetition. They hit the same beats over and over again, a four-colour variation on the eternal return. How many Batman stories will revisit the template most effectively exemplified by Knightfall? How many Daredevil stories will play as variations on Born Again, in which the hero watches what little remains of his life crumble to dust? The same stories, told over and over again. The best tellings are insightful and clever, understanding the rhythms and the beats and combining them in interesting ways. The worst feel like a bad cover band.

Given how popular consciousness has been defined and shaped by 9/11, it makes sense that these ideas would recur within this four-colour framework. Captain America: Civil War is arguably still working out the same War on Terror trauma that was explored by The Dark Knight eight years earlier. Batman vs. Superman and Civil War both effectively replay the familiar political and cultural conflicts that have divided the United States in the wake of the attacks.

Born Again. Again.

Indeed, given that “the Incident” was itself a surrogate for 9/11, it seems like “Phase I” of the Marvel Netflix shows have been bookended by invocations of the 9/11 attacks, a perhaps a reflection on the cycle of repetition. Modern pop culture in general, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular, has returned time and time again to these images and these ideas, playing out various facets of the horrific event through various lenses. It makes sense that The Defenders would tie its four source shows together with a story like this.

Perhaps this attempt to invert 9/11 represents a conscious effort to work through the trauma. At the very end of The Defenders, the characters repeatedly stress the unreality of their experiences. Most of the people involved in this horrific series of events just want to forget that it happened. Admitting that she is willing to blow up the building, Jessica confesses to Luke, “We’ll all sleep easier when they’re gone. We can all just get on with our lives.”

“It’ll be okay, Danny. We can even have our old colour scheme back!”

Foggy makes a similar promise to Claire and Luke at the end of the episode. “According to the DA, it’s over. Or, more accurately, it never happened.” Tellingly, The Defenders ends with the characters slinking back into their familiar worlds. The team drift apart into their own lives, slipping into the same routines and relationships that they were in before any of these events occurred. The Defenders stops mixing and matching characters from different shows, and instead lets characters settle among their own ensembles.

Jessica and Trish at the radio station. Colleen and Danny at the dojo. Jessica and Malcolm at the office. Foggy and Karen in the church. Even Luke and Jessica at the bar feels very much like a scene from Jessica Jones rather than a blend with Luke Cage. It brings closure to that night they spent together in AKA Ladies’ Night and the revelations that tore them apart in AKA You’re a Winner!. It does very little in terms of any given episode of Luke Cage. (After all, how would Claire react to Luke grabbing “coffee” with Jessica, given their conversation in You Know My Steez?)

On her own again.

This is perhaps the fantasy nestled at the heart of The Defenders, the dream that the horrific events of 9/11 might be reversed or undone, that the pieces can be tied away, that not even one good person might have died in that tragedy. The Defenders works through that trauma in a very muddled and very confused manner, as if unable to process what it is trying to say. The Defenders is an uneven mess of contradictions, an attempt to deal with trauma by reducing and reversing it, but without any nuance or understanding of what any of this actually means.

At the very least, The Defenders should be the last time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs to replay the trauma of 9/11.

A tough cellar.

It probably won’t be.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the first season of The Defenders:

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7 Responses

  1. I was indifferent to Petrie and Ramirez. These reviews are making me hate them.

    (Actually, that’s not true. With the exception of Greenwalt and maybe Espenson, I’ve always had a strong dislike for the Buffy writers. They always seem to be coasting on their association with Whedon.

    Even recently, Fury boasted that The Tick is going to occupy the same cult space.)

  2. I’ve actually noticed a trend in modern films and movies to play out conspiracy theories as more ‘heroic’ versions – the second season of ‘Supergirl’ played Birthirism completely straight except the quiet literally secret alien president had the good guys enthusiastically help keep her secret, well, secret.

    • Yeah, it’s a bit weird, isn’t it?

    • It’s very strange. I wonder if it’s something as complex as trying to reimagine those poisonous fantasies as something idealised, or if it’s just that those images are floating in the zeitgeist and should be used. I remember being shocked when G.I. Joe: Retaliation went full “birther.”

      • The one where I really noticed it was Captain America: Winter Soldier. The whole concept of HYDRA being an invisible but all-powerful nebulous conspiracy, infiltrating governments and hiding behind international organizations like SHIELD, spouting generic clichés like “mankind cannot be trusted with its own freedom,” and plotting to install what appears to be a one-world order…

        … not only doesn’t resemble the way any fascist movement has ever taken power anywhere, but it actually looks a lot like the kind of story the Nazis themselves, with their obsession for Judeo-Masonic Globalist Conspiracies, would’ve cooked up. (It doesn’t help that the American part of the conspiracy appears to consist of a Jew, a Latino, and Robert Redford).

      • Yep, there’s a very good argument (and one I’m increasingly inclined to agree with) that the problem with the “secret Nazis” trope is that being secret runs counter what Nazis are. Their very nature is not to infiltrate or subvert, but to win over enough of the electorate through populism to further their agenda in broad daylight. Pretending that they operated in secret is a way of abdicating responsibility when confronted with very real and very current threats to the democratic order.

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