This is the review for the sixth episode of The Defenders. To discuss subsequent episodes or the series as a whole, please visit our Spoiler Space.
“Ashes, Ashes” is a great episode of The Defenders—in theory. It’s the moment when our heroes (and our villains) turn on each other, unable to agree on the best way to fight, and as a result, crucial characters die. And at times, it comes close to greatness: The final 15 minutes are a thrilling and unexpected conclusion to both the hiding of Danny and Alexandra’s plan. Elektra’s sudden arrival at Danny’s location, killing Stick and taking out the others in order to kidnap him, is a bravura sequence. And though the show just barely telegraphed it five seconds prior, Elektra’s murder of Alexandra was also a nice twist, rejiggering the alliances and strategies among our villains with only two episodes left. And despite a oft-smart script from Drew Goddard—the very first person to ever pen words for a Marvel Netflix series, back in Daredevil season one—the first three-fourths of the episode feel like a lot of running to stand still.
Danny Rand is enough of a hothead that it’s perfectly logical to have the opening conversation devolve into a fight. He’s a fighter—not just any fighter, but possibly the only one capable of defeating this particular problem—being told to sit out this one. That was never going to sit well with him, but watching him jump from frustration to “I’ll fight you all!” was still annoying, even if “annoying” was one of the most common attributes of Danny in his own series. But tying him up and then waiting around while Matt and Jessica went off to have a conversation with the daughter of an architect lent itself to odd pacing, and the circular conversations unfolding among the members of the Hand similarly jarred the fluidity of this installment. Luckily, Goddard’s words at least gave us some good dialogue amid all the hand-wringing and scheming.
The best of these conversations was the one between Luke and Danny, whom even the series is now openly acknowledging would make a pretty great duo. Despite repeatedly hitting a wall when it comes to the plan, the two are starting to realize they genuinely enjoy each other’s company, as Luke softens his scornful tone and realizes the fey and impulsive rich kid is actually a pretty charming person, once you get past the buffoonery and braggadocio. By the time he’s opening up to Danny about his past relationship with Jessica and the two are actually bonding, the series all but nudges the viewer in the ribs with the idea of seeing them team up in the future.
Similarly, Krysten Ritter and Charlie Cox turn out to have excellent chemistry as Jessica and Matt, the blunt-spoken private eye serving as a great no-bullshit foil to Matt’s diplomatic and friendly reserve. Her recounting the story of Matt’s father helps give him some insight into her, too: Jessica is someone who doesn’t want any friends or attachments, but once you’re past those emotional barriers and in her orbit, she’s going to do right by you. Matt plays a hunch (quite literally, at the piano) and is rewarded by uncovering the blueprints for Midland Financial, including the strange cavern beneath it. It’s nice that, in an episode where pretty much every pre-existing plan goes horribly wrong, at least one thing managed to get done in the intended manner.
And then there’s Elektra Natchios, revealing an entirely new side of herself in a way that her benefactor certainly didn’t see coming. She has a dream of her time with Matt, remembering their life together, and hunting down her own grave to see it for herself. Alexandra has no idea how much her deadly charge remembers, and it gets her killed. Elektra has been quietly taking everything in, learning about her old life and evaluating who she wants to be in this one. Unsurprisingly, she decides what she wants to be is in charge. The show toys with our sympathies, as the first section suggests Elektra may want to rejoin Matt, and even when she’s plunging a sword through Stick’s heart, there’s a part of her that’s drawn to her former love. “Matthew. It’s good to see you,” she says, then proceeds to knock him unconscious, beat up his friends, and deliver Danny to the Hand. She’s fully on board with Operation: Live Forever; she just wants to be the one leading it.
Much like how our learning more about Sowande last episode just ended with his abrupt death, here we get a very involved history of the shifting allegiances and attitudes among the leaders of the Hand, nearly all of it rendered moot the moment Elektra murders Alexandra. Still, it’s fascinating to watch them bicker and scheme, particularly Gao and Alexandra, who seem to have a tenuous alliance even when Alexandra is reminding Gao that the diminutive woman was part of a plan to try and kill her. (Gao shrugs: “The past is the past.”) And after proposing they work together, Madame Gao walks out the door and essentially gives Murakami the thumbs-up to try and kill Alexandra. She can’t be too disappointed with Elektra’s power play. But I can be, because Sigourney Weaver was great on this series. R.I.P. Alexandra, the latest in a steady line of Marvel Netflix villains (Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, Diamondback) to be as compelling as the heroes.
And Stick gets one last chance to show his humanity and duplicity, talking with Luke about how the Chaste became his family, telling Danny that survivors make it up as they go along, and then betraying both of them in the service of his cause. He’s a character that’s been part of this universe since Daredevil season one, and his loss will be felt, especially given how much Scott Glenn brought to the part. He turned what could’ve come across as a maddeningly inconsistent role into someone whose every move felt savvy and compelling. Stick was a charismatic presence, and while it was necessary to have some real stakes and consequences to this story, I’m sorry to see him go. Now, our heroes are beaten, bloodied, and missing arguably their most potent tool against the Hand. There’s no more time for debate. It turns out Danny was right: Now’s the time to fight.
- Despite the lackluster pacing and uneven structure, Goddard really did put some great words into our protagonists’ mouths. Let’s revisit a few of them:
- “You sure?” “99 percent….92 percent. But that’s still a lot.”
- “Why don’t you tell me again about how you punched a dragon and got your magic hand.”
- “Luke Cage and Iron Fist. We belong out there. Together. On the front lines.” Agreed! Make that show, Netflix.
- “My past is none of your goddamn business and it’s not actively trying to kill us.”
- Hero of the episode: Matt. He got to play the piano, make friends with Jessica, and actually achieve one positive goal by finding those blueprints.
- The McGuffin of “the substance” is finally fully explained, and as it turns out, the place everyone wants to go home to is K’Un Lun itself, since it’s apparently full of the stuff.