Calm before the storm.
Warning: Contains spoilers for the episode. Do not read unless you’ve seen it or don’t mind.
Take Shelter is an extremely fitting title for the fifth episode. Following The Defenders dramatic union in the Royal Dragon restaurant comes a moment of respite, where the central heroes gather their loved ones and several other supporting character from the individual shows for the first time. It becomes a more tightly-knitted show as a result. But probably the strongest element of the episode is that The Hand finally becomes a more credible, tangible, and interesting antagonistic force within the show.
The episode starts slightly anticlimactically, however. The ensuing fight in the Royal Dragon is nowhere near as exciting as the cliffhanger of the previous episode implied, but it did offer up a surprisingly tender moment between Elektra and Daredevil in the parking lot. Even though Elektra has been hollowed out, it’s clear she isn’t quite the blank slate The Hand desire – a “defective weapon” as Matt describes her. There’s a palpable sadness in the air which Charlie Cox is able to brilliantly tap into.
The opening fight turns into more a slight skirmish with The Defenders quickly making a getaway, but what’s nice is how their abilities begin to dovetail and complement one another – Jessica flipping a dumpster up against a doorway as a barricade, Matt using his senses to let the team when they’re clear of danger.
The episode spends most of its duration drawing together supporting characters from the different shows, as The Defenders quickly realise The Hand will go after their loved ones. So Karen, Claire, and Trish are thrown together for the first time, while Claire, Misty, and Coleen all coming into play in a bigger way. At last the show is capitalising on all the work done by each of the individual shows.
One of my biggest criticisms of the early episodes of the series was how intangible a threat The Hand seemed, even with Weaver’s Alexandra acting as a focal point for the organisation. We’ve heard they were behind incidents like Pompeii and Chernobyl, but the ideology that would’ve desired such disasters was bizarrely absent. Unlike, say, Bane’s League of Shadows in The Dark Knight Rises, The Hand’s motivations for the tearing down civilisation weren’t forthcoming. But finally, in this episode the shadowy organisation takes on a much more interesting and distinct form. This is partly due to the introduction and coming together of the five Fingers, the core members who have lead the organisation across continents and centuries. Suddenly the abstract is distilled into actual characters, who possess motivations, allegiances, and agendas which conflict with the other members and particularly their leader, Alexandra. They wish to return to K’un-Lun, hence why they need the Iron Fist, but Alexandra might lust for eternal life for other reasons.
Alexandra has previously come across as a rather bland and haughty antagonist, but through a short exchange with Elektra. She describes how her daughter was wrenched from life, and that she believes her mission is to raise the Black Sky. I now have a much clearer idea of what motivates her as a character and that essential insight into her fanatical ideology. It’s a shame this has come over halfway through the season, but better late than never. This insight works nicely alongside Coleen’s breakdown in front of Claire, with her revealing what it’s like to grow up within the cult of The Hand. It was the horizon of everything she knew, and now she is cast out she feels hopeless and lost. We’re seeing the workings of The Hand from multiple perspectives.
The other major highlight was Daredevil returning to the fray with absolute conviction. He puts the suit back on and stops pulling his punches. Jessica’s undercutting of his costume – “nice ears” – is perfect, and so is his response. It’s a nice moment of levity before the hard cut to Daredevil sadistically torturing one of The Hand’s Fingers. The rest of The Defenders suddenly look afraid of him, as he interrogates their hostage. Daredevil’s return injects another interesting dynamic, as Stick clearly doubts Iron Fist’s leadership skills, asserting Matt should lead the team in the coming war. The Defenders are growing in strength, but there’s still interesting dynamics at work.