In 2014, Marvel and Netflix revealed they would not only be making sweet superhero television together, but that their ambitions went well beyond just creating a few shows starring comic book characters. No, the plan was to create an integrated world which would live within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but more importantly launch four unique superpowered-esque forces with four individual series, to be eventually united as a team of heroes defending New York City.
It might have seemed crazily ambitious at the time, but very soon the first season of “The Defenders,” featuring the stars of “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and “Iron Fist,” premieres on Netflix.
There are currently 65 episodes produced within the Marvel/Netflix Universe (referred to going forward as the MNU), featuring the characters that are now appearing in “The Defenders.” That is an awful lot of TV, and it’s a safe bet that a casual viewer hasn’t watched every hour, and even a more dedicated fan hasn’t rewatched them all anytime recently. But to reject the concept of catching up means rejecting Sigourney Weaver wearing the most fantastic outfits (and also playing a truly fascinating baddie) and so we cannot recommend sitting out “The Defenders.”
Thus, as a public service, here are recommendations of episodes from all five seasons of these shows — the episodes that are worth either watching or rewatching before checking out “The Defenders.”
Note: If you are watching any/all of these series for the first time, this is going to create a somewhat disjointed viewing experience, given the fact that Marvel/Netflix series have taken at times perhaps too much advantage of how the binge-viewing model enables serialized storytelling.
By skipping episodes, you may find yourself thrust into the middle of new narratives with little context. The point here is to give you an understanding of the characters whom you may encounter while watching “The Defenders,” as well as the overall world they inhabit, in as little time as possible.
“Daredevil” Season 1
1. “Into the Ring”
Our very initial introduction to this universe, with enough setup to launch us into the story of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), and leading naturally into…
2. “Cut Man”
…Which provides some essential backstory along with a resolution to Episode 1’s cliffhanger. But it also most importantly introduces the character of Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) who will go on to appear in all four MNU series, and play a significant role in “The Defenders.” In addition, this episode also features one of the series’ most lauded fight sequences.
Stick (Scott Glenn) makes his first major appearance in the MNU, along with some essential backstory about his relationship with Matt. It’s not a spoiler to say that Stick shows up in “The Defenders,” which is why it matters to include him here.
10. “Nelson v. Murdock”
Essentially a bottle episode, and theoretically skippable but one that breaks down the friendship at the center of the show and characters who appear in “The Defenders,” and thus the most significant on a character level for the whole series.
Wraps up the major plot threads of Season 1, and most importantly completes Matt’s origin story as well as his feud with Wilson Fisk (AKA The Kingpin, who will appear in “Daredevil” Season 2 but not, as far as we know right now, “The Defenders.” Meanwhile, we get to move on to…
“Jessica Jones” Season 1
“Jessica Jones” is, let’s be clear, the strongest complete series of the “Defenders” universe. But while denying yourself any screen time with Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, and the rest of the stellar cast seems like a form of self-abuse even Jessica Jones herself might consider cruel, it’s understandable if you want your catch-up to be a bit more efficient.
Thus, here are the essential episodes to watch, in order to get a sense of the character and her world — as well as the world of Luke Cage (Mike Colter), who was introduced to the MNU via Jessica’s point of view.
1. “AKA Ladies Night”
It’s rare to ever suggest skipping a first episode, let’s be clear, but this one is especially important. Know that the mystery set up at the end of the episode gets resolved, but with massive emotional cost.
2. “AKA Crush Syndrome”
We get more of the setup for the villainous Kilgrave’s (Tennant) eventual appearance here, but the point is that we get some quality time with Luke Cage, which extends into…
3. “AKA It’s Called Whiskey”
…Jessica and Luke getting to know each other a whole lot better. (Infer what you will.) Jessica has her secret, when it comes to Luke’s wife, but she chooses not to reveal it at this time. She later does in Episode 6 (to which he has a pretty bad reaction), but if you want to skip forward…
12. “AKA Take a Bloody Number”
The episode picks up with Jessica and Luke reuniting, as well as a few intense twists that lead us to…
13. “AKA Smile”
Settles up all the major plot points of “Jessica Jones” Season 1, driving us firmly into where Jessica’s headspace might be, at the beginning of “The Defenders.” And it also gets us ready for…
“Luke Cage” Season 1
1. “Moment of Truth”
What better way to introduce Luke than with some great soul music and real talk about basketball? The Hero of Harlem tries to keep it on the downlow initially, but this episode does solid work setting up his world.
4. “Step in the Arena”
Here’s what you need to know, in the lead-up to this episode: Luke Cage pissed someone off, and that person blew up his apartment building. It of course goes deeper than that, but what matters here is the flashbacks featuring Luke’s past while the rubble gets cleared. We’ve known Luke for many episodes at this point before getting his origin story, which makes for a fresh choice in the superhero realm.
12. “Soliloquy of Chaos”
Skipping to this episode involves jumping over a lot of the season’s plot, but at the same time doing so brings us to the show’s most fascinating moments of political commentary (including an appearance by Method Man as himself). And it proves relatively simple to lead into…
13. “You Know My Steez”
…Look, the worst part of “Luke Cage” Season 1 is arguably the introduction of Diamondback, the Cage nemesis introduced in the latter half of the season. But following that confrontation, a more important choice is made by the character of Luke Cage, one that dovetails organically into the new series.
“Daredevil” Season 2
Because the characters here are well-established already, we’re going to focus primarily on the character of Elektra (Elodie Yung), and because he dominates much of the action this deliberately comes at the expense of the Punisher (Jon Bernthal), only because this guide is tailored to new viewers of “The Defenders.” Based on what we’ve been able to see, here’s what matters most in terms of the reunion series — no offense meant to Frank Castle.
Again, just to be clear, much of Season 2 involves setting up the Punisher (who is getting his own spin-off series, but is not as actively involved in “The Defenders”). That’s why this guide is focusing on Elektra, who will play a major role. Her introduction is officially at the end of “Daredevil” Season 2, Episode 4, but it’s only here we learn exactly why she has such power over Matt.
Beyond its barebones explanation of what The Hand is (a group that seems to thrive in mystery), this episode does set up a truly significant conflict…
12. “The Dark at the End of the Tunnel”
There’s more Elektra backstory here, along with more Scott Glenn as Stick — which ultimately leads to the episode’s conclusion.
13. “A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen”
This episode covers a lot, but most importantly it sets up a key antagonist of “The Defenders.”
“Iron Fist” Season 1
The first season of “Iron Fist” doesn’t really set up much for “The Defenders,” but there are a few essential episodes:
1. “Snow Gives Way”
Since Danny is introducing us to a new world here, it seems only fair to introduce him with his first episode… even if it takes some time for him to be accepted.
10. “Black Tiger Steals Heart”
If you want to understand the complicated politics of secret ninja associations, this episode will dunk you into the heart of those issues — and the importance of The Hand cannot be underestimated, going into “The Defenders.”
13. “Dragon Plays with Fire”
Quite honestly, you can skip to about 10 minutes to the end of this episode, in time to get to see Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Claire spar, followed by the final minutes that bring us to where Danny and Colleen will be once “The Defenders” begins. This will skip you over pretty much all of the drama surrounding the Meecham family — but you’re probably fine without it, at least within the context of new series.
“The Defenders” premieres Friday, Aug. 18 on Netflix.