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‘The Defenders’: Why That Ending Represented the Worst Kind of Superhero Cliche

"The Defenders" made a bad choice at the end of the season, something hundreds of other shows have made before.

Marvel's The Defenders

Jessica Miglio/Netflix

[Editor’s note: Spoilers follow for “Marvel’s The Defenders.”]

Much of Marvel’s highly anticipated Netflix umbrella series “The Defenders” went so well. The four unique stars gelled together nicely as a team (albeit a non-hugging one), the supporting characters from the four shows united as a complete ensemble in their own right, and Sigourney Weaver wore some fabulous draped blouses and dresses.

Not only that, but the tightness of only eight episodes meant that when watched as a binge, the show managed to avoid dragging the way other Marvel series have done in the past with 13 episodes.

But then, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) said the fateful words heard in at least a dozen other stories of this type: “I can reach her.” The “her” in this case being Elektra (Elodie Yung), who has been leading an army of ninjas against him and his friends.

Their ensuing fight clarifies just why this is not a healthy relationship for either of them, especially the part where they’re about to be crushed under a building armed with explosives. As the timer hits zero and the building collapses, Matt and Elektra kiss, the ceiling above descending towards them…

…and there are still at least 15 minutes left in the episode, as things fade to grey. What ensues in that time is everyone else proceeding to mourn Matt’s loss, process the lessons they’ve learned as a result of these events, and attempt to move forward with their own lives. There’s no full funeral, but Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) lights a candle for him and Danny Rand (Finn Jones) perches on a rooftop, as the Empire State Building lights up bright red in Matt’s honor.

Marvel's The Defenders

The next, and final scene: Matt is — of course — still alive. It’s an ending that’s hugely frustrating for any fan of comic books, or narratives driven by heroes, for a number of reasons.

It Was Obviously Not Real

If, in the moments after the building collapsed, you were a viewer who reached for your nearest internet device and Googled “Daredevil Season 3,” you were not alone. (If you didn’t, know that it was greenlit in 2016, and starts shooting this October.) In the nine years since the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, very few established characters have ever truly kicked the bucket, and certainly not the lead character of a flagship series.

But for an extended period of time, “The Defenders” chose to embrace the notion that Matt Murdock was really and truly dead. Which leads to the next point…

It Cheapens Real Grief

The only real, permanent tragedy experienced at the end of “The Defenders” is Misty Knight (Simone Missick) becoming an amputee, losing her arm above the elbow after a freaking ninja cuts it off. Misty losing her arm is perhaps the most genuinely shocking moment of the season, largely given the fact that the show didn’t go back on itself and reverse it. (Though it would be incredibly cool if Misty ended up with a badass robot arm, down the line.)

Otherwise, we get to see characters we like put through the wringer over a death that the show completely fails to sell as authentic, even before it reveals that Matt survived. The tribute paid to Matt as a hero and as a man would have worked if he had been truly martyred for the cause.

But his reasoning for staying behind as the others rushed to safety was motivated entirely by his love for Elektra (which also made it all the sadder to see an oblivious Karen grieve for him). And once again, any savvy fan of this genre knew it wasn’t real, and knew better than to assign any genuine emotion to the moment. Because…

Marvel's The Defenders

We’ve Seen It So Many Times Before

Rather than dig down into the many, many examples of characters presumed dead for dramatic effect and then miraculously revived, let’s just focus on one: “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” [spoilers ahead] which made the bold move of introducing a wider universe of superheroes, and then killing off the most famous one of them all at the end of the film.

But it stretches back for years — how many times did Buffy or Mulder kick the bucket, after all, during their shows? Perhaps it’s a relief that “The Defenders” doesn’t end on an uncertain cliffhanger and does confirm that Matt is still alive. That still doesn’t excuse such a large portion of the episode being devoted to a false tragedy.

There is another bright spot to the final scene: It’s not a complete waste of time, as it sets up what will undoubtedly be a key component of “Daredevil” Season 3. [Spoilers for the “Daredevil” comics follow.] Longtime Matt Murdock fans know that Matt waking up in (supposedly) a nunnery, with another nun mentioning the name “Maggie,” means that fans can look forward to the introduction of Matt’s mother in the next season.

Oh, and of course, fans can also look forward to finding out just how in the hell Matt survived the building’s implosion. But ultimately, that doesn’t matter quite as much. There was no doubt that he would.

“Marvel’s The Defenders” is streaming now on Netflix. 

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