Many entered The Defenders expecting Sigourney Weaver to thrash the heroes of the Marvel Netflix Universe all the way to the finish line. So, understandably, viewers who have since streamed the Netflix Marvel drama might still picking their jaw up off the ground — or their head off of the floor, as it were.
With two episodes still remaining in the eight-hour event series, the legendary Weaver’s work as the ancient antagonist Alexandra came to an abrupt end. Just as she is chastising the other three central members of the Hand, Alexandra is literally and figuratively stabbed in the back by Elektra (Elodie Yung), then beheaded for good measure. It’s perhaps most shocking in the sense that it’s shocking at all, given a similar death for the first primary antagonist in the Luke Cage solo series: Cottonmouth (Mahershal Ali), killed in a jarring scene halfway through the first season.
While Alexandra’s death comes as a shock, the about-face involving Matt Murdock’s (Charlie Cox) “death” shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The Defenders ends with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen seemingly killed in action, at least as far as the world is concerned, only for a hospitalized Matt to reemerge in the final scene of the episode. The moment is lifted directly from Born Again, a popular Daredevil comic book arc from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, and seemingly hints at the direction of the third season of the Netflix series.
In order to dive deeper into those two twists, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with The Defenders showrunner Marco Ramirez about all things Daredevil and Alexandra. Ramirez also discussed why both the Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) were absent from the series, the decision to give Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) central roles, and that tense episode three scene between Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Danny Rand (Finn Jones), in which the hero occasionally known as Power Man schools Iron Fist on classism and racial injustice.
In bringing The Defenders in for a landing, what goes into balancing the need to end characters’ stories on their own terms within this event and setting them up for the next seasons of their solo series?
A lot. A lot of work and a lot of preparation, and also a lot of work in distilling each character down into the elements that make them work. The goal for me, the writers, the directors, the actors and everyone involved was making sure that when these characters made it out of The Defenders, they could be a little bit changed, they could come out with some character arc, but at the end of the day, it was about giving the keys to the car back to each of the individual showrunners and making sure it was returned in one piece. That was a lot of it, just maintaining the integrity of the individual shows and the individual characters. Not having anybody who is a big fan of any of the individual shows walk away feeling like, “Wait, that’s not my Jessica Jones. That’s not my Luke Cage.” It was almost the most important thing at the end of the day, making sure that these characters stayed consistent, and also that we sent them in a way — especially in the cases of Luke and JJ, which we knew were going into a second season — sending them out in a way where people would be excited to watch the rest of their journey.
Can you talk through the decision to end the season with Matt’s apparent demise, only for him to reappear in a scene that mirrors Daredevil: Born Again?
It’s almost like watching an episode of The Sopranos and Tony Soprano is in danger, and you know he’s not going to die. He’ll be fine. That kind of thinking. Especially because we premiered after Daredevil season three was already announced. Yes, he’s underneath the building when the building comes down, but you know there’s going to be a third season of the show, right? So we didn’t want to make the audience think we were trying to cheat them or convince them of something that’s not happening. It’s exactly that: an homage to Born Again. Even in storyboarding it, there were moments when we were in meetings in the production offices and we would say, “This is the panel from the comic that we want it to look like.” In this show, we very infrequently did specific homages to comic book runs, but there are a couple of writers in the comic book world who have really laid the groundwork and the blueprints for what we do in the Marvel-Netflix world. Brian Bendis is one of them, certainly, and Frank Miller is another one. It really felt like ending on that image was in its own way a little nod to a really important run of Daredevil comic books.
You come from the Daredevil side of the Marvel-Netflix Universe. What appeals to you about the idea of having Matt Murdock inhabit a world that thinks he’s dead, and potentially even a world that’s far away from New York City?
Interesting question… (Pauses) To be honest, at the end of each of the seasons of almost all of these television shows in the Marvel and Netflix world, and even beyond, there tends to be either a literal or figurative death, and then a rebirth. There’s a feeling that even though someone is coming back next season, they’re going to come back changed. In my experience of working in television over the last seven years — I started on Sons of Anarchy, I worked on Orange Is the New Black — there were lots of different ways we would do that. We wanted it to feel like this is the end of this character’s journey for this chapter, and there’s still another huge chapter to be lived. In terms of the comic book specifics? I don’t know that I should speak to that, but there’s something in television that I love about watching a character complete one journey and giving the audience a little bit of a taste of what’s coming in the next season.
Elektra’s rise as the series’ primary antagonist was a very big surprise, starting with murdering Alexandra. How early on was it decided that Sigourney Weaver would get killed off with two hours still remaining in the season? And how much was this decision discussed in parcel with the similar twist from Luke Cage, in which Cottonmouth dies halfway through the season?
I don’t know how it happened on Luke Cage, because I didn’t work on Luke, but here, it felt like we wanted to surprise the audience. There’s a certain expectation, sometimes, and one of the tropes of a lot of modern and specifically cable and basic cable TV is presenting one antagonist per season, and you watch them by the end of it where their story comes to an end, but one expects the “big moves” to happen in the first and last episodes. It felt like a cool idea if we could get away with it, especially since we already had Elektra in the world. It’s not like we’re introducing somebody completely new: “Ha ha! I’m the new big bad!” It just felt like an interesting way to end our final act of our story. Of course, that’s not to take away from any of the amazing work Sigourney did and how great she was to work with. But even she, I think, was really excited about it: “When do I die?” It was mostly about giving the audience something that was really unexpected.
Alexandra dies with a weapon bursting out from her chest. Was this an intentional nod to Sigourney’s work on Alien?
(Big laugh) You know what? No! I hadn’t even thought about that until right now! But there were a bunch of moments over the course of the season where I knew I could adjust the dialogue in this scene to sound just a little bit more like I’m making a nod to Alien or Ghostbusters or even Galaxy Quest. But I was so afraid of her calling me out on it. “Really? We’re doing an Alien homage?” I was tempted every day to write for her: “Get away from her, you bitch!” I kept trying to write it in. The writers would all get very excited about it. But I didn’t want to have to have the embarrassing conversation with her where we all admit we’re super-fans.
Well, retroactively, you got one.
I’m very happy about that. (Laughs) It wasn’t an intentional homage, but I’m very happy to hear you got that from it.
Were there ever versions of this story where some of the antagonists from the other shows showed up, like Kingpin? When Defenders was announced, I think there were expectations that he might be the villain of the piece. Was he involved in any earlier versions of the story?
Honestly, no. It all came down to availability and stuff like that. Even getting into the Frank Castle of it all, because people kept asking, “What’s the Punisher going to get into in The Defenders?” And I would have to honestly answer them, “Nothing. He’s not in it!” And they would be like, “Sure he’s not.” And I would be like, “No, no, he’s really not. He’s busy with his own show!” (Laughs) It mostly came down to this, and this is just me speaking: We were already bringing in a lot of folks from Daredevil’s world, for example bringing in Wilson Fisk…we would need something that was new to all four of them, so that everyone was on the same page. We needed a villain who was a common denominator, if that makes sense, as opposed to everyone having a villain [from their show] who they’re facing off with here.
In the comics, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing are the Daughters of the Dragon. Both characters are treated with a significant amount of screen time compared to the four primary Defenders. How important was it for you to view Misty and Colleen as focal point characters, and how excited are you for Misty’s eventual cybernetic arm?
I was just really excited to be part of the sad event of taking Misty’s arm off! (Laughs) Simone will be the first person to tell you that people often ask her, very awkwardly, “When is your arm getting ripped off?” She’s excited that the news is finally out there: “OK! I don’t have the arm anymore!” It was really organic and very easy to write them into the world and make them as active as I did, because they’re such compelling characters and such great actors and so involved in the problem-solving that is New York. Colleen is going up against the Hand, and Misty is up against all kinds of crime. It felt like a very organic way of getting them together. Once we got the OK from Marvel that they could meet, that we could play with that relationship a little bit, it was a dream. Watching them interact on screen was great, and watching them interact on set was great. Just looking at them together, fighting on the same side, was very powerful.
What was the origin of Luke and Danny’s confrontation over white privilege, classism and racial injustice in the show’s third episode? It’s a pretty intense scene.
I get asked a lot about whether that was a reactionary scene to anything involving Iron Fist, and to be perfectly frank, we were shooting the finale when Iron Fist was launched, so it really couldn’t have been that. To me, it was just an honest and organic scene that was birthed from the thought of, how will somebody who has the spiritual and emotional baggage of Luke Cage react when he encounters someone like Danny Rand, finding him under those circumstances — which happen to be beating up a young black man from Harlem? Instead of avoiding the drama and the conflict where they could have been completely OK with it, it felt much more right for good drama to lean into it and make it a bit of an argument. It really came from that organic storytelling thing to make it a fight and an ideological discussion, so that when they join forces at the end of that same episode, it really feels like there’s a little bit of a burying of the hatchet and a level emotional playing field, which I think emotionally is resonant.
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