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The Defenders: what you need to know before you watch

Refresh your memory before the premiere

Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Luke Cage stand in an elevator together in The Defenders. Sarah Shatz/Netflix
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

The Defenders, the culmination of five full seasons of Marvel’s most successful television project, premieres tonight. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist will team up to face the Hand, and it looks like it’s going to be pretty enjoyable.

But unlike when The Avengers came out, you can’t catch up on this first teamup with a few afternoons of double features. Hourlong episodes by thirteen episode seasons by five seasons in total adds up to three straight days of Netflix, with no breaks or sleeping.

On top of that, Iron Fist premiered this spring, Luke Cage the fall before that, Daredevil’s second season hit screens in spring of 2016, and we haven’t seen Jessica Jones since November 2015. It’s no wonder you may be having trouble recalling where Karen Page is these days or what happened to Malcolm. It’s been a minute.

So before The Defenders assemble tonight, let’s have a little helpful recap of the characters and supporting casts that will be appearing in the eight-episode series, starting with the one we haven’t seen in the longest time.

[Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Duh. It will also necessarily reveal what characters from those shows return to appear in The Defenders in the first few episodes of the first season. If you consider that to be a spoiler, don’t read further!]

Jessica Jones on a Path train from the show’s first season. Photo: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Jessica Jones

When we last left Jessica, she’d defeated her superpowered abuser, the mind-controlling Killgrave — by murdering him in front of a crowd of mind-controlled witnesses in order to save the life of her best friend and foster sister, Trish Walker. She was hailed as a hero by those he’d violated, but in her own mind, she was still a killer. She wants neither the accolades nor the responsibilities that come with any kind of notoriety.

Aside from Trish, one of the few people Jessica actually allows into her life is her neighbor, Malcolm, whom Killgrave mind-controlled into becoming an addict as part of his ongoing surveillance of Jessica’s life. Freed from Killgrave’s powers and recovered from his addiction, Malcolm’s life is in a much better place — certainly he shows a lot more improvement than Jessica’s apartment, which still bears the damage of her fight with the psychotic, medically enhanced veteran, Will Simpson.

Matt Murdock, Karen Page and Foggy Nelson attend a funeral in the second season of Daredevil. Patrick Harbron/Netflix


Matt Murdock was dealt quite a blow in the second season of Daredevil. After reconnecting with and seemingly reforming his old friend and lover, Elektra Natchios, Matt watched Elektra die under the blades of the conspiratorial death cult, the Hand. His pal and business partner Foggy Nelson broke their firm and took a job with Jeri Hogarth’s instead. And his friend and secretary Karen Page also quit and changed careers, becoming a reporter and columnist for the New York Bulletin.

In the final moments of Daredevil season 2, Matt revealed to Karen that he is the man behind the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, but the status of Matt and his supporting cast has changed little since (with one notable exception that we will return to). Karen is still at the New York Post, while Foggy is working with Hogarth.

And, in case you’ve forgotten, Foggy found out that Matt is Daredevil in the first season of the show.

Luke Cage in the wreckage of a Harlem business in the first season of Luke Cage. Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Luke Cage

Luke Cage ended in a very strange way for a show that was theoretically supposed to set its hero up for The Defenders. Luke was lead away in cuffs to serve out the remainder of the jail time he’d been wrongfully sentenced to in Georgia’s Seagate Prison. Fortunately, a montage at the end of the final episode of the season included both Claire Temple swearing to get Luke a good lawyer and Bobby Fish uncovering files about Luke’s mistreatment as a human guinea pig while in prison, providing a potential path to his freedom.

Danny Rand in the first season of Iron Fist. Ali Goldstein/Netflix

Iron Fist

Ironically, our most recent installment of Marvel’s Netflix arc may also have been our most forgettable. So here’s where we left Danny Rand, the Immortal Iron Fist.

Danny and Colleen — who remain romantically involved, following the latter’s defection from the Hand — traveled to Danny’s Himalayan home, only to find that the pathway to the mystical trans-dimensional monastery of K’un-Lun was littered with the bodies of dead Hand soldiers. The monastery itself was gone — every stone, right down to its foundations. Danny blamed the Hand and himself for abandoning his duties as K’un-Lun’s protector.

Back stateside, two of Danny’s childhood friends from very different backgrounds — Joy Meachum, business mogul, and Davos, monk of K’un-Lun — agreed that they would work together to kill Danny, who they felt had ruined their lives. It’s unclear whether we’ll see this plot thread come back in The Defenders.

Meanwhile, Joy’s brother Ward has taken control of Rand Enterprises, and Claire Temple appears to have gone back to her relatively quiet life in Harlem since quitting her nursing post at Metro General Hospital in the second season of Daredevil.

Alexandra puts her hand on Madame Gao’s shoulder in The Defenders. Jessica Miglio/Netflix

The Hand

That just leaves one faction. They don’t have their own show, but they’ve been woven through the stories of Daredevil and Iron Fist, and they’re going to be a big part of The Defenders. Here’s where our known agents of the Hand are these days.

Nobu, who was the primary antagonist of Daredevil’s second season, is dead. He was thought to have been killed once, only to return using the Hand’s resurrection techniques. But following that, he was beheaded by Matt Murdock’s blind mentor, Stick. And since Stick is a member of the Chaste, an ancient group dedicated to fighting the Hand, he probably knows a thing or two about killing high-ranking Hand leaders.

Bakuto was the primary Hand antagonist of Iron Fist, and his status is something of a mystery. While he was defeated by Colleen Wing and stabbed in the heart by Davos, his body was recovered by the Hand. It’s possible he could have been brought back to life.

Madame Gao is one of the first leaders of the Hand to appear in Marvel’s Netflix shows, originating in the first season of Daredevil and recurring through its second season and Iron Fist. Unlike her previously mentioned compatriots, she’s alive and well. She was last seen observing Joy and Davos’ plans to betray Danny. That makes three leaders of the Hand already revealed, and two more to go — the Hand is always lead by a group of five.

This leaves just one person to follow up on: Elektra, the Hand’s fabled Black Sky, a prophesied leader of their assassins, who refused to join them in life. After Elektra dies while saving Matt Murdock, the Hand exhumed her body and placed it within a sarcophagus — and if you’ve been paying attention to the announcements around The Defenders, you’ll know that Elodie Yung will be reprising the role of Elektra in the series. This is comics, after all — only the good die young, and the bad guys always come back.

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