Say what you want about The Defenders, whether you loved seeing Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist all fighting together in beautiful harmony, or thought the whole thing fell completely flat. Now that the dust has settled, it's clear that The Defenders did one great thing for Marvel's Netflix universe of connected shows: It brought the storyline involving The Hand to its blessed, overdue conclusion.
The Hand is, without a doubt, the second-worst thing to happen to these connected Marvel Netflix shows (next to everything about Iron Fist, of course). One by one these shows tried to introduce The Hand, and each failed to make the shadowy group of villains interesting at all. The overall quality dipped as The Hand became more and more prominent, and the entire connected Defenders world suffered.
The Hand, from Madame Gao to Sigourney Weaver's Alexandra, were simply not good villains.
Think back to Daredevil Season 1 and Matt Murdock's battle with the Kingpin. Wilson Fisk is a fantastic villain, not least thanks to Vincent D'Onofrio's complex and unpredictable portrayal. As has been noted many times before, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies often suffer from their one-dimensional villains, and with Daredevil's Wilson Fisk, the Netflix show avoided that pitfall.
Daredevil set a high bar, and it's one that the next Netflix Marvel show, Jessica Jones, somehow surpassed with Kilgrave. A new take on the comic book villain The Purple Man, Kilgrave brought out a new, maniacal side of Doctor Who star David Tennant. The villain was so well-written that there were multiple episodes where you could even feel genuinely sorry for him.
Luke Cage deserves a mention here as well for Mahershala Ali's Cottonmouth, who succeeded as a villain and a foil for Luke for all the same reasons outlined above.
Where it all started to come apart was Daredevil Season 2. You can argue that it was the writing that began to struggle, or the performances from actors portraying new characters, or simply the need to start bringing in elements that would eventually become important in The Defenders. But there's a common thread in these shows' lowest points: The Hand.
Daredevil Season 2 is when The Hand came to the forefront, but it never did so in a way that gave anyone a reason to care. There's a secret organization called The Hand! But it's never clear what they want, what they do, or why they do it. The Hand is full of powerful warriors! All of whom can be easily defeated by whatever "good" character happens to be on-screen in any given scene. They're digging a giant hole in New York! Which we won't mention again until The Defenders, and even then it will be poorly explained and unimportant.
Iron Fist only added to the problems with The Hand as an effective villain, in addition to all the show's other issues. The Hand is an ancient, evil organization locked in eternal battle with the monks of K'un-Lun! OK--but, like, why? Why are they recruiting kids from New York? Why does any of it matter?
The Defenders was meant not just to link the worlds of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones, but also to bring the story of The Hand to a climax. The organization's five leaders finally came together in one show, which could have been epic. Instead, these ancient, immortal warriors were easily defeated, decapitated, and disposed of by three lovable but small-time heroes, plus their sidekick Danny Rand. No wonder the whole thing felt anti-climactic.
Here's where that silver lining comes in: The Hand is likely finished. As The Defenders Executive Producer Marco Ramirez told Entertainment Weekly, "We definitely felt like we wanted this to be the end of this specific show, so while I don’t know if it’s the end of the Hand forever--who knows what will happen in the future--it just felt like it’s the end of this story in the lore. Particularly for Iron Fist, we wanted to close that chapter [of The Hand's story]."
The Hand might return someday--we're talking about comic book stories, after all--but for now, this story, this incarnation, this particular set of villains, is finished. These shows will finally be able to move on without The Hand dragging them down, and that's the best thing that's happened yet in Netflix's corner of Marvel's connected universe.
With The Punisher due out this year and both Jessica Jones Season 2 and Luke Cage Season 2 coming in 2018, The Hand is unlikely to raise its boring five-fingered head again any time soon. For that, at least, we can be thankful for what took place in The Defenders.