This interview contains spoilers for Season 1 of Marvel’s The Defenders.
After four years of build-up, The Defenders is finally out in the world, bringing together Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Danny Rand) to face the puppet-masters of Netflix’s corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Hand.
While Sigourney Weaver’s scene-stealing villain, Alexandra, met an untimely demise at the hands of Elektra (Elodie Yung) — as did Daredevil’s mentor, Stick (Scott Glenn) — the rest of our heroes and their allies made it safely through the team-up, ready to Defend another day.
Mashable spoke to Defenders co-showrunner Marco Ramirez (who is also in charge of Daredevil) to discuss where our four vigilantes go from here — including the chances of more crossovers, now that Matt, Jessica, Luke and Danny are all ostensibly on the same team.
We’ve been building towards The Defenders since the Netflix deal was announced in 2013. How long had this particular story been planned; did you know what you were working towards way back in Season 1 of Daredevil?
I think, having been there since Season 1 of Daredevil, all I really remember is that there were lots of conversations – still very blue skies – we were all figuring out what Daredevil was, [along with] Jeph Loeb and Marvel TV … every once in a while between Drew Goddard and myself and Steve DeKnight and other people who were around, we would pitch some ideas that were a little big, and Jeph Loeb would, more than once, say, “that’s something for The Defenders, that’s something we’ll push down ‘til later.”
So I think there have been some unlocked doors, some hallways that have gone unexamined along the way … Certainly between Daredevil Season 2 and Iron Fist, Marvel’s plan was… they didn’t know how it was going to work exactly, but what felt organic to them was The Defenders against The Hand, so that was kind of the marching order and that was honestly it. How we wove all of that in was up to the writers and the directors.
At what point was it decided that Elektra would be the primary antagonist?
I think because of Elektra’s history in the comics… the Elektra resurrection story was something that Marvel was particularly interested in. I was involved in Daredevil [Season] 1 and Daredevil 2, and at the end of Daredevil 2 it felt like, once we got Elektra into the place we knew we wanted to get her – which was dead [laughs] – it was always thought that she would come back and be part of The Defenders; that she might be something that they face off against.
I remember being on the phone call with Jeph Loeb when he called Elodie Yung to tell her, after she got the script for the finale of Daredevil, he said, “I’m very sorry to announce that Elektra has seen her last day, she’s gonna die,” and Elodie was like, “oh, okay.” And then he said, “but don’t worry about it, we’re bringing you back to life in The Defenders.” And she was like, “Oh, okay… thanks… so what is this phone call?”
I came from another world — I worked on Sons of Anarchy, I worked on Orange is the New Black, I’ve not worked on many shows where people come back from the dead. Here it’s like “I’m very sorry, you’re dead,” but Jeph Loeb has this little spiel he gives like, “but it is the Marvel universe and you never know.” [Laughs.]
Did you have many discussions with the other showrunners about their characters, or did you have a pretty good idea of where you wanted to go that wouldn’t interfere with their individual arcs in the solo series?
Absolutely, they were lots of conversations, especially at the very early stages. Luke and Jessica, the entire writing team could watch the 13 episodes of each of their shows, so we knew the characters and there was a lot of pitching “this is the kind of journey we want to take Luke on, this is the journey we want to take Jessica on,” and a lot of it was very collaborative with Cheo Coker and Mel Rosenberg and her writing staff also.
It felt like, this is the journey we want to take JJ on and then we want to return her onto JJ Season 2 and she’s different, of course — she will be changed by the events of The Defenders — but we very much wanted to give back JJ intact and give back Luke intact, so each of the showrunners could take them on their own journeys again and feel like they were going back as their characters, not that we’d changed them fundamentally at all.
So between the showrunners there was a lot of collaboration and on top of that, I’d also add that the actors themselves knew their characters so well. They’d all done at least 13 episodes of their characters – Mike had done even more because he had done Luke on JJ and Charlie Cox had done 26 episodes of Daredevil — so they all know them intimately and they would come and say “this is how Luke would do this; actually I think I would have a more active part in this scene or a more inactive part in this scene.” They were all very selfless and just interested in keeping their characters consistent, so that was a collaboration that was really rare and I highly doubt many people on TV have ever done.
All four of the heroes are involved in the arc of The Defenders, but this is a particularly personal story for Matt, given his relationships with Elektra and Stick and The Hand. How do you think these experiences have changed him going into Daredevil Season 3?
I think, at the end of the day, one of the things that’s always been interesting to me is he is the rare character, not only in comics but in television, that openly and actively believes in God. That’s really quite unique in the world of heroes, and especially in the world of prestige cable TV — there just aren’t many who openly talk about it; there are people who ironically go to church or who ironically talk about that stuff, but he’s an absolute believer. Even in his moments of quiet self-doubt, he’s a believer. And allegorically from Daredevil Season 1, we talked about the metaphor of Matt Murdock dealing with his persona almost the way that an alcoholic would deal with being an addict, so I think those things get compounded and the pressure of them presses on Matt harder in each season of his story, so at what point is he either gonna completely explode or completely solidify, like the carbon becomes the diamond?
In Season 1 he’s trying to rationalize “I want to be a lawyer, I want to be a best friend to Foggy, I want to do this other thing at night,” and at this point now, he’s had so many journeys, with people he loved both romantically and not, I think he’s one of the people in the Marvel Universe in general now that the audience has spent the most time with. They’ve spent the 26 hours, plus the eight of Defenders, so they know his inner psychology. So we’re approaching a place where his inner psychology is as important and as iconic as the outer optics of what the suit looks like and what the fights look like, and people are really starting to understand who he is.
Did you ever consider leaving Matt’s fate ambiguous in the finale, or did you decide there was no point, since Daredevil was already renewed for Season 3?
Exactly. It felt like we could leave him ambiguous and we could make it unclear and make the audience wonder, “wait, where is Daredevil Season 3?” but it felt like the thing that Marvel and Netflix wanted to do was announce Daredevil Season 3 — as well they should, because they have a great show to announce. So they announced it and then at that point, it felt like, we’re not gonna try and fake out the audience and tell them “he’s dead but not really!”
And we thought a long time about that: if we told the audience he was alive, how were we gonna do it? There were a couple of different versions of it that we kept spitballing around but then to me, it just felt like the best thing to do was pull a panel straight from the “Born Again” comic and just have the shot of him in the bed. If you’re a comic book fan or a Daredevil fan, you’ll get what homage we’re making, and if you’re not, it’s still just an arresting, beautiful image of this guy completely beaten to shit being surrounded by nuns. Once we decided that’s how we want to end Matt, Marvel and Netflix were completely on board and they were wonderful about it.
Daredevil fans know how significant the name Maggie is, and the homage in the final scene is definitely recognizable for comic readers. Are you drawing inspiration solely from the “Born Again” arc for Daredevil Season 3, or is it a mix of other runs?
I cannot answer that question without being killed by Marvel TV. [Laughs.]
While Matt, Jessica and Luke are very grounded, blue-collar characters, Danny is the most heightened and the most privileged – what was your way into that character from a writing standpoint in The Defenders, in terms of how he moves through the world and how the others respond to him?
Once we sat down and looked at all the shows and how different all of the tones were in each, the way that organically felt right to me was to not try to tweak Danny and pull him back and make him more of a crime story guy, or tweak JJ and Luke and make it like, “actually, their mythology would’ve always been okay with dragons,” which was completely not true.
The way to do it was, everyone had stakes on the ground and they were who they were, and as opposed from trying to slightly calibrate it so that maybe we pretended we never talked about dragons, or maybe we make it so Luke believes in dragons, it felt like [we should keep] it really honest and making them have those reactions and letting the collision of instruments and sounds really become a part of the show.
People always want to talk about fight scenes in almost every interview I do, and all I want to tell them is the best fight scenes on this show in some ways are just between Jessica and Danny, just her making fun of his powers — that’s some of the fun of this show. Instead of leaning away from it, I think we really just leaned into it
Aside from Luke being introduced in Jessica Jones, the four characters have stayed out of each other’s shows up until now. Do you feel like The Defenders has broken down those barriers and now we might see more crossovers going forward?
I think in general, one of the things Marvel TV would tell you is that now that they’ve all met, now that they’ve all crossed paths… now that we’ve officially shown the audience how the worlds of all four characters are connected, anything and everything is possible. That even goes a step further into Karen Page showing up on The Punisher’s show – it feels like anything is possible.
The Defenders is now streaming on Netflix.