WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s The Defenders, available now on Netflix.
The ancient, mystical ninja sect known as the Hand were major parts of Daredevil’s two seasons. The group’s role as the main antagonists in the Netflix corner of the MCU carried over into the Iron Fist series, where they were revealed as rivals to the warriors of K’un Lun. By the time Marvel’s The Defenders ends however, their entire story comes full-circle, as we learn why they went to war with the heroes in the first place, why they wanted control of New York, and why they desperately sought out the Iron Fist.
Now, while the ninja clan’s story was at the heart of the series’ generally well-received first season, there was a lot about them in The Defenders that simply didn’t have much of an impact. There were too many faces thrown at us so quickly, leading to quite a few inconsistencies in the main five Hand leaders’ depiction as final-level bosses, their motivations and their inner-workings. As a result, the Hand was ultimately an underwhelming cadre of villains that didn’t leave quite the lasting mark showrunner Marco Ramirez likely intended.
No Emotional Connection
Over the course of the show, we found out that the Hand’s leaders, the Five Fingers, were banished by the elders of K’un Lun for wanting to harness the power of chi to become immortal instead of healing the world. These outcasts were Alexandra, Madame Gao, Murakami, Sowande and, of course, Bakuto. Together, they manipulated the world for centuries through power and greed.
Meanwhile, lying beneath Midland Circle was the skeletal remains of a K’un Lun dragon whose bones held the secret to the Five Fingers’ immortality. The dragon’s location led to a lifelong feud with Stick, and eventually, several violent encounters with the Defenders.
This is all fine and good; the motivations make sense, and the actors turned in fine to fantastic performances. The issue is that viewers were asked to fill in a lot of the blanks. Having the Hand’s history explained in less than eight episodes rusted in a lot of shortcuts, preventing us from relating to or empathizing with the villains like we did with, say, Daredevil’s Kingpin. It was difficult to grasp just how truly horrific the Hand’s senior officials were without a visual backstory.
This is what worked not just for Kingpin, but for Kilgrave in Jessica Jones and for Cottonmouth and Black Mariah in Luke Cage. Such an emotional connection, which we got with Elektra thanks to her on-screen past with Daredevil, helps audiences better understand villains. This is what Bakuto’s faction of the Hand lacked in Iron Fist, as well. That series barely touched on the Hand’s history with K’un Lun, and when presented a chance in The Defenders, this history was glossed over way too quickly. We missed out on a much-needed flashback episode dealing with the exile of these five members, their first union as the Hand, their original philosophies and subsequent evolution (or devolution) as a direct response to the Fist of K’un Lun. Apart from Alexandra and Gao, the Hand straight-up lacked that intimidation factor, coming off mainly like boring corporate thugs who knew a bit of kung-fu.
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