WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s The Defenders, available now on Netflix.
It’s been difficult to deduce a history, let alone a goal, for the Hand, the ninja death cult that’s plagued both Daredevil and Iron Fist on Marvel’s Netflix dramas. Seemingly inexplicably focused on New York City, the centuries-old organization is entangled in the heroin trade, human trafficking, shady real-estate deals and corporate takeovers, all against the backdrop of mystical resurrections, an ongoing war with the Chaste, and the quest for a human weapon known as the Black Sky.
The Hand’s roots, or so we were told, lay somewhere in East Asia, where powerful warlords somehow unearthed the secret of immortality. Free of the restraints of death, they expanded their empire across the globe, kept in check only by the Chaste, an ancient order devoted solely to fighting the Hand, and the Iron Fist, the protector of the mystical city of K’un-Lun.
That was essentially the Hand in a nutshell, as related through Daredevil and Iron Fist. However, with The Defenders, the history of the Hand — to say nothing of the Chaste — undergoes a not-insignificant rewrite, courtesy of Stick (played by Scott Glenn), a black belt in exposition and mentor to both Daredevil and Elektra.
Tracking down Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand following their confrontation with the enigmatic Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) and her minions at the offices of Midland Circle, Stick reveals the founders of the Hand weren’t common warlords; they’re former elders of K’un-Lun. “A long time ago the elders of K’un-Lun gathered to study how to harness their chi, the energy of life itself,” he recounts. “They wanted to use it to heal. But there were five heretics among them, people with darker intentions. They didn’t want to heal; they wanted immortality — power, to never face death, to regenerate themselves again and again. The elders saw this as an aberration, and so, like Lucifer from heaven, the five were banished from K’un-Lun forever. They became the five fingers of the Hand.”
Exiled from K’un-Lun, the five heretics, in Stick’s words, “went back to their mother countries, each finger ruling over its own domain, growing in power and influence.”
While it’s arguable how successful Iron Fist was in casting K’un-Lun as a multicultural society (for instance, Sacha Dhawan, the actor who plays Davos, is of Indian descent), perhaps in an attempt to stave off those “white savior” criticisms, the composition of the Hand has been depicted as far more diverse. Sure, its key players on Daredevil are Chinese (Madame Gao) and Japanese (Nobu Yoshioka), and most of their warriors black-clad ninja, but Iron Fist introduced Bakuto (played by Ramon Rodriguez), the leader of a faction that recruited young soldiers of varying backgrounds, partly through Colleen Wing’s dojo.
But this latest revelation seeks to lift the founders of the Hand, and by extension the elders of K’un-Lun, beyond the “magical Asian” trope, to establish them as something more global.
The notion of the Hand having “five fingers,” each of which can exist independently of one another, actually originates in the comics. So, too, does the idea that something terrible can happen when those fingers unite for a single purpose. That’s echoed by Alexandra after she reminisces with Stick in the Chinese restaurant where the would-be Defenders had been lying low. “You remember the last time all the fingers of the Hand came together, don’t you, Stick?” she coolly asks. “A goddamn culling,” he responds, using a word often reserved for the selective slaughter of wild animals.
As The Defenders opens, the Hand has depleted its resources for resurrection on Elektra, the Black Sky, forcing the organization’s leaders to confront their own mortality for the first time in centuries. So, who are these five fingers of the Hand? We already met two of them on Daredevil and Iron Fist, and now The Defenders introduces the other three.
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