WARNING: This speculative article may contain spoilers for Marvel’s The Defenders, arriving Aug. 18 on Netflix.
We’ve long known that genre veteran Sigourney Weaver plays the primary antagonist of Marvel’s The Defenders, posing a threat large enough that it requires the combined forces of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist to confront. It’s been assumed her character, the mysterious Alexandra, is allied with The Hand, and possibly even at the head of the ancient ninja order, something confirmed in the first trailer by her appearance in a hallway (of course!) lined with armed minions, and seemingly corroborated by the miniseries’ costume designer.
But what if Weaver’s character isn’t the leader of The Hand, but rather the very reason for its existence? What if Alexandra is the Beast?
Although occasionally depicted as little more than black-garbed cannon fodder, the Marvel Comics ninja clan is, at its heart, an apocalyptic cult of demon worshipers, with only the first aspect hinted at on Netflix’s Daredevil and Iron Fist. And the demon they serve is the Beast, also known as the Jackal’s Son or simply the Lord.
Introduced in 1986 by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz in Elektra: Assassin, the Beast is a primordial entity that’s exerted influence over The Hand for centuries, directing the ninja clan toward large-scale acts of annihilation (in that miniseries, the goal was triggering a nuclear holocaust) while presumably serving as the source of its resurrection capabilities. Anyone who drinks an odious liquid disturbingly referred to as “his mother’s milk” — its smell has been compared to rotten mayonnaise — may come under his control, with those possessed by the demon exhibiting superhuman abilities like telepathy and enhanced strength.
The Beast in its first appearance possessed a presidential candidate who looked suspiciously like then-Sen. Dan Quayle (a complete coincidence, Sienkiewicz insists), but far more recently the demon held Daredevil in its thrall. In the 2010 Marvel Comics storyline “Shadowland,” Matt Murdock assumes leadership of the Hand, constructs a temple-fortress in Hell’s Kitchen and kills Bullseye, actions that eventually lead him into all-out war with such “street-level” heroes as Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Elektra, Spider-Man and The Punisher, with a little assistance from Wilson Fisk. It’s only through a well-timed strike by Danny Rand, and a little healing chi, that Daredevil is able to free himself from the Beast’s control.
If the idea of street-level heroes uniting in a war for the soul of New York City sounds familiar, that’s likely because it’s also the premise for Marvel’s The Defenders. But that war can’t be against just the Hand, even with a resurrected Elektra in its ranks, without straining credulity; after all, Daredevil and Iron Fist have already faced the ninja clan separately. The threat has to be bigger — and it could very well be the Beast. Or rather, Weaver’s character under the influence of the demon. (Go ahead and get it out of your system: “There is no Dana, only Zuul.”)
In retrospect, the first hint at that possibility was made in December by Weaver herself, nearly a month before any official details about her role were announced. “Basically the four heroes come up against this really nice woman, who I’m playing,” she joked before adding, “It’s been a blast and I really love my character. I love the shows, too, which I wasn’t familiar with before doing this. A real love letter to New York. To me they’re not superheroes; they’re people with a gift. It’s just a different scale, and I’m really enjoying the scale of it. The apocalyptic thing is a little harder for me to understand.”
The apocalyptic thing certainly suggests Alexandra is interested in more than the heroin trade, shady real-estate transactions, corporate infiltration and strategic resurrections that have occupied much of the Hand’s time since the clan’s Netflix debut in the first season of Daredevil. We’re reminded time and again, through talk of the centuries-long war with the Chaste, the introduction of Black Sky, and the explanation of Iron Fist’s role as defender of K’un-Lun, that there are loftier, even mystical, goals largely obscured by otherwise-mundane activities. (Seriously, why is an ancient ninja clan so invested in the Hell’s Kitchen drug market?) The only tangible evidence the Hand is working toward something more than grabbing land, slinging dope and draining blood is the (literally) biggest mystery of Daredevil‘s second season: the enormous hole excavated by the group at Midland Circle. If anything on Marvel’s Netflix dramas can be characterized as “apocalyptic,” it’s that crater, which looks as if it could stretch to hell itself.
As we know, it’s at that address — now apparently the site of a gleaming new office building — the four Defenders first come together. It’s certainly no coincidence that, judging from the first trailer, it’s the same place where the heroes find Alexandra. Of course, it’s certainly possible she’s simply another incarnation of Black Sky, the inscrutable “bringer of shadows” embodied first by the boy killed by Stick and then by Elektra, who’s resurrected in this miniseries. But if Alexandra is Black Sky, then what role does that leave for Elektra? Whatever the mysterious Black Sky is (mystical weapon, prophesied leader, or both), it’s suddenly no longer “special” if it can be lost and replaced so easily, without even leaving New York.
No, after individually confronting the Hand, criminal kingpins, corporate conspiracies, personal demons and their own pasts, the Defenders have to graduate to a boss battle. Otherwise, what’s the point of the miniseries beyond the fan service in seeing Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist together on screen? (Although, admittedly, Jessica’s interactions with the other three, and with Misty Knight, promise to be highly entertaining.) From a narrative standpoint, they can’t simply replay the conflicts of their shows, with minor variations. The stakes have to be raised, significantly, and how better to do that than to pit the Defenders against the very belief system, and the power source, of the Hand?
Just as it wouldn’t make sense from a story perspective for Alexandra to be another Black Sky or a rival of the fascinating Madame Gao, it’s virtually unthinkable for her be revealed as simply … the leader of the Hand. We might question a 67-year-old white American controlling a centuries-old order of ninja rooted in East Asia, but Marvel has larger concerns than mere story logic following the whitewashing controversy surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, and the “white savior” charges leveled at Iron Fist. It’s difficult to imagine the company would charge into that maelstrom again.
But Alexandra as the vessel or a pawn for the Beast, the latest in a long chain of bodies used as stepping stones to move the ancient demon ever closer to its ultimate goal? That seems not only plausible, but something Marvel’s Netflix dramas have been building toward from the beginning. It would even sync with recent comments by Luke Cage star Mike Colter that, “in this series you’ll find out that the things that happened to all of us [in our individual series] basically were all because of one entity.”
Cringe-inducing references to “the Incident,” “the incredible green guy” and “the blond dude with the hammer” aside, this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been fairly measured in the introduction of the extraordinary, moving from enhanced senses and a legendary “bringer of shadows” in Daredevil’s first season, to resurrection, zombie-like children and an apocalyptic cult in its second, to superhumans in Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, to mysticism and a magical city that appears on Earth once every 15 years (possibly with its own dragon!) in Iron Fist. Looking back over that progression, a confrontation with the earthly embodiment of a primordial demon doesn’t seem like such a leap.
Then maybe, just maybe, if Marvel can pull that off, and the Defenders can defeat a demon, we’ll eventually see the damned dragon.
Arriving Aug. 18 on Netflix, the eight-episode Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Finn Jones as Danny Rand, Elodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, Eka Darville as Malcolm Ducasse, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, Scott Glenn as Stick, Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple and Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing.
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