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Defenders No More - Saying Goodbye To Marvel TV on Netflix

By Becca Caddy on at

A little bit of time has now passed, so I can type the following without wanting to smash my keyboard into the desk – in a move which surprised no one, but disappointed everyone, Netflix officially called time on The Punisher and Jessica Jones .

Having first pulled the plug on Iron Fist and Luke Cage back in October, and then Daredevil after it’s critically-acclaimed third season in November, these latest cancellations mean the end of Marvel TV on Netflix. Inevitably, the audience response was swift and heartfelt:

Eminem even had something to say about it:

No one appears entirely sure of the deciding factors here, but given that Marvel’s parent company Disney is gearing up to launch Disney+ – its own content streaming platform – it possibly doesn’t make business sense for Netflix to continue spending millions of dollars on the intellectual properties of a soon-to-be rival.

But TV shows end all the time, and after 130+ hours of Marvel television content on Netflix, plus the final season of Jessica Jones still to come, should we really be rueing the ends of these shows? Well, when you consider that a #SaveDaredevil petition has been so popular it can buy its own ad on Times Square, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’:

Marvel TV on Netflix was a phenomenon. In Jeph Loeb, EVP of Marvel Television’s open letter to the show’s fans he wrote:

“It had never been done before. Four separate television series, each with different super-talented showrunners, writers, directors, cast and crew, coming out months apart and then...they would meet in a single event series all set in the heart of New York City.”

But these shows weren’t just a massive logistical achievement. They resonated with, and found, their own audiences on the strength of their characters and the familiar but still other-worldly version of New York that they all shared.

“You think you're the only ones with pain?”

– Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) was a private investigator with off-the-charts superhuman strength and had a past with the supernaturally charismatic Kilgrave (David Tennant) who could compel anyone to do anything -  even if that went against their better nature. So far, so comic book. But hers was ultimately a story that focused on the psychological fallout of escaping a controlling, abusive relationship (if you can call it that) and the subsequent trauma she had to live with.

Jessica was self-loathing, self-medicating and, under Kilgrave’s control, a killer. She spent most of the second season wrestling with whether in fact she’s not the hero of her story but the villain. She forced the audience to confront the realities of a woman who feels that she should forever be punished for the actions of her abuser.

This often made it uncomfortable viewing, but it was a surprisingly revelatory exploration of abuse that clearly resonated with many viewers on many levels.

“The only way out is to find something that you care about.”

– Frank Castle

The Punisher presented us with Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) – a man who was the product of war, a special forces-trained patriot whose life and sanity came apart at the seams when his wife and children were slaughtered in front of him.

Through some magical alchemy of talent and insight, Bernthal and the show’s creative teams pulled off the nigh-impossible task of delivering a gun-toting vigilante who is a sympathetic and relatable hero – at a time when mass-shootings were appearing in the news with alarming frequency,

Frank’s uneasy first-season alliance with fugitive and family-man David (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and later teen grifter Amy (Giorgia Whigham) in the second season established a dynamic which challenged Frank’s nihilistic dogmatism anytime it was in danger of swallowing him whole – and prevented him from ever becoming a two-dimensional trope.

The show also created a platform to address the alienation of military veterans, notably through the support group hosted by Frank’s brother-in-arms Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore). Recognising The Punisher’s appeal to armed service audiences, it cannily allowed for a sensitive examination of the problems – and dangers – faced by ex-service personnel, and offered a palatable message of empathy and support.

Before he got his own show, Punisher was introduced to the Marvel/Netflix universe in the second season of Daredevil as an antagonist for Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) a character who was a lot like Frank – defined by loss and directed by a desire for vengeance – and in constant battle with Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) another character of monstrous psychopathy who should have been thoroughly abhorrent but, thanks to more masterful characterisation, we still found ourselves rooting for him as the depths of tragedy that shaped and motivated him were revealed.

And one character who crossed back from Daredevil to appear at pivotal moments in The Punisher was Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a woman who clearly had a large personal store of demons of her own to deal with, which is likely why she was inevitably drawn to and deeply protective of both Murdock and Castle. Trouble loves company, no?

“Feel how you feel. You have nothing to forgive yourself for.”
– Jessica Jones

Each of these shows explored very real, very human stories about trauma and pain, refracted through the comfortable lens of comic book characters. All of Netflix’s Marvel TV protagonists suffered pain and loss. They stood nose to nose with the traumatic effects of grief, abuse, PTSD, and more besides. And still managed to tick the ‘superhero’ box.

When we also take into consideration the broader cultural conversations that have manifested over the past few years, the television debuts of a bullet-proof black man, an indestructible woman, a lawyer who metes out justice in the streets and a billionaire with a social conscience could hardly have been better timed.

Despite their grit and brutality of the world’s that each of these characters occupied, they each embodied a kind of cathartic optimism best summed up by the unofficial Murdock family maxim; “We get hit a lot, but we get up. We always get up.” This is a powerful message of resilience that struck a chord with everyone who went on the journey with Jessica, Frank, Matt, Luke and Danny, and it can be carried forward by every audience member who needs it.