When news hit that Marvel and Netflix would be teaming up to tell stories of individual street-level heroes set within the MCU, fans marveled (pun intended) at all the possibilities that could entail. Would we see nods toward a show within the films? Would the status quo set in movies like Captain America: Civil War reverberate within any of the series? Luckily, the first few batches of season ones from Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and especially Daredevil kept many interested in the ride this televised universe would take us on after it laid down the groundwork.
Before long, however, many realized the film and television universe wouldn’t be as in unison as many hoped since each show’s nod toward the greater universe began to feel more limited. While each series finally began to weave within another, they failed to deliver with cohesion alongside the MCU many fans felt was promised. Once Iron Fist season one tanked and the promised Avengers-like team-up series The Defenders didn’t live up to expectations, faith in the Marvel x Netflix collaboration began to waver.
— Iron Fist (@MarvelIronFist) October 13, 2018
Meanwhile, Marvel Studios at the height of its popularity announced two shows starring Avengers stars Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen as Loki and Scarlet Witch, respectively. According to reports, this move indicated the universal inclusion fans were looking for was underway, where every event that unfolded in each film or series was happening within the same reality. However, the Marvel x Netflix universe is again in question as the streaming service recently announced the cancellation of Iron Fist following a much improved second outing. A week later, its celebrated counterpart Luke Cage was axed after delivering two seasons. The news of the latter was made the premiere weekend of Daredevil season 3, leaving some to wonder if it’s even worth investing in these shows anymore now that their futures are uncertain.
Many believe the cancellation comes in relation to Disney’s new streaming service. Some speculate Disney is making their licensing too expensive for Netflix to maintain since its demand isn’t strong enough to bring in new subscribers. Others think Disney wants to bring the characters over to their upcoming service so that they can become more inclusive characters within the MCU, like Sony’s Spider-Man and possibly the X-Men once the 20th Century Fox acquisition pulls through.
— Luke Cage (@LukeCage) October 20, 2018
There’s still some speculation that Iron Fist and Luke Cage will finally join forces as the Heroes for Hire in their own spin-off series, like their comic book counterparts, but that remains to be seen. Deadline reports that Luke Cage episodes dwindled from the standard 13 episodes for every season down to 10, which previously happened to the second season of Iron Fist. It was reported this caused a lot of creative differences between Netflix and the showrunner behind the scenes, so much so, the entire series itself finally broke down. Some believe that more episodes equal more money for Marvel, and since it’s rumored the licensing has become more expensive, forthcoming seasons were slated to become shorter.
Given the uncertainty towards the television universe Marvel has created thus far, we have decided to rank each season of every show they have on Netflix, including the new season of Daredevil. We have also highlighted our favorite episode from each season for fans to go and revisit. Check out our list below and let us know if the hype for Marvel x Netflix content is truly dead.
A lot memories. A lot of individual thank you calls to make. Just want to say thank you to Marvel, Netflix, the best Writer’s room, cast, crew, the Midnight Hour, all those who graced the stage at Harlem’s Paradise and the most incredible fan base in the world. Forward always…
— Cheo Hodari Coker (@cheo_coker) October 20, 2018
11. Iron Fist (Season 1)
Favorite episode: Episode 7 – “Felling Tree With Roots”
A show about a legendary fighter from an ancient kung-fu civilization coming to prominence as a hero in New York should not prominantly consist of boardroom meetings, lackluster action, and an overreliance of the universe’s New York setting. We barely get a glimpse of K’un-Lun, the civilization in which the legend of the Iron Fist is predicated on, a location that’s central to our hero Danny Rand. He’s actually more of a rookie than anything, lacking any real wisdom about his role or mastery of his glowing fist abilities. It’s a factor that really hampers the story given his background, which is only really touched upon in conversations rather than being shown. The season starts with a villain that’s focused on attacking the corporate “prodigal son coming back to run the family business” side of Danny Rand’s life, the side audiences were least interested in. But in this episode, we see him thankfully killed off in light of a more mystical villain in Bakuto. He relates back to the K’un-Lun side of the series and the hero’s love interest Colleen Wing.
Although the move doesn’t improve the rest of the season and this episode barely has any action, it was the turning point of the series tiredly retelling Bruce Wayne’s story from Batman Begins and transitioning toward the character’s lore from the comic books.
10. The Defenders (Season 1)
Favorite episode: Episode 6 – “Ashes, Ashes”
Daredevil, much like the entirety of the Marvel x Netflix initiative, anchors The Defenders as a mini-series and as a superteam. His arc is the strongest going into a show that already expects you to know its cast of characters, and Daredevil had two seasons compared to everyone else’s one at the time. The show was great when its core characters all shared the spotlight together, but due to Iron Fist’s damsel-in-distress role in the series and the team continuously being antagonistic toward each other, we don’t get to see their teamwork shine too often.
In this episode, we get to see those characters pair off with each other and develop as a unit that works together. The series offered a promising antagonist in Sigourney Weaver, but she gets killed off way too soon to make way for The Hand and Elektra, the previous group of villains from Daredevil season 2. It’s a shocking moment that lends itself to this being the season’s best episode, but one that makes it suffer as a whole. The episode also opens with a flashy fight between Danny and the rest of The Defenders, showcasing DD’s superior kung-fu skills against Iron Fist, whose abilities should be at least on par with his given his status as a karate master (a big complaint of Iron Fist’s fight choreography in season 1.)
9. Jessica Jones (Season 1)
Favorite episode: Episode 9 – “A.K.A. Sin Bin”
You either love or hate the first season of Jessica Jones, but we fall somewhere in the middle. It established the character as well as provided a bit of context for Luke Cage before his show came off the ground. It also established a dark villain in David Tennant’s Purple Man, resulting in an arc laced with a mature PTSD sexual assault theme. However, the season was pretty predictable and anything not regarding Jessica’s arc with The Purple Man isn’t very memorable. The show’s best episode, “A.K.A. Sin Bin,” delves into the villain’s origin. It gathers every important character in the season and sticks them all in one room that culminates in a tense final moment where he forces his newly introduced parents to kill themselves before making his escape from captivity. It’s the moment where you see what devious acts the series’ villain is capable of, setting a tone of things to come. We also get to see Will Simpson begin his descent into being coming to his comic book counterpart Nuke. They drop the ball on his arc in season 2, but hopefully, the character makes a return somehow in season 3.
8. Iron Fist (Season 2)
Favorite episode: Episode 6 - ”The Dragon Dies at Dawn”
The second season of Iron Fist was a huge improvement over the first. It established some pretty cool action scenes up to this point, introduced a cool new character in Typhoid Mary, and gave us one of Simone Missick’s best outings as Misty Knight thus far. Case in point, this episode, where Miss Knight and Coleen Wing team up to take on The Crane Sisters. It comes off as a total backdoor episode for a potential Daughters of the Dragon series, which would see the two join forces as the titular team. We wouldn’t be too sour on the idea of Iron Fist’s character and show still existing somewhat in the realm of this series as a sort of B or C plot. But that remains to be seen.
We also wonder how Wing’s new powers will affect the Marvel x Netflix universe now that her establishing show is gone. Will she and the rest of the series characters appear in the other shows? Will their arcs continue from where they left off? Although we still had a weak protagonist who never really shined this season, there was something to be had with series villain Davos, the two dragon daughters, and Typhoid Mary, who will hopefully make appearances in Daredevil as one of his crazy girlfriends like in the comics.
7. Luke Cage (Season 2)
Favorite episode: Episode 9 – “For Pete’s Sake”
Yes, Luke Cage was never the same after the death of Mahershala Ali’s Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stoakes. But, it would always be able to exist beyond his exit from the story and remain to be a gripping series. And that’s because Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Stoakes was still kicking around in the background. She’s the main reason to watch this season from start to finish. Her arc is so strong that it practically carries the season on its back in terms of quality storytelling. Sure, Bushmaster was cool and thankfully he’s still alive to make a possible return down the line, but if he were the only antagonist the season had to offer, then this would be weaker than the first season of Iron Fist. It’s not that his character lacks depth, as seen in his powerful speech about Queen Nanny, it’s that he really doesn’t have much else to say beyond this episode.
Mariah, on the other hand, has reached the precipice of her villainy here. Telling her estranged daughter the terrible origin of her birth. In a brutally honest, almost cathartic-sounding monologue, Mariah tells her daughter the sordid history of her family and that she was born the product of rape. It’s a powerful scene that cements the character as a truly complex monster, one that was always bubbling at the surface whose finally been released. And it’s such a sweet ride to take with her.
6. Jessica Jones (Season 2)
With the Purple Man gone, many wondered what the second season of Jessica Jones would entail. Most doubted her eventual marriage with Luke Cage would begin to manifest so soon, and she doesn’t have any real noticeable villains of her own. Although it took longer than it should have, we finally got our answers as to what the season would be about in its seventh episode. This flashback showcases the origin story of Jones and how she ended up the mess of a person she is. Although many assumed that mess started with the Purple Man, this episode revealed her tragedy began well before they met.
We get a flashback of the car accident that claimed her family, a hint towards the manifestation of not only her powers but this season’s antagonist, as well as insight into her relationship with Alias and the Walker family. By the way, Trish’s descent into addiction is the best thing about this season.
5. Luke Cage (Season 1)
Favorite episode: Episode 7 – “Manifest”
It’s inarguable that the greatest aspect of Luke Cage season one was Mahershala Ali’s Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stoakes hot off his hit film Moonlight, and that his death greatly crippled the latter half of the show’s first outing. Although the show fully embraces hip-hop and the genre of blaxploitation, the tropes of the latter get in the way when the season’s true big bad Diamondback shows up. This episode, in particular, reveals Cottonmouth’s origin, which only adds to the complexity of his character.
We also get introduced to Mama Mabel, the head of the Stoakes family who began the illegal empire Cottonmouth and his cousin Mariah Dillard currently run. She’s one of the greatest characters in the show, but barely gets any screentime given that she only appears in flashbacks. Her brutal ways are not only responsible for the family’s drug, number running, and prostitution earnings, but is also the reason her two benefactors are so messed up in the head. The best part about Luke Cage has never been the man himself, but the characters that surround him. And to this day, he hasn’t found a better character to bounce off of than Cottonmouth.
4. Daredevil (Season 2)
Favorite episode: Episode 9 – “Seven Minutes in Heaven”
Vincent D’onofrio’s Wilson Fisk is arguably the best character in the series. When we originally learned the villain would take a huge backseat this season in place of The Hand, Electra, and The Punisher, it made some skeptical if other antagonists could fill his massive shoes. And they couldn’t. However, season 2 of Daredevil ended up being a huge success for the most part. It gave us the tortured Matt Murdock we’ve grown to love decked out in an upgraded suit, an ultra-violent Punisher, a sexy Electra, and an episode that focuses on Fisk and his time in prison.
This episode shows us his transformation definitively into The Kingpin, calling shots from within the prison, eventually running the prison, and enlisting Frank Castle to do his bidding inside and subsequently outside like the intimidating puppeteer he is. We also see Castle take over Murdock’s role in one of this season’s hallway fight, and it gets bloody.
3. Daredevil (Season 1)
If the first two episodes of Daredevil were stitched together into one film, it would be regarded as one of the best movies within the MCU. We’re cheating by putting two separate episodes under our favorite, but both really do tell one cohesive origin story for Matt Murdock and Daredevil, respectively.
These two episodes secured the series as the linchpin of the entire Marvel x Netflix initiative once it showcased itself as a quality show that was better than it had to be. The actors and cinematography are the most compelling you’ll find in a superhero show; its religious imaginary is lifted straight from the comic book pages it’s inspired from. The origin story for the series villain Wilson Fisk is equally as compelling as the protagonist since the series approach their characters as two sides of the same coin, just as its source material. Daredevil season one is the quintessential superhero show and the seasons that follow keep in that same spirit.
2. The Punisher (Season 1)
Favorite episode: Episode 12 – “Home”
After his appearance in season two of Daredevil, it made sense The Punisher would get his own spin-off. The Netflix platform lends itself to telling the gratuitous stories the character is involved in, and with a pre-established superhero world for him to play in, you can tap into aspects of the character’s vigilantism you wouldn’t be able to otherwise and compare/contrast him with others. Episode 12 of The Punisher is the culmination of that aspect of his character being explored all season long.
Every Punisher movie taps into his vengeful spirit or his mournfulness at the loss of his family. This episode does both expertly, while also tackling the morality behind his and every other character’s choices thus far. The series also delves into Frank Castle’s time as a military man before his descent into madness, which expertly parallels today’s current socio-political climate. Although this episode is short on the action, it’s a character study for our titular anti-hero that encapsulates him perfectly.
1. Daredevil (Season 3)
Hyped up with cryptic religious imagery, subtext, and an apparent darker tone than the series is already known for, season 3 of Daredevil draws on two of the most compelling stories within the character’s mythos. Inspired in part by Frank Miller‘s Born Again and Kevin Smith‘s Guardian Devil, this season expertly borrows the best aspects of each story and weaves them together alongside its own liberations with the characters in the show. It’s truly the most solid season by far in terms of storytelling and action, with little to no slumps you’d usually expect from a 13-episode Marvel x Netflix joint.
Each character featured provides a character study that’s been culminating to (or is contained entirely in) this season. DD’s most lethal enemy Bullseye finally comes into the fold as an unhinged FBI operative, something greatly anticipated since the series began. We see The Kingpin truly live up to the moniker, meticulously controlling every aspect of the season behind the scenes up until its very last moments. And we see Matt Murdock hit rock bottom physically, mentally, and emotionally. Even the story of newcomer Agent Nadeem provides a precautionary tale of making a deal with the devil, more religious subtext.
“Blindsided” provides some of the best action the season has to offer, with a hallway scene to trump all hallway scenes. We were easily ready to choose Episode 10 “Karen” as our favorite for just how close it came to showcasing a prime Born Again/Guardian Devil moment in full. But adapting a single camera prison riot that ends with Matt in a renegade yellow cab flying into the Hudson River (another nod toward the comics) is just as fulfilling to see come to life. And although we don’t quite get an upgraded suit for Matt this season, Fisk transitions from his prison garbs to his iconic white attire quite well.