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Why The Defenders season 2 won't happen at Netflix

When Marvel released The Avengers in 2012, the cinematic world changed. The company brought together years of work and plenty of heroes to fight against a common enemy, and it was rewarded for its efforts with critical acclaim and a huge box office haul. Five years later, Marvel tried to do the same thing on a smaller scale with their Netflix miniseries The Defenders, which united Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) to face off against The Hand.

By all accounts, The Defenders should have been a massive success. Marvel had enjoyed good reviews for most of its previous standalone series, and they even managed to recruit Sigourney Weaver as their villain. However, the series wound up getting a mixed reception from fans and critics, and it failed to attract the type of buzz that a team-up of that magnitude should have enjoyed. After the series' lackluster debut, many fans were left questioning if the show would ever get a second season.

The answer looks like "no," and there are a number of potentially insurmountable reasons. Here's why Marvel is unlikely to make another season of The Defenders.

A critical bust

Most of Marvel's Netflix series have earned the love of critics (Iron Fist aside), but The Defenders received a fairly lackluster reception. Although the show earned a 75 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, many critics said it took too long to develop over its run and failed to mesh the distinct tones of the characters' standalone series. The show's lackluster villain also received a lot of criticism, as did the overuse of Finn Jones' Danny Rand. 

Many fans were also disappointed with the show, as reflected by Rotten Tomatoes' 76 percent audience score. (For comparison, Daredevil has 95 percentJessica Jones has 86 percentLuke Cage has 78 percent, and even Iron Fist has 75 percent.) IMDb user ratings also show that fans started to lose interest throughout The Defenders' run, with the series dropping from a nine out of ten for its first episode to a 7.6 for its final episode. If fans and critics weren't on board, there may not be much demand to see the heroes team up again. 

Who tuned in?

Netflix has kept mum on the reasons their shows get renewed or canceled, but it's hard to imagine that viewership doesn't at least play a part. That could be a problem for The Defenders, which reportedly posted the lowest ratings for any of the Marvel Netflix series to date — not exactly what you'd hope for what was supposed to be a huge team-up.

According to analytics firm Jumpshot, the show was the least-watched of Netflix's Marvel series within its first 30 days on the streaming platform. The show received just 17 percent of the viewership that the most-watched, Daredevil season two, received in its first 30 days — and also had the largest week-to-week drop in viewership.

It is worth noting that Netflix doesn't release official data and has sometimes accused outside firms of coming up with inaccurate numbers. (The Defenders was listed in their official ranking of the series most binged within the first 24 hours, hinting that it may be a bit more popular than some reports indicate.)

Still, it's a worrisome sign that analytics seem to show a lack of viewership for the series. Team-ups are supposed to bring in more viewers than standalones, uniting fans of each of the heroes for what should be a ratings bonanza. If the viewers aren't there, there might not be much of a reason to order a second season. 

What viewers want

The Defenders may not have been a clear-cut hit, but Netflix's standalone Marvel shows have been. Daredevil launched with a bang in 2015, and Jessica Jones continued to build on that buzz when it debuted its well-received first season later that year, even while tackling tough issues like sexual assault.

Luke Cage, which hit the platform in 2016, also earned the love of critics due to its very talented cast and "socially conscious narrative." Although the fourth series, Iron Fist, wasn't met with the love of critics, some fans did enjoy the series' campier vibe. Marvel is also working on retooling the show a bit for its second season, bringing in a new showrunner and Luke Cage's Misty Knight (Simone Missick) to hopefully get the series the critical acclaim the other shows have enjoyed.

In addition to their originally planned standalone series, Marvel also built off the popularity of Jon Bernthal's Frank Castle — a.k.a. the Punisher — by giving him his own show after a well-received appearance in Daredevil's second season. Marvel has continued to build on those heroes, making further seasons of their standalone shows and giving them their own personal demons. Considering how much buzz these shows bring in on their own, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason to pursue something as logistically complicated as a team-up.

Different tones

Marvel's standalone series each have their own distinct vibe. Daredevil is a gritty crime drama that deals in the darkness lurking around New York City at night; Jessica Jones, meanwhile, is an equally dark show that takes on issues like sexual assault and PTSD. The show's protagonists couldn't be more different, with Jessica's hard-drinking persona clashing with Matt's strong morals and religion.

Jessica Jones does share a bit more in common with Luke Cage, mostly thanks to Luke's appearance on Jessica's standalone series before launching his own show. Still, despite the fact that the two are love interests in the comics, they each have their own distinct world, with Luke Cage's depiction of Harlem's underground showing a totally different side of NYC.

Then, of course, there's Iron Fist, which traveled to the richer areas of the city where the other shows rarely ventured. Iron Fist also showed a more magical side of the world, which was an element not featured in the other shows. Bringing together the four heroes meant trying to mishmash four completely different tones, which was done with varying success throughout The Defenders. The shows are all so distinct that it might, ultimately, simply be easier to keep them separate.  

What's the story?

The first season of The Defenders featured the gang facing off against the Hand, a villain hinted at since the first season of Daredevil. The Hand was built up across the first season of all of the MCU's standalone Netflix series, and although it was more heavily featured in some of the shows than others, each of the heroes had at least a bit of an idea of the approaching evil before The Defenders started. 

Thus far, though, Marvel hasn't started any build toward a bigger villain. The two series that debuted after The Defenders, The Punisher season one and Jessica Jones season two, featured the heroes mostly fighting against their own personal demons. The closest the universe has come to a potential big bad is Jessica Jones' IGH, but the organization would likely need to become a target of her fellow heroes first. 

Without another big bad to face off against, it may be hard to find a reason to get the team back together. Although the heroes all know each other now, they're still not exactly one big happy family, and they likely wouldn't reunite without a good reason. If Marvel takes some time to build up to a new villain, we could see a second season of The Defenders eventually, but it'll take some time. 

It's a logistical nightmare

Unlike the rest of Marvel's Netflix series, The Defenders only had eight episodes instead of the usual 13, despite the fact that the series could have used the extra time to balance its characters and storylines. According to showrunner Marco Ramirez, the reduced episode count was due to scheduling issues with the cast — specifically Ritter and Colter, who had to be free to shoot the second seasons of their standalone shows.

"The eight-episode structure was, creatively, what I thought would work," Ramirez said. However, the logistical issues also played a part, and led to them sticking with the lesser count even when they could have done more. "So by the end of production, we all felt like we could shoot another couple of these," he explained. "But we had to release [Ritter and Colter] back to their own shows." 

Marvel is still working on expanding the character's standalone series, making new seasons of Iron Fist and Daredevil. Some of the universe's supporting characters have also been tapped to move over to The Punisher, making for even more of a scheduling hurdle.

Corporate priorities

Disney's partnership with Netflix was a big deal when it launched, and their Marvel series appear to have found a good home there. However, the company has much bigger goals on the horizon, gearing up for the launch of their own standalone streaming service (and Netflix competitor) in 2019.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has said that their streamer will be much smaller than Netflix, but it's already set to house some pretty big properties, including a Star Wars TV series from Iron Man's Jon Favreau. They're also reportedly planning to launch another Marvel series on the platform, although they haven't revealed any details. 

Although it appears that the members of the Defenders will stick around at Netflix after the streaming service launches, there's not much reason for Marvel to pursue another team-up when it would just distract from their new ventures. Considering how much Disney and Marvel already have on their plate, a second season of The Defenders doesn't seem like it would be on the top of their list. 

There's potential for smaller crossovers

The Defenders brought all of the MCU's heroes together for the first time, but now that they know each other, there's the potential to get them back together without having to do a full crossover again. Smaller crossovers are easier logistically, and provide a chance to bring some buzz to a standalone show without having to deal with the hurdles of putting together a full series.

Marvel has already started down this path in a minor sense, bringing on Foggy (Elden Henson) for a brief cameo in Jessica Jones season two. Danny is also set to pop over for Luke Cage season two, while Simone Missick's Misty Knight has signed on to appear in Iron Fist's second season. There's also always more potential for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage to meet up, considering their romantic history.

Continuing to do smaller crossovers could be a smarter move for Marvel in the long run. Although people who only watch one of the standalone shows might not have tuned into The Defenders, if Daredevil were to pop up on an episode of Jessica Jones, they may realize they like the character and go watch his standalone series (and maybe eventually catch The Defenders as well).

There may never have been a plan for season 2

Fans have been primed to expect multiple seasons of television shows over the years, but it seems like The Defenders was always supposed to be a one-off. Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb said he's unsure if there will be a Defenders season two, adding that Marvel's planners "haven't really gotten to that place."  

Ritter later elaborated on Loeb's comments, telling Vulture that while it was "such a good experience" and she would be willing to do it again, she wasn't sure if it was ever going to happen. "It was never intentioned to do it again," she pointed out. "But, you know, if I was given another opportunity, I would."

From those comments, it sounds like a Defenders season two may never have been the plan. The logistical issues with balancing the team-up with the standalone series may be enough to make Marvel take a step back, and the fact that smaller crossovers are already in the works may make a big team-up less of a necessity. The Defenders may have always been intentioned as a miniseries set to better launch the connected universe — and now that that's done, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason to return to the show.