‘The Defenders’: An ode to Claire Temple, the best thing about the Marvel-Netflix universe
Now that The Defenders, the newest entry in Netflix’s slate of Marvel shows, is out in the world, let’s get one thing straight: It’s time for Claire Temple, the team’s resident nurse, to get the attention she deserves.
In contrast to her superpowered co-stars, Claire — confidently played by Rosario Dawson — has a pretty thankless role: Patch up Daredevil or Jessica Jones or whomever, give them an encouraging pat on the shoulder and send them back onto the streets of New York City.
But time and time again — through Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, two seasons of Daredevil and, now, The Defenders — Claire has proved that she’s so much more than that. Not only is she arguably the smartest, most capable character to live in Netflix’s corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but as one of the only characters who has appeared in all five of the aforementioned series, she’s also the sturdiest through line this network of shows has.
Even before she made it on-screen, Claire was an overlooked character who had to sneak her way into the spotlight. Back when Daredevil season one showrunner Steven S. DeKnight was in the process of getting scripts approved with Marvel higher-ups, Rosario Dawson’s character was supposed to be named Christine Palmer (also known as Night Nurse), someone who first appeared in Marvel comics in the 1970s.
But DeKnight was told that an upcoming Marvel film might use the Night Nurse character, so he had to change the character’s name to Claire Temple, a lesser-known player from the ‘70s Luke Cage comics who served a similar function as a medical professional and love interest. (As it turns out, the Marvel movie that necessitated the change ended up being Doctor Strange, which introduced Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, as the medical colleague and main love interest to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange.)
So even in a meta sense, Claire Temple’s an underdog, a supporting player that’s too often treated like an afterthought. And she deserves better.
In just about any scene featuring an argument between Claire and another character, you can basically guarantee that the other person is going to end up looking like a moron — and that’s clear from the very first time we meet her in episode two of Daredevil.
The episode begins with Claire hauling Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, out of a dumpster after he gets his ass handed to him by some Russian thugs. He’s got some broken ribs, is bleeding all over the place and has been unconscious for who knows how long — the guy’s a total mess. After Claire takes him back to her apartment, he tries to refuse her help and immediately faints in the middle of her living room. Once she gets him settled and safe — again — they have the following exchange:
Claire: “You gonna listen to me this time?”
Then, when she asks, “Do you mind telling me how a blind man in a mask ends up beaten half to death in a dumpster?” He gives the sort of token tough-guy response you’d expect from a wannabe Batman: “The less you know about me, the better.” Her reaction:
That moment more or less sums up the important part that Claire plays in the Marvel-Netflix universe. She’s consistently the voice of reason in a world full of superpowered, emotional train wrecks.
And, being a nurse, there’s the very obvious point that she repeatedly saves the lives of pretty much every hero in The Defenders. She’s also a good resource for them when they need medical advice. A quick reminder: In the first season of Daredevil, when Matt needs to stabilize a man who’s bleeding to death from a gunshot wound but he’s got nothing to use but a road flare, who does he call? Claire. (The man was a criminal who ordered some goons to attack Claire in the previous episode, so she tells Matt not to let up on cauterizing the wound with the heat from the flare, no matter how much he screams — for medical purposes, of course.)
And Claire consistently proves she’s just as tough and principled as the costumed heroes she hangs around with. At one point in season two of Daredevil, she pops up in a hospital scene in which she’s knocking some sense into a violent gang member.
“Let me put this simply,” she says, leaning over his hospital bed. “Yesterday you had five fingers, but tonight you got loaded and decided to hit up a rival clubhouse so now you have two. Listen to me: Had five. Now two. Your fault. That clear? Good. The meds should kick in soon.”
A few episodes later, she quits her job at the hospital — after figuring out they accepted hush money from a criminal organization — like this.
But her most iconic moment takes place at the end of Jessica Jones, when Claire has to drain excess fluid from Luke Cage’s head after Jessica shoots him with a shotgun (to be fair, he was being mind-controlled). Of course, since Luke has bulletproof skin, she has to do it by inserting a needle into his damn eye cavity while he’s violently thrashing around.
My girl finally gets some in-universe recognition in the last episode of The Defenders. Fittingly, it’s from Iron Fist’s Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), a skilled warrior who more or less plays second fiddle to the problematic and supremely unlikeable Iron Fist, aka Danny Rand (Finn Jones).
“Claire, for what it’s worth, I know Luke and the other guys have abilities, but so do you,” Colleen says. “You have saved just as many lives, helped just as many people. You just don’t make the headlines.”
Luckily, it’s not just Colleen who’s noticed the impact Claire’s had on the world of Marvel. In the wake of Dawson’s fiery performance and the success of these shows, Marvel reintroduced the Claire Temple character back into the comics after she’d been absent for decades. Unsurprisingly, her new on-page depiction is basically just Rosario Dawson. Why mess with perfection, right?
If I’m being reasonable, Claire Temple will always be a background character. She’ll never get her own Netflix series — but I’m doing my best to will one into existence. In the meantime, whenever the leading heroes get slapped around, Claire will be there to sew up their wounds, remind them of the absurdity that’s surrounding all of them and wait until she’s needed once more.
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Sept. 1, 2017, 11:00 a.m. Eastern: This story has been updated.