Marvel's Netflix shows are phenomenally exciting, and fans are looking forward to three tremendous shows this year: Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher! It's important to realize, though, that these series are cut from a different cloth to the wider MCU. Their tonal variation has been praised by fans and critics alike, but the shows also pose real challenges for fans who like to keep track the wider continuity of Marvel's shared universe. So how do the Marvel Netflix shows fit into the timeline?
First of all, let's establish some basic principles. In the build-up to Captain America: Civil War, #KevinFeige set in place a basic rule: that, unless otherwise stated, every #Marvel movie is set in the year of its release. That means that, in the #MCU, Iron Man first suited up in 2008, and the Sokovia Accords came into force in 2016. It's unclear whether this rule will stand going forward, given that Spider-Man: Homecoming seems to launch straight off the back of Civil War, but at the very least that sets out the continuity of the MCU until Civil War.
Importantly, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. revolves around the movies a lot more than the #MarvelNetflix shows. It tends to tie in, and there tend to be about six months between the end of each season and the launch of the next. So Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes are generally set at the time of their release as well. In this case, of course, it's important not to stress this too forcefully; after all, many episodes end on cliffhangers that are resolved in the next week's episode!
'Daredevil' Season 2
There's a reason Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is important to the Marvel Netflix shows — and that's because of a throwaway scene in the Season 3 episode "Watchdogs", which aired in March 2016. "Watchdogs" gave a gentle nod to Daredevil, with a TV newscrawl referring to a 'gang war' raging in Hell's Kitchen. This is most likely a reference to Daredevil Season 2, where the Punisher launched a brutal attack on gangs in Hell's Kitchen and triggered a complex, brutal war.
This means Daredevil Season 2 can be placed in early 2016 — and that makes the show an anchor for the whole Marvel Netflix timeline.
Placing the Other Shows
In the build-up to Daredevil Season 2, Google published a fascinating, wide-ranging interview with the cast. This established that Season 2 happened about six months after Season 1; that means we can place Daredevil Season 1 in mid-to-late 2015. Jessica Jones is shortly before Daredevil Season 2 (Kilgrave's death is referenced as recent news).
Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple acts as connective tissue between Daredevil Season 2 and Luke Cage Season 1; dialogue clearly establishes that she's fired, and then heads back to Hell's Kitchen. So we can confidently say that these two shows overlap; both are set in early 2016.
When Is 'The Defenders' Set?
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Charlie Cox revealed that #TheDefenders is set "a few months since the end of [Daredevil] season 2". He points to one important reason for this; Elektra's death is still raw, and he's still unaware of her resurrection. It makes perfect sense for Marvel to take this approach, since it allows for a continuous and powerful character journey. This also means not much time will have passed for Luke Cage; Season 1 of Luke Cage ended with the hero in jail, and set photos have shown that The Defenders picks up with that as Luke's status quo.
Another reason this timeline makes sense is that The Defenders seems to be setting up to explore the question of whether these super-powered people are 'public enemies' or heroes. Setting The Defenders too far into 2016 would add the complicating factor of the Sokovia Accords, meaning you'd get all manner of awkward plots added into the eight-episode series.
Incidentally, given that #IronFist will air before The Defenders and will introduce Finn Jones's character, it's safe to say that Iron Fist is set in those vague "few months" between Daredevil Season 2 and The Defenders. That means our finished timeline will look like this:
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So there we have it! So far, although Marvel launched their Netflix shows in 2015, in-universe less than a year has passed. While this isn't causing any problems right now, sooner or later enough time has to pass for us to get to the Sokovia Accords, passed in Captain America: Civil War. The irony is, of course, that the whole Marvel Netflix continuity hangs off of interviews and a single Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Easter Egg. That gives Marvel a lot of flexibility, which is likely just the way they want it!