marvel, TV, writing

Marvel’s Daredevil: Cut Man

Let’s all just get it out of the way: Daredevil's hallway fight is the best moment of the series.
Let’s all just get it out of the way: the hallway fight is the best moment of the series.

The major narrative thrust of Cut Man unfolds around getting back up after taking a beating. As Jack tells Matt, “It ain’t how you hit the mat, it’s how you get up.” The episode has three major storylines— Matt learning to deal with his blindness and Battlin’ Jack Murdock’s career; Matt’s recovery following a disastrous night out of vigilantism; and Karen and Foggy out drinking. Each story is, at its core, about the same thing: how do we get up after a loss?

The episode’s title derives from the boxing term. A cutman is a person who prevents and treats physical injuries to a fighter during the breaks between rounds. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) They patch up and minimize the damage, then send their fighter back out. Matt helps out his dad following the fights, Claire sews Matt back together, and Foggy takes Karen out to help her deal with her fears following the events of the first episode.

In the past, we get both an overview of the elder Murdock’s boxing life, and we see Matt begin to piece together his life following his accident that caused the blindness. The father and son clearly have a close bond and a generally healthy relationship. I’m glad they didn’t go the easy route and make Jack a bad dad (though given how much they’re borrowing from Frank Miller, is that revelation far off?). He does his best for his son and pushes him to work hard. Daredevil has one of the better origin stories, and it’s cool to see it play out slowly in bits and pieces over the course of several episodes. It would have been easy to dump a lot of this into a clumsy first hour, but getting to see it play out thematically as a backdrop to where Matt is today is much more emotionally and artistically satisfying.

The story of Jack’s boxing career; an average guy who can really take a punch informs a lot about Matt and the predicament in which he finds himself as the episode starts. Jack may not win every fight, but he goes back into the ring and does it again. He knows he can’t offer his son much, but boxing is what pays the bills, and he’s good enough to make ends meat and provide. When he’s offered his shot at the big time, but is told to throw the fight, Battlin’ Jack Murdock’s choice to instead try to do right by his son —and stand by his principles—even though he knows the risks are high set a model for Matt about taking control of ones life and sticking up for what you believe in (even if it isn’t the most selfless thing to do).

Back in present day, Matt is taking this to the extreme by nearly killing himself trying to clean up the streets. It’s another bold choice to open the show with him already beaten up from a fight rather than seeing it happen. It’s more effective this way, leaving more time to see how his relationship with Claire, the woman who finds him in the dumpster and patches him up, turns out. The way the two play off each other and seem to have an impact on one another should be interesting to follow up on. She seems to see through some of the tough exterior he puts on as this proto-Daredevil and I suspect it won’t be long before he comes to her ready for a heart-to-heart. When Matt tells his captive that he enjoys beating up the bad guys, she smartly observes, “I don’t believe you enjoy this.” How could he? His father didn’t want him to be a fighter, he’s a lawyer and he’s breaking the law, and he’s a Catholic torturing and beating people to near death. It won’t take very long at all for it all to come down on him hard.

As Matt spends the night getting stitched back together and dangling a child trafficker from the roof, Foggy takes Karen out on the town to help take her mind off the events of the previous episode and keep her out of her apartment, which only serves as a reminder of what she’s been through. Karen, like Matt and like Jack, has fallen, and she hasn’t yet figured out how to pick herself back up. Foggy steps in as cut man and a good friend to help her blow off some steam and offer emotional support. The two enjoy an evening of too many drinks, and Foggy helps reassure her that the city isn’t all bad. At the local dive bar, Josie’s (!!), Karen admits to only being able to see the dark shadowy corners and the possible threats. Foggy points out that not all the shadows are what they seem. Together, they come to the conclusion that the city will protect them, and that it is beautiful. Foggy in many ways is both the conscience and the light for our trio of leads.

But the truth is, they just don’t live in those shadowy corners. Matt Murdock has made those corners his life, however, and he is busy trying to fight an uphill battle, no matter how many times he has to fall and get back up to do it. The dramatic irony of Foggy’s statement is emphasized by the quick cut to Matt’s brutal behavior.

The episode closes with a visually striking fight sequence that takes place in a narrow hallway. It’s a gorgeous scene that is bold and unique. Most fight scenes anymore are hand held shaky cams full of rapid cuts and close up shots. This one is refreshing and different. It unfolds over a meticulous, six minute continuous tracking shot. With a clinical distance, it happens slowly and we see it ebb and flow as Matt gets tired and nearly topples over. The smooth movements of the camera and the wide angle highlight the very humanness of Matt Murdock. We are meant to feel the weight and exhaustion of this fight, rather than place ourselves in it. The slowness of the movement enhances the sensation of the length, emphasizing the physical toll it has placed on Matt. Not only does its impressive camerawork make it stand out, but it is all but unheard of on film to see your hero suffering exhaustion and a fight scene to show the physical toll on both sides. These fights continue to feel authentic and brutal. Matt isn’t taking anyone down in a single hit. The choreography is impressive, with the switch between Charlie Cox and his stunt double nearly seamless.Every blow enhances our understanding of Matt: he perseveres even though the odds are stacked against him. Daredevil understands that the fight scenes can’t just exist for their own sake, but should further the story in some way.

Daredevil is one of the most visually engaging television shows that I’ve watched in a while. It really utilizes its imagery to take creative risks and enhance its storytelling and themes. Compare, for example, the shot of Jack and Matt walking down the hallway toward the fight of their lives. Both prepared to face down impossible odds. The way the camera is framed as Matt approaches the beginning of the hallway fight is evocative of the scene we just watched with Jack heading toward his bout with Creel. The directors, cinematographers and editors have made some fantastic and subtle visual choices all in the service of informing the character. Much of the indoor scenes that involve the criminal underworld unfold in a greenish light that adds an eerie and unsettling quality.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk more about what is essentially the A-Plot, which is Matt meeting and having to explain his life to Claire Temple. Not only does the introduction of Claire provide Matt with a possible new confidante, the inclusion of a nurse makes clear the show’s intention to illustrate the consequences of this kind of lifestyle. And consequences become a major element of the show. It’s clear that it isn’t just the physical bruises Matt will have to deal with. It’s the emotional beatings. The Russian tells Matt it doesn’t matter what he does, because even if he stops one person, another one will be hired and the circle will continue. Matt has to come to terms with this on an emotional level, even if he realizes it intellectually.

But like Jack Murdock said, “Sometimes, even when you get knocked down you can still win.”

Matt walks away with a win as he steps over his fallen opponents with the boy he set out to rescue in tow. Karen and Foggy snatch victory together as they walk the dark streets of Hell’s Kitchen together, Karen starting off a new chapter in her life. And though Battlin’ Jack may not have won his last real fight, he took a stand with his pride in tact, and with the knowledge he got to give his son the chance to hear the crowd cheer his name. Not all victories are great victories, but not all losses are without their silver lining. We still get chances to get up off the mat and win the next round.

Marvel Facts

  • Josie and her bar are reoccurring figures in Daredevil comics, especially Frank Miller’s work where Daredevil frequently popped by to rough the locals up for information. The bar in the comics is a hangout for criminals, unlike in the show. But Josie has a a strict no-violence policy.
  • Claire Temple is a mashup of two characters from Marvel Comics, one a character of the same name, and another known as the Night Nurse. The Night Nurse was first published in 1972 as a generally pretty sexist attempt to appeal to female readers. The Night Nurse comic took place at a city hospital and was part of the 70s movement to try to be more relevant and tackle real-world social issues. The character was later (much later) salvaged and folded into the Marvel Universe proper where she took the codename the Night Nurse and offered her services pro bono to the superhero community to pay them back for saving her life. Claire Temple in the comics was a doctor, and a former girlfriend of Luke Cage (who is also going to get his own Netflix show)

Stray Thoughts

  • The good thing about red, you can’t tell how much you’re bleeding!”
  • This show continues to take its time and I love its pacing. Even the fight scenes have room to breathe.
  • How great is Foggy Nelson?
  • I didn’t say much about Rosario Dawson, but I genuinely think Claire is going to be a great addition and a big support for Matt Murdock going forward. Dawson provides an authentic spunk and gritty courage that a city trauma nurse would probably develop after a few years. It’s always good to have a character that can cut through your protagonist’s bullshit.
  • It’s clear Matt hasn’t figured out who he wants to be yet; using torture to get answers. The violence is intense, but can he keep at it? The question of morality is a central theme throughout the season.
  • Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight shed a little light on the final fight on Twitter (one of the most visually striking scenes in the entire season, and one of the highlights), explaining that yes it was all a single take, with the camera on a track attached to the ceiling, which was edited out in post. How many times have you watched it?

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