Everyone in the episode “Condemned” is trapped. Fisk finds himself trapped in the fallout of his plan, frustrated with the possible complications with Madame Gao and his Chinese connections. Foggy and Karen are trapped in the hospital. Matt is trapped in the abandoned building with the dying Russian Vladimir. The Condemned title speaks well to Matt’s predicament as he struggles to get answers from Vladimir, who believes Matt killed his brother.
The two spend a lot of time discussing whether to kill or not. When Vladimir accuses Matt of killing his brother, Matt denies it, saying simply, “You got the wrong guy. I don’t kill people, not even scumbags who deserve it.” Over the course of the episode the question becomes, is it part of his moral code, or simply for his own peace of mind, to separate himself from those he fights against. So that when he comes face to face with killers he can at least tell himself, “at least I don’t kill.” Vladimir makes Matt take a hard look at his choices and his lifestyle and he has to decide for himself if he is condemned to kill his enemies. Or if he is capable of condemning another person to death. Is he condemned to become what he hates?
That thematic question is shoved in our face in the first interaction between Fisk and Murdock over the radio. The “we aren’t so different” speech is super cliché and I could do without ever hearing it again, but it is done here almost word-for-word. It is a thematically important statement, but I think the message has been given enough through other conversations and actions without it being stated explicitly.
This episode is around the halfway point, and Matt and Fisk seem to be on opposite ends of their trajectories, which makes it the perfect time for the two to have their first interaction. Fisk looks to be gaining more power and the upper hand. He is victorious. Matt, on the other hand, is finding out that he kind of sucks at this. He is wanted by the police, is finding out more and more threads of the conspiracy than he was aware of before, which makes what he is doing seem even more impossible. By the end of the episode, Matt has just about lost everything. He’s lost his confidence, he’s lost his conviction in what he’s doing, and he’s lost his anonymity. He even loses his ability to intimidate Vladimir, once he realizes Matt won’t kill.
As the two chat, it becomes clear that Fisk has Matt completely outsmarted. His intellectual and strategic prowess is already well refined, whereas Matt comes off as sloppy and unprepared. Having only Fisk’s voice to go off of also places him at a distinct disadvantage because he can’t get a read off of anything else, which is a key to so much of Matt’s tactics. From a storytelling standpoint, delaying a physical encounter also fits the pacing of the show and the way it builds slowly.
Not only has Fisk gained more power, but Matt is suddenly public enemy number one, with his masked identity framed for the explosions that rocked the city, as well as the murder of several police officers on the scene. The episode closes and Matt is forced to reexamine everything. Is he willing to step over the edge and be judge, jury, and executioner? Or does he try to work within the confines of the legal system to take down Fisk? Is it even possible? Does sneaking around in the dark accomplish anything, or is he just satiating his own desire for violence?
As this is going on, Foggy and Karen are in the hospital. Foggy in the adrenaline of trying to save Ms. Cardenas failed to realize that he had been injured to, and ends up needing medical attention as well. The two are unable to reach Matt and worry about his condition. They are once again helpless as the city they live in proves itself more dangerous and wild. There’s a sense of futility that seems to wash over all the protagonists, as they begin to realize their insignificance amidst the dangers they have aligned themselves against.
- “That sounds pretty bad, but I don’t speak asshole.”
- Matt’s framing is a major blow toward what he’s trying to do. How can he operate when the whole city has turned on him? Foggy hearing about it is particularly pivotal.
- There’s been hints about it the whole time, but there’s obviously more to Madame Gao than meets the eye; Fisk is very concerned with not letting her down.
- It’s worth mentioning the cinematography of this show again, particularly in this episode. It is very claustrophobic, particularly this hour. Each of the characters are very contained in small areas. Matt’s in the broken down warehouse, Karen and Foggy the hospital, Fisk in his car. The vice is tightening, and it is palpable in every frame. Even the scenes with the cops are flanked with cars that pack the edges of the screen. That sense of claustrophobia pervades the entire series (there’s a lot of shots through windows and with ceilings visible, all of which emphasize the way in which the city weighs on our characters.) The show is shot beautifully.
- Not much action this go round, but it isn’t missed. The drama is exciting enough.
- Not many Easter eggs in this tightly shot and narrowly focused episode that I noticed. Some people claim that the sniper that takes out the cops is a nod to Daredevil archnemesis Bullseye. (There is a playing card in his bag, a Bullseye trademark.) Not out of the realm of possibility, but a bit of a stretch. Still, it would make sense and be a natural way of introducing the character. We’ll have to wait and see.