If you think “Stick” is a weird episode that sort of comes out of nowhere, you’re probably not alone. Much of it feels like a setup for some future plot (whether that’s in season two, or in a later Netflix series like Iron Fist or Defenders). It deviates a lot from much of the criminal world we’ve gotten to know and focuses more on Matt and this newly introduced mentor. It introduces some of the more mystical, martial arts aspects of the Daredevil mythos that Frank Miller brought along with him.
My biggest issue with the episode stems from my dislike of the character of Stick in general. He is the most Frank Millery character Frank Miller has ever created. He’s a mysterious old man ninja with a surly attitude. He was introduced by Miller in his original run with Daredevil, and his invention serves some purpose. It fills in a gap in the Daredevil origin in regard to how Matt learned how to hone his abilities and how to fight. But he never really seemed to fit into the world, even with the other ninja stuff going on. At least, he didn’t for me.
When originally written, Matt found Stick to train him how to fight to get revenge for his father’s murder. In the later miniseries that retold Daredevil’s origin, Miller also tweaked the Stick story into one where Matt was recruited to enter into a war against a mysterious evil. That’s where we meet Stick in this episode. He finds Matt in the orphanage (or wherever he was) and takes him to learn how to master his new abilities. The episode then becomes a look into Matt’s life after the death of his father and helps shed some light on how he learned how to fight and even a little on how he can take so much punishment. At first I was confused why this episode occurs where it does in the season—halfway through—rather than at the beginning.
What it comes down to, I believe, is the dilemma Stick poses to Matt. That dilemma is the same one he had to wrestle with last episode, which is whether he is willing to cross the line into murder and if that is really the right thing to do.
Somewhere in this episode while talking to Karen, Ben tells her, “My experience? There are no heroes, no villains. Just people with different agendas.” Stick seems to personify this when he returns to Matt’s life. Still recovering from the events of the last two episodes, Matt is confused about his mission and whether he is a good guy or doing the right thing. Suddenly, this figure from his past returns and presents him with the same challenges. Stick doesn’t seem as concerned with “small” questions of morality, he’s more concerned with the big picture and individuals who get in the way are expendable. Matt has to be wondering to himself if it’s even worth sweating over the death of murderers and kidnappers.
As a child, Matt reaches out to Stick as a surrogate father, presenting him with a bracelet made from an ice cream wrapper Stick bought him when they first met. This act of sentimentality enrages Stick, who wants Matt, or needs him, to be someone beyond personal attachment. “I needed a soldier. You wanted a father,” Stick tells Murdock. Observing Matt’s apartment, he decides that Matt still doesn’t have what it takes to do what has to be done, he is too attached to worldly things and sentimentality. No different than when he was a kid and made the bracelet. To Stick, Matt’s life is one constructed out of a desire to distract him from his destiny as a warrior.
Stick urges Matt to cut out his personal relationships and the people he cares about. Women are a distraction. As are his apartment and his silk sheets. He sees Matt as someone incapable of doing the things that need doing in the world. He encourages Matt to cross the line. “No more half measures.” But Matt doesn’t want to be Stick. Even though his mission is seeming increasingly futile, he is unwilling to take the next steps necessary to be more like Stick. He does not want to let go of his life or his friends. He firmly believes that killing is wrong. So when Stick pokes the wound, he lashes out in a physical confrontation that reflects his inner turmoil. Stick is everything Matt never wants to be, but increasingly fears that he has no choice.
The fight between Matt and Stick is brutal and well staged, with Matt’s apartment getting thrashed in the process. This series does a great job at making their fights matter in the context of their stories, and this fight in particular is very representative of the place Matt finds himself emotionally. Sitting in his destroyed living room, Matt finds himself isolated with his world torn down around him.
One other reason I’m not a big fan of this episode other than my general dislike of Stick as a character in both the source material and in this show, is the kid who plays young Matt Murdock. He does a particularly lousy job showing any kind of emotion or personality. I think the idea is that young Matt is supposed to be a bit of a smart mouth and spitfire, but he just comes off as bland. It’s a major weak link in what is supposed to explore some of Matt’s emotional roots. After the death of his father, this mysterious mentor comes in and treats him like crap. When he attempts to reach out on an emotional level, the father abandons him. No doubt that messes with the poor guy’s emotional state. The Matt Murdock we see as an adult is very closed off and self-isolated, keeping secrets from his closest friends. Even though he hates the thought of becoming Stick, he is gradually making his way toward becoming that way by boxing his friends out. Hiding his evening adventures has already driven him farther and farther away from Foggy and Karen. Both those characters have had a lot more screen time with each other than with Matt, and each have on more than one occasion tried to reach him and been denied.
Speaking of the relationships among Karen, Matt, and Foggy, things are particularly tense in the office of Nelson and Murdock as the episode begins. With the news framing the “man in the mask” on the bombings that rocked Hell’s Kitchen, Foggy is convinced that he is a danger to the city. Karen is less willing to think so given that he saved her life, but is also not convinced he is as good a guy as she thought. This leaves Matt feeling even more angry and alone, and he finds a way to brush the conversation away and brush Foggy off. This leads to Foggy to check up on Karen, who he is worried about. She is being almost as mysterious and detached as Matt, and apparently Foggy can only handle that in one of his friends.
He stumbles his way into Karen and Ben’s investigation, but is still not convinced that the man in the mask is not a ne’er do well who is exploiting the city for his own violent ends. The drama building around the other characters turning on the Mask is interesting, and the fear that something might happen to these characters if they find out a little too much about Fisk makes the investigation scenes tense, but when we already know who is behind everything it takes a little of the drama away.
The episode closes with Stick reporting to a mysterious man, in a scene that is ripped almost exactly out of a page from “The Man Without Fear” by Miller and John Romita Jr. Black Sky (Who was revealed to be a child) has been stopped “for now.” The question is, will Matt Murdock be ready “When the doors open?” Stick says he doesn’t know. Comic readers know what this is all generally alluding to— Stick is a member of an ancient, mystical ninja order known as “The Chaste,” who are blood enemies with the evil ninja group “The Hand.” The Hand infiltrate New York City during Miller’s run and Stick teams up with Daredevil to stop them. The Hand hasn’t appeared in the show yet, but there are hints that Nobu works for someone far more mysterious and dangerous than Wilson Fisk, which in all likelihood is The Hand. The question is, are the creators setting up for future Daredevil stories, or will this mystical stuff play into the larger shared Marvel Netflix universe? Do these questions pay off in Iron Fist, or Defenders? Hard to say. Only time will tell. But given that The Hand have been a major player in the Daredevil mythos for the last few decades, I would imagine more stories about them are sure to come. Especially if they plan to utilize Elektra in season 2.
Stick is probably my least favorite episode of the series, but it is hardly bad. Still plenty worth watching.
- Like I said I’m no huge fan of Stick, but Scott Glenn is a perfect match for the character.
- Matt Murdock gets Daredevil’s trademark billy clubs in this episode. That’s exciting!
- This is the first we hear about Matt feeling guilt over the death of his father, which undoubtedly plays into his motivation to clean up the city.
- Matt appears to be a part of the Chaste’s plans, but what those plans are remain mysterious. Did Stick recognize potential in Matt before his accident?
- We have no idea what Black Sky is or why it’s so dangerous. Looking forward to a little more about that.
- Another reason it made sense to hold off on this episode is because the mystical stuff is a little easier to digest after we have set up the world as a believable one. So putting hints about some more far fetched ideas a little later lets people ease into it. Stick showing up in the first three episodes would be a little much.
- Karen being attacked and rescued by Foggy felt both unnecessary and poorly handled. It gives Foggy a bit of a hero moment at the expense of Karen’s agency as a character.
- Sisters in full habit are so anachronistic as to be mildly insulting. Granted some orders still wear them, but it’s such an uncommon site (even if that flashback was closer to the seventies) as to be almost misrepresentative of Catholic tradition.
- Speaking of sisters, in the comics Matt Murdock’s mother was randomly revealed to be a Catholic sister that helped nurse him back to health following his accident. They hint at it for a hot second in this episode.
- In Ben Urich’s office is an article about the Hulk’s battle in Harlem at the end of The Incredible Hulk movie.