Marvel’s Daredevil: World on Fire

For all the talk of this show being dark, I find that there is still a sense of hope and optimism that things can improve, even when things look dark that works beneath the surface. This is especially apparent throughout this episode in the case of Foggy and Karen going above and beyond to assist Miss Cardenas, an older woman who, like the rest of her neighbors in a local apartment complex, is being pressured out to take over the land. All of which is a part of Fisk’s various corporate dealings to amass power in Hell’s Kitchen. Foggy shows his lawyerly competence when he stands up to his ex at the Landman and Zack corporate lawfirm.

I believe I mentioned how much I enjoyed the show’s methodical pacing and the time it has taken to set up the characters and the world they live in. All of that continues in this episode, with the Miss Cardenas storyline particularly putting a human face on the world Matt is trying to protect and change. This is also the episode where all the hard setup work pays off. The episode’s conclusion is a major turning point, and it would not be as emotionally resonant or dramatically effective had it all occurred before we understood these characters and the world they live in.

Vanessa also returns to give Wilson another shot, and it becomes a bit more clear why: she is someone intrigued by power and takes what she wants. So even though Fisk is clearly a morally questionable figure, she enjoys the thrill of it. This becomes more and more clear as she and Wilson sit down to dinner and she talks a little bit about herself. It is probably that thrill and love of power that Fisk is most attracted to, which makes sense. Vanessa’s infatuation has to be to the power and influence that Fisk obviously holds, because all of his talk about reviving the city is super creepy.

The title of the episode comes from Matt’s description of how he “sees” the world. For the first time, he shares the truth about his abilities with someone and we as viewers get a real explanation, as opposed to smaller hints. I like that the show has avoided a POV of Matt’s senses, which run the risk of compromising the series’ verisimilitude and more grounded aesthetic. Show runner Steven DeKnight said they had attempted to put it in a few other places but structurally they never fit. It makes the shot of Claire Temple more unique, and it works from a story perspective. Murdock’s in a place of inner turmoil in this episode, and our glimpse into his view of the world represents a moment of vulnerability. It comes at the right time for us to buy the abstract shot as viewers. This is the first time Matt has ever talked openly about what he sees, and it comes after being forced to recognize his own shortcomings and failures through his experiences with Claire. It is these shortcomings that lead to Claire and Matt to have a falling out. She accuses him of becoming the thing he hates, and Matt doesn’t seem to disagree too much.

It makes a certain amount of sense for a character called Daredevil to “see” everything like the world is on fire, and thematically it speaks to a lot about who Matt Murdock is as a person and where he is at this moment in time. The city itself appears to be on the brink of erupting in violence, and Matt himself is on the verge. Throughout this episode he is scrambling with no leads and trying desperately to catch up to Fisk, who seems from his perspective to be an almost omnipotent and all-encompassing evil. The series has taken care to display the city’s problems and how they branch out to the lives of the innocent people who inhabit it, both through corruption and in large scale violence.

And as the episode goes on it becomes more and more clear that Murdock is totally out of his depth and outmatched. He is working more on rage than sense. More on his burning passion than any kind of strategy.  And Matt has no real idea how deep the rabbit hole goes, which leads to twists neither he nor the audience expects. The “you really shouldn’t have said his name” scene  even took me by surprise. That moment in particular shows how much influence Fisk has on the city. And he appears to be gaining more and more control as the episode continues. The world is on fire, and he lit the match. He seeks to save the city as well, but he is going to do it with cleansing fire, and it is going to be his vision. On the surface, Murdock and Fisk appear to have similar motivations. When the episode ends, though, they could not be in more different places. Fisk has made a massive power grab by getting rid of the Russians, and Matt is close to taking the wrap for the cops, not to mention having been pegged with the death of Anatoly at the end of the last episode.

The episode is a dramatic turning point for the show in many ways, and the explosions that mark the end of the episode send shockwaves that will have a major impact on episodes to come.

Stray Thoughts

  • I haven’t talked about the character Wesley yet, but I’m a big fan. Although the shady butt well dressed and respectable looking guy in a suit is a bit of a cinematic cliché , Wesley does a fantastic job of being both intimidating and strangely likable. Toby Leonard Moore doesn’t have many acting credits to his name, but he brings so much life to the character and does a fantastic job.
  • This episode has one of my favorite shots of the season, with a long continuous shot from the perspective of one of Madame Gao’s blind workers in a car. The camera spins around, with Matt disappearing and then reappearing to take down some thugs. The next cut only comes after he’s shot. Beautifully done. Love the visual inventiveness throughout the show.
  • Nobu, the Japanese dude in Fisk’s entourage mentions working for other people…Could it be the HAND?? Or just something boring like the Yakuza. But Fisk appears to answer to them a little.
  • When Matt goes into the police station he sits in front of a sign that says “You don’t have to reveal your identity to solve violent crimes.”
  • This episode has what may be the worst scene of the entire series when Karen asks Foggy to touch her face. It’s nonsense and though Deborah Ann Woll tries to sell it, it’s just bad.
  • I enjoy Turk’s description of Wilson Fisk. “Some big white guy. Bald as shit.”

Marvel Facts

  • In the comics, Daredevil’s enhanced senses are usually described more like a radar than an impressionistic painting. The radar motif is usually how they visualize it in the books and in the Affleck movie, but I think this show has a more inventive and interesting way of showing it. Thematically it works really well.
  • There’s a line of dialogue that takes a dig at Kingpin’s comic appearance. “An ascott? That’s a bit much.”

Marvel’s Daredevil: In the Blood

Kingpin is a refined monster

On first viewing, having our first full glimpse at Wilson Fisk being based around an awkward first date seemed a very strange way to introduce his character. But then I realized, even though this is our first time getting to watch Fisk, we already know he’s brutal and dangerous, and behind just about everything Matt has faced so far. The benefit of the first three episodes taking their time to set up this complex world is that when we are first introduced to Fisk, we already have a preconceived notion of who he’s going to be. So to watch him walk in to the art gallery again and fumble over his words to try and win a date with this beautiful woman is to defy our expectations.

Here’s what we know about Fisk before this episode: He runs a vast criminal network. He has kept the various factions in line through fear and probably money. People are so intimidated by him that even saying his name is reason enough to impale oneself on a spike. As the episode goes on, the more human side of this mysterious mastermind comes to light. He is enamored of a beautiful woman. He apparently does not have much experience with dating and is genuinely intimidated to be approaching Vanessa. He is very passionate.

Vincent D’Onforio’s Fisk is hard to pin down because his performance has so many layers and is all over the place. This is by design, and I don’t mean it as a knock. I think it’s very clear that this Wilson Fisk is in many ways at war with himself like Matt Murdock is…He isn’t yet sure who he is, or how to do what he has to do, or whether or not he truly accepts himself for what he has chosen to do. It’s fascinating to watch Fisk change inflection and personality from moment to moment. Just listening to Wilson Fisk speak it’s clear that there’s more to him than any one side. There’s the terse, sinister whisper, the commanding affected voice of a business man or man of high society. Then there’s the howls and growls of rage that break through. In his final scene with Vanessa in this episode there’s a clear sense of fury bubbling right below the surface with every syllable.

We already know that Fisk is capable of great violence. By choosing to portray a more vulnerable and romantic side for our introduction to him as a person offers a glimpse of something different. The show reels us into this man’s life and let’s our guard down to forget the reputation and to see Fisk as just a man with a passion for changing his city. Which makes the final scene where he completely loses control and lets the animal rage out all the more frightening. Is the suit all a game? Is he just a thug, or an animal trying to dress himself up in his father’s old cufflinks? Is the apparent infatuation  with Vanessa an act, or genuine emotion? There’s no way of telling in this episode, and it makes for fascinating viewing. From moment to moment Fisk seems to be a different person.

At dinner, Fisk gets a chance to drop some exposition of his own, explaining that he always dreamt of moving somewhere far away from Hell’s Kitchen. But after being sent away he realized “this city was a part of me…it was in my blood. I would do anything to make it a better place.”

Cut to Matt Murdock telling Claire Temple that he’s “just trying to make my city a better place.”

The episode’s title comes from Wilson Fisk’s statement. The city and its fate are at the core of both his and Matt Murdock’s actions. More than any other superhero screen adaptation except for maybe Batman, Daredevil’s setting is a central component of its character and story. It informs everything about who Matt is, and who Wilson is. They both see the danger and crime and pain that Hell’s Kitchen caused and continues to cause for so many and take matters into their own hands.

For the first time, Matt’s actions have caused collateral damage and Claire Temple is kidnapped and tortured for information on the man in the mask. He eventually rescues her but fears whether or not he’s making a difference, or if maybe he’s making things worse. He has no plan, no endgame. All he has to go on is trying to make the city a better place.

We get to see a different kind of action from Matt in this episode. He utilizes his blindness by blacking out the warehouse and sneaking up on the Russians when they can’t see. Very different from what came before, and it shows a different element of Matt’s ability. It’s a unique advantage he has and I’m glad the show made the decision to explore that.

Foggy sits out most of this episode, although we do get our first chance to hear his infamous story about how he could have been a butcher with his own shop. But Ben Urich and Karen Page begin their working relationship, Karen desperate to see justice done, to reclaim her peace of mind. This storyline is only beginning so there’s not a ton to write about there, but man, Vondie Curtis-Hall is such a joy to watch. It’s this story that really sells the “crime drama” angle of the show. We also get the first hint that there’s more to Karen than we’ve seen… Ben calls into question Karen’s credibility as a source because of her “past activities.”

The episode also gives us some insight into the Russian mob leaders, brothers Vladimir and Anatoly. After a couple episodes with the two as just generic enforcers, we are offered the chance to actually see them as humans and brothers watching out for one another.  It opens with a scene of the two in prison, and we watch them scramble to hold onto everything they’ve fought to put together in New York after escaping. “I promised myself if we ever got free we’d never lose what we had again…especially not to pride,” Anatoly tells Vladimir. And that’s what all the story threads circle around. The length people go to protect what is theirs, what is in their blood.

Stray Thoughts

  • I was a bit troubled by what they chose to do here with Claire Temple. That’s both major female characters so far heavily victimized. I guess the Daredevil comics have a poor track record themselves, so it’s true to the source material, but I still think it’s pretty backwards and lazy storytelling for a show made in 2015. Hoping they avoid the crutch in the recently announced season 2.
  • Ayelet Zurer’s Vanessa is fascinating… Even after seeing the whole season I haven’t been able to get a read on her. What possessed her to go on a date with the super creepy seeming Wilson Fisk? What doe she see in him?
  • I appreciate the authenticity of characters in NYC speaking Spanish rather than everyone just speaking English.
  • Man the cinematography in this show is beautiful…Fantastic lighting. The diner scene between Ben and Karen in the beginning looked especially vibrant for some reason.
  • Age of Ultron came out this weekend and it was really, really good! Check out Steve’s review on the site; I agree with pretty much everything he said.

Marvel Facts

  • In the comics, Vanessa Fisk is introduced as Wilson’s wife several issues after Kingpin’s first appearance. She doesn’t approve of Fisk’s criminal business and eventually convinces him to leave criminal life behind…for a little while at least. It’s an assassination attempt on Vanessa that brings Fisk and Daredevil’s path on a collision course in Frank Miller’s seminal run on the title.
  • The “Mr. Potter” Fisk mentions is a character named Melvin Potter…but I’ll give a rundown on him later.
  • I didn’t notice any other Easter Eggs this episode, but I’m sure I missed at least one or two. Anyone else find some?

Marvel’s Daredevil: Rabbit In A Snowstorm

Kingpin Feeling Lonely
Kingpin Feeling Lonely

Episode three shifts gears and focuses on the law firm of Nelson and Murdock. Seeking a couple of clean lawyers to do their dirty work, Wesley, right-hand man to a ‘mysterious’ criminal mastermind, reaches out to Foggy and Matt. The episode opens with a brutal fight scene, even for this series. A hit man attacks an apparent crime boss and murders him…snapping the bones out of his arm and smashing his head in with a bowling ball. It’s cringe inducing, but it sets up the high stakes and true guilt of the man that Nelson and Murdock go on to defend.

The episode title is explained at the end, in reference to a painting of shades of white.

“There’s an old children’s joke. You hold up a white piece of paper and ask ‘what’s this?’ A rabbit in a snowstorm.”

Matt finds himself lost—a rabbit in a snowstorm. He’s traveling through a world where everything blends together—right and wrong, good and evil—it’s all hidden. The blurry line between good and evil, as he references in his closing statement for the trial. By choosing to defend Healey, the obviously guilty hit man, Matt is compromising his and Foggy’s own mission and values. They don’t want to be in the business of defending the guilty. The money is appealing—and Foggy nearly takes the case despite his moral quandaries. But it isn’t until Matt decides that Healey can lead him to answers about who has hired them—someone who knew about Karen and Union Allied, despite Karen’s involvement never going past the police. Ultimately, he attempts to use the law for his own ends and fails.  Matt’s closing arguments about the blurring of good and evil is a thinly veiled monologue of his own personal struggles with his choices as a vigilante.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to reporter Ben Urich. Vondie-Curtis Hall’s performance is one of the standouts of the series. He brings the perfect balance of cynicism, passion and weary-eyed wisdom, and razor sharp wit. The scene where he barters for an extension for his wife’s medical care, and only reveals the gift he brought as a thank you after he is able to negotiate a deal perfectly captures who Ben Urich is. “That would be cheating” he says, when asked why he didn’t open with the sandwich. He’s a little old fashioned, devilishly smart, and determined to do things his way. Even when his way goes against the grain, and he’s told to shut down his story for not being juicy enough to sell papers. Old fashioned reporting is dead and gone, his stereotypical TV newspaper editor declares. It’s a bit of a hackneyed scene when Urich gets chewed out about the dying newspaper business, but it sets up his character arc for the season. He’s out to prove to himself and to the world that he is still relevant. Ben is a veteran of the organized crime beat and has established relationships and connections with people in the criminal underworld. Our first glimpse of him is a conversation with a member of the old guard, who has decided to retire to Florida amid the changes going on in the Hell’s Kitchen empire. Rigoletto, a name mentioned in the first episode, and apparently the former kingpin of crime, has been knocked off. Ben’s old relationships don’t help him find any answers here, because the old rules of crime—just like the old rules of the newspaper biz— are gone. The city is changing. It’s a beautiful scene shot with the city skyline across the river as the two men discuss the city that once was.

It’s this new criminal underworld without rules, without the established, more respectable way of doing things, that Matt has launched himself into. (“It used to be that after you whacked a guy, you sent his wife flowers. Now, you send the wife with him.”) He’s found himself embroiled in something much bigger than him—machinations that obscure everything.  By trying to narrow in on one aspect, Healey and his connection to the man who hired he and Foggy, Matt has failed to notice the larger picture. He’s found himself in a world without the clear moral distinctions—and he has failed to see the moral implications of his own doings. Is he doing more harm than good?

It’s a valid question, given what his physical confrontations lead to in this episode. Sure, he saves the blackmailed juror from getting her secrets exposed—and removes the corruption from the jury. But he also has risked the life of the man who revealed what they had on the woman. As the thug explains, the woman became his assignment because he responded to an anonymous assignment. And he could very easily be someone else’s next assignment for spilling. And true, Matt get’s Wilson Fisk’s name from Healey. But Healey is so terrified by what he’s done and the possible implications for the people he cares about that he impales himself through the head. “You should have just killed me. You coward.” Matt is rocked to his core, shocked by the lengths Healey has gone to. His already shallow, morally compromised victory is cut short.

During all of this, Karen is offered a large sum of money to never talk publicly about Union Allied again. Here, her stubborn streak appears for the first time. Unable to give up on figuring out why she was almost killed, she refuses to sign the deal and tracks down Daniel Fisher’s wife. When she finds out that Mrs. Fisher has already signed, she seeks out the man who broke the Union Allied story, Ben Urich. She doesn’t care what happens to her, or at least she is so angry that she can’t even consider the consequences. She just wants answers, and she wants everyone to know the truth.

The violence in this episode is brutal even by Daredevil’s standards. It stands out in comparison to what has come before, and even taking into consideration later episodes, it’s particularly graphic. At first it seems completely gratuitous. But thinking on it more, in the context of the episode, it’s mostly played in service of the story. The opening scene where we witness Healey’s hit very clearly sets up the stakes for the case Matt is about to take on, and the sheer brutality of the man he is to defend. And it displays just how dangerous and violent the world Matt has entered into is. When Healey impales himself we see it—because the creative team wants to emphasize the sheer shock of the moment. We are meant to feel the same way Matt does, completely taken off guard and rattled. Who is this man that has made a professional killer so terrified that he would rather skewer himself then let anyone know he revealed his employer’s name?

It’s this man we get our first glimpse of in the last moments of the episode, admiring a painting of overlaid shades of white. When asked by the art dealer what it makes him feel, he responds, “It makes me feel alone.” Does Fisk enjoy the idea of being alone in the midst of the stress of his criminal dealings? Or does the sensation of being alone leave him with too much time to contemplate what he is doing? Either way, it’s an unexpected way to introduce the show’s antagonist.

Like I said, the third episode is a change of pace and spends most of the time focusing on Matt and Foggy working a case. It helps to establish more firmly the world in which Matt operates and makes it different from the two episodes that came before. It really stresses that the legal system isn’t completely capable of delivering justice, and is at times as corrupt and morally gray as the crime Matt fights at night. There’s some validation in what he’s chosen to do. There’s so much story starting to happen in so many different places this episode and it makes for really engrossing viewing. I really appreciate the time the series is taking to put the pieces in place and establish the characters and the world they live in. Each episode so far has had forward momentum, but they’ve been very meticulous in giving breathing room for characters to talk to one another and let us know where they are coming from and the situations they find themselves faced with. And thankfully it’s never been a sloppy exposition dump or someone just giving a long monologue. It’s all felt very natural, like Foggy and Matt’s disagreement about whether or not to take Healey’s case. That informs character. Healey’s drastic actions also establish for the viewer the scope of Fisk’s brutality and power. It saves us time in future episodes needing to have Fisk be a broad characterization.

Stray Thoughts

  • Foggy: Was that a knock?
  • Matt:  Someone’s at the door.
  • Foggy: Our door?
  • “These questions [of good and evil] are vital ones because they tether us to each other…to humanity.” Like I said, the subtlety of Matt’s closing argument is nonexistent, but it’s so important in highlighting what Matt is facing both externally and internally.
  • “OK for the record, that’s the first time you’ve ever said I was right. I hate it.”

Marvel Facts:

  • The door across the hall from Nelson and Murdock’s office is for a businesses called Atlas Investments. Atlas Comics was the name of the company that eventually became Marvel Comics in the 1950s. Before that, it was known as Timely Comics. Even the logo with the globe is a reference to the publisher.
  • Ben Urich was created by Roger McKenzie and Gene Colan. McKenzie preceded Frank Miller on the Dardevil comics. Ben discovered Daredevil’s secret identity pretty quickly, but kept it under wraps. He eventually became a major supporting character in the Daredevil universe. Urich was especially important in Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure on the book. He also crossed paths with Spider-Man from time to time, since they both worked at the Daily Bugle.
  • Speaking of the Daily Bugle, it was some kind of nerd torture to see Ben working at a paper other than the one he is so associated with. But since the Sony deal was only brokered after Daredevil was already in production there was no way it could happen.
  • Turk Barrett was, just as I hoped, the black guy who got beat up in the first episode. He appears again during this episode and states his name.Turk’s a small-time thug with allegiance to whoever is paying him the most or threatening him the most. Daredevil tends to use him for info. He was created by Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller.
  • Wilson Fisk was originally a Spider-Man villain, created by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr. He was a big time mob boss, but much more a classic comic book villain with laser canes and fantastical plots and devices. Frank Miller brought him over to the Daredevil books when he took over and made him so ingrained in the mythos that it soon was as if he was there all along. Kingpin became much more of a cold-blooded crime lord out of reach of the law, using a front as a legitimate business man. His interactions with Daredevil became an obsession. Kingpin has since become much more associated with Daredevil than Spider-Man in the intervening years and is considered DD’s archenemy.  Though he still has interaction with Spidey and even the rest of the Marvel U from time to time.

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?

Marvel’s Daredevil: Into the Ring

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson assure you, their seven hours of experience is all you need.

The premiere episode of Daredevil works because it defies expectations of what a super hero show should be. It isn’t about the violence, or the gritty, darker themes the show is structured around. It’s because this show takes its time to set up its world and its characters before it throws you in to an origin story or major set pieces, or  hand feeds you how Daredevil’s abilities work. It’s something the upfront order of an entire season allows. And it’s a benefit of being on Netflix, where the pacing doesn’t require a cliffhanger before every commercial break, or even the assumption that it will be a week, or two weeks, or a month before you see the next episode.

Daredevil has a unique distinction of being a Marvel Comics title that has had numerous, high quality, critically acclaimed runs. Few characters in the entire history of the superhero publishing have seen such highs and such constant experimentation and artistry over the span of a character’s history. Comparing the seminal runs on Daredevil versus the seminal runs on Spider-Man is nearly impossible. Spider-Man’s had a lot solid stories and creators, but it’s also had some huge disasters and stinkers. Daredevil, on the other hand, has consistently been a critical darling and the franchise has received pride of place in the Marvel catalog of recommended reading.

In the interest of full disclosure, my familiarity with Daredevil is relatively small. I’m aware of the reputation of the lauded runs by Bendis, Nocenti, and Miller, but I haven’t read a ton of it. As I work through this new Netflix show, I’ll be diving into the comics more as well. So expect more direct comparisons as we go along. But the publishing history of Daredevil is worth noting in the discussion of this new series, because that book’s penchant for experimentation and breaking new ground appears to be continuing into this new Marvel Studios production.

Marvel has been aware of Daredevil’s artistic pedigree and its potential on television and film for a long time. No character in the Marvel Universe has seen as many close-call attempts to get on air as Daredevil. From the backdoor pilot on the live action Hulk show, to the attempt to get an animated show on the air spun-off from the 90s Spider-Man cartoon, to the critical flop that was the Ben Afleck version of the character. Somehow, despite the character’s potential, Daredevil has seen plenty of stops and starts on its journey to a quality adaptation on Netflix. I’ve always been a fan of the character where I’ve seen him; in the Avengers comics, the 90s Spider-Man cartoon. His hook, the blind vigilante, is an interesting one. And as someone who was pretty sick as a kid, I liked the idea of a hero with a disability.

The announcement that Marvel would create a quintent of series for Netflix based on its street level heroes was a surprising one. Netflix was only beginning at the time to grow its original series. Whether these series would be well done or have the production value behind it to be successful was unsure.

But “Into the Ring” proves that a streaming service was the best possible home for Daredevil. Because of his lack of superpowers that necessitate big explosions, Daredevil is at home on the small screen. He doesn’t have the enhanced strength that Captain America has, so the wire work and one-hit punches that send people flying like we saw in Winter Soldier don’t eat up the show’s comparatively smaller budget. It also allows the stories to be smaller, more intimate, and drawn out over time. The biggest issue in superhero origin films is the pacing. They need time to set up a character’s life, show how it changes, how they adjust to having these powers, and then in the third act shift to facing a threat. Final battle, lots of CG, roll credits. Network television is equally restrictive. You are at the mercy of the intrusion of commercial breaks that eat into a show’s run time. There’s an expectation that a third act climax requires a similar culminating battle every week. A balance needs to be struck between action and character time. To keep people’s (or at least, advertiser’s) attention on network TV, you need quick cuts, short scenes, and plenty of places to take a break. On streaming, all of those rules are out the window.

Daredevil benefits from the ability to take its time, to build a story over the course of numerous episodes. Because rapid viewing is assumed, plot threads can weave in and out, and the creators don’t need to worry that their viewers will forget about them. The series’ major conflicts don’t even become clear until we get closer to the halfway point.

“Into the Ring” opens with a glimpse at Daredevil’s origin that only serves to set up how Matt Murdock became blind. It’s a quick glimpse into Murdock’s past. Given that we learn that Matt is blind anyway, and the rest of the episode makes no mention of his origin, the very first scene feels a little superfluous and out of place in comparison to the rest of the episode.

The show really begins with Matt’s visit to the confessional. The character’s Catholic faith is a central part of the character, and given that I’m a practicing Catholic and a theology grad student, expect to hear me talk about the show’s portrayal of that facet as we move along. Historically, Hollywood doesn’t much understand the subtleties of how religion works. In this first scene, Matt’s penance acts as a compelling peek into his character and the contradictions that make him work. He is a lawyer who believes in the justice system, who also prowls the street as a vigilante taking the law into his own hands. He is a Catholic, who uses violence to bring judgement on to others—two things that an Irish Catholic guy like Matt would feel immense guilt over, since they are explicit no-nos.  This confessional scene, followed immediately by our first glimpse of the man in action immediately tells us who Matt Murdock is at his core. It grabs you immediately.

Charlie Cox’s performance is understated and natural. His Matt Murdock is instantly affable and charismatic. Making it all the more frightening when he brutally beats people to a pulp. It’s clear a lot of work went in to the body language of how to portray someone who is blind. We don’t get a lot of flashy special effects or sonar-vision scenes like the comics or the old movie did. Instead there are just hints of Matt’s heightened senses through camera work and sound design. Hints, not explicit showcases. It’s how most of the episode operates, really.

As I said before, the premiere takes its time to set up its pieces and establish its world. And it is firmly set within the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The events of the Avengers’ battle in New York is critical to the story. The destruction caused by that battle has left Hell’s Kitchen in shambles, and New York in need of rebuilding. These pieces are central to the ongoing story. The crime and corruption that goes on is directly tied to the rebuilding process. The Avengers have changed the world. I expect to see more of how the city’s destruction provoked Matt to take matters into his own hands.

Matt may be the star, but his supporting cast is already coming together. There has been perhaps no better casting in a comic book adaptation than Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson. He perfectly captures the good natured goofiness of the character, bringing some much appreciated levity to the episode. Not only that, he looks like he stepped off the page, complete with bad haircut and bad suit.  We don’t know much about Karen Page yet, but Deborah Ann Woll puts in a solid performance that paints her immediately as more than just a damsel in distress.

I started off by saying this first episode defies expectations of what a superhero show should be. It does this not by being ashamed of its roots (like plenty of other adaptations do) but instead by not being afraid to  focus not only on the super heroics. If Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier have taught the viewing public anything, it’s that superheroes are not a genre unto itself. Superhero stories can take many forms, from thriller, to action comedy, to sci-fi and more. In the case of Daredevil, it’s equal parts a crime and procedural drama. Matt Murdock is a lawyer, and the cases he takes on provide the opportunity for B-plots and episodic mysteries that can provide additional drama in the future. We also are already seeing hints that Matt is going to soon run into street-level criminal activities involving the drug trade, political corruption, and arms dealing. The way these things plague the city are sure to play a role. And the montage sequence in the end, coupled with an ominous score put into perspective the odds that are stacked against him.

Daredevil is known for inhabiting a dark, gritty corner of the Marvel Universe that is more gray than black and white, more gritty than good versus evil. The cinematography captures this with a noir-like shadow that pervades every scene. Matt doesn’t work for the government, he’s not a millionaire playboy, he doesn’t come from golden halls. He lives in the shadows. The camera moves slowly, characters take time to have long talks, there aren’t a lot of cuts even in the fight scenes. The action is visceral, intimate. Matt doesn’t hit people once and finish them off. Every fight is a string of punches and kicks, a ballet of beautifully choreographed athletics. He knows how to fight and, like his dad, take a punch. A lot has been made about the shows violence and dark tone, but those aren’t the things that make Daredevil stand out, to me. It’s the attention to characters, and the willingness to build slowly and confidently. It stands out against Marvel’s other TV offerings in its scope and dramatic pacing. It offers us a whole new world in the Marvel U. And it has plenty of time to take us on a tour. Based off this premiere episode, the show looks poised to capture the spirit  of experimentation, drama, and action that has made Daredevil comics such a perennial critical darling for so long.

Marvel Comics made its name by introducing us characters who were underdogs, who dealt with real problems and had to overcome obstacles. With the premiere episode of their new Daredevil series, Marvel Studios have given us just such an underdog in Matt Murdock.

Stray Thoughts:

  • There has never been a more true description of Matt Murdock than this line from Foggy, “If there’s a stunning woman with questionable character, Matt Murdock is gonna find her.” I would expect that to come more into to play at some point.
  • The fight poster glimpsed at the end of the episode, Murdock v. Creel, is a reference to Carl “Crusher” Creel, who also happens to be the villain Absorbing Man, who has already been seen on Agents of SHIELD. Executive producer Jeph Loeb has already confirmed they are the same character. Although, I wouldn’t expect him in the show this season.
  • The opening credits are just beautiful. They’re a lost art on network TV with run times getting shorter to accommodate more ads, so to see them on Netflix and HBO is always a treat. The surreal imagery of the city, of justice, Catholicism and the dripping blood all inform a lot about the thematic thrust of the series and the inner turmoil Murdock is faced with.
  • The Chinese woman, Madame Gao has a factory full of blind workers…something tells me she’s going to get her butt kicked for that some time in the future.
  • I’m excited to begin my contributions to this website with recaps of Daredevil. Given that it’s a Netflix show there’s not much point in each entry being a full-on review, since you’ll probably already have watched it by now. So in general these will act as my impressions and analyses of the show going forward. I hope you’ll join me in the journey. Future entries will be shorter, I’m sure. But since is the first episode, I wanted to give some intro to the character and the series as a whole.

Marvel Facts

I’ll be using this reoccurring space to share some comic book information.

  • Karen Page, Foggy Nelson and Matt Murdock all first appeared in Daredevil #1 by Stan Lee and Bill Everett  in 1964.
  • Karen Page was Matt Murdock’s longest ongoing love interest in the comics. Like most 60s era Marvel women, she was a golly-gee, starry eyed secretary who mostly just served to do things for the main character. She eventually became a drug addicted sex worker, like most Frank Miller written women. Hopefully this version will be a little more well rounded than either of those.
  • Matt’s black vigilante outfit is lifted directly from the miniseries “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr, which retold the character’s origin story.

A Story About A Bridge

“They tore it down a year ago.”

The sentence washed over me and rested around my ankles like a pair of cement shoes. When you’re young, the places you see every day are simple facts you never give a second thought. Life isn’t a changing and growing organism; it’s a static and structured thing. It is a building. A place. A definitive monument, untampered by time.

I walked over the torn-up soil where there was once an old wooden bridge over a small creek. “I don’t think ‘tore it down’ is quite the phrase you wanted to use,” I joked, pretending that the loss of the bridge wasn’t a big deal. “There was a creek here. They fill that up?”

“Yeah, before the bridge went, even. Honestly, I’m surprised it took them so long to tear it down.” 

Amy had been one of my closest friends through grade school into senior high. She was one of those rare friends that didn’t abandon you in the awkward pubescent years. We waited until after graduation to drift apart. She got attractive in eighth grade, which put me in a weird position because I always looked young for my age. It wasn’t until late in high school that I sprouted up. She could have left me for any boy she wanted or the sudden interest of a cooler group, but she never did. We watched Star Wars on Friday nights and saw Attack of the Clones opening day. In retrospect, it was a waste of money. I never thought of her as a girl, which is why I never understood why guys hated me after they asked her out and then saw us at McDonald’s. She was just Amy.

My family moved just before I started college. I guess they figured I’d be going away to school anyway, so what was the harm? At first I visited Amy and traveled home during breaks. But after a while it got harder. I didn’t have the time and I only ever spoke to Amy occasionally online and said, “Man, I haven’t seen you in so long!” That led to “We have to see each other this Christmas break,” but never to seeing each other in fact. 

Amy came up to my school last semester because I guess we finally got tired of the circular conversations. It was fun. We spent the night watching Star Wars and drinking every time they said “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” or when Darth Vader choked someone. But it was different, like the time we spent apart was separating us the whole night. It manifest in gaps in conversation, in the awkward reference to embarrassing things we had done together then forgotten about. It was as if we were eulogizing the friendship instead of reinvigorating it. I decided then that I needed to visit home again. 

And that’s why we came here. When we needed to get away from parents or high school drama, we’d come to the bridge, sit on the edge and throw rocks into the creek.

“I remember more trees,” I said. If my memory served me, I was standing at the center of the bridge. If I closed my eyes I could see the old view. Lush and green trees older than the world we knew. They blocked out the late afternoon sun. Today, I had to shield my eyes. When we were here, time stopped for just a little while. It didn’t matter if it was day or night; there was always the same hazy glow from between the leaves. The trees were our sanctuary.

“Oh, those have been gone for years, James,” Amy responded, as if it wasn’t a tragedy.

“Shit. It’s been a long time.” 

“They’re supposed to turn this whole place into a new development for the over-50 community,” Amy laughed. “Can you believe that? And we came here to get away from grown-ups.”

I laughed and tried to forget for a moment that I was 23 now and part of the world I wanted to escape from back then. “This was our place.”

“I guess things change,” she offered with a half-smile, placing her elbow on my shoulder, despite having to reach up to do so. She used to do it all the time when she was taller than me for most of our lives. It was a habit she hadn’t broken despite the shift in size. “Besides, it hasn’t been our place in four years. Not since you moved.” I shrugged, using one shoulder.

“What do you think would have happened if I stayed? Would we be here right now?” Amy moved her arm and her feet brushed the fallen leaves beneath her feet. 

“The bridge would still be gone,” she answered. I turned around to face her, and she was doing that familiar ballet twirl she always did when she was thinking about something. “We grew up, you know? It just happens.”

“Yeah, I know, but I missed you. I missed this place and this town. Maybe we would’ve gotten to say goodbye to the bridge before they tore it down.”

“Don’t be such a girl,” Amy teased and pressed her finger into my chest. That was familiar, too. “When was the last time we even came here? Before the day you moved, anyway. We never came here after graduation. One day, something is there and the next it’s just not. We can’t live in the past forever.”

I looked again at the patch of soil that used to be our bridge and took in a deep breath. “How about us? Think we would still be friends if I hadn’t moved?”

Amy laughed at that. “What, we’re not friends anymore? We’re here now, aren’t we? That’s enough for me.” 

And I guess with those four words, it was enough for me, too.

first published in Woodcrest Magazine 2012 edition. Photo by Alyson Winkler