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Marvel’s Daredevil: Nelson v Murdock

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson

The triumph of last episode’s reveal of the Nelson and Murdock, Attorney at Law sign is undercut as Foggy, disgusted, tosses the plaque in the trash.

Nelson v Murdock” is propelled by astounding performances from Elden Hensley and Charlie Cox. With the majority of the episode’s run time taking place in scenes of the two of them in conversation, the casting and performance of these best friends were more important than ever, especially because they had to portray the characters in vastly different circumstances at different times. The chemistry between the two and the way they pull off the pain that Matt’s secrets has caused creates a deeply moving episode that is uncomfortable and painful to watch. With the argument cut between scenes of the two meeting and becoming friends in college, the depth of their friendship—their brotherhood—becomes clear. Smart writing and editing makes the fight all the more heartbreaking with quick cuts from happier times to furious and sullen stares from Foggy.

The episode comes late in the run time, and it’s moments like this that make all the time spent on building the characters and revealing who they are and what they care about  early on so worth it. The emotional payoff is significant and meaningful as the two best friends are at such extreme odds.  The episode only works because character has been such a focus on the show.

One of the great things about Daredevil as a series the way it deals with consequences of actions, begging the question, “What is a hero?” That’s really what Foggy’s argument forces Matt to ask himself. Would Matt be more heroic if he was just the man Foggy thought he was? Foggy becomes Matt’s conscience personified. The arguments he has been gripping with and able to push to the back of his mind come to bite him as his best friend stands there in front of him betrayed and hurt. Everything he knew about Matt is  a lie. He has a whole second life. Foggy knows that Matt’s dad never wanted him fighting. He knows that Matt is always talking about the importance of the law.  He sees the hypocrisy of everything Matt has been doing and calls Matt out on it. Even going so far as to compare him with Fisk.

“The city needs me” argument doesn’t fly with Foggy at this moment when he is so hurt and shocked. He forces Matt to see that he doesn’t do what he does in isolation, that the consequences could hurt others.

  • “This city needs me in that mask, Foggy.”
  • “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it does. But I don’t. I only ever needed my friend.”

What is a hero? Is Matt a hero, when he is taking the law into his own hands and contemplating murder? When Foggy was out on Matt, he has to ponder all those questions.  One cannot be savior and oppressor. The question is, will Matt continue on the path he has set out on?

The scenes of the two in college provide a contrast and much needed levity in the midst of such heavy discord.  The drunken conversations and transition from awkward first encounter to heart-to-hearts on the steps and starting out as business partners gives us an even clearer glance into the bond the two have, and provide Cox and Henson a variety of scenes to play.

Meanwhile, Ben and Karen continue to play off and inform one another. They have an interesting mentor/mentee kind of relationship, with Ben the withered veteran and Karen more tireless, reckless, and sometimes manipulative. The reveal of Karen’s true motives in taking Ben to the retirement home/hospice care center is both disturbing in the way she used Ben’s situation and shocking from a story perspective. The fact that Fisk’s mother is alive is a potential game changer for the manufactured history he presented to the world when going public. Vend Curtis-Hall continues to portray the perspective of the every man with such measured charm and grit that makes Ben Urich every bit the character he was in the comics. He’s fearless, but tired, passionate, but measured. When he gives Karen the evidence he’s collected to take the editor job and pay off his wife’s medical bills, it’s clear that he does is it with regret. But he is old enough and wise enough to know that he can’t put himself first when his loved ones need help…Actions and consequences. A familiar theme.

Fisk is dealing with his own issues, as well. With the death of Nobu, both Madame Gao and Owsley no longer trust him. They see his relationship with Vanessa as a weakness. A liability. They want the man who will do whatever is necessary. Someone who has to worry about a girlfriend or a loved one? There’s no room for that. While Matt Murdock has to come to grips with the fact that his actions affect the people he cares about, Fisk is being pushed to let go of all of his attachments. Vanessa’s attempted assassination to goad Fisk into becoming his more brutal self is a plot point lifted directly from the comics. So much so that my first thought was that Wesley was responsible. As this episode ends we are not sure who did it. But everyone close to Fisk is a possible suspect.

Actions and consequences.

As things close on this episode, it becomes apparent that we are reaching a turning point in the series. Both Fisk and Murdock are at crossroads with intense circumstances that force them to reevaluate their operations. Things can only get more explosive as the third act unfolds.

Stray thoughts:

  • “Misspelling Hanukkah is a mistake! Attempted murder is something else.”
  • There’s been enough “Avocados at Law” memes since the show was released that I won’t bother quoting the scene, but it’s definitely one of the highlights of the episode.
  • “Isn’t that the plot to Kung Fu?” it’s funny because it’s true.
  • Would’ve been nice to see Claire Temple in this episode, rather than just have her mentioned. But I imagine Rosario Dawson’s paycheck is a little bigger than most of the others and they need to pay her in all the other Netflix series where she’ll be appearing.

Marvel Facts

  • Like I said, a major part of Kingpin’s story in the comics was the attempted murder of Vanessa.
  • Roxxon Industries is a long running company in the Marvel U. They are notoriously corrupt. The tradition continues.
  • The “Greek girl” Foggy mentions in the college flashback is an obvious reference to ELEKTRA! Who Matt dated in college and later returned to be an assasin. She was created by Frank Miller in his initial run.

Marvel’s Daredevil: Speak of the Devil

Matt and Fr. Lantom

My first thoughts as this episode begins? THE HAND, SUCKER!! That is a full-on red clad ninja out to kill Daredevil. I knew Nobu was not just Yakuza. My second thought is, man I wish there was a Ninja Turtles movie like this. Mostly because the TMNT origin is based on Daredevil and every time I see or hear The Hand, I think of the Foot Clan. (The original Ninja Turtles comic was a direct parody of Daredevil’s origin, with the radioactive ooze that blinded Matt also splashing on four regular turtles and mutating them. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were parodying what was hot in 80’s comics, which was ninjas and mutants—Daredevil and X-Men.)

Anyway. We find out a lot about Kingpin’s evil plot to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen by any means necessary. We still don’t quite know why Fisk is working with Nobu, but we do know that he and his organization (THE HAND!) was guaranteed a significant amount of space in the new city. Which explains the plot to drive people out of Elena’s apartment building. Fisk’s goals aren’t particularly evil, at least on the surface, but his methods are destructive and his desires are much less virtuous than probably even he believes. I imagine that Nobu’s “necessary evil” is man power and enforcement. Ninjas to do killing.

Nobu is very adamant about having a particular space in the city. Why is unknown, but he makes it clear that he is under pressure from his superiors. Knowing that The Hand have a mystical element to their actions, it’s likely there is something at play in that world.

At the same time, Fisk and Wesley discuss how the Mask has been less active recently. Is he scared, or just being more careful? Following the events of “Condemned” and the city turning on him, Matt’s tactics change significantly. Realizing he is at a disadvantage and always a few steps behind Fisk and co, he seems to be turning his attention to the legal system and working with Foggy and Karen. But that doesn’t stop him from pondering taking drastic measures. Which is what takes him to see Father Lantom twice in this episode. When the trailer for this series featured the snippet of dialogue, “I believe the devil walks among us, taking many forms,” I was ready to grit my teeth and struggle through another show that doesn’t know anything about Catholic faith or theology attempt to use its iconography. But, really, the series has a pretty solid take on it, and manages to make it feel authentic and believable. The devil is tricky, theologically speaking, with no real consensus and some priests rejecting the notion entirely. So the way Fr. Lantom talks about the devil is pretty refreshing, and, most importantly, from his own experience. It was especially so because they took the time to talk about the evolution of the word Satan in the biblical text, which is a nuance often missed not just by television but by the general public.

“I had this notion… which I was more than willing to speak about, at length, to whoever I could corner… that the Devil… was inconsequential. A minor figure in the grand scheme…In the scriptures, the Hebrew word “Satan” actually means adversary. It’s applied to any antagonist. Angels and humans, serpents and kings. Medieval theologians reinterpreted those passages to be about a single, monstrous enemy. In my youthful zeal, I was certain I knew why. Propaganda. Played up to drive people into the Church.”

Catholicism and fundamentalism are not the same, and a show claiming to be about a Catholic that went with the angle that the devil is a real evil creature walking around in the world would be a big fat red flag that the writers had no sense of what they were talking about. But Father Lantom has a more subtle understanding of the devil and evil through his missionary experience in Rwanda. The idea that the “devil” exists among people is palatable in this context, and probably as close to a general consensus of Catholic theology as is possible to get. It also works on a thematic level, in the conflict between Kingpin and Daredevil.

It’s not just the conversation at the beginning that’s handled well, but all of Matt’s interactions with the priest. Father Lantom is presented as a regular person, which is a big failing in so many shows where they make priests into characters who spout bible verses and are all-knowing wisdom speakers. I especially liked that Father Lantom doesn’t remember the particular verse he is quoting. Catholics are not the bible quoters that protestants are…My biggest pet peeve is when people who write fiction have Catholics or priests quoting chapter and verse all the time. It’s just not a part of the education or the major emphasis. It’s a lazy way of lumping all Christians together.  And even in the first episode, when Matt comes to confess before actually committing anything, Lantom is quick to point out that it doesn’t work that way.

The Proverb that Father Lantom shares with Matt (which is Proverbs 25:26, for the record) represents a major theme of the series. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” Meaning, when a righteous man falls to sin, it is as bad as if a public spring has been poisoned. The effects ripple to those around him. Matt feels himself hanging on a precipice. When put to the question of whether he is conflicted because he is “struggling with the fact that you don’t want to kill this man, but have to, or that you don’t have to kill him, but want to?” Matt is fully aware that murder is against everything he believes in. At the same time, he feels like the best option is to commit such a major sin. But is it his anger talking, or the real truth? He can’t be sure. The consequences could ripple to everyone he cares about.

In this episode Matt and Fisk come face to face for the first time, which shakes him to the core. To speak with this man who represents everything he hates is one thing, but to be in his presence another. It’s interesting that Matt refers to him as “the devil,” when it is he who takes on the Daredevil name. It’s another way the show parallels the two characters. Is he capable of taking actions that Fisk has already taken? And if he does, how much closer does that make him to becoming Fisk—reshaping the city by whatever means necessary.  It is the things that Matt Murdock clings to that makes him a good man—things Fisk does not care about or have. Yes, Fisk has Vanessa, but Matt has a set of moral scruples and beliefs that are incredibly important to him.

It is his Catholicism and faith that puts him apart from the Kingpin. That’s what makes his conversations with Fr. Lantom so interesting. The show isn’t a perfect depiction of being Catholic (although certainly there is no single way of being Catholic) but  Matt is a man guided by his beliefs. It’s ultimately what keeps him from going over the edge. When Fisk reveals that he killed Elena just to get at Matt, he explains, “I took no pleasure in her passing,” as if that is some kind of justification for the act. He’s exceptional at lying to himself in order to justify his actions. Matt, on the other hand, is riddled with the guilt of his actions because they go against so much of what he believes. It’s that guilt which drives him, because he is also unwilling to simply sit back and allow things to unfold knowing he could potentially make a difference. The central conflict of Matt Murdock is the man torn between his passion for the law and his actions as a vigilante. Similarly, there is the man of faith torn apart by his violent life. The Catholic faith is what keeps Matt from becoming Wilson Fisk, a villain. It’s what drives him to help others, rather than rule over them. He sacrifices himself every night for the sake of others, rather than paying others to do dirty work for him.

Twice, Murdock comes into contact with Fisk in this episode, first as their hidden selves, and then later as their real personas. Matt lashes out at Fisk despite being beaten and bloodied by Nobu so badly he can barely stand. Which ends poorly for him, as one might expect. Fisk tears him apart, revealing his monstrous strength and animalistic, furious violence. It is a taste of things to come for both us and for Matt. D’OnForio is not as gigantic as the Kingpin of the comics, but I don’t think anyone realistically could ever pull off that physique. But he still cuts an imposing figure, especially when in the moments when he reveals his unhinged anger. His physical strength and the way he attacks by massive charges and punches is properly intimidating and even if he isn’t a martial artist like Matt or Nobu, it’s easy to picture him being a physical match just through sheer strength.

Speaking again of Nobu, the ninja fight is a far cry from the more grounded street level action, veering a little more toward the super heroic with high flying flips and kicks. It’s another small step toward expanding the world of Daredevil to something a little more than the more street level drama season one has focused on. The frequent cuts to the super-violent battle provide jolts of action to what is otherwise an episode focused on character.

The episode ends with a shocking reveal from the aftermath of Matt’s battle, where Foggy discovers his friend’s double life. I definitely wasn’t expecting them to take that step this season.

Stray Thoughts

  • “We are going to make a difference. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes… a lot of the time, but we are.” Hope! The potential and desire to make a difference is central to these characters and this show. I don’t see the series as purely a dark and gritty tale, but one of hope and people fighting to make a difference. It speaks to the Murdock gift to always get up after a fall, which was so important to the first couple episodes. No matter what happens, if you keep pushing, you can come away with a win.
  • The scene with the reveal of the Nelson and Murdock Attorney at Law sign is a sweet scene with an air of victory to it..even if it is short lived.
  • Matt slices Fisk’s jacket and discovers that it’s a fancy Kevlar laced thing that keeps him from getting hurt. Important little thing.

Marvel Facts

  • The heroin packet seen is emblazoned with the symbol of the Steel Serpent, an Iron Fist villain. So, Madame Gao, who distributes the stuff may be connected to that later series.

Marvel’s Secret Wars is Ridiculous, Epic, Awesome.

Secret Wars

Marvel’s latest mega event has been years in the making. Writer Jonathan Hickman has been building up to this moment for the last few years in the pages of his two Avengers titles, “Avengers” and “New Avengers.” The premise of “New Avengers” in particular has been that every Earth in the cosmic multiverse is colliding. When they enter the same dimensional space the world has eight hours to destroy the other Earth to save the whole universe from collapsing in on itself. The heroes had to struggle with how to handle this situation–and if it was right to destroy other Earths to save all reality.

Continue reading Marvel’s Secret Wars is Ridiculous, Epic, Awesome.

Marvel’s Daredevil: Shadows in the Glass

The child within – not looking great!

Is the opening scene a metaphor for Fisk’s entire plan to rebuild the city? “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs,” and all that?

After a couple of intense episodes for ol’ Matt Murdock, Wilson Fisk once again takes center stage in one of the finest episodes of the season. The title Shadows in the Glass appears to draw its inspiration from the opening scene of the episode, where Fisk looks into the mirror and sees himself as a boy, covered in blood. A haunting image that immediately draws questions about who Wilson Fisk is as a person. This reflection is how Fisk sees himself, and it begs the question, why?

The episode goes on to illustrate Fisk’s early years in an abusive household and a series of events that led him to be the man he turned out to be. It’s a great insight into Fisk as a character, and makes for some telling parallels between Fisk and Murdock. Following an episode about daddy issues from Matt’s perspective and turning toward Fisk’s own particular challenges makes for another thematic connection between the two characters.

The particular origin utilized in the series sheds a lot of light on D’Onforio’s character choices for Fisk. Particularly his bizarre cadence that makes Fisk seem so unsure of his identity as to slip back and forth between constructed dialects. It becomes pretty clear throughout the episode that Fisk is a product of his father; a thug desperately attempting to disguise himself as a refined gentleman and business man. Just like his dad, he looks to move up the social ladder to gain respect without really earning it, but rather by forcing it to happen. “Those are the guys who wanna keep you down. You gotta show ‘em you’re a man!” The veneer cracks in small details, particularly his reliance on Wesley for tips on wine and his bursts of uncontrollable rage.

Wilson’s father, Bill Fisk, was an abusive husband and dad who wanted to get on city council. He was a thug with a violent streak who wanted power. He wanted to move up in the world and would do whatever he needed to in order to see that happen. “You have to put yourself out there, take what you want,” he tells young Wilson.

It’s clear that despite his hatred of his father, Wilson Fisk took many of his lessons to heart. He will go to whatever means necessary to achieve his goals, obtain what he wants, and gain respect, power, and acclaim. He also inherited the incredible violent anger. That anger is always boiling under the surface of D’Onforio’s performance, always ready to burst.

And as we learn more about Fisk’s journey to who he is today, we also learn that he is not as in control of the Hell’s Kitchen underworld as things seemed at the beginning. His power is fraying at the edges and his associates are questioning his resolve and his ability. Nobu’s contribution to the underworld is unclear, but it is apparent he does not really work for Fisk, but rather he is owed something. Fisk describes Nobu and his organization as “A necessary evil,” whatever that means. Meanwhile, Leland Owsley is on Fisk’s butt about his ability to keep him safe. Owlsey is such an enjoyable character for his irreverent selfishness and his complete lack of fear among his incredibly stone faced compatriots in crime. He provides a service he views as completely necessary and so doesn’t fear he has anything to lose. Fisk also gets a visit from Madame Gao, who he obviously is very intimidated by. She systematically breaks through just about all of his defenses in record time. She figures out his private residence, one of his closest kept secrets, his ability to speak both Chinese and Japanese, and finally reveals that she knows about Vanessa. In fact, Vanessa is Gao’s greatest concern, because she sees this romance as a sign of weakness on Fisk’s part; a distraction.

When Gao leaves, Fisk is shaken and lashes out in rage, overturning his heavy table and even screaming at Wesley to leave him alone. Wesley comes through though, and brings in Vanessa to help, despite Fisk’s protests. Nonetheless, Vanessa manages to convince Fisk to open up. He admits his darkest secrets to her, and explains his current predicament.

Fisk’s deep dark secret is the fact that he beat his father to death with a hammer after having to sit and listen to him beat his mother. After that, his mother helped young Wilson saw up the body and hide it in bags over the next week. After this, Fisk declares that although the murder of Bill Fisk was for his own sake rather than his mother’s, he is not a monster, not cruel for the sake of being cruel. He has to scream this in agony to convince himself. He needs to believe it. Because when he looks in the mirror he sees the aftermath of his first kill. He is reminded of his father forcing him to beat a young kid to a pulp. He wears his father’s cuff links as a statement of who he is not, as if that makes any sense at all. He has convinced himself that his plans for Hell’s Kitchen, the death and the drugs and the crime he oversees, are all for the greater good, and they are not simply the lust for power and blood that he inherited from his violent father. He is desperate to be different from his dad. (Hey, does this remind you of Matt’s relationship to Stick?)

With his allies turning on him, Fisk reveals another way he is like his father. Everyone else is out to “destroy what I’m trying to accomplish.” He blames the world for his failures, rather than his own shortcomings, just as Bill Fisk was not willing to accept his own failures as a man and a politician and took his anger out on punk kids, his wife, and his son.

I’ve seen a couple of people write that Ayelet Zurer’s Vanessa is a character infatuated and drawn to Fisk because of some kind of magnetism that he has as a complicated man, but I reject that notion entirely. Vanessa has made it incredibly clear that she could have anyone she wanted. She is attracted to power and takes what she desires. She could have left Fisk and she brought a gun to their second date. Her eyes were fully open to who and what Wilson Fisk was. And he’s a man without any kind of natural charm. He’s a weird guy. But he has power and influence, and I think above all Vanessa sees in him a chance for herself to gain power. She’s fascinated by his complexity, complexity that continues to reveal itself, but that only makes him more interesting. Her face when Fisk reveals his story is interesting. There is what appears to be a sincere empathy going on, but I’m not convinced she actually believes her assurance that Wilson is not a monster. Perhaps that’s what she likes most about him. In many ways I find Vanessa the most interesting character in the season, despite her comparative lack of screen time.

She spends the night and helps Fisk pick out a slightly brighter colored suit and a new pair of cuff links to mark a new chapter in his life. She is going to help Wilson Fisk achieve what he desires. She’s going to be the woman behind the man, reaping the reward without having to get her own hands dirty.

Things in Matt Murdock’s world seem to be going more along the usual route for the poor guy. As soon as he finds himself poised for a win, he gets knocked down by Fisk. In this case, he manages to get just enough info to convince Ben Urich (in a nicely shot scene in the rain) to bring Wilson Fisk’s name out into the light, forcing him to deal with accusations and probes into his private and business life. This probing, Matt hopes, will be enough to throw the man off and reveal some hard evidence.  This gets blown to hell, however, when Vanessa manages to convince Wilson to reveal himself and provide a face for the public of a hero for the city. If he wants to make a change and accomplish his goal, he can’t operate only in the shadows. In a scene that turns a “reporter writes a story and ties up loose ends as an episode closes” cliche on its head, Urich writes his draft just as Fisk holds a press conference declaring his intention to rebuild Hell’s Kitchen. Knowing that his article will never see print now, Ben deletes the file.

Matt also gets some much needed screen time with Foggy and Karen, where he manages to squeeze out of them their investigation into Union Allied. With a shocking amount of hypocrisy, he rails on the two of them for working outside of the law and endangering themselves. Together, the three begin the hard work of trying to pursue legal channels to bring the conspiracy down.

Overall, I find “Shadows in The Glass” to be one of the strongest episodes of the season, providing a great deal of insight to Wilson Fisk which completely remade my impressions of the character. Up until now I could not get a handle on Vincent D’Onforio’s bizarre performance, but seeing where he came from I saw clearly who this version of Fisk was. A thug in a suit, playing at being a man of high society, but unable to shake the anger and lust for power that lies inside. The personal connection to the “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” painting was also a staggering reveal, which said so much about Fisk. Bill’s order to sit and stare at the wall “and think about the man you want to be,” says a lot about the way in which looking at that painting calms Wilson following the nightmares of his childhood. It was the wall he stared at when he had to listen to his mother get beaten and he decided to take matters into his own hands. It was the wall he stared at when he decided the man he didn’t want to be. When Fisk wakes up from his dreams and feels “alone,” looking at the painting, he is able to remind himself of all the ways he is a better man than his father.

Even if he has to lie to himself a little to do it.

Stray Thoughts

  • Nice to see everyone at Nelson and Murdock on screen together. The series could really benefit on more focus on the relationships there, and I hope season two gives us more time to see how Matt relates to Karen and Foggy instead of sending the latter two off on their own and talk about Matt.
  • It was really exciting to see Ben and Matt on screen together, given how much history the two have in the comics.
  • Fisk convincing the cop to kill his partner was coooold. “How much are each of those years to worth to you…In round figures?”
  • “Technically, we paid someone else to shoot him.” Wesley is so fun to hate.
  • “This city is a piss! And a shit!” English may not be his first language but I think that Nobu has a mastery of the NYC dialect.
  • Bill Fisk owed money to mob boss Rigoletto. Early in the series we hear how Rigoletto was “retired.” Maybe a bit of revenge on Wilson Fisk’s part, considering the money his dad owed was the catalyst for the beating we saw in this episode.

Marvel Facts

  • Fisk’s custom tailor who lines his suits with a kevlar microfiber is Melvin Potter, a long running supporting character in the Daredevil comics. He was originally a super villain named Gladiator who fought by throwing buzzsaws. (There’s a poster in Melvin’s workshop of a Gladiator figure with the words “la vengeance de la gladiator!”  The poster is actually modeled after Daredevil issue 226. There’s also a buzzsaw displayed prominently in the beginning of the scene at his shop.) In the comics he was originally an enemy, but eventually reformed with the help of Daredevil and Matt Murdock. He gained psychiatric help from a woman named Betsy Beatty, who he later fell in loved with and married. Melvin Potter has a lot of mental issues and is easily manipulated and has occasionally had some psychotic breaks that forced him back into costume, but at heart he is a gentle man. He owns a costume shop in NYC.

Marvel’s Daredevil: Stick

Stick and Stone, in a shot composition lifted straight from the comics

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.

Stray Thoughts

  • 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.

Marvel Facts

  • 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.

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.