Marvel’s Daredevil Triple Decker Review
Episode 5: “World on Fire”, Episode 6: “Condemned”, Episode 7: “Stick”
For the past 80-years, comic books and their colourful tales of modern day mythology have been as fundamental to growing up in America as bubble gum, tree houses and scraped knees. As more and more comic book characters reach mainstream popularity, there is a trend amongst writers and directors to distance themselves from the childish label associated with comics by “going dark and gritty”. Today’s crop of darkly re-imagined properties such as 2013’s Man of Steel, entirely miss the point of what makes their characters appealing. Man of Steel opted to strip away Superman’s endearing qualities in favour of a brooding character, trapped amidst a storm of violence.
Most comic book movies and TV shows believe sex and violence automatically elevates their stories above the “childish” comic book source material. Overtly dark stories often have the authenticity of an adolescent girl, clumsily stumbling around in her mother’s high-heeled shoes. Marvel’s Daredevil comes across as that same girl, 20 years later, at the corner stool of a bar, sipping expensive red wine and writing a memoir about her world travels. For a show about super-human characters, Marvel’s Daredevil spends a great deal of time exploring the very human consequences of violence.
Episode 5: “World on Fire”, kicks off with a physically and emotionally battered Claire (Rosario Dawson), staring in a mirror, her beautiful face overrun by the wine coloured bruises she incurred during her beating in the previous episode. Later on, after an explosion impales Foggy (Elden Henson) with a piece of shrapnel, the following episode immediately brings up his wound. So often on film, pain and death are only concerns to the characters impacted during the precise moment the trauma takes place. How many slasher flicks or CW shows have we seen where soon after a close friend is murdered, the cast of pretty teens are right back to school, work or the mall? In real life, pain and loss can hang over us like a shadow cast by a never-ending eclipse. It’s refreshing to see that on this show, when someone gets hurt, there are lasting consequences.
It’s astonishing that Marvel’s Daredevil did not reveal Matt’s (Charlie Cox) most spectacular power, his radar sense, until episode five, and even then we’re only privy to a stingy glimpse. As a comic book fan, I was familiar with Daredevil’s history and powers, so I didn’t need the series to explain them. I also realize that my knowledge of Daredevil’s back-story leaves me in the vast minority. Considering that this is a show about a blind man with “mad ninja skillz“, I’m floored by the series lack of urgency in explaining every bit of back-story minutiae. How many new fans were sitting back wtf-ing?
I’m glad that the series finally decided to give Foggy some shine. So far, Foggy has done little more than provide comic relief; his main role in the fledgling law firm is responding to Matt’s alpha male orders with quizzical expressions. It took some time, but Foggy is manning up. After a moment of bullying by his old colleague and former flame, Foggy really stepped up his game. Foggy unleashed some devastating lawyer-speak, proving his competence to the audience and silencing his ex. Had Foggy been holding a mic, he could have dropped it and walked off into the sunset as Marvel’s Daredevil’s true superhero. Foggy even got some ass-kicking in, saving Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) from a couple of thugs. Foggy is never going to rocket past the beta-male stratosphere, but it’s encouraging to see the show portray him as something more than a rube.
The series is really doubling down on exploring the effects of Matt’s vigilante crusade on his humanity. Claire, the character Matt shares the deepest connection with, already fears that Matt is closer to the criminals he punishes than he is willing to believe. The Russian Mobster, Vladimir (Nickolai Nikolaeff), insists that Daredevil’s only path to saving the city must involve the death of Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). Most disparaging is Matt’s mentor Stick (Scott Glenn), aka Stick (in the mud), who insists that killing is a line Matt must eventually cross.
Although Matt disregarded Stick (in the mud’s) lessons about living a Spartan lifestyle divorced from attachments, his former mentor did raise a valid point that Matt should take heed of. Stick (in the mud) reminded Matt that he hasn’t yet lost anyone while on his Daredevil crusade. Matt who earlier ponied up the telling statement that, he sees the world on fire, is in constant danger of submersing himself in the shadows he fights to hold back. Each episode of Marvel’s Daredevil spotlights Matt as a man tethered to his values, slowly unspooling his wound-up moral code in order to inch his way closer to stopping Fisk. Would losing Karen, Claire or Foggy lead to Matt sacrificing his code?
Like any criminal worth his villain academy union credentials, Wilson Fisk believes he is a hero, “making something beautiful out of the cities ugliness”. So far, Fisk has been a fascinating enigma. He claims that he “takes no pleasure in cruelty“, but we see little evidence that he believes those words. Is the Fisk persona an act of self-deception, suppressing the nuclear volatility simmering just below his awkward surface? After emulsifying a man’s head in his car door, Fisk wiped splattered brains of his $5000 suit as casually as I wipe Spaghetti-O’s off my nephew’s bib. I think what he meant to say was, he takes no pleasure in dry cleaning.
Watching three episodes in succession illuminated the pros and cons of the experience of binge watching. At the end of episode five, Matt is trapped like a rat, his black suit awash with the red and blue light of police sirens, hands in the air with no way to escape. In a not too distant era, I would have waited an entire week to find out what happened. Shows like Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer created entire cultures based on fan’s gathering both online and in person, in order to speculate on the fates of favourite characters. On Wednesday nights, a decade ago, as the flashing display on my DVD flicked from 7:59 to 8:00 and that indifferent voice announced, “Previously on Lost“, I experienced a type of euphoria that binge watching won’t ever re-capture.
By the way, Shout out to Episode 6: “Condemned”. This is a potboiler of an episode and may be my favourite episode yet. Here we have a hunted Daredevil, framed for the widespread destruction in Hell’s Kitchen, the city on fire, cops closing in all round him and he’s stuck moving a Russian gangster’s dead weight. For the next 50-minutes, “Condemned” continues raising the stakes. Foggy gets hurt, the city labels Daredevil a terrorist and in a rare moment of carelessness, Vladimir gets the jump on Matt. The episode starts out tense and keeps on tightening the screws. Watching Daredevil trapped, hunted and with innumerable obstacles between him and home was reminiscent of the classic 70’s film, The Warriors as well as the iconic sequence in Batman: Year One, when A rookie Batman is trapped by the GCPD.
Although it wasnt immediately evident, Stick (in the mud’s) appearance notably changed the entire context of the show. Marvel’s Daredevil is a comic book show, and like other stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), there have been passing references to other heroes and storylines. Stick (in the mud’s) presence on the show is notable for introducing a supernatural element to what has been a grounded (by comic book standards) show.
Marvel and Netflix signed a deal to create series based on several notable street level crime fighters. We know that Daredevil will team up with Luke Cage and Iron Fist; two characters that lean heavily upon the more comic-bookish elements of the MCU. Although I’m all for seeing magic and science fiction in my superhero shows, I suspect that these Netflix superheroes will take a less is more approach similar to the slow introduction of Daredevil’s origin, powers and costume. No matter how they choose to play it, we saw Stick (in the mud) try and straight up murder the “kid that’s not a kid”. What did that even mean? Go on Daredevil…. you have my undivided attention.
7 episodes in and Marvel’s Daredevil continues to impress me with its stylish and nuanced take on the comic book genre. Episode 6 stood out by creating a palpable, edge of your seat tension and episode 7 opened the series up to the innumerable supernatural mysteries of the MCU. Overall, Episodes 5, 6 & 7 provided another solid run of top-notch comic book stories that should convert every fan of the genre into proud Netflix subscribers. Marvel’s Daredevil is setting a fine precedent for the next batch of Marvel shows on Netflix as well as comic book shows on competing networks.
This show seems to have at least one fantastic visual set piece per episode, but they will have to go some ways to top Matt using a beat up thug as a blast shield at the end of World on Fire.
While calling about removing a bullet from Vladimir, Matt cracked an “I don’t watch movies” joke to Claire. Matt is always more charming when the two of them share a scene, even if Claire is not in the same room.
Victor Stiff is a Toronto based writer and nerd culture curator who may have an unhealthy relationship with chocolate milk. Victor is covering Daredevil season one. Read his review of Marvel’s Daredevil episode 1 here, episode 2 here, and episodes 3 and 4 here. You can find him on twitter@victorjstiff