Daredevil episode 1 viewing notes: Into The Ring

Here's the first of our episode-by-episode annotations of Marvel's Daredevil series, released today on Netflix...

With the whole series of Daredevil now available on Netflix, the race is on to reach the ending before someone spoils it for you. But that presents us with a problem. How do we approach reviews? It’s not much use speculating about the future of the series when it’s available at a moment’s notice, but watching the whole thing in one go for a single review is impractical for anyone with a day job and personal relationships to maintain – to say nothing of how difficult it is to critically appraise 12 hours of television if you don’t savour the instalments properly.

That’s why, instead of traditional reviews, we’re trying something new. An episode-by-episode unpicking of the show, looking at its techniques, characters and use of the source material. Call them annotations, call them show notes, call them whatever you like – but hopefully it’ll offer you a kind of Daredevil coverage you can’t get anywhere else. All we ask is that if you’ve seen future episodes that confirm, contradict or otherwise twist things we talk about in this piece, please don’t put spoilers anywhere in the comments!

Episode Recap

Matt Murdock – already operating as a costumed vigilante – and his friend Foggy Nelson open a law firm in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York. Their first client is Karen Page, a woman who is first framed and then targeted for death after she uncovers a pension scam at her employer’s construction company, which turns out to be owned by a shadowy crime boss (no prize for guessing who, but at this point no-one’s actually said his name). The duo manage to clear Page and take her in as their employee in lieu of payment, but a wider investigation can’t proceed because the criminal-in-chief manages to clear his tracks by arranging the deaths of several other people.

Episode Notes

It’s interesting that the series essentially begins with Matt already operating as a costumed vigilante, presumably reflecting the origin-fatigue expressed by movie-goers bored of being told the same basic story over and over. Unlike some characters (and we’re thinking of Spider-Man) Daredevil’s origin story isn’t quite as revered within the canon of the character. That’s probably because it’s a little goofy, even by comic book standards. Either way, they don’t spend a lot of effort on it, though there are hints that they’ll spin out the specifics in flashback throughout the rest of the run.

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The use of Daredevil’s powers is interesting, though. We get the standard one – Matt listening to heartbeats to detect lies – but that’s more or less the extent of it, aside from a very occasional note of super-hearing. This episode basically assumes you know what Daredevil’s powers are, and never spells it out. In fact, on this episode alone, you could be forgiven for thinking that his special abilities are super-ears, heartbeat-sense and ninja-speed. It could be that they’re deliberately leaving it vague so that they can get away with superhuman feats not normally allowed by his abilities. In the Daredevil movie, they tried to claim his super-strength was part of an enhanced sense of touch, which was a line that didn’t fool anyone.

At this point it isn’t clear whether Foggy knows about Matt’s powers or extra-curricular activities, but traditionally it’s something he learns fairly early on in their relationship. Foggy himself has been made a greater source of comic relief, but he’s also shown as charismatic and calculating. While Charlie Cox is a note-perfect version of the comics Murdock, Elden Henson’s Nelson has gone in a completely different direction (but is no less enjoyable for it).

As well as introducing Nelson & Murdock, this episode also brings in a few other established Marvel characters. Karen Page, Matt’s love interest from the comics, is hired as the firm’s legal secretary. The three of them were all first seen in Daredevil (1963) #1 by Stan Lee and Bill Everett.

Most of the crooks are also established characters. The old white-haired guy who’s very pleased about all the property damage superheroes cause is Leland Owsley, a crime boss known as The Owl in the comics. Though it’s likely this version isn’t going to skirt too close to being the talon-wielding, mouse-eating psycho seen in the comics.

The gang member named who appears at the fight on the pier, and later in the epilogue, is Turk Barrett. He’s a henchman who’s been hanging on the fringes of Daredevil ever since he was created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan in Daredevil (1963) #69. He was played by Coolio in the 2003 Daredevil movie and even turned up in the 1989 TV movie, The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk.

The Kingpin’s aide, Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) is also an established name. In his first scene the cop tells him that “Rigoletto” will get the money he’s owed, and replies that Rigoletto has recently retired. In the comics, Rigoletto was the Kingpin until his trusted employee Wilson Fisk murdered him and took over his criminal empire. Again, the implication is clear.

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It’s notable that Rigoletto was an old-school mob boss opposed to the drug trade and child prostitution that he thought was off-limits for honourable crooks. The closing montage suggests that the new Kingpin has no problem with these things. It might be an Easter Egg for the fans, or it might indicate that we’re going to see more about the Kingpin’s rise to power as the series progresses. But as with most of Daredevil’s origin elements, you can find this story in Frank Miller and John Romita’s limited series, The Man Without Fear.

And finally, while the Japanese crime bosses appear to be new characters, it’s worth noting that Daredevil himself has a long antagonistic relationship with The Hand, a secret society of mercenary ninjas. Indeed, Murdock received his initial training from Stick, the head of a rival, virtuous clan known as The Chaste. In this case the new characters might be standard Yakuza, but they might be connected to The Hand. We’ll have to wait and see.

Now, I have a feeling we’re going to learn more about Matt’s origin in flashbacks, so I’ll hold off going too deep into the small references made to it here – but I enjoyed that the episode ended with Matt in Fogwell’s Gym, which is a well-established Marvel Universe location where his father trained. Again, it first appeared in Daredevil (1963) #1. A close-up of a poster also indicated that Matt’s father (Battlin’ Jack) fought a boxer named Carl “Crusher” Creel. The MCU version of Creel himself (or maybe a close relative) appeared in the first two episodes of season 2 of Agents Of SHIELD.

And while we’re talking about MCU connections, it’s hard not to mention the big one: the destruction of New York. When Daredevil was first created, Hell’s Kitchen was a bad area already in decline, and by the 70s the whole of New York was pretty dangerous. Today, of course, Hell’s Kitchen is as nicely gentrified as any other part of Manhattan so this show has taken the interesting step of using the destruction of great chunks of the city in Avengers as something that attracted crime and corruption to the area. It’s an ingenious way to use the MCU’s continuity in a way that serves the character (though they do preserve the tone of the series by talking around the events instead of saying “that time aliens invaded”)

So, there we go. A great first episode with too much material for us to really cover here. It’s interesting how similar the first few scenes were to the 2003 Daredevil, though. Play some nu-metal over the top of this and they’d basically sit fine alongside one another. That kind of indicates just how close the original Daredevil movie was to getting it right. Anyway, the plan is to put these articles up daily as we watch the show, so be back here soon for more. Please remember to limit any discussion to Episode 1 alone, though!

Read James’ episode 2 viewing notes, for Cut Man, here.

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