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!
The episode begins by following Fisk in his morning routine – waking alone from a nightmare, making the same breakfast, selecting the same clothes, listening to the same music. And as he sees himself in the mirror, we see the young Fisk, splattered with blood. A series of flashbacks show Fisk’s early life under an abusive, loser, mob-indebted father and a terrified mother. We also see Fisk meeting with his various criminal associates, justifying his recent decisions and failure in killing the masked man. At Nelson & Murdock, Matt – now in on the investigation into Fisk – advises caution. They eventually decide to expose Fisk, to drag him into the public eye against his will, and Urich begins to write the article. Meanwhile, Fisk meets with Madame Gao, who comes to his home, makes it clear that he already knows both Chinese and Japanese and doesn’t need Wesley translating, and then tells him he’s gotten sloppy and that he should sort his operation out. This enrages Fisk, and he’s only calmed when Wesley calls Vanessa over. Fisk confesses his entire past, and she forgives him for it. The next morning he wakes up with Vanessa, and she joins him for breakfast and selects his clothes before, as Urich completes his article, Fisk calls a press conference to announce his intention to rebuild the community of Hell’s Kitchen. Urich deletes his now-useless article and Matt flies into a rage over being outmanoeuvred. Back to square one.
It’s the Kingpin origin episode, and it’s as good as any fan of Fisk could’ve hoped for. I’m not sure the comics have ever done a start-to-finish version of the Kingpin’s origin, but it’s been reworked to a fair extent in this retelling. You can find some of the source material’s take on his childhood in Daredevil (1998) #13 & #15 and a small amount much later on in Daredevil (1998) #116.
It’s interesting that the series ties Fisk so explicitly to east Asia (presumably both China and Japan) in his early life. While the Kingpin has spent a lot of time in the region in the comics (usually when he’s chased out of New York by superheroes) it’s unusual to place him there this early in his history. Aside from creating the question of how a poor, working-class widow in New York manages to ship her son out of the country, it’s a change that makes a lot of sense. Fisk obviously picked up the languages and traditions, but he’d also have had time to make friends and allies which would affect his, er, business interests back in New York.
It’s interesting, too, that from Wesley’s expression it appears that he didn’t know Fisk spoke Chinese and Japanese. It’s a small moment, but a nice one for both characters. As well as creating plausible deniability for Fisk’s enemies, it would’ve effectively allowed Fisk to keep tabs on how Wesley is serving him based on what information gets translated. Of course, one wonders how Wesley feels about that lack of trust. It can’t be a coincidence that this mirrors the betrayal that Foggy will feel if he ever realises Matt isn’t as blind as he claims. I’ve said before that Foggy is typically in on Matt’s abilities, and this scene alone means I fully expect that to happen by the end of the series.
This episode is, after all, about the parallels between Fisk and Murdock. Both poor kids who grew up in New York, both affected by organised crimes, both feel responsible for the death of their father (with varying degrees of accuracy), both mentored in eastern philosophies and both are keeping secrets from everyone. It’s not particularly subtle (what about this show is?) but it’s one of those things that adaptations have a great chance to do: rearrange and reinterpret the existing mythos to strengthen parallels. Just as it’s pretty clear Matt won’t be called Daredevil until the final episode (rather revealingly titled Daredevil) I think it’s a safe bet Fisk won’t be using the name Kingpin until the final episode either.
I do have to take issue with the fact that Blake apparently survived that gunshot, though. Sure, it’s entirely possible, and it leads to a truly chilling set of scenes where we learn the level of power Fisk has over other men – but if that assassin WAS Bullseye… Bullseye doesn’t miss. Not with a sniper rifle. Not against a basically stationary target. He could’ve made that kill with a penny!
Now, the nerdy bits. The guy making Owlsley’s new, more protective suit – I mentioned him in the notes for an earlier episode, but this is Melvin Potter, aka the Gladiator. Originally one of Daredevil’s earliest villains, first appearing in Daredevil (1963) #18, Melvin Potter was a clothing designer who made himself a suit of armour and became a criminal. As you do when clothing sales take a downturn. He later reformed and began to supply costumes to superheroes and criminals alike. He’s got no powers, but he is an expert with edged weapons. If you look in the scene where he’s measuring Owsley for a new suit, there’s a poster on the wall advertising “Gladiadores.” Doesn’t take a genius to translate that.
It’s worth noting, too, that Leland has a son. Since this version of Owlsley is too old to be the “The Owl” version of the comics, maybe Lee might? Could be short for Leland Owlsley Jr., right?
Anyway, the high point of this episode (aside from the aforementioned meeting with Madame Gao) was probably the return of Vanessa, who brings out a great side to Fisk. That’s illustrated brilliantly by the repetition of his morning routine and the welcome disruption she brings to it on the final iteration. With her around, he’s less predictable, less boxed-in – and that feeds into the final scene, where he announces his existence to the world, essentially beating the Nelson-Page-Murdock-Urich alliance to the punch and setting the terms of their engagement. Clearly, it’s a bad time to be good. One can’t help but wonder about his suit getting a shade lighter, too. Is he going to wear the full Kingpin Whites by the final episode?
Read James’ viewing notes on the previous episode, Stick, here.
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