Daredevil episode 5 viewing notes: World On Fire

No one gets out of Daredevil episode 5 without a big moment. Here are James' viewing notes for World On Fire...

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

After her abduction, Claire is staying with Matt. He reveals more about himself and they kiss, before he runs off to beat up some people. Vladimir, the surviving Russian, is trying to find his brother. Fisk (who actually killed him) frames “the vigilante” for the murder, then tells the rest of the syndicate that the Russians are going to be taken out of the picture and their money split between the four of them. Foggy and Karen take a new client – a woman whose landlord is attempting to force his tenants out. Matt heads to the police station and overhears police officers murder a Russian for giving up Fisk’s name. Foggy helps out the client by confronting their lawyer (his ex-girlfriend) in front of an impressed Karen. As Daredevil, he beats him up and finds four locations pertaining to Russian headquarters. The Russians, meanwhile, think Daredevil is working for Fisk after Turk gives them some information. While Fisk dines with Vanessa, the Russians prepare for war with Fisk and Foggy and Karen eat together at the client’s house. As Daredevil investigates one of the Russian headquarters, Fisk’s men suddenly move in and blow the place up. Foggy and Karen are mildly injured by the blast, which was next door, and Vanessa and Fisk watch the city burn from their restaurant vantage point. An injured Vladimir escapes the building but Daredevil catches him… just as the police arrive and order him to freeze. Cliffhanger!

Episode Notes

Well, this episode has “end of Act One” written all over it. From Fisk making a play for power to Matt getting himself into a jam to Foggy killing it in the legal department only to be spectacularly undermined by a load of grenades going off, no-one got out of this episode without a big moment. I said before how much I love when Foggy puts the legal-hammer down (wait, I mean a gavel, I guess?) but I also love when Fisk demonstrates that he’s as driven as he is dangerous.

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This episode does highlight some of Daredevil‘s problems with subtlety, however. The dialogue isn’t poorly-written, but it is occasionally blunt to the point where you can’t help but think “Yes, that is the subtext, thank you for removing any doubt.” Having Claire tell Matt “Even though you’re blind you see so much” is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the knees (which is itself something this show is probably getting to) and it comes quite close to the line “Lawyer by day, vigilante by night, how does that work?” which is, again, sort of the subtext of the entire show here.

Anyway. I don’t think it’s unintentional that this episode does a lot with the show’s women. While Daredevil has caught a bit of flack for its female characters being less developed than the male ones, I think it’s getting better as the series progresses – though without the benefit of having seen every episode I can’t contradict anyone who’s seen more, so maybe I’m being optimistic.

I find Foggy and Karen’s developing relationship interesting. It’s clear that the pair have great chemistry with one another, but I wonder if we’re heading towards a fake-out. The way Karen was upset that Matt hadn’t found out what she looked like, and the way she asked Foggy to essentially stand-in for Matt makes me wonder if we’re supposed to be in Foggy’s shoes – thinking there’s something growing between them – while she’s actually looking towards Matt. That would mirror the love triangle from the early comics, and create a tension between the two friends. Foggy jokes about Matt getting all the “hot ones” but y’know. Many a true word spoken in jest, and all.

But Karen does at least have her own side-plot going on, so it’s not like she’s just a love interest. I’m not convinced Claire’s being given a particularly full range. She seems to have been constructed to be perfect for Matt, and it’s notable that the only time we see her without him is when she’s being the damsel in distress. Obviously Rosario Dawson and Charlie Cox have great chemistry together, but it’d be nice if she managed to do something other than stroke Matt’s ego (though she does make the point that Matt’s quite close to being what he fights against – something which comes up in this episode when the Russians start to think he’s working for Fisk).

All that said, I am impressed with Vanessa. Although she’s introduced purely as a love interest for Fisk, she’s everything the comics version is: a formidably intelligent woman who’s intrigued by Fisk’s passion, rather than seduced by his power. I like that she challenges him, and that he respects her enough to allow her to. Compare that to Matt just brushing Claire’s concerns off. I also like that they’ve given her credible motivation for looking past Fisk’s moral compromises. It’s not just that she’s used to dealing with the kind of morally compromised people she meets in her day job: it’s much simpler. It’s that she feels unsafe, and above all Fisk is promising to make her feel safe.

Now, as for the nerdy stuff.

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Starting with Vanessa, she tells Fisk that she was propositioned by a guy in “a white suit and an ascot”. “Seems like a bit much” replied the Kingpin. That’s an in-joke about how the Kingpin used to dress when he was introduced in the 60s, and how you may remember him from the 90s cartoon. I don’t normally like self-aware jabs like this (i.e. anything that seems to suggest the source material is dumber than the adaptation) but it works in context so it’s not a problem for me.

Claire mentions “billionaire playboys”. Obviously you can take this as a nod to Tony Stark, but in this case it’s general enough that it doesn’t bring me out of the show’s reality – not least because the person it’s most frequently applied to in the real world is Bruce Wayne. Do DC comics exist in the MCU? One has to assume they don’t. Do any superhero comics exist in the MCU? If it’s anything like the comics Marvel Universe then people in the MCU read comics starring fictionalised versions of the superheroes that exist, and the fact that Howard Stark owned a copy of Captain America Comics #1 suggests that’s probably the case. (Fun aside: in his secret identity, Steve Rogers once took a job drawing the official Captain America comic). Either way, it’s unlikely people are reading pirate comics. Sorry, Alan Moore.

This episode also gives us the first look at how Matt “sees” the world. It’s a great description and quite poetic. I was actually expecting to see more of this radar-vision, a la the 2003 Daredevil movie, but I think they’ve been quite clever in keeping his powers vague and taking the time to explore his abilities by showing them, rather than having him explain them in detail. The less specific they are about how his powers work, the less likely they are to paint themselves into a corner of “why can’t he do this?” or “how come that worked against him?”

I also like this this episode subtly reintroduces the police into the narrative, setting up the final cliffhanger. First, Claire wonders why they don’t get involved. Then Matt finds out that some of (if not all) of the police are corrupt, which answers that question. Then the cops turn up and threaten to arrest him at the end. Again, I’ve not seen episode 6 but it’s safe to say he probably won’t be going quietly.

As a Marvel nerd, I would be remiss in failing to note that Karen’s jokes about clones, robot babies and clones of robot babies is perilously close to infringing on some X-Men intellectual property. Look up Cable. He’s the son of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey who, as a baby, was infected with a techno-organic virus and then cloned just in case he didn’t survive. So that’s a clone, a robot baby and a clone of a robot baby. They’d better hope Fox doesn’t sue. (And in case you’re wondering, Marci Stahl, Foggy’s ex from the same scene, and the rival law firm Landman & Zack were all created for the TV show.)

Turk notes that he did a stretch in Riker’s Island, the famous New York City jail. But not so fast! This being the Marvel Universe, he probably did a stretch in Ryker’s Island, the Marvel Universe counterpart to Riker’s Island, which is on the same place but has a very slightly different name. Ryker’s Island holds both super-powered and normal criminals, and notable Matt Murdock is held there when he’s arrested in Daredevil (1998) #80 (and for a long time afterwards).

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Lastly, I just want to make the point that Fisk mentioning his father in connection to the cuff links is probably not as sentimental as it sounds. In the comics Fisk’s father was abusive and probably the first person Fisk ever killed. So, er, when he says he’s using the cuff links as a reminder, it’s probably not a reminder of anything good.

Read James’ viewing notes on the previous episode, In The Blood, here.

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