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 opens with Matt fighting an honest-to-god ninja (and losing). It flashes back to Foggy, Matt and Karen attempting to connect the now-public Fisk with the intimidation surrounding Mrs Cardenas’s apartment building, and it looks like they’ve got a case until she’s unexpectedly murdered. An angry Matt goes to see Vanessa (now publically connected to Fisk) to see if he can learn about her. During the visit, Fisk himself shows up, rattling Matt and forcing him to excuse himself. Matt makes some trips to church, consulting with the Priest about whether he should kill Fisk or try if there’s another way to stop him. Enraged by Mrs Cardenas’ murder, Matt tracks down the killer and finds the place where he was hired, where he encounters the ninja he was fighting at the start of the episode. The ninja is Nobu, who has taken it upon himself to kill the masked man, and he almost succeeds until a combination of unlikely events sets him on fire. As the fight ends, Fisk turns up and goads Matt to try and kill him. Matt succumbs to his rage, but he’s too injured to win and gets beaten even further. Luckily he escapes death by throwing himself into the river, then stumbles bleeding back to his apartment just in time for Foggy to find him collapsed… and remove his mask.
Well, I guess that settles the issue of whether or not Nobu’s connected to The Hand. As well as being a literal ninja, Nobu gets upset about Matt having previously helped Stick and exchanges dialogue with Matt about being part of “a war” and Matt knowing ninja skills. Again, it’s hard to know whether this is going to make up more of this series (I hope so!) or whether it’s going to be part of a future series or the wider Netflix-leading-to-Defenders narrative. But regardless, I’m enjoying it.
Since they’ve done basically everything except use the phrase “The Hand” by this point, I’m now comfortable pointing you in the direction of Daredevil (1963) #174, which is the first appearance of the group. They’re big villains throughout Frank Miller’s run (which is a clear influence on this entire series) but they also turn up in the Marvel Universe all the time. Basically every major character has fought the Hand. (They’re also the basis for the Foot Clan in the original Turtles comics which – if you can believe this – were originally written as parodies of Frank Miller’s Daredevil.)
Although the comic references have slowed down lately, the show’s own mythology is providing some excellent moments now. Fisk nonchalantly turning up during Matt’s gallery recon was an excellent genre-busting moment, subverting the expectation that their first face-to-face meeting would be hugely built up in advance. Similarly, the Kingpin’s first meeting with Matt in his masked incarnation happened completely unexpectedly, at the climax of a previous fight. It’s rare you get to do the same twist twice in one episode, but here it works.
As a comics nerd, I did enjoy a few moments, though. Fights between Fisk and Murdock are always great in the comics, and the joy on Fisk’s face during that beat down indicated just how much of a monster he is. He’s really enjoying it.
A couple of smaller moments too: Matt throwing one of his staves at a gun just as it’s fired, leaping through a window to escape a fight, and using his staves to bat projectiles out of the air were all classic pieces of Daredevil action. I couldn’t help but love it. I also enjoyed that when he found the junkie who stabbed Mrs. Cardenas, he encouraged him to turn himself in. This is something Bendis’ Daredevil did a lot: rather than drag people to the police station a la Spider-Man, he tried to intimidate them into changing their own life by making it clear he’d be watching them. Just one of the ways Daredevil differs from other superheroes: weaponised Catholic guilt.
Speaking of Catholic guilt, what I’m most enjoying at this point in the series is the exploration of whether Matt should just kill Fisk, when he gets the chance. In earlier write-ups I spoke about how it seemed like Matt was going to struggle to get Fisk arrested, and this episode shows that was a deliberate play. He doesn’t know if he should kill Fisk, but it’s looking more and more like there’s no other way to remove him from the board. Will he be better than that, or will he sink to Fisk’s level? Given the tone of the series, it’s hard to know for sure.
What I like about this is that there’s currently a very strong thread of superhero fandom that holds superheroes responsible for the actions of their villains, if they refuse to kill them. You don’t have to look far to find Batman fans saying that he should murder the Joker, failing to note that heroes don’t generally kill people (and certainly not in a premeditated way). What they do is find another option, because they have ideals and don’t always take the easy way out. In a post-9/11 world where heroic narratives involve murdering terrorists before they murder you, it’s not that surprising to see superhero fans taking that line. Personally, I stick with the adage that heroes, generally speaking, don’t kill. Certainly not if there’s any other option.
And even if this series does end with Matt killing the Kingpin (though at this point I’m thinking it won’t) then you can’t argue that the show hasn’t earned the right to take Matt into that territory. He’s been avoiding outright murder at every turn and the conflict over his desire to kill Fisk has been extensively questioned. Compare this to a certain other vigilante-led TV shows where the lead came out arrows-blazing, or even the Daredevil movie where he chucks a guy in front of a train, and it’s fair to say the people behind this show have put serious thought into the idea and are treating the taking of a life – even a criminal one – with the healthy amount of respect it deserve.
Having said all that, I find it a little odd that they decided to put the debate up front in this episode, and then have Nobu die in a fire as a result of fighting Matt. It’s not like Matt poured petrol on him and lit a match, but the moment itself is shown ambiguously enough that it could’ve been deliberate. It slightly undermines the entire argument. Though maybe they’ll follow it up.
And yes, that final scene. I’ve been saying since the start that Foggy would probably find out what was going on at some point, and it seems we’ve reached that part of the story. I’m guessing he’s not going to be entirely pleased about this.
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