Marvel’s Daredevil “Condemned” Review (Episode 6) – Daredevil: Year One

InYoFace Daredevil

As predicted in my last review, episode 6 of Marvel’s Daredevil plays like a mid-season finale, with everyone scrambling in the fallout from Fisk’s gangwar with the Russians. Focusing mostly on Matt as he evades dirty cops with an injured and near-death Vladimir in tow, they take refuge in an abandoned building, where they spend the rest of the episode hugging, laughing, making fat jokes about Fisk, and putting holes in the floor.

Okay, maybe not.

Despite its high stakes, this episode is more of a character piece, delivering many wonderful moments that are all about performance and dialogue rather than action. Matt’s wry banter with a delirious Vladimir, his sad trombone moment when the rookie cop refuses to cooperate, his show-stopping one-on-one chat with Fisk, and both his humorous and heartfelt exchanges with Claire make for some of the best moments the show has given us.

It also has one of the best titles. “Condemned” is great little double-entendre, referring to both the building where all the action takes place, and the circumstance Matt finds himself in, a victim of the Kingpin’s plots and his own dubious motivations. I’ve noticed that all the scripts after the initial two seem to carry this sort of double meaning — something perhaps enforced by showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, in which case, I compliment him. I love a good multi-entendre title.

You Were Right About Me
 

Assume The Position Daredevil

There are several stories from other mediums that this episode calls to mind — which should by no means imply that I think it’s copying any of them. I just see the similarities; I make connections (I’m a comic geek; it’s what we do).

Aside from one major sequence in Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli’s classic Batman: Year One, in which a rookie Batman finds himself trapped in an abandoned building while police close in around him (a sequence duplicated on screen in both Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Begins), the most apt comparison for this episode may be to one of its predecessors — namely episode 2, “Cut Man.”

Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say this episode feels like a companion piece to that one. On the surface, it has many similar beats — opening with Matt in a compromising position before escaping to an enclosed location where spends the rest of the episode engaging in quiet, character building conversations, torturing a Russian (albeit to save him this time), interrogating him, and ending with a climactic, multi-opponent fight. All while Foggy and Karen are out enjoying the rustic charm of Hell’s Kitchen(‘s local hospital).

If you look deeper, though, you start to see how these similarities may be at least partially indicative of something Claire warned Matt about in the previous episode — itself a callback to their earliest conversations in episode 2. Matt has trapped himself in a cycle of violence wherein he will always find himself in over his head, near death, forced to drift ever closer to the line that separates hero from villain, resorting to rising levels of brutality to survive, and in the end, his victories will always be pyrrhic — if they be victories at all — because as soon as it’s done, he begins the cycle again.

He does this to himself, again and again, and in this is episode, he finally sees it. He realizes that what he said about himself on that rooftop four episodes ago wasn’t just an intimidation tactic, it was a confession. He does this because he enjoys it.

As Fisk’s final plot is sprung and Matt finds himself framed for not only last episode’s explosions, but also the murders of several police officers outside the building where he’s holed up, he finally sees his affliction for what it is. In that fleeting moment of clarity, he tells Claire she was right about him, and then prepares for what may be his last stand.

But he has one more conversation to have before the end.

I’d Like to Speak to the Man in the Mask
 

Chit Chat Daredevil

This episode brings us closest to the traditional portrayal of Wilson Fisk yet. The Kingpin persona is on full display as he has his first, and final, conversation with Daredevil via walkie talkie, explaining with absolute confidence the flaws in DD’s methodology, and why, in the end, he can’t possibly win.

It’s a checkmate move, with Fisk having already absorbed and processed the series of mistakes and setbacks resulting from the masked man’s interference. It shows his quick thinking and devilish skill for manipulation, that he can turn so many losses into a win as simply as turning the gun on his own bought & paid-for soldiers.

He gives Matt one last chance to save himself: “Kill the Russian and we’ll call it a push.” Of course, Matt refuses, and so Fisk gives the go ahead. Suddenly, cops are lying dead in the street and all the news channels are running footage of Daredevil’s escape from police at the top of the episode. In the blink of an eye, the Masked Hero of Hell’s Kitchen has become a terrorist in the public eye.

Okay… now, here comes the part where you all accuse me of hyperbole: As “Hero Finally Comes Face to Face with Villain” scenes go, this one may be a little better — just a tad better — than the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight.

I know. I KNOW.

But hear me out… it’s all about context and build-up. The scene in Dark Knight is amazing. You’ve got the villain seemingly at the mercy of the hero, but exhibiting an unsettling amount of confidence as he delivers his twisted perspective on the hero, inciting him to levels of violence that threaten to break the rules he’s set for himself. ONLY the villain can get to the hero this way, and it makes the villain sort of supernatural, in a way. When it’s finally revealed what the villain has set in motion, it feels like a horrific magic trick. We marvel at his accomplishment while sweating bullets for good to win out. The Joker in TDK ALWAYS has the upper hand. We’re fools for ever doubting it.

I do not dispute the greatness of this scene.

The Daredevil/Kingpin scene is similar in several ways, but also more subdued (and unaided by the stellar performance by Heath Ledger — though D’onofrio is no slouch). The reason I think it might be a better scene is partially because of the longer buildup, which is only made possible by the medium. We’ve had upwards of five hours to get to this point, rather than the two hours in TDK.

The more important reason, though, is that rather than a magic trick, Fisk’s move in this episode feels like chess. The show has gone out of its way to portray the humanity and fallibility of this villain, in a way making him a co-protagonist of the series. We are as invested in Fisk as we are in Daredevil, so when the two come head to head, it doesn’t feel like the hero being subjected to the villain’s supernatural resourcefulness and forced to react, it feels like two opponents, evenly matched, each taking their lumps and actively fighting back.

When Fisk turns the tables on DD, yes, there’s that gut-drop moment of “What have you done??” But there’s also a little bit — just a tiny bit — of admiration. You respect a smart play.

And the chess match goes on.

I suppose it depends on what each individual audience member values in their storytelling. But, for the rarity of it in the now multitudinous variety of superhero narratives on screen, this scene just slightly edges out the reigning champion. For me, at least.

This Is Not How I Die
 

Vlad's Last Stand Daredevil

Somewhere, there is a list entitled, “Every Mistake Made By Superhero Shows.” I suspect the Daredevil writing staff has this list stapled to the writers room wall, and have been systematically crossing items off with each new script. In this episode, they’ve left their darts firmly embedded in the “Stock Villains and Nameless Thugs” trope.

Vladimir Ranskahov is one more in a line of nuanced, textured criminal foils the show has given us. Far more than a throwaway character for DD to beat on, Vlad actually gets to be the other hero of this episode. We watch as he first reacts predictably, based on the lies he’s been fed about the masked man killing his brother. He doesn’t exactly take Matt at his word, despite that word being the truth, but that doesn’t mean he’s not paying attention. As the episode goes on, rather than stay stubbornly ignorant, Vladimir watches and listens, using his brain to figure out the truth for himself, eventually choosing to help Matt of his own accord.

In other words, he behaves like a person. It seems like this shouldn’t be that huge an accomplishment, but when you look at the army of disposable thugs and cackling stereotypes other superhero shows have thrown at us, you see how sadly revolutionary it is. Even a show like The Flash, which has endeavored to add more life to its rogues gallery as its first season has worn on, still resorts to short cuts and shallow characterization to make each episode hit the desired formula.

On any other show, Vladimir would have been little more than a walking, talking plot device. Here, he’s become one of my favorite characters, and even gets to deliver the best line of the episode:

“The moment you put on the mask, you got into cage with animals. Animals don’t stop fighting. Not until one of them is dead.”

Nikolai Nikolaeff turns in a top notch final performance as, in the end, Vladimir chooses to go out the way he wants: fighting.

Costume Watch:
 

Suit Up Daredevil

No new additions here, but we get some great looks at DD’s new gear, including close-ups of the new knuckle-guard gloves.

What really strikes me about the costume in this episode is how much I kind of… sort of… don’t mind it. In fact, I’ve come to really like it. It’s not that I DIS-liked it before… I was just very much looking forward to the red suit. I still am. But this is the first episode where I really embraced the black ninja suit and began to accept it as THE Daredevil costume.

Likely it’s because that’s the only thing Charlie Cox wears for the entire episode. We get to see the costume from tons of different angles, in different poses and different kinds of lighting, and, y’know… it just looks badass. Cox seems to have bulked up a little more (unless there’s padding in that shirt — but if there is, it’s AMAZINGLY well-hidden), and that makes him look just a little more imposing. He’s quite literally grown into the role, and his physicality continues to be as much a part of the character’s identity as his voice, costume, and face.

In this episode, Cox has truly become Daredevil.

Easter Egg Hunt:
 

That Card Tho Daredevil

– “What he did to me, he will do to you. Will you feel the same way then?” When Vladimir says this to Matt at the end of the episode, it’s such a guerilla reference to the comics, it took me two viewings to catch it.

Look, I know they’re going to do Born Again on this show. They have to. It’s THE Daredevil story. And, who knows? Maybe they’ll even do it as a movie. But that means I refuse to spill the beans on exactly what happens in that story, because I know how sweet it will be to experience for the first time fresh.

That said, looking at everything Fisk has done to Vladimir up to this point… yes. This is an easter egg.

But none of that matters, because…

– THAT CARD THO!! At one point in the episode, we see an anonymous sniper setting up on top of a building; this being the man who shoots the cops Daredevil will be framed for killing. At first glance, there’s nothing really special about the sniper — we don’t see his face and he has no dialogue. But, in the split second shot of him setting up, we see, tucked away in his bag, an ace of spades playing card.

Why is this significant? Because this is the favored weapon of one of Daredevil’s greatest villains: the assassin, Bullseye (whom you may remember being portrayed by a scenery-chewing Colin Farrell in the 2003 movie).

I know, I know… this seems like the longest of long-shots, but all’s I’m saying — ALL’S I’M SAYING — is that when I tweeted the image at Steven DeKnight, asking him if he had any comment… he didn’t reply.

HE DIDN’T REPLY, FOLKS! THAT’S ALL I’M SAYING!

Okay. Enough of this. I can feel you all judging me.

Next week, Matt gets a visit from a kindly old man named, “Stick.”

See you then!

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