Marvel’s Daredevil “Stick” Review (Episode 7) – Daddy Issues

Stick Daredevil

This episode of Marvel’s Daredevil gives us a bit of a breather after the intensity and explodiness of the previous few. Fisk doesn’t even appear; instead, Leland and Nobu run afoul of our masked hero, with the Big Bad only mentioned in passing. It essentially makes this the first episode of the series to feel like something approaching the sort of stand-alone, adventure-of-the-week formula you might find on network TV. Of course, it still comes with the same quality of acting, filming, and writing you’ve come to expect, so even when it conforms to familiar formulas, it still kind of really doesn’t.

Like episode 2 (no, we will never stop referencing that episode), this episode features backstory flashbacks that provide context and emotional stakes for the present day plot. For its simplicity, and its willingness to reference the comic-bookier elements of DD’s story without feeling like we’ve converted to full-on fantasy, I count this ep among my favorites so far. That is also due, in no small part, to the sublime perfection with which they handle the title character…

I’m Gonna Train You

Matt Stick Daredevil

This episode introduces us a kindly old blind man named Stick. And by kindly, I mean crass, vulgar, uncouth, and generally douchey. (Also, deceptively badass and unusually long-lived.)

As we learn through flashback, Matt first encounters Stick as a boy, shortly after the death of his father. A ward of a church-run orphanage, Matt is under constant torment from his developing senses, so the sisters decide to call in a “specialist” who is known for helping special children. We soon learn there’s more to this specialist than meets the eye. He understands exactly what Matt is going through — that he’s not getting “worse,” he’s getting stronger — and tells him he’s going to train him, not only to master his senses, but to fight.

Created by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson back in the early 80s, Stick was something of a retcon of the original Daredevil origin established by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. Originally, Matt’s father survived to see his son go to law school before the fateful victory that would end his life. An adult Matt then took matters into his own hands, sewing his own super suit (as heroes were known to do back then), and his first mission was to take down the men who killed his dad. Matt was self-trained in this iteration.

When Miller sank his teeth into the mythology, he brought three things to it that redefined the character: organized crime, ninjas, and a new origin. In his version of the story — as detailed in the Man Without Fear mini-series — Matt meets a mysterious blind man known as Stick when he’s still a boy. He divides his time between school studies, to placate his father, and secret training sessions, where he learns to use his new senses to their fullest potential. This lasts until Matt is a teen, when his father dies and he uses what Stick has taught him to take revenge on the men who killed him. Stick abandons Matt then, disappointed in the actions of his protege and thinking him a lost cause.

The show unsurprisingly hews closest to Miller’s interpretation of events, but it changes things slightly when we see Stick abandoning Matt much earlier than he did in the comics.

At the end of an intense training session, Matt, still a young boy, offers the crusty old coot a paper friendship bracelet, made from the wrapper of the ice-cream cone Stick bought him when they first met. It’s a small gesture, but it speaks volumes about young Matt’s frame of mind, and it’s more than Stick can handle. He crumples the gift and walks out on Matt right then and there, telling him his training is over and expressing his disappointment in surprisingly cruel fashion. It’s a gut punch, both for Matt and for the audience, and it explains why Matt is so cold when Stick resurfaces in present day.

(incidentally, I never thought another comic adaptation would be able to catch me with the “You’re a dick” line after X-Men, but I sure did laugh when Daredevil said it to Stick. I guess I’m just a sucker for penile humor.)

(be nice)

Now, you might think this version of events is a softening of the original story, as Stick’s abandoning is triggered by a child seeking affection rather than a teen beating men bloody. But then you’d remember the rest of this episode is all about Stick assassinating a child who is supposed to be some sort of terrible weapon for the Yakuza (actually, I know whose weapon he’s supposed to be, and it’s not the Yakuza, but I’m not tellin’), and that it ends with a prolonged, apartment wrecking, knock-down, drag-out fight between Matt and his ancient mentor… and you can rest easy in the knowledge that the show hasn’t stopped pulling punches.

Besides, who knows? There are still six episodes left — maybe we’ll see a young Matt go after his father’s killers before the season is done.

Foggy Just Plain Kicks Ass

Scoobies Daredevil

While Matt’s busy having his not-so-family reunion, Karen is off getting herself into trouble (must be Tuesday). After a covert meet-up with Ben to compare notes on their Union Allied investigation, she pays Mrs. Cardenas a visit. There, she quizzes the old girl, trying to find any connections between Union Allied and the men who tried to run her and her neighbors out of their building. Alena remembers a few distinguishing details (one man had a bald head, the other had a tribal tattoo), but that’s all.

Sure enough, when Karen leaves, she’s accosted on the street by Bald-Head and Tribal-Tattoo in the flesh, trying to scare her into leaving the old lady, and her tenancy case, alone. Karen puts up a decent fight, kneeing one of her attackers in the no-nos, before receiving unexpected aid from a baseball-bat-wielding Foggy. He’s been following her out of concern for her safety, which doesn’t make Karen happy, but maybe they could discuss this later, away from the prying ears of psychopaths.

She takes him to Ben’s office and persuades Mister Urich to let Foggy in on the investigation. They show Foggy the neat little playing card crime map Ben has hanging on his wall, just as he adds the newest player to the tree: the Man in Black, cleverly depicted as a Jack of Hearts with a mask drawn over his face. The team is just one more member away from being complete!

Foggy continues to show impressive amounts of guts and resourcefulness in this episode. Again, we’re reminded that Matt isn’t the only kind of hero in Hell’s Kitchen… and for the first time, I start to worry.

Y’see, in any other superhero show, you can pretty much trust that a main supporting character from the comics won’t bite it in the first season. That’s just too controversial; too much of a departure. But Daredevil has spent seven episodes now telling us that what we expect from the typical superhero TV show isn’t necessarily what we’re going to get.

Maybe I’m fooling myself, maybe I’m just being silly, but the fact that Foggy’s actions are actually causing me to fear for his safety as we head toward the season’s conclusion… that’s a gift I can’t thank Steven DeKnight enough for. I love not knowing what’s going to happen next; that little surge of fear I feel when the supporting cast I’ve come to love keeps putting themselves in dangerous situations. It’s the mark of truly good storytelling.

Fun Catching Up

Besties Daredevil

Something else I’m starting to appreciate about this show, something that was actually cited as a flaw in one of the early reviews I read, is that the show lets scenes go on for — well, they say “too long,” but I say: exactly as long as they need to. I can understand why it may be a fault in the eyes of audiences who are used to the rapid, commercial-driven pace of network TV, and it’s very possible it comes about from a lack of experience on Netflix’s part, but I love it. It means you get long, moody conversations that let you really dig into what characters are feeling, and extended fight sequences that don’t cut corners in a rush to reach the end.

The fight at the end of this episode is a prime example. Matt and Stick’s rumble in the living room takes exactly as long as it needs to, as it should, considering the skills and shared history of both combatants. More than any fight we’ve seen yet, this feels like a battle more of brains than brawn. It’s the first opponent Matt’s faced who might actually be better than him, so it forces him to improvise and try new tactics, to find the one attack Stick won’t see coming.

It’s ironic, then, that the move that ends the fight is only made possible when Stick puts his arms around Matt to restrain him. After 20 years, Stick finally gives Matt a hug… and Matt uses his trapped position to flip them both down the stairs to land on the bottom step, with Stick’s back cushioning the fall. It only takes a couple more kicks for Matt to finally put the tough old bastard down. Matt’s the victor. The student has become the blah blah blah.

After Stick leaves, exhibiting the same sort of unaffected aloofness that’s bugged Matt since he was a kid, Matt finds a shock among the wreckage of his living room: The ice-cream wrapper bracelet he gave Stick as a child. It has a profound effect on him and he has to sit down for a moment to process it.

Now… does Stick leave that bracelet to tell Matt that he’s cared about him all along? Or does he leave it specifically because he knows it will trigger an emotional reaction in Matt, reasserting that without such emotional attachments, Matt will be better off?

Stick’s such an S.O.B., it really could be either.

And that brings me to the thing I really wanted to say (the first sentence I wrote of this review, in fact):

Scott Glenn IS Stick. He’s stick the way Patrick Stewart is Charles Xavier, the way Ron Pearlman is Hellboy. Not only is he perfect for the role, he was the obvious choice. The ONLY choice. (Yes, Terrance Stamp played Stick in the Elektra movie, and he certainly looks the part… but he wasn’t Scott friggin Glenn.)

The Sound of Things Breaking

BloodyNose Daredevil

In my first review, I mentioned that John Paesano’s score might be the series’ weakest component (on the understanding that it wasn’t actually BAD — just not as memorable as everything else in the show). Since then, it’s definitely gotten more noteworthy, with the music in episode 2 (there it is again) standing out for its emotional depth, as well as episode 4’s cavernous, bass-heavy Fisk theme.

But in this episode, Paesano raises the volume, and introduces some new instruments (is that a chello I hear being pounded like a fiddle?), to bring us the first truly memorable theme since what we heard in episode one. The music that plays over Matt and Stick’s showdown is all rapid tribal drums and arpeggiating strings providing perfect accompaniment to the scene’s emotion and action.

Music is a big thing with me, and it’s not often you get a TV show that puts as much care into the music as it does every other aspect of production. In fact, only Game of Thrones and Firefly come to mind as consistently thoughtful scores that keep pace with everything else. It seems as though Daredevil might be revving up to join them on that list. Needless to say, I’ll be paying close attention to see where Paesano takes us in the latter half of the season.

Costume Watch

Ninja Kick Daredevil

After throwing anything he can get his hands on at people for most of the series, Daredevil FINALLY gets his billy clubs (or, technically, rattan sticks) and puts them to instant, amusing use bludgeoning fools.

As proven when he nails one unsuspecting guard in the head, knocking him off the pier as his cronies look on, the sticks throw just as easily as flashlights, tasers, and ammo clips.

Easter Egg Hunt:

Stick N Stone Daredevil

– “The mother’s… well… that’ another story.” A reference to Matt’s mom, which leaves a nun a little bit flustered, and leaves us eager to learn more. Another part of Miller’s new origin for Matt included establishing why he was being raised by one parent, with his mom having disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The show is certainly foreshadowing that reveal. It’s maybe, in the long run, not a huge reveal, but chalk it up to the creators proving they’ve done their homework and are serious about translating DD’s full universe to the screen.

Again, I doubt she’ll be revealed this season. They’d need to do some serious plot compression to make that work. But I wouldn’t put it beyond them to film one key scene with their young Matt actor now, while he’s still young, to be used as a flashback in a later season. It could work. It’s what I’d do, anyway.

– That final scene! It really shouldn’t surprise me that they’re incorporating this particular subplot. You can’t bring Stick into the picture without including his war between good and evil. That said, it was still extremely cool to hear him reference the war early in the episode, and then to have this scene (a near perfect duplication of a scene from Man Without Fear, as pictured above) close it out. And who’s the shirtless gentleman Stick is talking to? That would be Stone (I know), another member of the order Stick belongs to, who plays a major role in DD’s life later down the line.

How far down the line? Something tells me we’ll have to wait until the Fisk story has run its course.

– Again we get just a little hint toward Karen’s secret backstory, as she tells Alena she got a little more salty and aggressive after coming to New York. It wouldn’t seem much of an admission, but the way Deborah Ann Woll delivers the line… there’s something more behind it. Can’t wait for them to finally give us the whole enchilada. (Oh yeah, one more thing I respect the series for: It doesn’t force characters to speak English on contexts where they wouldn’t — here, Karen instead changes her language to be able to converse with Alena, and those of us watching must read. It’s a subtle but much appreciated edict.)

– This last one I only learned about yesterday. Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Entertainment, is apparently a HUGE Star Wars fan, and somewhere along the way, came to the conclusion that Phase 2 of the MCU is their Empire Strikes Back… so, he decreed that in every Phase 2 movie, a character will lose a hand or arm. Sure enough, a video now exists showing every scene from Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Cap 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy where someone loses a hand (and I saw the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron just the other night… but they appear to have missed the Japanese man losing his hand at the beginning of this episode!)

Now I need to go back and wrack my brain to see if anyone’s lost a hand in Agents of SHIELD. It’s my new obsession!

In a few days, we’ll examine episode 8, “Shadows in the Glass.” See you then!

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