Marvel’s Daredevil “Shadows in the Glass” Review (Episode 8) – Wilson’s Moment in the Light

Mirror Daredevil
Now this is one hell of an episode.

The first to be written by showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, “Shadows in the Glass” takes us inside the life and mind of Wilson Fisk. Where most episodes have given us a roughly 65/35 Daredevil/Wilson screentime ratio, this one flips that around, giving Wilson the spotlight and thereby turning him into the episode’s protagonist — but more importantly, turning Matt into the antagonist.

This episode spends its entire length getting you to sympathize with Wilson; to root for him; to forget that he’s the villain; to, in fact, see him as the hero. Like every episode this season, “Shadows in the Glass” endeavors to highlight the parallels between Wilson and Matt, but it portrays them as parallel opposites here — mirror images of each other — with Wilson the light and Matt the dark. Every moment is specifically chosen to highlight their differences, with Matt coming out looking like the less savory of the two, at least superficially.

Wilson wakes up in a pristine penthouse apartment while Matt wakes up in his crummy walk-up amid the wreckage of his fight with Stick. We know from episode 1 that the only view from Matt’s apartment is an obnoxious neon billboard; this episode shows us that Wilson can see the entire city from his living room. Matt is unkempt, unshaven, bruised, and scabbed over; Wilson is as hairless, wrinkleless, and guileless as a baby. Matt is at odds with his supporting cast, scolding them for putting themselves in danger; Wilson is literally supported by his, as they brave the lion’s den to make sure he’s okay.

The show makes every effort to show you that — despite his emotional stuntedness, his dark past, and his criminal endeavors — Wilson has his shit together, and Matt does not.

The crazy thing is… it works.

As the episode winds down to the dulcet tones of Ben Urich’s voiceover (seriously, can Vondie Curtis Hall just read me all the stories forever?) as he writes the article that will expose Fisk to the public, you actually start to worry about what that might mean for Wilson. Forget that it’s a triumph for Matt, that he’s finally getting the word out on Fisk, that he finally has someone on his side with a voice and a platform and the will to take on someone as monolithic as Fisk… we fear for Wilson because he is the hero of this episode, and we sympathize with him.

And when Wilson turns the tables on Team Daredevil, beating them to the punch, getting in front of the story and shaping the narrative to fit HIS perspective on things — the same perspective to which the episode has been subtly indoctrinating us from scene one — you’re actually glad. “Hooray!” you think. Wilson beat the bad guys! Now he can sleep easy in bed with a beautiful woman while Matt needs to buy a new computer. (Seriously, Matt… stop throwing things. The left side of the room is afraid of you.)

It’s a happy ending!

Except… no. That’s not a happy ending; it’s bad, very bad, things are very not good for the actual heroes. The show tricked you! And what a beautiful trick it was.

Keep Kicking Him

PapaFisk Daredevil

One of the core parallels this episode plays on is how Matt and Wilson’s childhood experiences with their fathers came to define them.

Matt Murdock grew up the son of a single dad who had to beat people up to make ends meet, but did everything in his power to make sure Matt was provided for and would never end up like him. Wilson Fisk grew up the son of a selfish, abusive man (played with scummy perfection by The Wire‘s own Dominic Lombordozzi) who beat and belittled his wife, did everything he could to serve his own ego, and bullied his son into following his example.

It’s ironic then that, despite the opposing intentions of these role models, both Wilson and Matt would both eventually grow up to regret turning into their fathers. They both have their fathers’ violence in them; both feel guilt over it; both lie to themselves about the extent to which that violence has ruled them. Matt may face his head on, accepting it inasmuch as it helps him achieve his nightly goals, but he is still in denial about the addiction that drives those goals — or, at least, he was… I haven’t seen anything that suggests his moment of clarity in episode 6 will have any lasting effects. Meanwhile, Wilson just keeps telling himself he’s not like his father — right up until something sets him off and lets the monster out.

By drawing deeper parallels between Daredevil and Fisk than just their usual dueling ideologies, the show transcends its own genre in a way. Superheroes are no stranger to villains who are their perfect opposite; every Darkwing has a Negaduck. But rather than resting on superficial differences alone, Marvel’s Daredevil offers us fully drawn portraits of two complex and complicated men whose entire lives have been like distant companion pieces to each other. Whether or not he knew it back in episode 6, Wilson was right when he said they were remarkably alike.

More than a good hero/villain story, it almost makes their rivalry Xavier/Magneto levels of tragic. Could these two have been friends in another set of circumstances? You kind of get the sense it would be possible. Maybe if Wilson had Matt to challenge him instead of Yes-Man Wesley, he could have kept from stepping over the lines of human decency in his quest for a better city. And, maybe if Matt had Wilson, he’d have seen the negative effects of unchecked violence sooner and not given in to the lure of the mask.

It would be a complete different show, but it’s interesting to imagine.

How Much is Each of Those Years Worth To You?

TeamFisk Daredevil

The plot that houses all of this crazy subtext is simple enough. Matt attempts to clear his name by getting a newly conscious Detective Blake to spill his info on Fisk. Of course, things go ALL the way wrong and he ends up instead being blamed for finishing Blake off. Meanwhile, Fisk receives criticism from each of his three remaining business partners, who believe he’s let things get out of hand due to a lack of focus. Dealing with Nobu and Leland’s complaints is easy enough for him, but once he receives a scolding from Madame Gao, it’s more than he can handle and Wilson Hulks out a little.

This episode definitely explains why Wilson comports himself differently around Gao than he does his other male counterparts. Simply put, he has a high respect for women, no doubt due to the nurturing and protective relationship he had with his mother. Seeing the chilling lengths to which she went to protect her son from the consequences of his own actions, it’s no wonder he was instilled with such reverence.

So, Wilson throws a tantrum, and Wesley shows his caring side by calling Vanessa in to tame the savage beast. All of this is intercut with flashbacks to Wilson’s childhood which illustrate what a spouse-beating douchebag his father was… which was why Wilson had to kill him with a hammer. Repeatedly.

In present day, Wilson explains his past to Vanessa, and rather than push him away for being a monster, Vanessa comforts him because she sees him for the frightened child he still is. She does an amazing Lady MacBeth-like turn here where, when Wilson explains to her that there are people out there who are trying to stop him and ruin his plans for the city, she simply asks, “Are you going to let them?”

This episode is chock full of lines that make you go cold inside.

“Are you going to let them?” is one of them, because it’s our first hint that Vanessa might have her own ruthless side.

Meanwhile, “Get the saw,” is the line that reveals Marlene Fisk’s ruthless side.

And the absolute heartbreaking sympathy in Wilson’s eyes as he coaxes a police officer to kill his own best friend of 30 years is chilling in its own right, but the way he says it is even more so.

DeKnight is flexing impressive chops here, especially with the way he pulls it all together

You Get What You Deserve

Devil in the Rain Daredevil

All storylines converge in the final sequence, wherein Fisk “comes out” to the city just as Ben is writing the article that will expose him. There are several very clever things happening in this sequence.

First, it begins with Wilson waking up from his nightmares again, only this time, instead of turning to his painting for comfort, he turns to Vanessa, whom we find sleeping in bed beside him. From there, we make our third foray into his morning routine, only this time it is upset by Vanessa’s presence; her liveliness and natural humor make us realize just how lifeless and passionless the previously sacrosanct ritual was. She hugs Wilson as he sits down to breakfast; smiles and chats with him over omelettes; chooses his suit and cufflinks, deliberately turning him away from his usual choices, casting him in a lighter shade of grey and denying him the self-inflicted mental torture of wearing his father’s cufflinks.

When we see her standing in front of the mirror, blocking Wilson’s view of whatever he may have seen there, we understand that Wilson now identifies himself through her eyes; has fully surrendered himself to her. And when we see the contentment on his face, we realize that she has replaced his mother; the sympathetic female who will move heaven and Earth to protect her boy. That’s Vanessa now. She will protect him from the world, from himself, and he is all too happy to let her.

It’s… I don’t know if you can really call identifying yourself by someone else’s view of you self-actualizing, but it certainly feels like a triumph for Wilson when it happens. The end of this episode finds a more confident and steadfast Fisk than we’ve seen previous.

But then Ben’s article provides some much needed Real Talk.

“Some people get more than they deserve.”

Another cool thing this sequence does is offer the audience a palate cleanser in the form of Ben’s article. It challenges the narrative the episode has been feeding us from the beginning; that Wilson is our sympathetic hero and Matt is the cynical misanthrope trying to bring him down. Instead, with Ben framing the situation as a conflict between the privileged and the disenfranchised, he offers the opposite perspective: Matt, who fights for his fellow citizens, who breaks himself over and over again across the mounting injustices plaguing his city, deserves a better life; deserves success; deserves love. And Wilson does not.

The cool thing is, this episode supports both viewpoints. It gives us enough, and maybe also denies us enough, so that we can plausibly believe either argument. Is Wilson a monster, or a victim of circumstance acting out a narrative that was set in stone years ago? Is Matt a hero, or someone who uses heroism as a means to feed his addiction to violence? You could make an argument in either direction, but I think the show’s intent is to show us that both scenarios are true. Wilson is a monster and a victim, Matt is a hero and an addict, and both men want what’s best for their city. Because, in the world of Daredevil, it would seem nothing is black & white.

The last clever thing about this sequence is how Ben’s article drifts into the realm of commentary on current financial conflicts in the U.S.. He doesn’t come right out and say “One-Percenters,” but his article is all about those lucky few people who get more than they deserve, who believe themselves better than everyone else, and manipulate things while thinking the rules don’t apply to them…

“They do this from the shadows — shadows that we cast. With our indifference. With a pervasive lack of interest in anything that doesn’t directly affect us, we, in the here and now. Or maybe it’s just the shadow of weariness. Of how tired we are, struggling to claw our way back to a middle class that no longer exists because of those who take more than they deserve.”

If any aspect of Daredevil can be considered representative of the era in which it was made, I think it’s this monologue. And, if any episode could earn the show an Emmy nomination, it’s this one. For all the reasons I’ve touched upon here, and more I’ve probably missed, I believe this episode cements Daredevil as an award-worthy show.

Costume Watch:

Holster Daredevil

DD now has a handy-dandy leg-holster for his escrima sticks! Other than that, his only added accessory is noted hanger-on Ben Urich.

(just kiddin’ Ben — you know I love ya!)

There IS a significant step toward the red suit in this episode, in that we finally get to meet Mister Potter! Melvin Potter is a character from the comics who, as we see here, is a tailor and maker of costumes. From the moment they mentioned him in an earlier episode, I had a strong suspicion he would be the character to finally give Matt his red duds. His appearance here only strengthens that belief. Though, I’m curious to see how much of his character’s story they’ll tell here, because…

Easter Egg Hunt:

Gladiator Movies Daredevil

– That Gladiator poster in the background of Mister Potter’s shop is a big ol’ honkin’ easter egg, considering his alter ego from the comics is actually a reformed supervillain known as the Gladiator. We’ll see how much of that gets pulled into the show.

– Wilson Fisk’s origin story in this episode isn’t taken directly from the comics, but certain elements are. In the early 2000s storyline, “Parts of a Hole” (written by David Mack, drawn by Joe Quesada) we see snippets of Wilson’s history; growing up poor in the city; his mother and father constantly fighting over financial hardship; and we see a 12 year old Wilson make his first kill — and yes, a hammer is involved. One thing David Mack has made note of since the series debuted is that they even kept the color scheme of Wilson’s clothes when he has his fateful hammer moment. Pretty cool!

Please return for my review of episode 9, wherein I will “Speak of the Devil.”

You know… for a change.

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