Marvel’s Daredevil “Speak of the Devil” Review (Episode 9) – A Matter of Cost

Nobu Daredevil

Remember how episode 8 of Marvel’s Daredevil was mostly people talking? Well, this one makes up for it by having, as its centerpiece, what must be the longest single fight scene of the entire series, albeit broken up into several segments. Clocking in at just over four minutes when all cut together, this battle has Matt locked in mortal combat with a ninja… a Hand ninja (which I’ll get into later on).

The cold open for the episode is literally a minute-and-a-half of Daredevil fighting a ninja, and when it cuts to the credits, you’re left with several questions, probably the least cynical of which being, “How did he get here?” and “Why is this happening?” You expect the rest of the episode will answer these questions, and hope that the answers will justify putting so much focus on a flipping (no, really, they flip) fist fight.

Sure enough, the fight itself isn’t the most compelling conflict of the episode. That distinction goes to the inner turmoil Matt faces as he finally has to confront the question of whether or not he must kill Wilson Fisk. It’s not something he takes lightly — Matt is a man of faith, someone who believes his soul WILL be damned to hell if he takes another’s life. But, in the end, what if it’s worth it? If he can save all the lives Fisk would no doubt ruin if allowed to continue on, maybe damning himself is an acceptable price to pay?

In the previous episode, this thought path was hinted at during his exchange with Ben. When Ben tests the waters by asking what Daredevil will do if he refuses to help him expose Fisk, DD says he’ll have to stop Fisk some other way. Ben remarks that this has the sound of finality, to which Matt replies, “I’m not a killer. I keep telling people that.”

Except… he doesn’t sound wholly convinced. It’s easy to overlook in the moment, but looking back, it really sounds as though Matt is still figuring out if that particular code applies to him. He’s nothing if not pragmatic, and he already breaks ONE oath he is sworn to uphold just by doling out vigilante justice night after night. (Several oaths, if you count the promise he made to his father.) So, what’s one more? What’s one more broken rule, when it can accomplish so much good? When Fisk manages to dodge the proverbial bullet, despite Ben’s help, Matt reacts with such anger (that poor laptop) because it means he’ll have to face the question of whether or not he truly is a killer.

So, this episode is all about the struggle for Matt’s soul. And you might presume from the way it’s structured that his physical combat against the ninja (later revealed to be Wilson’s business partner, Nobu) is supposed to be a metaphor for his internal conflict; that every slash from Nobu’s chain sword thingy is supposed to represent the breaking down of Matt’s resolve; that every hit he manages to land on his foe is a fleeting step toward moral victory…

(hell, I may have just convinced myself of it)

But, no. We eventually learn that the battle for Matt’s soul is already lost. He is already damned. These are just the consequences.

(…damn, but it really is a metaphor, too, isn’t it? Hold on, let me go back and rewrite… nah.)

I Believe He Walks Among Us

Father Lantom Daredevil

The episode opens with Matt sitting outside his church, awaiting (as we all have) the return of his priest, Father Lantom. Matt finally takes him up on that offer for a latte and Father Lantom is all too happy to comply. As the two chat quietly over coffee, it’s obvious that something is troubling Matt, which he tentatively broaches by asking the priest if he believes in the devil.

The story Father Lantom tells him (which is not entirely unlike the Burma story Alfred tells Bruce in The Dark Knight) is another great monologue in a show filled with great monologues. It’s nice to know that, even when casting a bit character for the pilot, DeKnight & co. had the forethought to cast an actor capable of delivering some of the best lines of the series. Scottish actor Peter McRobbie instills Father Lantom with such a great combination of warmth, thoughtfulness, and inner city gruffness, he becomes an instant favorite among the cast.

This scene is also the first time Matt directly addresses the concept of the devil — although the devil Matt’s referring to here is obviously Fisk. In any other superhero show, you wouldn’t look twice at the main character’s choice of code name. Most shows don’t really deserve that level of scrutiny — Daredevil does, though. The writers have put so much care into shaping a complex narrative for these characters, I can’t help but feel like the choice to adopt the red suit and horns is going to be more than a frivolous move based on a newspaper headline.

Following his talk with Lantom, Matt heads to the office, where he finally meets Ben Urich face to unmasked face. They, together with Foggy and Karen, commiserate over the speed with which the world has gone from knowing nothing about Fisk to having his life’s story plastered across every news site and TV station. As they discuss their limited options moving forward, you can see Matt hanging back and consciously curbing what he says, so as to not chime in with his Daredevil-gained knowledge. I felt in this moment like Matt’s secret identity was actually getting in the way of progress rather than aiding it… imagine how much faster the group could act and react if they didn’t have to waste so much time explaining to him things he already knows!

Judging by the look on Matt’s face, I suspect he feels the same way. (Superhero social problems, am I right?)

Team Daredevil’s default state for this episode seems to be “scrambling to catch up,” but it allows for one of my favorite scenes of the entire series to occur.

Another Man’s Evil

When Matt Met Vanessa Daredevil

In this episode, Matt meets Vanessa. Visiting the gallery where she works, he hopes to get a sense of his enemy by understanding the people he associates with. I suspect there’s also a curiosity with Vanessa herself — what kind of woman could love a monster like Fisk?

It’s always exciting when two characters who don’t usually interact are given the opportunity to meet on screen. In The Wire, the first time Stringer Bell met with Bunny Colvin, it was thrilling, because here were two of my favorite characters, strong personalities on opposite sides of what is, for all intents and purposes, a war, and they’re not only meeting, but finding common ground. They get along! You want to see more of them together!

The scene here isn’t quite as momentous as that one, but it has the same effect. Vanessa is as charming and playful as ever — and I say that as someone to whom Vanessa Fisk was always sort of a flat character. In the comics, Vanessa is, at least initially, a figurehead. She exists as a catalyst for Wilson’s internal conflict; the angel on his shoulder, so to speak, but nothing more. The show’s Vanessa, by comparison, is fully realized, dimensional, and, as Wilson states in an earlier episode, captivating. I love Ayelet Zurer in this role.

With Matt, she is absolutely disarming — which is funny considering Matt is usually the one whose subdued wit is disarming to women. Watching the two of them flirt at each other is like watching a chess match between two grandmasters, and you can see Matt’s defenses coming down, setting him up for quite a shock when Wilson enters the scene.

Yes, Matt comes face to face with Wilson Fisk in this episode — twice — once in his civilian persona, once in the mask — and neither time is he ready for it. In the case of this scene, being face to face with the man, and seeing (and being able to sense) the real affection between him and Vanessa, forces Matt to consider Fisk as more than an obstacle; more than a monster; a real person. It seems to be the push Matt needed to land on the “no killing” side of the moral fence. Which may have been his intent all along; Father Lantom even suggests that Matt may have sought Vanessa out, not to find insight on how to kill a man, but to find an excuse not to.

For the moment, at least, Matt seems to be settled on a course of action. Things are even looking brighter in the office! Their new sign has come in, making Nelson & Murdock all official and respectable; Foggy’s talking that inspirational talk; the return of Matt’s resolve seems to coincide with everyone having adjusted to the new status quo, ready to move forward with optimism…

Then they get a phone call.

I Think I’ve Had Enough

Had Enough Daredevil

Things go downhill fast when Team Daredevil learns that their sweet old client, Mrs Cardenas, has been tragically killed in her own apartment building. Matt, Foggy, and Karen go to claim her body, since there is no next of kin, and it’s as emotional as you’d expect — Mrs. Cardenas really was a sweetheart. Everyone’s a wreck… except for Matt. Matt is the opposite of emotion. Matt is dead silent and stone cold, because he knows — he knows — this was Fisk.

Mrs Cardenas was the last holdout in a tenement that Fisk has been trying to clear out since episode 5. It’s no coincidence that just as she decided to convince her neighbors not to accept Fisk’s buyout, she happens to be killed, sweeping away the last bit of resistance. Of course, Matt can’t prove any of this… it’s just a feeling he has. One that leaves him cold, angry, and perhaps ready to commit murder.

Then Fisk goes on national TV and calls him a coward for not stepping out of the shadows to protect people like Mrs. Cardenas.

Hey, remember that fight with Nobu?

When Matt finally decides to do what he sees as necessary, he pummels his way through the New York underworld to find the junkie who stabbed Elena, which leads him to a warehouse on the waterfront. There, instead of Fisk, he finds Nobu. The two talk briefly, and then the fight begins… but we already know where the fight is headed, because we’ve been fed snippets of it throughout the episode. Matt will not win. He can’t win. This is his penance.

It’s only through pure luck and desperation that Matt ekes out victory, inadvertently lighting Nobu on fire with a stray spark and some spilled gasoline. Nobu fights on for a few more moments (featuring some very impressive stunt work), but eventually succumbs to the flames. Matt set out to take a life, and he succeeded, but it wasn’t the life he intended. It’s only then, with Matt exhausted and bleeding from countless stab wounds, that Fisk shows himself.

Their second face off is not pretty. Wilson makes it clear that he maneuvered Matt and Nobu into conflict, hoping they would take each other out, and that killing Mrs. Cardenas was an unfortunate necessity. Even wounded as he is, Matt doesn’t hesitate to attack Fisk, and Fisk absolutely destroys him. It’s a return to the raging tantrum from episode 4, only this time Fisk is in control; his attacks calculated, but no less savage (“I’m always angry.”). In the end, broken and bleeding, Matt must throw himself out the window and into the water below to escape death.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call anything in the Daredevil series a morality play. It loves its gray areas too much — and, as a result, so do we. But the subtext is pretty clear in this episode. Matt chooses to take another person’s life, and suffers greatly for it. He has finally crossed the line he told Ben, just last episode, that he would never cross. And in so doing, he has destroyed himself.

In the past, no matter how much punishment Matt has taken, he’s always been able to cover it up, explain it away, fight through it. Not this time. This time, not only are his wounds sever and EVERYwhere, the episode even ends with Foggy — distraught, a little drunk, and seeking comfort from his best friend — FINDING Matt in his masked getup, bleeding on the floor of his own living room.

Matt’s choice to kill Fisk has brought his entire fragile existence crumbling down. Where does he go from here?


Super Foggy Daredevil

Foggy is awesome.

Costume Watch:

Red Stuff Daredevil

Red is figuring more and more into the iconography of the show. From the painting Vanessa describes to Matt, to the reintroduction of Battlin’ Jack’s red robe. And then, of course, there’s Nobu’s robes, which… considering the Hand’s importance to DD’s story in the comics, I wonder if that will play somehow into his color choice when it’s costume time.

Easter Egg Hunt:

Steel Serpent Daredevil

– UH… THAT’s the symbol of the Steel Serpent, one of the Immortal Iron Fist’s villains… the same Iron Fist who is set to follow Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage in his own Netflix series. It’s fascinating that they chose to foreshadow it by stamping his symbol on heroin packets… whaaaaat is happening?

– So… the Hand. Comic fans could have already guessed the Hand would figure into the show based on the events of the “Stick” episode, but it’s still cool to see one of their rank right there in their signature red robes, duking it out with Matt. Of course, they are not actually named in this episode, nor did “Stick” explain their significance, so for the moment the show appears to be playing it close to the vest… which means I probably should to.

I’ll give you this much: The Hand is an ancient ninja clan with mystical origins. And if you think their name sounds similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles baddies, the Foot, that would be because you’re right. The original TMNT comics were originally created as a spoof on the dark, gritty, ninja-infused works of Frank Miller, which included a play on the ninja clan he invented for his Daredevil run. What’s more, the turtles’ origins were designed to specifically tie into Daredevil‘s — when Matt saved that old man from being hit by the truck, he wasn’t the only one splashed by those pesky chemicals. You see, a child was standing nearby, holding a bowl filled with four baby turtles and, well, you can probably guess the rest.

– “You are a worthy opponent. It is an honor to claim your life.” Interesting word choice there. So simple. So ambiguous. So foreshadowy.

– “Senator Cherryh’s office has asked for a meeting.” This is a subtle reference to a storyline from Frank Miller’s run (aren’t they all?) in which Fisk tried to gain political power in New York by getting his puppet politician, Cherryh, elected mayor. What’s especially interesting about this reference is how much the brief, and likely forgettable, Cherryh saga tied together so many more important storylines and subplots — several of which the series has already started laying groundwork for. It likely won’t come to fruition until season 2, but it’s cool to see again just how deep the writers are digging into the mythology.

Huboy… next episode is called “Nelson v. Murdock.” This should be good.

Follow me on Twitter @NeverWanderer