Marvel’s Daredevil “The Ones We Leave Behind” Review (Episode 12) – Stories Left Untold

Wilson Fumes Daredevil

By now, everyone reading these reviews probably understands that we are discussing the events of Marvel’s Daredevil openly and without fear of spoilers… but because this is the BIG episode… the one with the most potential to ruin the viewing experience for someone who might stumble across it by accident (and with apologies to my TV Equals editors), I’m going to issue one last BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING.

Because the first half of this review isn’t actually a review. It’s an obituary.

This One’s For You, Matt

For Matt Daredevil

Created in 1978 by Roger McKenzie and Gene Colan, Ben Urich was a chain-smoking veteran reporter who worked for the Daily Bugle (the same paper where Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker worked as a photographer). He was first introduced in Daredevil #153, writing a news article recounting the issue’s main story, a battle between DD and the villainous Mister Hyde (currently being played by Kyle McLachlan on Agents of SHIELD), but it wasn’t until 1979 that he became one of the most important characters in the Daredevil mythos.

Ben believed he was onto the biggest story of his career when he got it in his head that one of New York’s greatest heroes, one he had been an informant for many times, was in fact a blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen. For weeks, Ben collected proof, talking to people who knew “the Murdock boy” and his father back in the day, and every new piece of information cemented his belief. So, while Daredevil was recovering in a hospital after a run-in with the Hulk, Ben paid him a visit. He presented his story, presented his proof, and waited for Daredevil to explain himself.

DD tried to deny it at first, but Ben had done his job well. Matt relented and told Ben his story; about being blinded as a boy; about his father, the lifelong loser who cheated the mob so his son would be proud of him again; about his last words as the referee raised his fist in victory, “This one’s for you, Matt.” He told Ben what being Daredevil meant to him, how important his crime fighting career was to him, and left the fate of that career in Ben’s hands.

Ben listened to everything Matt had to say, mulled it all over, and, as you can read above, burned the story.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, one that would last through every era of the character; that would become as integral to the world of Daredevil as Foggy, Karen, the Kingpin, or Elektra.

One that we will never see fully realized on screen. Sure, we got a version of this story in the 2003 Fox movie, which is probably one of the reasons why Marvel felt confident in the plot twist that closes out this episode. And this episode even hints at it, when Ben makes note of the masked man using the term “Going the distance” as something a boxer would say.

But this is only one of countless stories that can never be told about Ben Urich. We’ll never see him stand up to J. Jonah Jameson to protect Matt’s secret identity. We’ll never see him talk Matt off the ledge of a nervous breakdown when he is at his lowest. We’ll never see him overcome the vicious intimidation tactics of the Kingpin to write the story that brings Fisk down.

Daredevil viewers will never get to know Ben Urich the way comic readers have known Ben Urich. What’s worse, NONE of us will get to know Vondie Curtis-Hall’s rendition of Ben Urich beyond his 10 episodes.

The Rules

Sweet Ben Daredevil

Now… I AM being a bit melodramatic. And you probably think I’m angry at this turn in the story… but I’m not. Not at all. I’m actually in awe that Marvel had the balls to do this with one of their most important characters. This is like a Batman show killing off Commissioner Gordon. It doesn’t happen. Not even Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, easily the closest you’ll come to a comic adaptation of this quality, wasn’t willing to kill off any of the core cast. You’re only supposed to be allowed to kill a character from the comics when A) they’re a villain, or B) there’s a story in the comics that sets precedent.

What that has meant, since this whole insane era of comic book adaptations started, is that I have never been surprised by the death of a character. Never truly shaken, caught off guard, left speechless. If a main character died, it was because that’s what happened to them in the comics. It wasn’t a matter of IF, only a matter of WHEN.

There are characters in this show whose days are numbered. You can probably find out which ones with a bit of googling. But after the events in this episode, I’m no longer quite as cocky about that knowledge as I once was. The end of this episode means that all bets really are off. Marvel’s Daredevil has given me back my “if”, and for that I am grateful.

That it meant we had to see VCH’s Ben die in order to gain back that piece of the fictional experience… oof. If it were any other character, I’d say it was worth it. But, I guess that’s the point. The characters in this show engage in situations of REAL danger. They put their lives on the line for what they believe in, and if one of them falls in the end, the rest may think that it wasn’t worth it… but that doesn’t change anything. It happened. All that’s left is to move on.

A Note About Vondie Curtis-Hall

Smilin Ben Daredevil

What can I say? This man is precious to me. Not only is he a brilliant actor (and the director of “Our Mrs. Reynolds” from Firefly), but he perfectly captured one of my favorite characters from the comics. And I mean *perfectly*. The voice, the bearing, that wry sense of humor, just shy of cynicism. He even looked the part. The minute I saw him in the square-rim glasses, there was just no doubt in my mind; he WAS Ben Urich.

Of every death we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, this one hurts the most. Across The Avengers, Age of Ultron, Thor: The Dark World, and even the casualties from the first and (especially) second seasons of Agents of SHIELD… none have been as unsettling or significant as this one. Part of that is all the character stuff I spoke about above, and part of it is that VCH makes the role so loveable, so relatable and sympathetic, that when he goes — and the way he goes — it feels like losing a family member.

The one thing that keeps me going is the hope that maybe, just maybe, Phil Urich is out there. And maybe he’ll be looking to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. (Come ooonnnnnnn Daredevil season 2!!)

All The Rest

Wilson Mourns Daredevil

Other events take place this episode — some of them quite important! — but, come on, can you blame me for putting the focus where I did? It’s BEN, man!

The other 40-something minutes of story consist of Karen hitting the bottle after her deed last episode, and then having a rather shocking nightmare about Fisk coming to kill her in her apartment (ahh, symmetry); Vanessa waking up and telling Wilson she ain’t going nowhere; Wilson discovering Wesley’s body and nearly beating one of his bodyguards to death out of grief; Foggy enlisting Marci to go digging through her law firm’s private files for info that will help them expose Fisk; Matt taking down the Chinese drug operation and coming face to face with Madame Gao herself, and then having a heart-to-heart with Karen; and the revelation that Gao and Leland were behind the attempt on Vanessa’s life — she was the target, not Fisk.

Of all these beats, the standouts (aside from the Fisky home invasions that bookend the episode) are the parallel moments of Wilson finding Wesley and Matt’s emotional breakdown at Karen. Both show the series’ co-protagonists at their most emotionally vulnerable, and there’s a hint of poetic irony in Matt confessing that he can’t do this alone, and being comforted by one of his friends, while Wilson is forced to come to terms with being alone, now that his best friend is gone.

Wilson’s reaction to Wesley is striking in both its savagery and tenderness, as he holds the dead man’s hand only minutes after pummelling his guard unconscious. We can see the events of the last few episodes taking their toll on him, and it’s kind of no surprise that he is capable of doing what he does at the end. Neither Wesley nor Vanessa are there to reign in the savage Fisk.

This scene serves as a reminder that no one’s death on this show goes unmourned; not even the bad guys.

Up To The Roof

Rooftop Daredevil

Before his showdown with Gao, we’re treated to one of the cooler sequences we’ve had in the show, with Matt racing across the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen, following a car as it winds its way through the city. What’s impressive about this sequence isn’t just the use of parkour — who doesn’t love a good parkour run? — but the way it makes sense of probably the most difficult aspect of the Daredevil comics to translate to the screen.

Acrobatics have always been a big part of the Daredevil aesthetic. They figure more heavily into his identity than most other rooftop-prowling superheroes. Before martial arts became his prominent physical attribute, Daredevil was known — and named — for being a blind acrobat who would fling himself off a rooftop into the unknown, never worrying, always knowing that a part of the city would present itself to him in time to slow his descent. He could sense it all, of course, but to anyone watching, his actions were reckless, his survival pure luck. He was a man without fear.

The Ben Affleck movie made a valiant attempt at capturing this imagery, but couldn’t quite make it feel realistic. Part of that was poor use of CGI, but part, I think, was a result of attempting to make the movie look like the comics. On the comics page, you don’t really question that a normal man can fling himself off a roof, catch it with a grappling hook, and use his momentum to launch himself into the air. In live action, it becomes trickier. Illustrations can be weightless, but flesh and blood has weight and mass… real people are trapped by the laws of physics and we recognize when something isn’t moving the way it’s supposed to.

The Spider-Man movies could get away with this because that speed and agility are part of his superpowers. Spider-Man is strong and fast and agile — Daredevil is just a dude. A dude at peak physical condition… but just a dude. So, how do you transcribe the weightless fantasy of the high-flying dare-devil from the page to the screen without triggering people’s uncanny valley response? You adapt. You make it real. And you be clever about it.

When Matt gets up to the rooftop, the car he means to follow is already blocks away… but he can still hear the classical music playing within. So, rather than follow the car by sight, he tracks the path of the music through the city traffic, anticipating its trajectory, and using the rooftops to cut across town, making better progress to its destination than the car itself.

So, why is this such a big deal to me?

A Brief Digression

revenge rogues Daredevil

I’ve had some complaints about other superhero shows on TV over the last few years — one big one being directed at a show that’s actually my second-favorite in that category: The CW’s The Flash. I love so much of what they do on that show, not least of which being how beautifully they’ve captured the Flash’s superpowers on screen. There are some scenes of CGI that approach the sort of quality you’d find in a huge blockbuster, and you can tell that the digital artists are having a blast with it.

But one constant disappointment for me has been the writers’ inability to scale challenges up to meet Barry’s power level. Instead, it seems like Barry’s IQ is being scaled down. The Flash’s power (if you’ve never seen it, he can run super fast — close to, and sometimes beyond, the speed of sound) means that he is not subject to the challenges of normal people. He can disarm a mugger, handcuff him to a wall, and bring a police officer to his location to arrest him (and has). He can disarm and tie up a room full of machine-gun toting criminals (and has). He can race into an apartment, grab a super-powered criminal, and speed him to a power-dampening prison cell before he has a chance to use those powers (and has). But, for some reason, he can’t seem to stop two guys, moving at normal speed, with hot and cold guns.

Is it because Barry is dumb? No. It’s because the writers are not building scenarios that make sense for Barry’s power set. Maybe they’re not used to writing for superheroes, maybe they just can’t wrap their minds around the powers. The Flash is a superhero who should never, ever, EVER, be subject to a Mexican stand-off. That’s a plot beat for a normal-speed hero. You’ve gotta do better for the Flash.

Now, I’m not trying to boost Daredevil up by tearing the other show down — quite the opposite. Like I said, I love The Flash. I’m thrilled it got picked up for a second season and I hope it gets ten more. But it keeps making this one mistake, and this episode of Daredevil presents a perfect example of how NOT to make that mistake; to approach the challenge from the perspective of what the hero is capable of, and scale the challenge appropriately.

Matt can’t run faster than the car, can’t leap into the air and grappling-hook his way to the rooftops, can’t swing between buildings like Spider-Man (as he often does in the comics)… but he can hear the car, can track its movement and anticipate its path, and he can beeline across the rooftops while the car is locked into the street grid. Result: The world’s internal logic is maintained, and the hero comes out looking clever and resourceful.

Just a thought. Because I’m sure The Flash writers are reading these reviews. Totally.

Easter Egg Hunt:

Badass Gao Daredevil

– We have confirmation of Madame Gao’s connection to Iron Fist in this episode, as Ben (in his final act as DD’s buddy) lets the masked man know that the heroin packets with the nifty little red dragon on them go by the street name of “Steel Serpent.”

The biggest Easter Egg of this episode, though, may be Madame Gao herself. When she finally comes face to face with Daredevil, she tells him her employees blinded themselves because “they have faith beyond the distractions of your world.” Then, when DD advances on her, she lays him flat with a single palm to the chest and just about the most badass “I’m not the one” look you’ve ever seen. That’s mighty powerful for a stooped old woman.

Next, when she meets with Leland on the rooftop overlooking the city, she tells him that her interest (in the city? in organized crime?) “has never been about heroin. That was borne of convenience, and it is no longer so.”

She then tells him that she will visit her homeland and “reflect upon the future.” When Leland asks her if by homeland she means China, she gives him one last cryptic look and says, “It is a considerable distance farther.”

Now that we know she’s connected to Steel Serpent, it’s a fair bet that the homeland she speaks of is the lost city of K’un Lun, where the Iron Fist story begins. Does this mean we’ll see her pop up again in a couple years when the Iron Fist series goes live? One can hope. Madam Gao has been one of the most consistently pleasing characters in this show, and it will be nice to see more of her in the future.

Well, folks, this one has been a doozy. I’m emotionally spent, the characters are emotionally spent… and there’s only one episode left to go.

We still haven’t seen the red suit (though Urich adds himself to the list of characters to recommend Matt start wearing something more protective than a thin layer of black fabric — peer pressure, man). If I were a betting man, I’d say we won’t get to see the full costume until the very end. I just hope they don’t pull a Man Without Fear/Generation X TV movie (remember that?) move on us and only show it in the last scene.

We’ll see how it all plays out in the final episode, titularly titled, “Daredevil.”

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