Marvel’s Daredevil “Daredevil” Review (Episode 13) – The Hero and the Villain

The Devil Daredevil

At last we arrive at the finale. The culmination of 13 hours of storytelling and one of the most ambitious comic book adaptations to grace the screen since Blade set the machine in motion 17 years ago.

Executive Producer and Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight took it upon himself to write and direct this episode, and he does a splendid job with it, tying up the remaining loose ends and delivering a story that — I was surprised to find — felt rather self-contained. Of all the season’s episodes, this one feels almost like a miniature movie, delivering moments and visuals that feel straight out of a Christopher Nolan Bat-flick. Whether that makes this episode a success or failure will depend entirely on the desires and expectations of each individual audience member. For me, there’s a whole lot of hit contained herein… buuut also a little miss.

Many Rivers to Cross
 

Funeral Daredevil

Most of this episode IS fantastic. We open on Ben’s funeral, an emotional scene that instantly dashes any hopes comic book fans may have had that he’d be making a miraculous recovery after last episode. Karen gets to meet Ben’s wife, Doris, who assures her that Ben never let anyone push him into a story he didn’t want; that he knew the risks when he got involved and she should feel no responsibility for his death.

–Except that Ben DIDN’T know the risks when Karen tricked him into driving upstate to meet Momma Fisk, and she DID pressure him into pushing the story to print, which led to the public confrontation with his editor, which resulted in Fisk learning about the whole ordeal. So, really, yeah, Karen; this is on you — and you know it. She of course doesn’t say as much to Mrs. Urich, instead keeping the truth bottled up to no doubt torment her in the future.

I’m reminded of something Deborah Ann Woll said in her early days promoting the series. When asked to describe the character of Karen Page to the audience at New York Comic Con, her answer was something to the effect of, “Karen doesn’t get into trouble; Karen IS trouble.” That observation has more than held up over the course of this series. Karen has proven herself far more capable, fearless, and reckless than the classic iteration of her comics counterpart, while maintaining a dignity that later evolutions of the character seemed to lose for what were ultimately arbitrary plot reasons. Originating in an era when female supporting characters existed only to kiss the hero and/or be rescued by them, this modern take on Karen Page is far more nuanced and dimensional. She makes her mistakes and takes her lumps, but has a strong core of integrity, and a desire for justice that probably rivals Matt’s own.

I love that at season’s end we still don’t know the details of her dark, mysterious past — and that she and Matt still aren’t an item. It’s better that their romance, if in fact a romance there will be (which… come on), grows naturally.

The funeral scene also gives us a final exchange between Matt and Father Lantom. There’s not much to their conversation beyond establishing Matt’s mental and emotional headspace going into the episode; namely, “If only I’d stopped Fisk sooner, etc., etc.” Still, as with Doris and a silent Ellison (Ben’s editor), it’s nice to see these supporting characters one last time before season end. It gives the world a sense of cohesion, of community — the story of Daredevil is the story of Hell’s Kitchen, and that includes everyone who has appeared throughout the series. Its fitting that, as the episode goes on, we get to see the impact it has on each of them. Even the late Mrs. Cardenas is mentioned before the episode is over; a toast raised to her name. Everyone in this show is a person. Everyone is of value.

Once we’ve paid our respects, the episode wastes little time getting to the nitty gritty. Wilson finally uncovers the traitor in his midst, learning that Leland has been stealing from him all along, and that he and Gao were responsible for poisoning Vanessa in episode 10. Leland tries to exert leverage over Fisk, revealing that he has Detective Hoffman, who supposedly disappeared after killing his partner way back in episode 8. If Fisk does anything to Leland, Leland’s people will release Hoffman to the feds, to whom he will disclose all his knowledge of Wilson’s dirty dealings.

This… doesn’t turn out so well for Leland, who finds himself on the receiving end of one of Wilson’s classic temper tantrums. Wilson throws him down an elevator shaft, then orders his men to find and kill Hoffman before he can reach the feds. This kicks off the main thrust of the episode, with Team Daredevil and Team Kingpin racing to locate Hoffman before the other does.

But, before Team Daredevil can accomplish anything, a reconciliation is in order…

Moving Forward
 

Last Appearance Daredevil

This season has always been about Matt’s journey from vigilante to hero, but it’s questionable how well that mission statement has come across — I feel as though Matt proves himself a hero many times throughout the series (remember that time he fought through 15 dudes to save one child?). But, what I think the writers were going for, and what I think comes across in this episode, is that Matt becoming a capital H “Hero” is less about beating up bad guys and saving lives, and more about reassessing his approach to crime fighting.

It all comes back to Matt’s addiction.

He’s not a true hero because he chooses violence first, always. Even as he scolds Foggy and Karen about using the law to achieve their goals, he secretly does the exact opposite, beating the tar out of people because, really, he doesn’t think the law will do any good. He’s dedicated his life to a broken system, and so tries to make up for it by taking the law into his own hands. And where has that landed him? Alone, helpless, estranged from his friends, and floundering for a way to defeat Fisk that doesn’t involve trying to kill him again. Violence has only gotten him so far, but he’s lost his ability to see any other approach.

Then his best friend comes back into his life to remind him of the other path. Finding Matt at Fogwell’s Gym, Foggy reopens the lines of communication, telling him about his work with Marci to uncover Fisk’s criminal activities. At first, Matt tries to scold him for sticking his neck out after what happened to Ben, but Foggy isn’t having it. He knows he’s being careful enough, and he knows that, while Matt’s been the one out there literally kicking ass and taking names, it’s Foggy himself who has been the most productive. He snaps Matt out of his single-minded focus on taking on Fisk alone, and offers him a chance at reconciliation. They can’t go back to the way things were, but maybe they can find a way to move forward.

Together, Nelson and Murdock head to the local precinct to speak to Sgt. Mahoney (another supporting cast member whose role has been small but essential to the story) and learn, sort of by accident, about Fisk’s hunt for Hoffman. With Karen’s help, they find the building where the errant detective is holed up, and only then — when their legal options are exhausted and the clock is ticking — does Matt put on the mask. He’s no longer operating above the law; instead, he is now aiding it. When he saves Hoffman from Fisk’s men (a sequence cleverly staged off-camera as we focus on a terrified Hoffman, eyes squeezed shut), he instructs the Detective to turn himself in to Mahoney, the one good cop in Hell’s Kitchen, so he can turn state’s evidence against Fisk.

Once in custody, Hoffman sings like a bird, and — presumably several weeks or months later — the FBI swoops in to dismantle Fisk’s criminal empire. Team Daredevil has finally beaten Fisk, and they did it using the law, not fists.

None Shall Sleep
 

Run Turk Daredevil

It’s then that we arrive at the most unabashedly playful sequence of the series. You could almost call it DeKnight’s victory lap; having delivered a show of such impeccable quality that, at the end, he can afford to slow things down and just savor the moment.

Set to Pavarotti’s performance of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” (yeah, I know opera! Wikipedia is culture!), for two and a half straight minutes we are treated to a slow-motion montage of FBI raids and arrests, beginning with Turk Barrett’s hilarious, extended headlong sprint toward camera. The funny thing? Of everyone who gets arrested in this sequence, Turk is the only one who almost gets away.

I love Turk.

Other notable moments:

– Senator Cherryh being hauled out in front of the press in handcuffs (so much for that subplot).
– Marci’s little smile as her boss is dragged away by authorities. Soul = Achieved!
– The FBI storming Ben’s newspaper only to arrest the receptionist instead of Ellison, who everyone believed was the traitor who sold Ben out. The look on Ellison’s face as he realizes Ben was right all along = Priceless.

As the music fades out, we arrive at casa de Fisk to find Wilson scrambling to make arrangements before his impending arrest while Vanessa stares at the news coverage in shock. As the FBI pounds down their door, Wilson pulls a ring from his pocket, lamenting the timing of it all, and asks Vanessa to marry him. Words can not express how improbably sweet and romantic this moment is. In fact, hold on, this deserves its own segment…

You Are Everything
 

Proposal Daredevil

Look, I’m a romantic guy; I like the smell of roses when I’m chopping wood bare-chested in the mountains. I appreciate a good romantic subplot in any type of story, and the one between Wilson and Vanessa in this series has been one of the best. And, while it’s not the final beat in their story together, this scene certainly feels like the most significant.

Think of where we found Wilson at the start of the series. Lonely, withdrawn, awkward — in a word, incomplete. Though he masterminded the founding of an unprecedented criminal conglomerate, he lacked any of the necessary confidence, or social grace to run it. He was the man in charge, yet he was not a leader. That, he left to Wesley, and though he was a physically imposing figure, it could be argued that any sense of reverence granted him was a product of Wesley’s leadership.

In this episode, in this scene, we see how far Wilson has come as a result of his relationship with Vanessa. He smiles, he is assertive. He’s still an evil, murdering bastard, but he’s also a complete person! Where once he feared exposure more than anything, now, as agents cuff him and pull him away, he shows no fear, no doubt. His eyes and his words are for Vanessa alone. It’s shiver-inducing. I actually got shivers from this scene! “You are my heart! You are everything!”

And it’s because of this display, this careless, unreserved expression of love, that we sink back into the bizarro mindset of episode 8. Wilson isn’t a bad guy… just misunderstood. When we see him sitting in the back of that paddy wagon, being taken away from the love of his life, we can’t help but sympathize. We lament the sorry set of circumstances that led such a loving person down this path. He was so close to fulfillment. He could have had everything… if it wasn’t for those damned lawyers.

And then we even visit the lawyers as they drink their wine and gloat over their victory! The jerks.

At this point, from an audience perspective, everything seems to be happening a bit fast; it feels a bit rushed. This is where, in my opinion, the mini-movie pacing fails the episode, just a little. For the last 12 or so hours, this show has run like a finely tuned clock, with no single episode standing out as being overloaded — not even the pilot, where you might expect to find things feeling a bit crammed. It has all played out at a relaxed, steady pace… until this episode, where a need to hit every remaining plot beat has resulted in a finale that actually kind of feels like a pilot.

Instead of flowing naturally out of the episodes that came before, this episode places itself apart, with a rhythm more akin to network television dramas. This pacing, while not done badly, feels out of step with the rest of the series. To its credit, though, even at a faster clip, the episode still makes room for some good dramatic punches.

The Samaritan Loved His City and Everyone In It
 

Sad Wilson Daredevil

En route to the jail, Wilson tells his two guards a story from the bible, about the Traveler and the Samaritan on the road to Jericho. The music gets soft here, only a lilting piano and underscoring strings, which casts the scene in a sorrowful light. It’s a tone D’Onofrio’s performance supports. Now, I’ll admit, at first, this story beat felt too long after how quickly everything moved to get us to this point, but I don’t think that was a fair assessment. It’s an important scene and D’Onofrio owns your attention. His delivery, as it has been all season, is perfect. This is actually, I realized on the rewatch, a return to the previous pacing of the season. It’s a pace that says, “We’re building something here. Let’s slow down and enjoy it.”

As Wilson tells his story, we cut to shots of the convoy making its way through the city, and then to the offices of Nelson & Murdock, where Matt, Foggy, and Karen laugh and celebrate in slow motion. The timing is important here: we only cut to Matt when Wilson’s story turns to the good Samaritan, who helped the wounded Traveler after he was set upon by men of ill intent. With this edit, the show is very clearly telling us who the Samaritan is.

But when Wilson describes the actions of the samaritan, he does so with such reverence and respect; with such admiration. And when he says, “I always thought I was the samaritan in that story,” folks… you do not understand the heartbreak. The pain in D’Onofrio’s eyes; like he’s just discovered something missing in himself that he never knew was lost. This is the sad moment the music has been foreshadowing. But then it takes a turn.

He’s not the Samaritan, he tells his guards. He’s not any of the characters from the story; not the hero, not the victim, nor any of the others who ignored the Traveler in his time of need. Instead, he says, as the music turns dark and his voice intensifies, “I am the ill intent who set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.”

Because just as this season is the story of how Matt becomes the hero, it is also the story of how Wilson becomes the villain. His legitimacy has been taken from him. His business partners have betrayed and abandoned him. All this time, he has insisted that what he did was for the good of the city he loved… but if he truly had the city’s best interests at heart, wouldn’t he recognize the harm he’s doing to it? Is he really so blind as to not see the consequences of his actions?

No. As it turns out, he wasn’t blind… only fooling himself. And now that he’s been outed, he has no more reason to deny the truth. Though the full scope of his self-deception won’t come to light until the climactic scene of the episode, this moment is the turning point. This is when Wilson stops trying to straddle both sides of the line and picks a side. And, in Gao’s own words, he chooses to be the oppressor.

What follows is a sequence that feels downright scary. Fisk’s hidden agents attack the convoy, killing everyone and setting him free. It’s a credit to the show that just the image of Wilson Fisk breathing free air again can instill the sort of dread usually reserved for the Joker’s exploits in The Dark Knight. As he walks across the bridge, flanked on all sides by hired gunman, taking his sweet time with his (apropos) Frankenstein’s monster’s gait, we know that Fisk has accepted his position as the king; he has claimed the leadership Wesley once fostered for him. Now, he is in complete control.

From there, it’s all build-up to the final confrontation, as Matt races to pick up his half-finished suit from Melvin’s workshop before heading to the rooftops to listen for signs of Fisk in the city air. In any other series, the detour to pick up his costume would feel pointless and fanservicey, but this show has done such a great job of establishing that, yes, in fact, Matt NEEDS body armor, for this fight especially.

We follow Fisk from carrier to carrier as he makes progress toward the helipad where Vanessa awaits him. He gets to have one last phone conversation with her, assuring her that they will be together again soon. And it seems as if he may be right… until a red billy club comes smashing through the windshield of the transport.

The truck crashes, Wilson stumbles out onto the street, and is confronted by Matt in his brand spankin’ new costume.

Take Your Shot
 

whudd Daredevil

Now we come to probably the most oft-repeated five minutes of film on Netflix, at least in the month of April.

Despite some misgivings, which I’ll get into later, the final fight between Daredevil and Fisk is pretty great. Daredevil does all the things you want Daredevil to do — flips, kicks, flipkicks, and billy club ricochets — and sometimes he even looks cool doing them. While (mostly) satisfying on a visual level, it still pays attention to thematic purpose the scene is supposed to serve.

Wilson is a significant challenge, which helps the armor feel like an essential addition. He picks Matt up and throws him into walls, dumpsters, and the ground. Sparks fly as he beams Matt in the head with metal rebar and even pummels him at one point with his own billy club. All things that would have destroyed Matt in his black outfit, but now the worst he gets is a bloody nose. The armor does its job. The red suit is justified.

The dialogue in the scene is a little clunky — or, at least, it seems that way when compared to the rest of the series. Matt and Wilson’s repartee, while serving its thematic purpose in a couple cases, feels more like something out of a typical superhero show, with the hero and villain making grand, somewhat on-the-nose statements to deliver their final theses to the audience.

In some cases, it works. When Fisk shouts at Matt that the city doesn’t deserve a better tomorrow, that it deserves to drown in its filth, while bashing him about the head and shoulders with his own billy club… that’s a significant revelation. Fisk has had himself convinced all along that he wanted to save the city, but the truth is he wanted to change it; to destroy what it was; to make it nothing like the place that created men like his father. And when he lumps Matt into that category, it makes it clear that he’s not just talking about “Bullies,” but about anyone who would oppose him. It’s the final delusion which, as he stands there, beating Matt while he’s lying prone, and ranting about the people trying to keep him down, solidifies that Wilson has truly become his father.

That whole bit works. Matt’s response, catching the billy club and locking down Fisk’s arm to say, “This is my city. My family.” …doesn’t. I feel like I get what they’re trying to establish here; that Matt is the Samaritan Wilson wishes he was, so he says what a Samaritan would say… but it’s so shoehorned and cheesy than any weight the words are meant to carry gets lost.

It’s as though, once Matt puts on the classic costume, both he and Fisk turn into articulate, but still stereotypical comic book characters.

Speaking of which… okay, let’s talk about the suit.

Costume Achieved
 

Suit Comparison Daredevil

We’ve waited close to 13 hours for Matt to abandon his generic black ninja getup and take on the mantle of the title character. We’ve seen the subtle evolution of his uniform as he’s learned and grown from each battle. We even got a thoroughly convincing speech from Father Lantom, framing the devil as a figure meant to scare sinners back onto the path of righteousness. Everything is ready… the stage is set. And when Daredevil is finally revealed in all his crimson glory…

It makes me miss the black suit.

It’s not that the red suit design is bad — though it does look better on paper than it does in execution — and it’s not that it’s not a perfect translation from the comics — I never expected it to be. My issue with the red suit is that it hides and restricts the natural, loose, athletic form of Charlie Cox. A huge part of his performance throughout this series has been the posture Cox affects whenever he’s in the mask.

It all stems, I realize, from that opening monologue in the very first episode; Matt’s first confession. He talks about the way his father would lose his temper and walk toward his opponents, arms at his sides, not even trying to block. As you keep watching the series, you’ll see Matt do the exact same thing. It’s on display as early as the very first fight sequence in the pilot episode, but it REALLY kicks in at the end of episode 2. The way he stalks down that hallway, arms at his side, it feels like something subconscious, like he’s channeling his father and doesn’t even realize it.

In the red suit, he loses that. He becomes rigid, constricted. His shoulders are perfectly squared, his neck perfectly straight. Sure, he seems able to turn his head — a little — and he can still do all his crazy flips, but you can tell he’s lost something. He moves differently. His speed and flexibility are hindered.

To compensate for this, the fight choreography leans heavily on what CAN be done in the suit. They crank up the fancy flips and comic-booky poses, which come in stark contrast to the raw speed and skill of the black suit. Having spent 13 hours watching a perfectly toned fighting machine, this feels like a step backwards.

In a way, it’s a compliment that my perception of Daredevil in this show has been so shaped by Charlie Cox’s performance that I’m not willing to lose any of that performance, even for the sake of the red suit. But that is the case.

I also have issues with the mask — again, not because it’s “not how it looks in the comics,” but because it looks misaligned on his face, too big for his head, and the eyes look, from most angles, like they are perpetually closed. It really feels like this suit was just a first iteration that they were forced to run with due to timing or budgetary limitations.

Or, maybe I’m crazy and everyone on set loved it! In either case, I’m hoping season 2 will deliver us something a little more refined and allowing for freer movement. If they could find that perfect balance of flexibility, style, and “armor” for Captain America, they can do it for Daredevil.

Avocados at Law
 

Avocados Daredevil

At the episode’s close, Fisk is put in federal prison to await trial, and again finds himself staring at a blank wall, forced to think about the man he wants to be. Vanessa leaves the country without Wilson, but puts on his ring, a silent reassurance that she is not giving up on him. Meanwhile, Matt, Foggy, and Karen open Nelson & Murdock for business and reflect upon their ordeal. After a quiet exchange with Matt, Karen seems finally able to move past the anger that has driven her through most of the series. She can’t do anything to change the injustices of the past, but just as Matt and Foggy did, maybe she can find a way to move forward.

The season is finished. Daredevil is done.

But this review wouldn’t be complete without one last…

Easter Egg Hunt:
 

Stilt Maaaan Daredevil

– The newspaper Karen is holding at the end of the episode features an “artist’s rendering” of the newly dubbed Daredevil, and it surrrrre looks like artwork by renowned Daredevil comic artist Alex Maleev.

– Throughout the season, Leland has made offhand references to his son, “Lee.” The show’s version of Leland Owlsley is obviously not the vicious, psychotic, murdering Owl as we know him from the comics… but perhaps in season 2, his son WILL be! Or, they could decide to keep the elder Owl around and have him paralyzed (as he was in the comics) by his fall down the elevator shaft — but the blood seeping from his head after the fall makes me think they won’t go that route.

– Just before Melvin sets down the trunk containing Matt’s new suit, we see some schematics for what looks like a razor-blade device of some kind. Could it be for a gauntlet maybe? Like, one that launches razors? Like the razor launching gauntlets worn by the villainous Gladiator??

– And will you look at those glorious metal pants in the background of Melvin’s workshop?? Stilt Man is one of the most laughable — and lovable! — recurring villains in Daredevil‘s rogues gallery, and I never in a million years would have expected them to put him on screen… and they haven’t. But those are most definitely his legs, and just knowing that someone is out there, waiting for Melvin to finish building a Stilt Man suit for them… it makes me so happy.

But the best part?

Turk Barrett, Ladies and Gentleman
stilt-man_fail Daredevil

That someone is probably Turk.

Well, folks, this has been an absolute joy for me. Thank you all for reading my interminable ramblings, and for your kind comments and shout-outs on social media. I hope you enjoyed the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil as much as I enjoyed thinking waaaayyy too much about it. Maybe, if they let me, I’ll be back to overthink season 2!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go binge-watch this sucker like god intended.

Toodles.

Follow me on Twitter @NeverWanderer