Now that I’ve watched all the episodes again, and found a whole new level love for this show, it’s time to pick it apart and look at all the individual components that made it great. Of course, these are just my own opinions, and the list is far from exhaustive, but I hope we’ll get a good debate going. Some of these are characters, some are relationships, and others are themes or individual scenes. I list them here in no particular order, and will follow up with a “part 2” of this post tomorrow. Did you love the same things I’ve listed so far?
Obviously, this post will contain FULL SPOILERS for all thirteen episodes so don’t read further unless you’ve seen the whole season already!
The willingness to do an original story
Marvel’s Daredevil borrows heavily from Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear, Miller’s earlier work – especially as it pertains to the Kingpin – and the Bendis/Maleev run. The show obviously draws inspiration from other runs as well, but the end result is, interestingly, something completely new.
This is exactly what I had hoped for. I wasn’t looking to see Born Again, or any other classic storyline, adapted for this show. I know how those stories end, I want new stories. And with comic book canon being as convoluted as it usually is, creating something original for the Marvel Cinematic Universe provides an opportunity clean up some of the mess. The end result ends up righting some oversights that have bothered me. More on that below.
Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil
I know that when Charlie Cox was first cast as Matt Murdock, some of us were perhaps a little skeptical of his brown (not red!) hair, relatively slight build, and boyish good looks. Since then, he didn’t dye his hair (good!), put on just the right amount of muscle, and managed to bring more gravitas to this role than I ever could have hoped for. More importantly, he nailed the character in all those little ways we didn’t even realize to expect.
He’s got the charm, the obsessive drive, the doubts, the demons, and all that heart. It didn’t take long to realize that he was Matt Murdock. I felt good about this casting choice from his very first scene, where he’s talking to a priest about his father and the tears start welling up in his eyes. With all the hurt you know he’s about to dole out, that scene sets up his humanity in a way that helps us root for him, even while worrying about the moral consequences of his decisions.
Charlie Cox also handles the many different physical challenges placed on him really well. This includes his scenes as the would-be Daredevil – though he did, of course, have a stunt double for many of the more advanced moves – as well as when he’s Matt Murdock, blind lawyer. Well done, sir. Well done.
Foggy finding out about Matt
The relationship between Matt and Foggy is genuine and spot-on from the very beginning of this show. However, when you as the viewer – or the reader, as the case may be with the comics – know about Matt’s secret and Foggy doesn’t, that also puts things in a different and rather uncomfortable light.
I felt it was a shame that it took Foggy three decades to learn Matt’s secret in the comics (it finally happened in in Daredevil #347, by J.M. DeMatteis and Ron Wagner, which came out in 1995). Foggy took this quite hard, just as he does in Marvel’s Daredevil. In the comics, it is not until Daredevil #353, the first issue of Karl Kesel’s run, that Matt and Foggy return to practicing law together and even have a conversation about Matt’s heightened senses.
In this show, Foggy learns about Matt’s secret nine episodes in, and as one would imagine, Foggy feels utterly betrayed by his best friend. Letting Foggy in on the secret did wonders for their relationship in the comics, so it’s no wonder that the creators want to move on to that chapter going into what will probably be a second season. As pleased as I am with this hurdle being crossed relatively early – and it’s appropriate that it’s Foggy, not Karen, who is the first of the two to learn the truth – this episode (#10) was one I felt could have been executed better.
Matt mixes in a little too much magic in his explanation of the senses, and says absolutely none of the things that would have been on the top of my list if I were Matt trying to defend myself, such as also make sure to list all the things I couldn’t do, despite the heightened senses, to really emphasize that “blind Matt” is a (necessary) half-truth more than an outright lie. I suppose we have to assume that entered into the conversation while we weren’t listening, because that also strikes me as something Foggy would have needed to hear. Still, that this revelation happened at all was important enough to put it on my list.
There may be more languages spoken (or attempted, as in the case of Punjabi) in this series than in most anything I’ve seen on television, ever. It has always bothered me when, say, German is represented by people speaking English with a poor imitation of a German accent. Here, we have a multi-cultural cast of characters who speak their respective languages.
Even more impressively, even the characters with an English-speaking background also speak a second language. As someone who uses two languages daily (English being my second), I love to see this kind of diversity, and to see multilingualism presented almost as the norm, the way it is in most parts of the world.
Matt and Vanessa at the art gallery
My goodness, this was a fun scene with lots of tension. Even though he’s there on very serious business, Matt happily launches into full flirt mode while Vanessa seems to relish the “intimate” opportunity to describe her favorite paintings to a blind man. The painting she suggests is also one that would have been perfect for Matt to buy, which makes it all the more interesting and entertaining. This scene also marks the first meeting between Matt and Wilson Fisk and that also makes it stand out.
The origin story of Wilson Fisk
All of episode eight is outstanding, in my opinion. It’s visually stunning throughout, and very well-paced. What really stood out to me, though, were the scenes from Wilson Fisk’s childhood. My goodness, the actor who portrays young Wilson is amazing, as is the story leading up to his defining moment.
The flashback story also provides a really interesting reference back to the painting Fisk purchased from Vanessa in episode three. This is just one of those little details that make this show spectacular.
Decapitation by car door
This show is extremely violent and I can totally understand if people feel that it goes too far. Personally, I don’t particularly mind, and feel that some of the most violent scenes, while very uncomfortable to watch, fill a purpose in conveying to the viewers just how raw and unrestrained rage and pure evil can be.
In the fourth episode, Wilson Fisk kills a man by cracking his head open with the door to his car. As disgusted as I was by this scene, it was a great character moment for Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk. The fact that he’s doing all of it because he’d been embarrased in front of his date just makes the whole thing even more extreme.
Toby Leonard Moore as Wesley
Speaking of the bad guys, Toby Leonard Moore is hands down amazing as Fisk’s right-hand man, from his chilling first scene (in which he threatens a certain Mr Farnum, and thus serving up a perfectly cooked Easter egg for all of us hardcore Daredevil fans), down to his last. He has that perfect balance of charm and chill that you find in any civilized psychopath, and delivers some of the most memorable lines of the whole show.
It’s a shame he won’t be seen in potential future seasons of Daredevil, but his spectacular death is almost worth that loss, and it also gives Deborah Ann Woll one of her best scenes as Karen Page. Moore is one actor whose further career I’ll be interested to follow.
All that Braille
I mentioned in an earlier post leading up to this show that I suspected they would finally do away with Matt’s ability to read print by touch, and I’m delighted that this appears to be the case. While there is one scene in episode nine showing Matt run his fingers over some constructions plans, I’m not going to read too much into that; depending on the printing process, even a perfectly normal person in the real world can determine whether a piece of paper is a written document, a map or a drawing; it doesn’t mean he can actually read the fine print, so to speak (nor do we learn definitively whether he can actually make sense of what he’s touching in this scene).
When Daredevil’s print-reading ability was introduced in the very first first issue of Daredevil, way back in 1964, the most common printing processes were different than today. In the modern days of offset printing, the textural basis for this ability makes less sense. More importantly, the original decision behind making this one of Daredevil’s powers likely also had a great deal to do with an excessive need to make Matt Murdock’s blindness as inconsequential as possible. We were supposed to buy into the fact that he could not only read print, but he could do so faster than any sighted person! And, that he preferred it to braille.
Given that this is now 2015, I’m happy to see that the MCU version of Matt appears to be a braille reader exclusively, and that this is a skill he seems to take some pride in. I really hope that the writers of any potential future seasons will stick with this decision. While it may be inconvenient, that’s just the kind of inconvenience that you’re going to have to deal with when the main character is blind and, despite his extraordinary senses, still has to live with at least some of the consequences of that fact. Given the current braille literacy crisis (google it!), and the positive correlation between good braille reading skills and academic success among the blind, increasing the public awareness of braille is a good thing in itself.
The flashback sequences in episodes one and two are perfect, and the decision to kick things off with Matt’s accident works much better than one might have guessed. The way things unfold, Jack (played by John Patrick Hayden) is actually the first person we see, which seems appropriate given his central role in the Daredevil mythos. So what if he died in the very first issue of the comic? Matt’s not altogether uncomplicated relationship with his father is of vital importance to everything from his career choice to his conflicted feelings about his own violent nature.
The depiction of the relationship between father and son was one of the strong points of the Daredevil (2003) movie, and it’s handled even better here. While serving alcohol to your nine-year-old son will not win you any father of the year awards, there is real love and devotion on display in these flashback scenes. And, despite the absolutely harrowing first scene, Jack appears to handle his son’s accident with a healthy no-nonsense dose of encouragement and continued high expectations for his future.
I also appreciate the restoration of Jack’s albeit imperfect nobility in this series, as compared to some of the takes on the character that have portrayed him as an enforcer for the mob. There is no indication of anything like that in Marvel’s Daredevil, and I’m grateful for that. The way Matt weeps at the memory of his father in that early confessional scene just makes me love these scenes even more. This is great stuff.
As mentioned, I will be back shortly with even more of the characters, moments and themes I particularly enjoyed, so stay tuned!