When I said I’d have this up over the weekend, I meant last weekend. Oh well, real life got in the way, along with the really nice piece of real life that was Sunday’s all-day Daredevil marathon that I co-hosted for a group of friends. I did all the cooking, and a good friend and fellow Marvel fan provided his 92″ screen and projector. It was most likely the closest I’ll ever come to seeing this show at the movies and it was fantastic! (As was the food if I may say so myself.)
Anyway, I’m looking to wrap up these episode reviews in the next few of days, along with a couple of other posts about various themes in the show, before taking some time off to work on that other Daredevil project I have cooking. While I’m busy with that, I’ll be spotlighting some of my more in-depth – and still relevant – posts from the archives (updated as needed, and with a new introduction) as featured posts on the start page, with a “new” one going up every couple of days, for the many who may be new to this site, and/or Daredevil.
For now, let’s have a look at the penultimate episode of season one. As always, I’m starting with a fairly detailed recap, but feel free to skip ahead to My thoughts if you don’t need your memory jogged (this post is pretty massive).
First up this episode, we meet Karen down by the river. She throws the gun she used to kill Wesley into the water, and then rushes home and goes straight for a bottle of liquor, collapsing on the floor of her kitchen as her legs fold under her. She takes a shower, trying to scrub herself clean after all that has happened; when she steps out, we see that she brought the bottle with her. In her sleep, Karen is haunted by a dream where she is visited by Wilson Fisk. In it, he appears to remind her of how difficult it is to take a life. He ends with a very chilling “But it gets easier, the more you do it,” which catapults Karen out of her dream and she wakes up gasping for air.
Karen goes to the office, and we see that it’s dark outside. She’s rattled, and looks nervously out the window when Foggy steps out of his office and startles her. He can tell she’s been drinking, and wonders about what happened after the two of them went their separate ways the night before. Foggy then apologizes for how what’s happening between him and Matt is affecting her, and then joke about how the two of them should give up drinking. Foggy is at the office because he needs to pick up some things, but he remains tightlipped about what lies ahead for Nelson & Murdock. He’s determined that he wants to keep digging into the Fisk situation, however, and asks Karen for the file they got from the “man in the mask”. This obviously leads the conversation in a new direction, and when Karen asks Foggy whether he no longer thinks the man in the mask is a terrorist, he answers that no, he doesn’t think so. He doesn’t know what he is. For those of us who know more about what Foggy has been up to lately than Karen does, it’s clear that Foggy is still trying to wrap his head around everything he’s learned about Matt.
Speaking of the proverbial devil, Matt shows up just as Foggy is heading out the door. They both stop, but say nothing to each other. When Foggy leaves, Matt closes the door behind him and Karen comments on the obvious tension between them. When Matt asks what Karen is doing there so late, she tells him she couldn’t sleep (a half-truth at least), and he notes that there is a lot of that going around.
Karen brings Matt a cup of coffee and tells him that Foggy blames himself for Elena. Matt says he shouldn’t, but when Karen points out that he should tell Foggy that, Matt says that it’s Foggy’s choice that they’re not speaking. Karen won’t let him off the hook so easily though, saying it’s only Foggy’s choice if Matt lets it be. When Karen then tells him that coming to work for them may have been a mistake – but that she still wants to stay – and that Matt and Foggy are the only good things in her life, Matt picks up on the fact that there may be something Karen’s not telling him.
Meanwhile, Fisk is waiting anxiously at the hospital, checking his phone and obviously worried about Wesley, when Vanessa wakes up. At least he has that going for him. He tells her what happened at the benefit and that he’s made arrangements for her to be taken out of the country. She doesn’t want to leave without him, and their conversation solidifies the relationship they now have. Vanessa is clearly willing to commit to Wilson, and accept everything that doing so entails. The two are interrupted by a knock on the door. In the hallway, Francis tells Fisk that Wesley’s been found.
Fisk arrives on the scene, and Owlsley joins him, asking Francis what happened. When Fisk learns that Francis let Wesley leave the hospital alone, he once again reveals his lack of anger management skills and starts beating on his new recruit. It is Owlsley who finally talks sense into him. Leland starts speculating on who’s behind Wesley’s murder as Fisk sits down next to his friend, touching him lovingly and kissing him on the forehead. Fisk then takes out Wesley’s phone and sees that the last call made was to Marlene Vistain, Fisk’s mother.
Ben is about to get into his car when he’s joined by “the man in the mask.” Matt wants information, and gives Ben a little packet of the heroin he got off the man who killed Elena. Ben says it’s called Steel Serpent on the streets, and Matt suspects Fisk may look to pick up the distribution now that the Russians are gone. When Matt asks Ben about the man at the top of the Chinese operation he learns that there is no man, but an unnamed woman. Matt mentions the blind man with a backpack in the back of the Russians’ car, in case there might be a connection, and Ben says he’s seen them around, adding that it would make sense since no one would look at a blind man twice. Ben gives Matt an address where he’s seen them, though only ever during the day. Matt promises to dress down.
Foggy meets with Marci at Josie’s. When Foggy tells Marci he needs her help, she admits she was hoping it was a bootie call. Foggy tells her about the connection he suspects between Fisk and Elena’s murder, and talks about everything else going on. At this point, Marci looks about ready to leave, for fear of the legal ramifications, with her firm representing Fisk, but ultimately agrees to look at the documents that Foggy’s brought.
Karen tracks down Ben and pressures him about getting the story out there. She says that she thinks they know that the two of them went to see Fisk’s mother. Ben lets her into his apartment and says that he’s been looking at a second source for the piece: A guy who used to know Rigoletto at the time of the death of Fisk’s father that he’s waiting to hear back from (we, of course, would know this source as the ex-mobster from episode three). Karen is impatient, anxious to get the story out there, and not satisfied with Ben’s approach. Ben then suggests she do it herself, and Karen’s shady past is alluded to once again. She thinks no one would believe her if they found out the same things Ben did. At this point, Ben promises to write it up and give it to his editor the next day.
Back at Josie’s, Marci’s interest is definitely piqued by what Foggy’s given her to look at. Foggy says that they turned up some of it working on the tenement case and that the rest of it came from “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”. When Foggy pressures her about whether nothing feels off about Fisk, we realize that there are probably quite a few bells going off in her head. Foggy knows there’s good in her and encourages her to take the chance to get her soul back.
Matt does some detective work in his civilian guise, at the address he got from Ben Urich. He is listening for the tap of a white cane (which is obviously a sound he’s well famliar with). It doesn’t take long before his ears pick up the telltale sound and he follows a woman walking past him down the street where she gets into a car that’s playing classical music. Matt ducks into an alley, tosses the cane (he must buy them in bulk…) and follows the sound of the car. Some serious parkouring across the rooftops ensues. At the car’s final destination, Matt hears the secret knock. Knowing that he now knows all he needs to, Matt smiles.
We get a brief glimpse of Ben popping into his office, before cutting to Fisk who has sent for his mother. They are riding in Fisk’s car together, and we learn that he has made arrangements to get her out of the country as well, though Marlene is clearly not amused by the prospect of leaving the retirement home. Fisk tries to ask what she remembers about what she and Wesley talked about, but she now seems confused. She remembers Wesley, but has forgotten their conversation. It appears that Karen’s secret is safe, for now.
Karen gets a phone call from Ben and learns that he hasn’t been able to check with his editor about the article since the latter is not at the office. The next person to call Karen is Matt who says that he’s going to need to take a day. While on the phone, he is seen tending to his wounds. He tells her he’s working on something, and then promises her that everything’s going to work out.
When Ben’s boss Ellison shows up at the office, he’s not impressed with the story (and that’s putting it mildly). Ben gives him a piece of his mind and gets himself suspended. Rather than holding his tongue and taking a step back, Ben asks how Ellison how much Fisk is paying him. This gets him fired.
Madame Gao is overseeing her blind workers who are silently keeping busy cutting and packing her heroin. The camera passes through the warehouse to the front door where Matt is about to enter via the magic knock (there isn’t enough secret knocks and handshakes these days). He takes down the guy at the door, plays a little trick on the other guard to get him out of the way as well and the walks into the large room. Matt has a “look” around and gradually realizes that all the workers are blind. Gao then spots Matt from the gallery and instructs her workers to attack.
Fisk is talking to Owlsley who suggests that the man in the mask may be behind the attacks at the benefit and Wesley, though Fisk is doubtful. Fisk tells Francis to double the offer on the streets and to keep doing it until someone talks. Next, Fisk gets a call, and takes off, leaving Owlsley wondering. And we, of course, are left wondering about Owlsley. He’s very suspicious, that guy…
Gao and her guards go looking for Matt. He jumps them first, avoiding their bullets, and knocks them out. He confronts Gao about her workers, saying that she blinded them. She denies it, saying that they blinded themselves. Matt is understandably incredulous as to why they would do that, and says as much, his voice laced with disgust. Madame Gao simply responds: “Because they have faith in something beyond the destructions of your world. You have taken that form them. Now, they will have nothing.” When Matt moves on her, Gao surprises him by delivering a very powerful blow to the stomach that sends him half across the floor, and leaves her nowhere to be found.
The warehouse is now on fire, and it’s spreading. Matt knocks down a guard, takes his machine gun and fires it at the water pipes above. He tells the guard to help the workers out and then takes off. Not far away, he’s cornered by Brett Mahoney who contronts him about Blake. Matt takes him out and tells him that Blake and Hoffman were dirty, and that he’s not the bad guy.
Gao meets with Owlsley, and speaks with him privately in English, saying that the need for illusion has passed. Hearing the sirens nearby, Owlsley asks her about it and she confirms that her heroin has gone up in flames, but that that was never her primary concern. Owlsley clearly has bigger things on his mind as well, worrying about what happens if Fisk finds out what they did, and Gao asks if he suspects something. Owlsley thinks not, but their line of conversation reveals that it was Vanessa they were after all along. When Owlsley asks Gao about Wesley, she vehemently denies having anything to do with it. Gao decides to return home, to a place considerably farther away than China (K’Un-Lun perhaps?)
Ben visits his wife again. He’s brought flowers and they joke about running off together. Doris can tell Ben has a story in him waiting to get out. Ben tells her about being fired from the paper, and she suggest he post the story online. Ben calls Karen on the phone to talk about what happened at the paper, and tells her he might start a blog, promising to send her the link when it’s up.
Matt tries to enter the office, only to find that the door is locked, and Karen lets him in. When he suggests she go home because it’s late she asks him whether this is what the three of them are now: People who don’t even talk to each other. Matt talks about what Stick told him about pushing people away (without actually mentioning Stick’s name). Next, Matt starts breaking under the burden of everything that’s happened and admits that he’s had an awful night. He says that he can’t go on alone, and the two hug.
Ben comes home, grabs a bottle of whiskey and sits down at his desk. when he starts typing, the camera moves to reveal Fisk in the background. Fisk starts talking and says that he’ll leave, but that he needs to have a conversation first, and starts by apologizing for thinking that Urich was past his prime. Fisk then confirms Ben’s suspicions by admitting that he has someone at the paper on his payroll, that he needed to take precautions after the Union Allied piece. Fisk then delivers a little sermon on the state of the Internet, an amusing one at that.
There is finally one last thing he needs to ask: Was Ben alone when he went to see Fisk’s mother? Ben says that he was (at which point everyone breathes a sigh of relief for Karen) though looks surprised when asked about Wesley. This confirms Fisk’s suspicion that someone else was behind his friend’s death, though tensions rise as Fisk again comes back to the subject of his mother. This is an unforgivable offense, and Fisk ends up strangling Ben to death, leaving him on the floor next to a shattered photograph of Ben and Doris.
Will we ever find out about the source of that special connection between Wilson Fisk and James Wesley? Is it too much to hope for just a brief flashback in season two, just so we can get one more look at the spectacular Toby Leonard Moore as Wesley and figure these guys out? Throughout the season, Wesley has demonstrated that his loyalty to Fisk goes beyond that of a trusted employee, and Fisk himself has spoken about Wesley as a friend. When he finds him dead, he is devastated, and he expresses his emotions in gentle touches. You really feel for both of them, which is kind of twisted considering what kind of monsters both of them can be. I guess that’s what this show does to you. (And we love it.)
Much has been said about the portrayal of women in this series. Many who have had negative things to say have made valid and interesting points, but I’ve ultimately tended not to agree with most of them. On the contrary, I think the female cast gives us a wide range of personality types with diverse backgrounds and motivations. I think both Karen and Claire have had interesting arcs that have defied easy categorization and revealed them to be multi-layered characters.
I’ve mentioned before that I think Wilson’s relationship with Vanessa has been fascinating, and Vanessa’s half of that relationship has been a very big piece of what has made the pair so compelling. On the one hand, she would be easy to dismiss as someone naive enough to be sucked into a world much darker than she realizes. Except, at no point is she presented that way. Her initial hesitation to get involved is very healthy, and that serves to make her decision to proceed all the more interesting.
In this episode, she shows that she is willing to remain by Wilson Fisk’s side, even after having suffered the consequences, and while that doesn’t exactly flatter her, it certainly underscores her standing as free agent who is making informed choices about her life. She is not arm candy for Wilson Fisk, and she never was.
This episode, we also get to see a new side of Foggy’s old flame Marci Stahl, who is quickly going from bitch to hero. And, she does so without losing the “bitch” side of her personality. I find it refreshing that she apparently says whatever is on her mind, that she enjoys going to Foggy for casual sex, and that she – if we go by the pattern dictated by traditional gender roles – is pretty much the “guy” in this relationship. There is nothing cookie cutter about her, and I really like that. This is a show that lets the nice guys act like jerks, and the villains (big and small) have redeeming qualities. There’s no black and white, and I find the female characters to be just as multi-dimensional as everyone else.
Relationships in general seems to be the overarching theme of this episode. The “break-up” between Matt and Foggy stretches on into a lengthy separation (at least by serialized entertainment standards), and Matt instead finds a new level of trust with Karen while reevaluating his old relationship with Stick. Sure, Matt long ago realized that Stick was a “dick,” to use Matt’s own words, but here he’s finally getting to the bottom of the ideas that were planted in his mind all those years ago. Matt doesn’t want a life that doesn’t have other people in it. He allows himself to feel it, and to say it out loud, thereby rejecting one of Stick’s most damaging teachings. Needing other people does not make you weak.
After the shocking death of Wesley last episode, I think we were equally shocked to see Ben Urich go this time around. Unlike Wesley, Ben is a popular supporting character in the comics (Wesley’s appearances have been minor), and has been a trusted confidante of Matt Murdock’s since the late 70s. I didn’t expect him to not survive the season, but at least he goes out on a high note. In this episode, we see him find some of the passion he used to have inside, even if it took Karen backing him into a corner to make it happen. He mouths off to his boss, probably saying things he’d been bottling up for a long time, and actually seems to find some amount of freedom in having cut the strings. He’s even ready to embrace the Internet by the time Fisk catches up with him.
There are three things I want to point out this time around. The first is the scene of Matt waiting on the sidewalk for one of Gao’s workers to show up. I like it. It has some of that attention to detail that we saw quite a lot of early in the series, with a series of nice sound and visual effects to alert us to what Matt is hearing.
When Matt admits to Foggy in episode nine that he can see “in a manner of speaking,” this, to me, comes across as a pretty reasonable thing to say. There are ways in which even real life echolocation, as used by blind experts, can be described as a kind of seeing, in that it parallels some of the functions of sight and is handled by the visual part of the brain. With hearing that is better, in every way imaginable, than that of any real human being, the experience would be even more “sight-like.” However, the way most of us would visually look for things, by scanning for and picking out details that are visually obvious, is hard to translate into a world of barely audible surfaces. This scene focuses very clearly on listening for a distinctive sound source, and gets to enthusiastic thumbs up from me.
I will admit though, that in my mind, the sound Matt is chasing once the woman gets into the car is the sound of the car engine and not the sound of classical music. Classical music doesn’t have much of a bass component (which would make it easier to escape through sealed doors), and once there’s some real distance between Matt and the car, the idea that he’s actually following the sound of the car is much easier for me to swallow, and even plausible. Overall, the scene is pretty cool, and looks perfect set to that particular music.
The third thing I wanted to mention is the scene where Matt enters Gao’s warehouse and realizes the workers are blind. I read somewhere that this was supposed to be one of the scenes where the “world on fire” effect was planned to be used. I’m very glad that it wasn’t (that effect just doesn’t work for me, and I’ll return to the reasons why – they may not the ones you think – in a future post) because I simply can’t imagine how they would do it without straying into the “too visual.” What I mean by that is that it would be hard to translate the things that I think Matt should be picking up on in this scene into something that would allow us viewers to, visually, reach the same conclusion. We don’t need to understand what he’s “seeing” (especially when it’s things he shouldn’t be “seeing” in the first place), we just need to understand what he’s doing with the information at his disposal.
His senses obviously shouldn’t be able to register anything in particular about the eyes of these people, or even the scars around the eyes. Going by the comic, or even this show, Matt should only have a very vague and rudimentary idea of people’s faces. However, sans special effects, my own pet theory for how Matt realizes that these people are blind is that they’re not looking at what they’re doing, which is revealed by the fact that they’re not moving their heads, and that the sound of their breathing is directed straight ahead. They are also obviously unaware of his presence, which is perhaps the biggest give-away to a guy who can easily register others’ reactions. Either way, I love that they’re showing Matt’s realization as gradual. Any sighted person would look at this scene and realize immediately what’s going on. Matt wouldn’t, and I like that he doesn’t. It works out well. I’m not so sure the “world on fire” effect could have done it justice.
(Accessible) gadget watch
None this issue, but I’m keeping this category here for every episode review anyway, just for the heck of it. And because these things are important.
Easter egg watch
There’s nothing really obvious happening in this area – at least not to me – but anyone acquainted with Karen’s history in the comics was bound to be reminded of it in the beginning of the episode, when she turns to hard liquor to drown her sorrows. There is also a very telling conversation between Karen and Foggy that suggests there may be much more to this story.
Foggy: “You and I should not drink.”
Karen: “I’m thinking about giving it up and moving on to the hard stuff.”
Foggy: “Narcotics? Deal me in.”
Karen: “You don’t seem like the type.”
Foggy: “Yeah, I smoked a doobie once, made me drool.”
Karen: “A doobie?”
Foggy: “Weed, pot, the Mary Jane. Whatever the kids are calling it these days.”
Karen: “I’m not sure that’s considered hard anymore, at least not according to Denver anyway.”
Matt: “Karen, did something happen?”
Karen: “Yes. The world fell apart. Didn’t you notice?”
Vanessa: “Find who did this to us and make them understand.”
Wilson: “Understand what?”
Vanessa: “That they could never take you away from me.”
Wilson: “I’ll make them suffer for what they’ve done.”
Vanessa: “I expect nothing less.”
Ellison: “You sound like a whore.”
Ben: “Well, I learned how to be one from you.”
Madame Gao: “I will visit my homeland and reflect upon the future.”
Owlsley: “Home? China?”
Madame Gao: “It is a considerable distance farther.”
Karen: “You’re not alone Matt. You never were.”
Wilson Fisk: “This world around us is preoccupied with celebrity weddings and videos of cats.”
Wilson Fisk: “So I am not here to threaten you. I’m here to kill you.”
Several of our main characters have big moments this episode. Karen is just barely recovering from the events of last episode, Ben has a defining showdown with his boss, and decides to go his own way, before he ends up dead(!) at the hands of Wilson Fisk. Fisk himself is dealing with Wesley’s death and Vanessa’s first steps to recovery. Vanessa herself shows a more villainous side when she proclaims her loyalty to Fisk (se quotes above).
Despite the line-up of strong contenders, I’m still going to give the honors to Matt this episode. The reason is simple: While Matt has been going through a rough time for most of the season, the falling out with Foggy has brought him to a new low. The encounter with Madame Gao and her workers takes him to an even darker place. The discovery that Gao is using what amounts to slave labor to push heroin is heinous in and of itself, but that these people have been blinded in the process has to hit Matt in a place a bit more personal.
In the end, everything he’s been through up to this point breaks him. Fortunately, he has Karen there to console him. For someone as stubborn and “go it alone” as Matt Murdock, the realization that he wants and needs other people in his life is monumental. And it’s very brave of him to finally embrace it.