Yup, this is the episode that sees Daredevil and the Punisher engage in ideological battle on a roof top, and then spends its tail end playing glorious homage to the hallway scene from season one. Because of the structure of this episode, which relies heavily on people talking to (or at) each other, the details of which would be incredibly boring to describe in detail, I’ll leave my general impressions of what’s being said to the “My thoughts” section. For the recap, I’ll give a briefer than usual account of the main events, not chronologically, but according to each character’s arc.
Daredevil vs The Punisher
The episode begins with what we’re meant to understand as a scene from Matt’s childhood, when he’s being cared for by a nun (more on this under Easter eggs!) who washes his face with a wet cloth. She wrings it out, and just as the water is replaced with blood, we cut to Daredevil waking up and finding himself in a very compromised position, chained to a chimney with Frank close by, enjoying a cup of coffee.
After checking in with some of the other characters, we find Frank stiching up the wound on his arm, rambo style, while Daredevil strains against the chains that hold him, to no avail. Here begins their long conversation. Initially Matt is doing most of the talking, turning on his inner lawyer, and trying to get as much information about Frank (though he doesn’t know him by that name yet) as he can. Frank initially remains pretty tight-lipped as Matt prods into his past, his religion, and his service record. Frank gradually opens up, though manages to turn many of Matt’s questions back on him. When Matt brings up the topic of killing people, Frank points out that Daredevil has still taken it upon himself to do what he does, and that not killing doesn’t make him morally superior.
The two are interrupted when a man who lives in the building hears something on the roof and comes to check. Matt pleads with Frank not to hurt the old man when Frank goes to meet him at the door. Frank shows that he is able to turn on the charm and spins a story about visiting his sister in the building and coming up to the roof for a smoke. The two men then bond over their shared military background while Matt strains agains the chains holding him. When the man hears the chains moving and asks about it, Frank cocks his gun where the old man can’t see it, and Matt gets the message. The man gets away safe, but the tension rises between Matt and Frank. Their conversation continues and Matt learns a thing or two about Frank’s particular code of ethics. Matt makes an argument for everybody’s right to a second chance while Frank accuses Matt of essentially being ineffective. He does, however suggest that they have a lot in common which very clearly rubs Matt the wrong way. Their conversation comes to a halt when Frank knocks Matt unconscious again.
When Matt regains consciousness, he finds a gun duct-taped to his hand. Frank has gone to find Grotto who was on his way out of town, and forces him to confess his past crimes to Matt who is starting to realize that Frank is putting him in the impossible position to either shoot Frank in the head or do nothing and let Frank shoot Grotto. In a desperate attempt to get out of this situation completely, he instead aims his gun at the chains binding him, frees himself and lunges at Frank, though not in time to spare Grotto from a fatal gunshot wound to the chest. Matt, now livid, starts fighting with Frank and beats him unconscious, though not before the latter has fired at the Dogs of Hell across the street and alerted them to their location. As Matt carries an unconsious Frank to the elevator, the thugs start pouring in and Matt has to fight his way through a hallway and down a stairwell before reaching the outside, at which point Frank has regained consciousness and slipped out of the building.
We initially find Karen and Foggy together, still at the site of the failed sting operation where police cars have now gathered and the scene is being processed. Reyes and Towers are still on site, and already worried about how the aftermath is going to play in the press. When Foggy and Karen approach them, Karen in particular is furious. Grotto is gone, and his deal is about to expire. When Karen gives Reyes a piece of her mind, the D.A. mentions how easy it would be to suggest that they were the ones that compromised the operation. When Reyes leaves, Karen decides to go back to the office, and Foggy says he’ll try to get a hold of Matt.
Karen is at the office when Grotto calls. He is extremely angry, and doesn’t believe Karen’s assurances that they didn’t know what the D.A. was planning. Grotto will follow his own plan now and tells Karen that she and the others can go to hell.
Next, Karen goes to see Blake Towers, and starts by reminding him that his boss is good at throwing people to the wolves, including someone like him, and that she’s done just that in the past. Karen wants his help in protecting Nelson and Murdock from Reyes, and she wants information on the Punisher. Towers unceremoniously sends her packing and warns her against contacting him again. But, he also slips her a pack of files. At the end of the episode, we catch Karen looking through the files, coming across a particularly spooking-looking X-ray of a skull. The plot thickens…
Foggy and Claire
Not knowing where else to find Matt, Foggy goes to Metro General to look for Claire. The hospital is busy, but Foggy finds her when she’s seeing a patient out, and she remembers him. Foggy needs her help to check hospital records to see if Matt has been brought in anywhere, but before they get that far, Foggy ends up following her around, and helping her with a patient. When an argument erupts between members of rivaling gangs, Foggy uses his superpower – i.e. his mouth – and talks them down from the metaphorical ledge. Claire seems impressed, and when Foggy explains that the man who is responsible for the recent uptick in gunshot wounds is the one that Matt is up against, she gets the severity of the situation. They discover that Matt hasn’t been checked in to any of the hospitals, and they part ways after Claire offers Foggy some words of comfort.
This is another strong episode, though perhaps not one of my favorites of the season. There are a lot of great individual scenes – and hey, good to see Claire again! – but the stories being told almost entirely in parallel detracts a bit from the overall pacing.
Both Karen and Foggy are fun to watch this episode, and I’m thinking specifically of Foggy’s scene during the fight at the hospital, and Karen having the courage and savvy to confront Towers. I remember seeing someone comment the other day that Karen is too much of a Mary Sue character this season, but I can’t say that I agree with that at all. She’s not someone who magically fixes everything or knows everything. In fact, everything she manages to do this season boils down to one area of expertise – doing research – and one dominant personal trait – perseverance. This is not the picture of an unrealistically perfect character, just someone who is good at her job and has the personality to back up her goals.
The most interesting part of this episode, however, circles around Matt and Frank squaring off on a roof top. I’m sure there are ways this scene could have been made more interesting than it actually is, but it’s good enough for what it’s trying to accomplish, which I believe is basically to turn the spotlight on Matt’s motivations and code of ethics.
We already know that Frank’s approach to ridding the city of crime is indefensible, on both legal and moral grounds. Sure, he brings his own code of ethics to it, and is careful not to harm innocent people, and you could even make some kind of utilitarian argument for the killing of one person to prevent the potential killing of even more people. Still, Frank’s “methodology” is an affront to any civilized society. It appeals to our lower instincts, is fueled by vengeance and creates a kind of chaos that neither Frank, nor anyone else, can realistically control in the long run. As Brett and Matt have both pointed out, it’s only a matter of time before an innocent person gets caught in the crossfire.
It’s not at all surprising that Matt finds the entire concept of the Punisher to be deeply offensive. He’s offended as a lawyer, and as someone whose moral compass is pointing in a very different direction. What I find even more interesting though, is that much of Matt’s outrage is a reaction that stems from his need to defend what he does as Daredevil. When Frank keeps turning many of Matt’s questions back around on him, there’s a lot of frustration, even desperation. He doesn’t kill, but he wears a mask and most definitely doesn’t carry a badge.
I would say, though, that one problem with Matt’s strict “no kill” policy is that you kind of have to wonder how strict it really is. Is killing someone on accident okay? Is his approach to violence in actuality less about not killing and more about applying a minimum effective dose of violence to keep himself and other innocent people safe? The reason I bring this up is that you’re reminded throughout this season, and last, that Matt can’t possibly guarantee that everyone he kicks and punches will make it out alive. If all of them have, thus far, you could easily make the argument that he’s just been lucky. Can Matt really guarantee that this guy he yanked down an entire set of stairs by his neck didn’t sustain life-threatening injuries?
In the comics, there’s often been this idea that the superheroes who don’t kill are somehow so in tune with their own abilities that they can hit people in exactly the right spot to not hurt them. With Daredevil, you have a knowledge of “pressure points” mixed up with the presumption that he’s so skilled as a fighter that he can control his own movements to such a degree that no one dies. But at the same time, this feels more like something we tell children to sanitize the violence in comic books. When a character like Daredevil makes the move to a very adult-oriented live action show that features rather extreme violence, the idea that he can guarantee that no one will die suddenly seems even less “realistic” than the idea of a blind man fighting ninjas. I’m not saying that the level of violence is something I really have a problem with as a fan, but it does complicate things and pulls Daredevil into a shadier moral gray area than the one he occupies in the comics.
Before moving on to the next section, I did also want to mention the scene with Frank and the old man in the building. Holy crap. That was possibly my favorite scene of the entire episode. The tension in it is just crazy, and I love that we get a kind of glimpse into the man Frank used to be. It humanizes him.
I have two quick comments for this episode. The first is when Matt identifies what Frank has in the crates of ammunition. It does feel a little too much like “Matt magically knows stuff in ways we’re not going to bother to explain,” but I’m thinking that the way they zoom in on his nose before he knows (see what I did there?) suggests that it’s the smell of it, heightened by the suck of air when Frank lifts the cover, that tips him off. This, I can buy. Him magically echolocating the precise shape of bullets inside boxes that are stacked inside crates? Not so much.
The second scene to point out is the one where Matt hears one of the links in the chain give a little. I like this little nod to how he, back in Silver Age times, used to be able to find the weakness in a piece of metal by his sense of touch. This never really made much sense, unless we’re talking about a noticeable defect and not things on the microscopic level. In this case, however, he can hear the deformation of the metal, and I thought that was a nice touch.
Easter egg watch
I guess the appearance of Sister Maggie at the very beginning of the episode would count as an Easter egg. She’s never named, her appearance never explained, but every Daredevil fan is bound to know who this is supposed to be.
We also get very concrete signs of a Luke Cage tie-in scene during Foggy’s encounter with Claire at Metro General. She directly references someone who fits his description and events that happened in the very immediate past: “I’ve got this shift from hell ’cause I helped another friend trying to do good. Big guy. Stronger than our friend. And yet I’m the one who got the shaft.”
Daredevil: “You know, no one else has to die. You could stop now, walk away.”
Punisher: “Walk away? Could you do that? Could you walk away?”
Frank: “You know it can be hard? You run around in this city in a pair of little boy’s pajamas and a mask. You go home at night, right? Take that mask off, maybe you think it wasn’t you who did those things. Maybe it was somebody else. You see soldiers, we don’t wear masks. Yeah? We don’t get that privilege.”
Frank: “You know what I think of you, hero? I think you’re a half-measure. I think you’re a man who can’t finish the job. I think that you’re a coward. You know the one thing that you just can’t see? You know, your’re just one bad day away from being me.”
Frank: “I think that this world, it needs men that are willing to make the hard call. I think you and me are the same…”
Matt: “That’s bullshit, Frank, and you know it!”
Frank: “…Only I do the one thing that you can’t. You hit ’em, and they get back up. I hit ’em, and they stay down. It’s permanent. I make sure that they don’t make it out on the street again.”
Foggy: “You’ve got face tattoos, friend. That’s like telegraphing, ‘I know what prison meatloaf tastes like.'”
Foggy: “Matt made a mistake when he let you go.”
Claire: “What makes you think he did?”
Frank: “You don’t do it, his death’s on you. Either way, you’re a killer.”
Matt: “What kind of choice is that?”
Frank: “The kind I make every time I pull the trigger.”
Am I awful if I want to give this one to Frank Castle? While I vehemently disagree with the Punisher on a philosophical level, I have to say that he does a great job of holding up a metaphorical mirror to Matt’s face, cleverly turning many of Matt’s arguments back around on him.