Review of Daredevil #1 (2019)

Image from the cover of Daredevil #1 (2019)

A lot of you have been asking when I’m going to start writing reviews of the comics again. And, I was actually going to start with the Man Without Fear mini, which I’ve really been enjoying, but it was hard to find the time in between the #SaveDaredevil campaign and my somewhat overwhelming day job. (I’ll get to MWOF one of these days though, don’t worry!)

However, when I read the new Daredevil #1 today, I knew I couldn’t put off returning to the blog any longer. The Matt Murdock I love so much is back, you guys. In a big way. And the best possible way to get back to writing about Daredevil is to be so moved and excited by something that your myriad of thoughts on the subject can’t be contained. For this review, they will be mostly spoiler-free though.

I’m actually going to start with the art this time around. It’s glorious. I’ve mentioned before how much I’ve loved Marco Checchetto’s take on Daredevil in the handful of issues he’s worked on over the years. The way he draws Matt lines up better with my inner picture of the character than probably any other artist. And his style incorporates just the right amount of detail and realism in its rendering of people and places without making the scenes too busy or hard to read.

Matt in bed after sex, as seen in Daredevil #1 (vol 6), by Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto

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Review: “The Perfect Game” – Daredevil season 3, episode 5

Close-up of young Dex, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

Hey gang, you know the drill! Recap, followed by My thoughts (jump there directly, if you prefer), Matt’s thoughts, Senses watch, Quotes and Star player.

Recap

We see Dex, in his apartment getting ready for work. The place is immaculate and and the whole scene screams of an overzealous devotion to routine and order. Dex makes sure that the handles on his cups are aligned the same way, and the newspapers are neatly arranged in a perfect pile. Before exiting, we see a picture of Dex and a group of people from what is apparently a suicide prevention center. The camera focuses on Julie, whom we met in episode three.

Dex corrects a misaligned photograph, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

Next, we see Matt’s ill-fated cab from the previous episode being pulled from the river. With Ben Donovan, in a perfect nod to the exact same phrase from the Born Again comics arc, telling Wilson Fisk that “There is no corpse,” we cut to Fisk’s suite. Donovan tries to smooth things over with a visibly annoyed Fisk, but assuring him that the body was probably swept away, and that a blind man wouldn’t be able to make it to shore anyway. Fisk shows him the footage from the prison, which he has saved on his phone, and his lawyer assures him that all the records show that Matt lost his sight at nine. But, if he can fight like that, he could have made it to shore.

FBI agents, including Dex and Ray show up. They sit down with Donovan and Fisk to renegotiate the terms of the latter’s deal. Donovan reminds them of all the good that came out of the bust against the Albanians, while Ray reminds the other side that they’re holding up their end of the deal by not pressing charges against Vanessa. But, there are apparently still terms that were promised that have not yet been delivers, such as some personal property and a freer range of movement. To keep things moving, Fisk decides to offer up another name, someone who’s made all kinds of criminal dealings on his behalf: Matthew Murdock. Cut to intro.

Fisk and the FBI agents sit down to talk, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

Dex takes a jog, just a few steps behind his stalking victim Julie. We follow them for a couple of minutes before cutting to the FBI storming Matt’s apartment. The only sign of Matt is a wet business suit on the floor.

Elsewhere, Karen confronts Felix Manning with what she has on him. The encounter does not go as planned at all. It turns out that Manning knows everything about her, including the names of her parents, and what exactly happened to her brother. He even knows where her bedroom was in the house she grew up in.

The rest of their conversation is equally chilling, and we next see Karen walking down the street, throwing nervous glances at people around her. It turns out that she’s right to, because the FBI shows up to take her to Matt’s apartment.

Karen, confused about what’s going on, follows Ray inside where a whole team of agents are busy taking pictures of everything in Matt’s apartment. The box that usually holds his Daredevil suit is – thankfully – empty, though his civilian clothes are still on the floor. Karen is asked about when she last heard from Matt. When she tells Ray it’s been months, he wonders why she’s been paying his bills and didn’t file a missing person’s report.

Karen and Agent Nadeem in Matt's apartment, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

There are more questions. When did they start working for Fisk? (Never.) What about CGI? (Well, that one time and we didn’t know it was for Fisk.) At this, Ray shows her a photo of James Wesley, and Karen is stunned. She changes the topic, and gives Ray all she has on Fisk, and his connection to Manning, Red Lion national bank and the very hotel that is holding him. Ray is skeptical and asks for proof. Since Karen is not under arrest, she decides to bolt.

Back at the hotel, Donovan gives Fisk a large box full of documents. It’s all very top-secret stuff, sealed psychiatric records and so on. And so begins Fisk’s study of Benjamin Poindexter which is told in black and white with Fisk witnessing a scene between young Dex and his baseball coach. It turns out that he’s got a very good aim, but is considerably worse at playing well with others. When he’s pulled from the game, in the interest of fairness to the rest of the team, Dex responds by killing his coach with a ricocheted baseball.

Next, Dex is having a session with his therapist, Dr. Mercer. They talk about what happened with his coach, and Dex admits that his death wasn’t an accident. He is perplexed when the psychiatrist maintains that it wasn’t his fault. She talks about how alone he’s been, and how his parents died without teaching him everything. She then announces that they’re going to practice empathy, and what you say to someone who’s in pain.

We skip ahead a few years in time. Dex is a teenager, and his therapist is terminally ill. He is very sad and resentful of her illness, but she has tapes all of their sessions that she gives to him. At the suggestion that he see another therapist, Dex becomes very angry and says he wants to kill her to punish her for dying. She reminds him that death can be a beautiful event, never to be hastened with violence. And, that any good person with a decent heart will do, in terms of finding someone to guide him.

Julie and Dex at the suicide hotline center, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

Closer to the present day, we see adult Dex at work at a suicide prevention hotline. Julie comes around to check on him, and tells him he’s doing great. When she leaves, he goes off script and asks the man on the phone what kind of weapon he has around, subtly suggesting that the man might consider killing his step-father rather than himself. When Julie comes back, Dex gets back with the program.

Finally, before going back to Fisk’s suite in the present day – and in color – we see Julie, Fisk and Dex under separate spotlights in a pitch black room. Dex and Julie are both eating pizza, but Julie is oblivious to Dex’s eyes on her. In the present, Fisk is looking at a large collection of documents in front om him, including a photo taken of Dex jogging behind Julie.

Donovan interrupts and asks Fisk what it’s all for. Fisk says that, for the moment, he is New York’s scapegoat. The attention that the protesters bring is an impediment to his plan. He concludes that the city needs a new villain, and that he thinks he might have found him.

Julie and Dex in the present in the hotel bar, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

Dex sits at the bar of the hotel when Julie comes around to ask him if he wants something to drink. He is baffled, and lost for words. With a slight delay, Julie recognizes him and asks if he used to work at the Brooklyn Suicide Hotline. They get reacquainted and Julie says it’s her first day on the job. She was offered double the pay of her last job if she could start immediately. Dex tells her he’s at the hotel because they’re guarding Wilson Fisk and have an office upstairs. She has other customers to attend to, but they agree to meet after her shift.

Foggy is throwing a campaign event at Nelson’s Meats, and his brother Theo is offering the crowd deli meats, over Foggy’s mild protests. Agent Ray Nadeem enters while Foggy talks to an old woman who lost her husband when the bombs when off in Hell’s Kitchen (as seen in season one), and offers her support.

Ray approaches Foggy and, after briefly working under the pretense that he’s there for sandwiches, asks him when he last saw Matt Murdock. Foggy goes on the offensive and says that he won’t back down from criticizing the feds’ love affair with Wilson Fisk. Ray suggests a theory for why Foggy and Matt split ways: Foggy is a decent guy and couldn’t stomach that Matt took on Wilson Fisk as a client. Foggy vehemently disputes this, noting the sole exception of CGI, and defends their practice.

They then talk about the last time he saw Matt and Foggy says that all that happened was that Matt was sorry that their friendship wasn’t what it used to be. Foggy then learns that Matt was the one who stole his wallet, as Ray asks him if he knowingly gave Matt his bar I.D. so he could enter a prison. Ray finishes with an accusation that makes Foggy very uncomfortable: Matt is hiding a double life, Foggy and Karen know about it, and this is why they are no longer partners or friends.

Dex is having dinner with Julie. It gets off to a good start, with the two of them comparing jogging routes and Dex joking about how she might be stalking him. Things go from good to awkward, and from awkward to worse, when Dex reveals that he knows a little too much about her life.

Julie is starting to feel uncomfortable and makes an excuse to leave, saying she has to feed her dog. When he accuses her of not having a dog, she gets scared and gets up to leave. Dex pleads with her, but only makes things worse by grabbing her arm,  and she bolts for the door.

Karen shows up at Nelson’s Meats to talk to Foggy. Karen says she thinks Agent Nadeem can figure things out, and Foggy first thinks that she told them Matt is Daredevil. That isn’t the case, but Foggy gets worked up, and says he shouldn’t have let Matt tell her his secret, or get her involved, and that he’ll take the fall for her if it comes to that.

Karen interrupts, and says what she did was worse and that she needs attorney-client privilege before she can go on. Karen, trembling, tells Foggy about how the FBI think Matt had something to do with Wesley’s disappearance. If they keep investigating, they’re going to find out that she killed him.

Dex goes back to his immaculate apartment and punches a hole through the wall, and bloodies his shirt with his cut knuckles. He tries to clean the blood off and then goes berserk, throwing a knife at the picture on the wall, straight through Julie’s face. He gets one of his therapy tapes out and listens to it to calm himself down.

With just a few minutes left of the episode, we see Matt stagger in through his loft door, his suit drenched. He struggles down the stairs while undressing, and lays down on the floor. The next morning, we see him wake up on the couch as he hears the approaching FBI team outside. He manages to escape to the roof before they enter, and listens in on their conversation. Somewhere, on a police radio, he hears that Matthew Murdock is to be considered armed and dangerous.

My thoughts

One thing that all seasons of Daredevil have consistently done better than any other Marvel show is craft episodes that are distinct, in that they put a different character under the spotlight, or focus more on a particular story within the story. I’ve actually watched all seasons of the various Marvel shows more than once (except Jessica Jones, season two), and I don’t think I can remember separate episodes of any of them.

It may be the case that I just pay more attention to Daredevil, very plausible given my own niche interests, but I don’t think it’s just that. For me, season one has “the Claire episode,” “the Fisk episode,” “the Foggy finding out about Matt episode” and so on. In season two, the episode with Daredevil and Frank stands out, as does the episode where Matt goes on a date with Karen and comes home to find Elektra. The following episode, where Elektra features heavily, also stands out. There are many more moments within these and other episodes that stand out as well.

The same is very much true of season three. In this way, Daredevil has mastered its format in a way that few other binge-watchable shows have. Its seasons are at once both an 11+ hour movie and a string of not-quite-episodic television “chapters.” Building a narrative that combines the best elements of these two very different structures is really hard. I think many of the pacing issues of the other Marvel shows (most of which I’ve still very much enjoyed) can be attributed to treating each season too much like a movie and not paying enough attention to the architecture of each episode.

This is clearly not the case with this episode of Daredevil. It leans into its unique premise in a way that really pays off, and shows just how much these creators trust their own method.

The show’s main character appears in just a few short minutes at the end, and instead we’re treated to a cinematically unusual and very memorable spotlight episode of how Dex came to be who he is. The way this is done, with the near-constant presence of Wilson Fisk, also ties these two men’s stories together while heightening the sense of Fisk being this great mastermind who gains access into people’s most intimate moments.

The creepiness of all this is evident in his henchmen as well. We get our first real look at Felix Manning, and he is truly terrifying. Everything he knows about Karen gives her a feeling of being completely exposed and unable to hide. Fisk hovers above it all like a near-deity.

Karen confronts Felix Manning, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

People have had somewhat mixed views about how this episode treats the topic of mental illness. Since I’m no expert on this, I can’t really say to which degree Dex’s story and current behavior lines up with his diagnoses (plural). I fully understand that even people with the exact same condition can experience and express that in different ways, and can certainly understand people who may feel stigmatized or misrepresented.

On the other hand, creators should not be barred from telling fictional accounts of people with mental health problems. Part of the point of this episode seems to me to explain to the audience why Dex might be unusually susceptible to Fisk’s machinations, without actually making a monster of him. I think it succeeds in that regard, and I also think that most audiences members are smart enough to understand the nuances of this topic.

There is one plot point this episode that does seem questionable to me though. When Fisk gives the FBI Matt’s name, why does no one ask, or give the appearance of knowing, that he was the one that took down Wilson Fisk? Karen brings it up at Matt’s apartment, but it’s as if the FBI won’t seriously entertain this piece of information.

That Matt would have served Fisk in any way seems far-fetched. And, because of that history, Matt also has to be viewed as someone Fisk might have a personal vendetta against, and he should be challenged on this point. At this point in our story, I guess it could be construed as the FBI simply being extremely thorough.

Another character who has an amazing episode this time around is Karen. Holy crap what an emotional roller-coaster she goes on. I was so impressed that I’m declaring her the star of this episode. Hence, more on her below.

Matt’s thoughts

Well, Matt is barely in this episode, but I will say this: I choose to believe that it’s a sign of something that he goes back to his apartment after (somewhat mysteriously) dragging himself out of the river, and not back to the church. Is he beginning to associate at least some measure of comfort with his old life. For a guy who claims to want to shed “Matt Murdock,” he sure seems to have a thing for Matt Murdock’s apartment.

Matt undresses in his apartment, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

Senses watch

Well, since Matt doesn’t show up in this episode much, there’s not that much to report. But, I’ll take this opportunity to voice a very strong preference I have for not taking Matt’s sense of hearing too far. Now, this season is relatively down to Earth in this regard, so there’s not too much for me to complain about. We can see Matt hearing things through thick walls – and other structures – and that’s mostly fine by me.

In real life, and I kind of need people to get this, there’s a reason besides not having super-hearing that prevents us from hearing the way Matt does. We call that reason physics. Physics puts limits on just how thick a wall can be and still let some sound through, and how far a sound can travel without spreading into literal nothingness. The Daredevil comic, and this show, obviously push all kinds of limits in this regard. And they kind of have to – yes, even I admit that – because it’s a superhero show, and a little sci-fi magic does us all good.

Matt listens to the FBI while hiding on his roof, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season 3, episode 5

However, I do prefer when writers of either medium give an indication that they are at least somewhat aware of the difference between poetic license on the one hand, and suspension-of-disbelief-breaking absurdity on the other (Daredevil is not Superman). The way Matt finds Fisk, who could be anywhere within a several-block radius (inside a moving van), in the last episode of season one feels really overblown to me. And I don’t care that he’s done similar things in the comic.

I’m thrilled that there is actually very little of this kind of stuff in season three. Which is also the reason I’m choosing to believe that the police radio Matt listens to in the roof scene at the end of this episode is coming from a police car on the street below, and not some ridiculous distance away. It’s a choice. I’m making it.

On the flip side, I still say that Matt’s sense of smell is underused and underestimated. So there. 😉

Quotes

Felix Manning: “I don’t fix problems. I make them disappear.”

Dex: “That’s hard. That’s really hard.”

Fisk: “Fortunately, the public is easily distracted. Which makes the solution for my problem quite simple.”

Agent Nadeem: “I think Matt Murdock is hiding a double life. Lawyer by day and criminal by night.”

Star player

The spotlight character this episode is Dex, who is given an interesting origin story that give us reasons to both care and be very, very concerned. I’ve already mentioned why his story makes this a strong episode, while also showing us Fisk’s elaborate and manipulative brand of evil. And, I will also add here that I thought his scenes with Julie were really strong. However, another character who has a real “oh shit!” episode here is Karen, which is why I’m making her my star player.

Karen really starts this episode on top. She’s got intel on Felix Manning, and she knows where to find him. She has everything she needs for a big showdown, only to have Manning flip the whole thing around and reduce her to panic and paranoia. Of course, you’re not being paranoid if someone is actually following you, and minutes later Karen is picked up by the FBI.

If she thought things couldn’t get worse, she was sadly mistaken. Now Wesley is back to haunt her, and at the end of the episode she has an important and very intense scene with Foggy in which she finally has to come clean about this huge secret she’s been hiding for two seasons. These are some huge moments for Karen, and they are played to absolute perfection by Deborah Ann Woll. 

Review: “Please” – Daredevil season 3, episode 2

Time for another review. This one’s another long one, but I’m having fun writing these, so I hope they’re not too painful to read. As always, you can skip directly to the review portion if you wish.

If you’re wondering why I even bother with the recaps, it’s not just the reasons I mentioned in my previous post, I also find writing them a good way to think more about the individual scenes and what they mean, and I also refer to the recap regularly while writing the review. 

Recap

Matt, obviously still a bit fuzzy (or at least intermittently so) is back at the church the morning after his street fight/suicide attempt. Sitting with his back against the wall, he listens to the church bells and breaks into a dry sob, looking oh so inconsolable.

We very briefly check in on a very determined-looking Wilson Fisk before cutting immediately to the FBI carrying out a raid against a large mansion full of people caught doing all kinds of things they weren’t supposed to.

Ray Nadeem and his fellow agents are met with applause back at the office. One of the people they took down was an Albanian mob boss known as Mother Teresa, along with a couple of judges, a district police captain, and a deputy mayor. Ray and his fellow agent talk about how Fisk is a gift that’s going to keep giving.

This takes us back to Fisk who enters the prison’s weight room and finishes a couple of bench presses before his spotter stabs him in the torso, as payback for the raid on the Albanians. Fisk looks like he’s about to break the guy’s ribs and finish him off with a weight plate before having second thoughts. Prison guards show up and we cut to the intro.

Back with Matt, who has now collapsed into a pile on the floor, his hearing sounding pretty bad at the moment. Maggie wakes him and asks him where he went the night before. Matt tells her to go away, but she refuses. She chastises him for going out and picking fights and gives him his pills. She pleads with him to give himself time to heal before he gets himself killed, before realizing that that’s what he wanted. Maggie tells him that she’s impervious to his bad attitude and won’t go anywhere.

Matt asks Maggie why she became a nun. When she confirms that it was something she was called to do, Matt wonders how she would feel if she couldn’t be one anymore. Maggie understands where he’s going with this line of questioning and says that she wouldn’t lose faith, and would find some other purpose. Matt responds that if she could be anything else, it was never really her calling.

And wouldn’t she grieve if she could no longer be a nun? When Maggie responds in the affirmative, he asks her to leave, but she instead brings up a story of a time when she had felt lost, and how she’d left the order for a while before taking her final vows. She had considered a very different life and struggled to know which one God had intended for her. In the end, she just had to figure it out. Matt says that the difference between the two of them is that he no longer cares what God wants.

This takes us to a flashback scene of young Matt doing tricks with his cane on the door steps outside. He is joined by Father Lantom who has learned that he’s not behaving in catechism. Lantom asks Matt to sit and asks him about how many fights he’s been in. None of the kids he beat up wants to admit they’ve been beaten up by a blind kid, but Father Lantom doesn’t need any proof. He sees that Matt is angry, and that it’s understandable, but not sustainable.

Lantom says Matt is good at deflecting, but that he needs to find a way to deal with his anger, and harness it. Or else it will destroy him. Matt shrugs it off, because, if so, then that’s God’s plan. Father Lantom then stresses that humans have been given free will and that one of the reasons you pray is for help in making good decisions. Matt, upset, insists that he does pray, but that God doesn’t talk to him. Lantom says that God is subtle, and that God speaks in whispers

Back at FBI headquarters, Agent Ray Nadeem and one of his colleagues are going through the evidence collected during the raid. The latter tips him off to the fact that two of their fellow agents are talking to their boss, trying to take advantage of the situation. Ray rushes in and insists he take the lead on handling Fisk. His boss, Tammy Hattley, says that his financial situation is still an issue, but Ray pushes on and says that none of what they did would have been possible without his unexpected connection to Wilson Fisk, and that she needs to pass that on to the higher ups. Tammy finally relents, but also stresses that he can’t allow the information coming from Fisk to run dry.

We cut to Karen at the Bulletin. Her boss, Ellison, brings her a new story involving the attack of a real estate developer and his reality TV celebrity daughter, but Karen has other plans. She’s found out that the incidence of respiratory illnesses has gone up in the area around Midland Circle. Ellison points out that Midland Circle is clearly not just a story to her. He insists that, in spite of the high quality of work she’s done on those stories, they need to be done with it, and that he’s assigning her the story he brought her. He says that she might be able to empathize with a young in the middle of a family crisis.

Agent Nadeem visits Fisk in prison, after learning about the attack. Ray is obviously concerned about what happened, but doesn’t seem too worried about Fisk’s health. Fisk, on the other hand, insists that this is bigger than one person, and that everyone now knows that he’s cooperating with the FBI. He has now become a target, and can’t help the FBI – or Vanessa – if he’s dead.

Matt, who has apparently been able to dig out a worn jacket, baseball cap, new sunglasses and a proper white cane, looks ready to venture beyond the confines of the laundry room and visits the upstairs chapel. There are people there, and he remembers – through another flashback to his younger years – what it was like to sit there and listen to people’s prayers.

Back in the present, he is joined by Father Lantom who is glad to see him. Matt tells him of all the prayers he used to hear, of people pleading for help, or justice, and how he thought that God let him hear those prayers so that he could answer, and that what had been trying to help people. But he is not who he was and can’t do what he used to do. He had believed what he was hearing was God’s voice, but that the only thing God had to offer any of them was silence. Father Lantom asks if he believes his calling was a mistake. Matt says that he was deluding himself, in thinking God had anything to do with it. And, that while he may not be as capable as he once was, he doesn’t get to choose who he is: “I’m Daredevil. Not even God can stop that now.”

Matt goes out on the street, and stops by an open dry cleaning van (remember, the van the would-be kidnappers used last time had freshly dry-cleaned clothes in it). He tells the guy in the back that he’s looking for a dry-cleaner, but is told they’re not doing pick-ups at the moment. Matt awkwardly confesses that he’s looking for a different dry cleaner that he got a whiff of last night, one that had more of an herbal smell. The guys says he knows the place.

Karen visits the hospital for her story and sits down with victim’s daughter, Neda Kazemi. She is initially very reluctant to talk, and doesn’t want her story in the papers. Karen says she knows what it’s like to not be able to control what people say about you, and that not saying anything will not prevent the story from being in the papers. It just means that people will make up a story and that will be what people talk about. This leads us to our first real sense of what Karen herself has gone through. She says that she doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up with paparazzi but that she grew up in a small town where word got around,  and that people think she killed her brother. And, that the story around it grew, got darker and stuck.

They go ahead with the interview and Karen learns that two men had tried to grab Mr. Kazemi and put him in a van. They only got away because another man attacked him, one that had a black mask over his face. Karen looks completely stunned at this revelation.

We check back in with Agent Nadeem who is at a meeting with his boss, District Attorney Blake Towers and the Police Commissioner. The two FBI agents plead for Fisk’s release into house incarceration. The others are very reluctant to go ahead with what the FBI is asking for, but Ray raises some very convincing arguments in favor of agreeing to Fisk’s terms. They were able to do more with Fisk’s intel than they had in years working with traditional means. He is sure that the deal will save lives and that Fisk will give up others.

It’s time to check in with Foggy who is on his way to a family event at Nelson’s Meats. He is greeted by kids shouting “Uncle Foggy!” and joins the party in the back. His mom takes him aside and explains that his father’s arthritis is getting worse and that she worries about him working at the store. She thinks forty years of slinging meats is enough, and that maybe it’s time for Foggy to come home. His brother Theo can’t do it alone, and Anna is asking that he put his brain to work for his family. As if catching herself, she reminds him that she’s not telling him what to do, just that she wishes he’d think about it.

Foggy goes to talk to his dad, who jokingly gives him a hard time about bringing expensive wine. His dad says he’s proud of him, living the life he always wanted. Foggy, on the other hand, isn’t so sure, but his dad reminds him of when he was a kid telling everyone he owned the store.

Back with Fisk who is being fitted with an ankle monitor by Ray Nadeem, who seems mildly disgusted by the deal Fisk’s lawyers have managed to negotiate on his behalf. Fisk is then lead out of the prison by a heavily armed FBI patrol.

We are back with Matt (and it’s getting dark, has he been wandering the streets all day?) who stops by yet another open dry cleaning truck, and sniffs around. It appears he’s found the right place, and enters the nearby shop, pretending his doesn’t notice the line. The clerk, initially annoyed, gives him a break when he sees the cane and asks if he’s picking up. Matt claims to just like the smell of the place and asks if they have a brochure. He is given a coupon and the camera zooms in on the clerk’s missing middle finger. Matt now knows he’s found his man. (With this, I actually had to go back and check, and yes Matt feels the man’s missing finger while fighting him in the back of the van in the previous episode.)

He puts the mask on, and goes into the back of the building, making sure to hide from the people there. He walks around for a bit, spotting the place where they were probably going to hide Mr. Kazemi, along with a lot of weapons. Matt turns off the main switch, luring the clerk downstairs and zaps him, while fighting off two other guys. He punches them until they stay down, and calls the police.

Foggy is still at his parents’ shop, talking to his brother. Foggy is grateful his brother is taking over the business. Theo says that, for a long time, he’d wished that Foggy would be taking over, but acknowledges that Foggy has a head that’s good for other things, and that he should continue living the dream. Foggy, again, isn’t so sure he’s living the dream. That he had an idea of how things were going to go, and how he and Matt had talked about their plans. Without Matt, Foggy isn’t so sure who he is. Foggy and Theo toast each other before Karen rushes in.

Foggy greets Karen with a joke, but she hugs him and whispers that she thinks Matt’s alive. They go outside and Karen tells him about the man in the mask. Foggy insists it could have been anybody. Foggy also wants to believe that it could be Matt, but says that he knows Matt is gone. If he were alive, he would have reached out to them. Karen is upset that Foggy’s not more willing to find out, but Foggy is certain that Matt is dead. Karen runs out the door in anger.

Matt, wearing the black mask, shows up at the hospital to tell the Kazemis that the people who attacked them have been arrested for another crime, and where she can go to identify them. Neda Kazemi thanks him by saying “Thank God, for you.” “He didn’t help you. I did,” Matt responds.

Fisk is en route to his new home. The agents are laying down the law, when Fisk gets personal and starts talking about how he discovered love with Vanessa, and how love is the perfect prison. There are always ways out of a physical prison, but love is inescapable. Consequently, he is always in prison. The chains that hold him are nothing to him so long as they help him protect Vanessa.

Suddenly, the car in front of them explodes, and then their own car is flipped over, with everyone but Fisk either dead or unconscious. Then there is gun fire. Fisk hides and the agents outside are taken down by their attackers. The Albanians start firing and cut open the car, until they themselves are taken out by someone else. An agent with infallible aim who ends his spree by killing two of the attackers, even as they are surrendering. He finishes by aiming his gun at a visibly impressed Wilson Fisk, preventing the latter’s escape.

Matt, now in his street clothes exits the hospital just as he notices his hearing coming back. When he gets to the curb, ambulances start gathering around the hospital entrance. He overhears talk of how there are multiple gunshot wounds and how the Albanians killed everyone but Fisk. A police officer right next to him confirms what is already clear: The FBI let Wilson Fisk out of prison. And, on that happy note, we end this episode.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed the first episode, but in many ways, I think this one might be even better. A lot of chess pieces are being moved around the board here, and we get some great scenes with all of our major characters. 

Ray Nadeem finally gets his big breakthrough at work (and it’s got that “be careful what you ask for” vibe all over it), and if you know how the story ends (don’t worry I’m not going to spoil anything aside), there is a lot to appreciate as you go back and carefully study everything that happens in his story.

Deborah Ann Woll gives a perfect performance as a slightly off-kilter Karen who is frantically chasing clues about Midtown Circle and is all too willing to pounce on the news that there is someone out there who just might be Matt. She so desperately needs it to be Matt, and she needs Foggy to believe it too.

Foggy, meanwhile is struggling with family responsibilities. I find it quite heartening to learn that Foggy has people in his life that care about him, and it’s a great to have these new additions to the family. I will say, though, that I really wished there was a Candace Nelson as well. For those of you unfamiliar with the comic, Candace is Foggy’s sister (and only known sibling) and she actually had quite a few guest appearances of the years. On the other hand, she may be lurking in the background as Foggy clearly has nieces and nephews that are not the children of his brother Theo.

It does pain me a little though, to see Foggy’s mom plead with him to come back and work at the store. I’ve never had that kind of expectations from my own family (this is in part a cultural thing), and don’t think I could handle it if I did. I’d feel awful knowing that I was letting anyone down. Although, Foggy’s father seems more supportive of Foggy stepping out on his own.

Vincent D’Onofrio goes full Wilson Fisk in this episode. A schemer with the air of a diva who doesn’t hesitate to lecture, at some length, about his views on love. He’s making himself vulnerable, superficially, but you always know that everything he says is for a purpose that benefits no one but Fisk himself. He likes to dress his cruelty up in poetry.

I also have to admit that I cheered when we saw Skylar Gaertner (who is now conveniently three years older than the last time we saw him) is back as young Matt in two flashback scenes. With Matt’s youth still very much a mystery, any look back at how he grew up helps flesh out the character overall. It’s also a really nice touch to see young Matt overhear someone complain about their lawyer not being good enough. Nice way to plant a seed for a later to career!

Of course, as many have pointed out, learning that Matt and Father Lantom go way back does mess with season one canon to an extent, as we got the distinct feeling that theirs was a new acquaintance at the time. I don’t mind it too much though, and as a reader of the comics (any long-running comic, really), you’re used to that sort of thing.

What about adult Matt? Well, much more on his inner journey below, but as far as his physical journey goes, he finally tires of sitting around a church laundry room. Looking very much like a sad Stick knock-off, he goes chasing down clues to who was behind last evening’s kidnapping attempt. I’ll pick apart the sensory aspects of this bit of detective work below (short version: it’s good overall, if a bit contradictory at times), but before we get to that, I want to take the opportunity to discuss something I promised to get back to in my last review that’s relevant to this episode: What are some valid reasons to carry a white cane that you don’t actually need for mobility purposes?

In this particular situation, one might argue that he’s still not quite himself in terms of his senses, but that doesn’t really hold up. He successfully fought off kidnappers the night before, and gets into another successful fight before the day is over. There are also no secret identity reasons for him to use it out and about the way he does here. In fact, if he’s trying to lay low and bury Matt Murdock then he’d be less recognizable if he decided to go without it. (I know that season one plants the idea that people don’t pay attention to blind people, but realistically, it’s human nature to notice anything and anyone who stands out, for any reason.)

So, what lead to the creative decision to give “on patrol” Matt a cane? I wouldn’t know for sure, but I’d be impressed if it’s for the reason that makes the most sense, i.e. that the cane sends a signal to anyone he’s talking to that puts a proper context to his questions, and let’s them know how to best respond. I’m not just making this up. There is a reason that white canes look a particular way, and some people use them exclusively to signal to other people that they have a vision impairment (though such canes tend to be shorter).

Just think about it. Matt’s question about where he can find the dry cleaner with a particularly herbal smell might have sounded really strange to the guy he’s talking to, if he hadn’t realized that Matt can’t see. And while we never hear his exact response, this realization would have also lead him to a better answer. He might give an exact adress, or its proximity to some particular landmark (perhaps even a smelly or noisy one), as opposed to “go to ‘x’ and look for the sign that says ‘y’.” It simply makes for more efficient communication.

The same goes for his next stop. This scene is actually a very interesting mix of the same phenomenon and a very obvious ruse. Matt benefits from playing up the “blind act” to get the information he needs, but it’s also a short cut to eliciting information specific to the sensory modalities that suit him best, and avoiding getting information back that he can’t use. And, if we imagine a similar real-life scenario in which he isn’t working a case, and is actually inquiring about their dry-cleaning, he’d get a much better answer to questions like “What do you charge for a suit?” than “Our prices are on the sign in the window.” And then he’d be back to having to disclose a vision problem of some kind anyway, and quite possibly rouse unwanted scrutiny.

Matt’s thoughts

Matt starts this episode pretty near the bottom, but there are – at least to me – some minor signs of acceptance that suggest he’s at least moved on from the bottom of the pit the previous episode. He is grieving, but also recognizes the grief for what it is to some extent.

One important scene is the one with Sister Maggie about what it means to have a calling. Matt obviously has a very single-minded, all-or-nothing view, of what a calling is, in that he doesn’t seem to consider that there are potentially more than one way to live out ones perceived purpose. (A purpose should probably ideally take the form of a “what?” or a “why?” as opposed to a “how?”). Either way, Matt now makes it clear that he doesn’t care what God wants, which seems like a reasonable protest in the face of feeling robbed of one’s purpose.

One thing I noticed at the beginning of this scene with Sister Maggie is how she insists that she isn’t going anywhere. That she’ll stay right where she is. When I rewatched this show, that bit really stood out to me. The way she is subtly telling him that there is nothing he can say or do that will lead to her withdraw her support is huge for a character who, whether he realizes is or not, has a history (when in pain) of treating people like he’s daring them to go away.

The flashback scene with Father Lantom also gives some insight into how he deals with his anger. The last time we saw Matt as a boy, in season one, he came across as quite resilient considering everything he’d gone through. Not that there is much material to go on, but he seemed to be dealing with his accident as well as could be expected, and after his father died, he seemed eager to open up to Stick and was very willing to learn from him.

In this scene, which we know takes place after Stick left, you get the sense that everything that’s happened in his life has caught up with him, and that Stick’s abandonment must have really stung. No wonder he’s angry. And lonely. Add being a teenager on top of that, and you really understand his search for some kind of higher meaning behind it all. Here, Lantom brings up the word “harness,” in connection with Matt’s anger, and you have to wonder what kind of seed that may have planted. If you apply your anger toward a higher purpose, it becomes meaningful and allows you to put off actually dealing with it.

Another interesting thing, that echoes in the present as well, is that Matt really doesn’t think he has much say in the matter. If he’s angry, that’s because it’s something that’s a part of him. You notice this in adult Matt’s conversation with Father Lantom in the chapel.

When he stresses that he is Daredevil, he talks about it as if the choice has been made for him. But while he used to believe it was God, he now apparently sees it as some deeply ingrained part of his very nature. And, rather than simply being a positive conduit for his anger, which had been the case in the past when he wasn’t only Daredevil, it takes over. And, with no God to sanctify this “compulsion,” it becomes only that. Ugly and meaningless.

Still, Matt does go out to tie up the loose strings left from the night before. And this too is some small sign of recovery. He may be partly running on auto-pilot (remember, he’s “Daredevil” now, whether God or even Matt himself likes it), but at least he’s able to find some short-term goal in essentially working a case and seeing it through. That’s a few steps up from suicide. And of course, he is given an even clearer purpose at the end of the episode when he learns that Fisk is no longer in prison…

Senses watch

So, at least some things to talk about here. If you’ve read my “first thoughts” post, you may recall that I mentioned that Matt has a habit of just showing up places with little to indicate how he got there, and on what information. While I’ve come around completely on Matt’s arc this season (I now find it both intriguing and emotionally compelling), I still stand by this one single criticism.

This phenomenon is by no means new to this season. To be fair, it’s probably less prevalent this season than in the previous two. However, because of how flawless the rest of the storytelling is, it becomes more noticeable. No other appearance  or action by any other character at any point in this story seems off or in need of an explanation.

I use this particular episode review to address this issue, because 1) Matt showing up at the hospital to check in on the people he saved is a perfect example of what I mean, and 2) the sequence of events leading him to discover the would-be kidnappers is a perfect example of the exact opposite. The way he tracked them down makes one hundred percent sense, and is an example of great writing. But, we have no idea of how he found the right hospital room.

Now, you may be thinking, “Hey, he could probably hear them through the wall and track them by scent or something!” And I would say that it’s certainly plausible under ideal circumstances. There’s only a couple of issues here: When Matt shows up to check on them, he seems surprised, even dismayed (oh no, he failed!) to find that Mr. Kazemi is in a coma. Which means that he obviously hadn’t registered his vital signs from some great distance before getting there. And, the daughter probably wasn’t talking. Add to this the fact that it’s never actually been established on this show that Matt recognizes people by the sound of their heartbeats, the way he does in the comic. (He seems to use them solely as a lie detector.)

Well, what about smell? This has always been my favorite way to think about how Matt primarily recognizes people, and I’ve always argued that Daredevil’s sense of smell is woefully underused. Could Matt easily have found the Kazemis by smell, at least as long as he starts off on the right floor? Absolutely, but this opens up a bit of a plot hole in an earlier scene.

Going back to Matt at the dry cleaner’s, he asks for a brochure (and is offered a coupon), and takes the opportunity to feel the clerk’s hand, which is missing a finger, to make sure it’s the same guy from the night before. Why on Earth does he need to do this? Matt should recognize someone he’s met with up close that recently. He’s even heard the guy’s voice before. (By the way, this exact same failure to recognize someone from an earlier encounter will be repeated later in the season.) That he doesn’t peg this guy right away makes it all the more implausible that he’d “sense” his way to the Kazemi’s.

Of course, we know he walked in wearing civilian clothes (because he wears them going out), so he could have just hung around the hospital picking up gossip about the famous patient around the nurse’s station. Absolutely, but a tiny snippet of this would have been nice. Just a few seconds to make sure there are no gaps in the story.

So, for once, my criticism is mostly that Matt doesn’t sense something he should, and that the addition of some kind of indication of how he found the Kazemi’s would have made the episode every so slightly better. 

Easter egg watch

There’s a framed front page that says “Harlem Terror” on Karen’s wall, which is obviously a shout-out to Luke Cage. Quite honestly, I’m having a hard time looking for Easter eggs because I keep getting so pulled into the story. I may just scrap this section for my coming reviews (or put them in the recap if I spot them), but feel free to let the rest of us know if you found anything interesting in the comment section.

Quotes

Sister Maggie: “I have a special gift too. I’m impervious to bad attitude. So you can throw your self-pitying bullshit at me all day, Murdock, and I’ll still be standing right here.”

Father Lantom: “You’re good, at arguing and deflecting and denying you’re angry to other people. But you’re gonna have to deal with your anger, Matthew. Find a way to… harness it.”

Ellison: “It’s one thing to work a story, Karen. It’s another to let a story work you.”

Wilson Fisk: “Those terms guarantee my safety.”
Agent Nadeem: “Beyoncé has fewer demands.”

Foggy: “When he was around, I knew who I was.”

Star player

This is a hard one this time since there was so much quality time spent with all the characters. I’d be inclined to pick Maggie again, honestly, but I’m actually going to pick Father Lantom. Sure, he was only in a couple of scenes, one of which retconned his introduction in season one, but both scenes are really strong Lantom scenes. 

Review: “Resurrection” – Daredevil season 3, episode 1

Okay, gang! It’s time to start tackling these reviews again. Old friends of this site know the drill, for those who are new, the format I always follow is this: We start with a longish, and fairly detailed Recap. These are honestly more for posterity, or for people who need to refresh their memory before commenting on a particular scene. If you have this episode fresh in your memory, you can easily jump straight to the review portion of the post

The review portion always consists of the sections My thoughts, Senses watch, Easter egg watch, Quotes, and Star player.  Senses watch is where I analyze the use of Matt’s senses in each of the episodes. It’s me, how could I not? The others are pretty self-explanatory.

Matt puts on boots and gets ready to work out, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

For season one, though not season two, I also had a segment called Accessible gadget watch, but since there’s virtually nothing to report on that front (except a single text message read aloud in one of the later episodes), I’m obviously scrapping that. Instead, I’m adding a new section I’m jokingly going to call Matt’s thoughts. Because Matt’s arc isn’t always easy to follow this season, and my own opinon on it changed pretty dramatically (for the better) between first and second viewings, I thought I’d take a swing at tracking what exactly is going on in that noggin’ of his as the show progresses.

Crystal clear? Let’s get going!

Recap

Matt is seen being thrown, very angel-like upward (downward?, to the side?) during the collapse of Midland Circle and is pulled out through a drainage pipe that takes him to the surface. The less we think about the details of this particular scene, the better. Either way, he is eventually discovered by a passing cab driver. Barely conscious, he asks for Father Lantom at Clinton Church.

An unconscious Matt is found by a cap driver, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

Next, we find Matt is at the church, there is a distinct underwater effect at work and the agitated voices of of Father Lantom and Maggie are heard, distantly, in the background. When Maggie is told who he is, she interrupts her 911 call and agrees to treat him there.

Matt, still just semi-conscious remembers Elektra and his last moments with her. As he comes to, and Maggie is called for, he asks about Elektra, and where he is. In response, he is told that he is at St. Agnes and that he’s been there several weeks. Matt keeps pushing for information about Elektra. (I’ve decided to assume he’s been going in and out of consciousness, since there is no life support equipment and he cannot have gone without food and drink for weeks.)

Against the nuns’ orders, Matt tries to stand, while complaining about his right ear, and falls off the bed. He exclaims that “He can’t see” and echoes of young Matt shouting the same thing are heard before we cut to the intro.

Matt falls out of bed as he's trying to stand, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

We get back to the show, and Matt tries to assess the damage to his body when Father Lantom shows up to speak with him. Matt is noticeably distressed by the fact that he didn’t notice the priest coming in. Father Lantom explains why he brought Matt to this place and assures him the nuns can be trusted. He offers Matt communion, or a friendly ear, but Matt is still wondering about Elektra. Lantom obviously doesn’t know about her resurrection, but doesn’t object when Matt tries to explain. Matt is told that no one else was seen leaving the building, and he dismisses Lantom’s second offer of communion. Lantom reminds him that it truly is a miracle that he survived, but a distraught Matt indicates that he is not interested in one of their usual conversations about God.

Some indeterminate time later, Matt is approached by a couple of the children from the orphanage who are asking him questions. Matt acknowledges that he grew up there, same as them, when Maggie arrives and tells them to leave. Maggie is there to tend to his wounds, adding that she’ll do it “preferably without you flailing around like an idiot.” Maggie, in trying to make sense of what she knows about the new patient under her care, notes that she shouldn’t be surprised and that she remembers Matt’s anger. At the time, she clearly saw it as a natural response to his circumstances. This leads to a brief conversation about The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and whether Matt really is blind. She gets a bit of sarcasm from Matt before he explains that the accident that blinded him sharpened his other senses. However, he is now deaf in his right ear and, as he puts it, “can’t even walk to the bathroom right now.” Maggie assures him that he’ll be back on his feet, whether he can do backflips or not, but also suggests that he needs to leave as soon as he’s able. When asked if there is anyone she can call, he responds that there is no one.

This provides a nice segue to one of those supposed “no ones,” as we cut to Karen on her way to Matt’s apartment, finishing up att call to the paper. She knocks before entering, in the vain hope that someone will be home, and picks up the latest of Matt’s bills to add to the growing piles on Matt’s coffee table. We now get a flashback to when Matt told her he was Daredevil, at the end of season two. Next, we cut back to present-day Karen who takes a look at the empty chest that used to hold Matt’s Daredevil suit, before we are being treated to another flashback to what happened after the reveal scene, a conversation between Matt and Karen that took place at his apartment:

Karen knocks on Matt's apartment door before entering, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

We see Karen entering Matt’s apartment and walking past him over to the window. She asks if he can see her. Matt says “no, not see exactly.” He says it’s different, and that he thinks it’s better. Karen prods him for a better answer and he explains that he can sense things about her, mentioning that he knows where she went just before she came to see him – “their” Indian place – explaining all the details he can pick up on. Karen says she feels humiliated, and they both agree that she has every right to be angry.

For Karen, this is complicated by the fact that Daredevil has saved her life. She says she’s been playing it over and over, asking herself how she could be that mad at someone who’d saved her. Matt is very understanding and knows he broke her trust. He offers her a drink, and she nods commenting that, of course, he knew she nodded, as he goes to get it. She asks if the “cane thing” is just an act and Matt admits that it is, and apologizes. This sets off another round of questions from Karen about why he didn’t trust her, and whether he thought she would judge him, especially when she didn’t judge Frank. Matt comments that maybe she should be judging Frank, and that while he doesn’t know what motivates people, he knows when he’s being lied to.

Matt promises that he will never lie to her again and, when asked, directs Karen to the suit in his closet. He promises that it’s over and that he’s going to leave Daredevil behind. She draws a subtle comparison between his past behavior and that of an addict, and how Matt and Foggy nearly had her convinced that Matt had a drinking problem. Matt finally puts her hand on his heart once again assures her that he doesn’t need Daredevil to be a part of his life anymore. Karen wisely points out that Daredevil may not be the problem.

Foggy joins Karen at Matt's apartment, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

Back in the present, Karen is joined by Foggy. He is under the impression that they would be packing the place up when Karen admits she asked him there under false pretenses, and that what she really needs help with is talking to the landlord about getting an extension, as Matt is being evicted. Unbeknownst to Foggy, Karen has been paying Matt’s rent since his disappearance.

Foggy sits the two of them down on the couch and tries to talk some sense into Karen, asking her to look at the facts of what happened and come to terms with the fact that Matt is dead. Foggy admits he doesn’t want to accept it either, especially since he feels guilty for bringing Matt the suit. Karen comforts Foggy, and then admits that she’s being irrational but that she can just “feel” that he’s not dead. They agree to split the bills.

Back at the church, Matt is being pushed in a wheelchair by Father Lantom and Sister Maggie. They are moving him to new sleeping quarters underneath the chapel (currently on loan to the local mosque). Everything viewed from Matt’s perspective still looks blurry and sounds as if it’s happening under water. Father Lantom apologizes for the place smelling a bit musty, but Matt drily responds that he can’t smell anything anyway. Maggie notes that the space is also the laundry room and will be noisy at times. Matt sarcastically responds that he can always turn a deaf ear to it, which Maggie counters with a bit of snark of her own.

Matt being wheeled into his new living quarters by Father Lantom and Sister Maggie, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

Matt once again dismisses Father Lantom’s offer to talk, but decides he wants to stay up a while. Maggie shows him where the bed and the call button are and comments on his attitude, jokingly noting that maybe he doesn’t actually have any friends. Matt talks about Stick’s motto, that caring for people would make him weak, for which Maggie once again has a flippant response you would never expect from a nun.

Equipped with a walking cane for his limp, Matt starts exploring the space and finds his childhood braille Bible. This takes us into a conversation about religion, and Matt says that he has finally learned where he and God stand, and that he has now seen his true face. Matt tells the story from the Book of Job and ends with declaring Job a “pussy.” Matt says that he too believed he was God’s soldier. Sister Maggie gives him her crucifix which he flings to the end of the bed. Maggie insists that while Matt may hate God now, the feeling is not mutual. Matt says that it’s simply the case that he’s seen God’s true face now. He also says that he does have friends and people he cares about, but is choosing to let them believe that he is gone because he is. He knows his truth now, that in front of this God, he would rather die as the Devil than live as Matt Murdock.

We cut to Wilson Fisk cooking one of his trademark omelettes (are we ever going to get a recipe for that?) in a setting that turns out to be a flashback to better times. The setting cleverly changes from a luxurious kitchen to a prison with paper plates when we join Fisk in his current predicament. He yells at his prison mates to be quiet and pushes the omelette to the side as his attorneys enter. They let him know that his appeal is proceeding according to plan, but that his beloved Vanessa is facing criminal charges if she is located, or if she returns to the U.S. Fisk asks them to leave and takes a long hard look at the grey-white wall.

Fisk and his prison omelette, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

Back at the church, Matt at least tries to explore the space he’s in, snapping his fingers to hear the echoes and trying to look for the surrounding statues with his hands. He then gets overconfident and trips over a low bench. That’s when Maggie joins him and offers him hot toddy, and medicine. Matt complains that he can’t smell anything, that all he can taste is blood and ash. When Matt cracks wise about the pills and alcohol, Maggie calls him out. On finding out that Matt’s symptoms aren’t improving, she tells him to give it time. She then dishes out some hard truths about how he’s feeling sorry for himself when many of the kids in her care, who are worse off than him, are trying to make the most out of life, while he is “bravely” giving up despite his many gifts.

Matt, noticeably annoyed, accuses Maggie of having a simplistic worldview and tells her that she doesn’t know anything about him or his life. Maggie says she knows self-pity when she sees it and reminds him of his father, “famous around here,” who would go down many times, but always got back up. She leaves, and Matt lays down on his bed and listens to the sirens in the distance, looking infinitely sad.

What looks to be the following morning, Matt walks over to the sink and accidentally knocks down a neti pot from the shelf. This gives him the idea to rinse out his sinuses, which dislodges a whole shit show (pardon my French) of blood and mucus. When he touches the sink, and then the mirror, he notices that he can sense the vibrations trough hard surfaces. Running around the area, his sense of space is coming back. We see him getting back in shape through a sequence of scenes in which he is doing pushups, and practicing his boxing using laundry bags filled with detergent. When Maggie walks in on him, he frantically talks about all the subway trains he can detect, and correctly identifies the food she’s brought.

Matt doing handstand push-ups, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

Sister Maggie and Father Lantom discuss an idea of hers, that he is not entirely comfortable with. We quickly learn that what she has in mind is a sparring match with another boxer. Maggie says it’s the only thing that’s getting him out of bed, and that he needs to know he’s still got it. Lantom arranges to have a sparring partner brought in and Matt refuses to wear protection, in order to hear and feel everything. His opponent is a little taken aback when he realizes he’ll be fighting a blind guy, but the two go at it with Matt holding his own until his hearing once again betrays him, after a blow to his bad ear, and takes away his spatial awareness. Matt goes down in defeat.

Sitting on his bed later, Maggie tries to cheer him up. This time when she puts her crucifix around his neck, he lets it stay on. At this point, Matt seems more sad than angry and acknowledges that Maggie has been very kind to him. The two joke about how others might think she’s gone soft. They talk about Matt’s stiches and how he used to stich up his dad. Before leaving, she asks him to come to mass with her but he asks for a raincheck.

Matt sits on his bed pondering defeat when he is joined by Sister Maggie, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

After listening in to the music above for a while, Matt digs out some scraps of fabric from the laundry room and takes to the streets, climbing on top of the church to listen to what’s happening in his city. He doesn’t have to wait long to hear screams for help.

We cut to a scene of Matt interrupting a kidnapping. The victims get away but Matt stays and fights. And he does so longer than he needs to. In fact, when they fight is over and the perpetrators are ready to leave, he finds a metal pipe and throws it to them, striking a pose that invites them to keep hitting him, all while muttering “God forgive me.” When the police sirens draw close they walk away, leaving Matt still very much alive and waiting in vain for that final blow.

We now cut to two new characters, Ray Nadeem and his wife Seema who are in the kitchen for a family event. When Ray asks for more turkey, Seema tells him that none of their credit cards work anymore, and the atmosphere gets a bit tense before they are interrupted by their son Sami. Their conversation after that continues in Hindi, and we learn that their financial troubles are quite serious.

Ray Nadeem and his wife Seema talking in the kitchen, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

We next learn the cause of the celebration, which is that Ray’s sister-in-law is officially in remission after battling cancer. In his speech in front of his family members, Ray talks about how it hasn’t been easy for them, with their insurance being denied. Words passed between Ray and his brother lets us know that Ray has helped pay for his sister-in-law’s treatment.

A little later, Ray catches his son playing alone outside and finds out that Sami would have preferred to spend the evening at his friend’s house. A friend with a bowling alley in his basement. Ray then promises that their home will be party central in time for summer, when they put a pool in. This exchange is overheard by Seema who is very worried about their finances and suggests taking up extra work. Ray promises to fix everything.

The next morning we see him get his firearm ready and head to work at the FBI where he goes to see his boss Tammy Hatley about his performance review, so that he can get his much-delayed promotion. He learns that the reason it’s been put off has to do with his finances, as his debt situation puts him at risk for recruitment. Hatley says she’s sorry, but can’t do anything to help. Though while he’s there, he gets sent to carry out the bureau’s regular visit to Wilson Fisk, in prison.

Ray Nadeem meeting with his boss, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

At the prison, Fisk has something to say that, at first, sounds threatening. He asks Ray whether he’s got anyone in his life he’d do anything to protect. It turns out that Fisk is ready to make a deal in exchange for Vanessa’s safety, and that he would do anything to protect her.

My thoughts

I noticed that some of the early reviewers were pretty divided on this first episode. Some loved it, others found it slow. Personally, I really liked it. It may be a brave creative move to spend this much time on dialogue, in a show that usually features quite a bit of action, but I found these longer scenes absolutely necessary.

One thing I’ve occasionally missed in earlier seasons has been the room to just let characters breathe and have conversations with each other that feel a bit more like real life, while also conveying information about who they are. Luke Cage, for instance, occasionally got a bit too slow (especially in the first season), but it never seemed to worry about boring readers with what I thought were reasonable amounts of exposition, with characters just talking to each other for a few minutes.

So much has happened since season two of Daredevil, especially with the dramatic events of The Defenders, that everyone needs some catching up at this point.

Karen and Foggy on Matt's couch, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

It is wonderful that we’re being treated to full flashback scene to when Karen found out about Matt, and I also love the scene that she had with Foggy. After season two, it seemed like they would not be seeing much of each other either, but on display here is a warm and caring friendship. We see a new side to Foggy overall this season, one that is more in line with the character we recognize from the comics.

So, let’s talk about that Karen reveal scene. I know that so many fans had been wishing for that scene, and missed seeing it in The Defenders. Considering that Daredevil’s audience likely dwarfs that of The Defenders, saving such a crucial scene for this season made perfect sense. Is it good? It is. It is not everything I would have wanted, but I’m mostly satisfied with it. The “I can just sense stuff” example (more on that below) was a pretty good one, and they also did a good job of portraying Karen’s ambivalence at being lied to by a man that’s saved her life, not once, but twice.

Image of the scene where Matt explains his secret to Karen, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

What I don’t understand, and this applies just as much to the Foggy reveal scene in season one as well, is why he doesn’t take the opportunity to casually mention something he can’t do, or say something that makes “the act” seem more forgivable, and the situation more complex. You could, of course, argue that that would seem like he’s deflecting responsibility for his deceit, and I’d buy that.

However, I also genuinely feel that there are legitimate reasons for why going “full blind guy” is the only sustainable way of hiding heightened senses that would otherwise invite all kinds of unwanted attention. It’s not as if he could have gone through college and law school pretending he can see. (I also feel somewhat obligated to point out that while I agree completely that Matt obviously doesn’t need a cane for mobility reasons, there are other reasons for carrying a white cane that I’ll have to come back to next episode because it contains a scene that kind of illustrates this point.)

I’m giving Sister Maggie “star player” status this episode (see below), and her addition to the cast is spectacular. I’ll be honest, I am one of those people who thinks that Matt’s Catholicism in all his live action ventures is overblown compared to how this subject matter is treated in the comics (anyone who has read a lot of Daredevil outside of the most famous runs will know that there is no mention of religion in the vast majority of the issues, and Born Again deals more with religious themes than Matt’s personal faith).

Image of Sister Maggie, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

Having said that, I do think that the religious elements have been well-handled in this show thus far and have really added to the overall quality of the story. This trend continuous in the first episode of this season. Sister Maggie and Father Lantom both paint a very sympathetic picture of clergy that even this agnostic-by-default Swede can get behind. The conversations between Matt and his two caretakers are used to explore universal themes and finding one’s personal purpose, more than debating scripture. That works well here.

This first episode also does a good job of setting up newcomer Ray Nadeem and his family. It is always a challenge to introduce new characters into a universe of known players and make people care about them, but Ray’s predicament, as well as his basic humanity,  is communicated effectively. As soon as I saw what he was up against, I suspected that he might be a Detective Manolis type character in this story. Since I’m not giving away spoilers for upcoming episodes, I’m not going to give any indication here of where his story takes him.

Ray Nadeem talking outside to his son Sami, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

Fisk has relatively little to do in this first episode, except eating prison omelette, but the scenes he is in are eminently watchable. There is the controlled reaction to the news about Vanessa, and his terrifying encounter with Agent Nadeem where he offers them a deal. It’s really quite fascinating how threatening Fisk can be while simply having a conversation. He’s like a barely contained box of explosives next to a spark.

So, what about Matt? Well, I’m saving him for last, since there’s a lot to talk about in terms of what happens this episide. Some of what’s going on in his head, we’ll save for the section below. This first thing to say here is just was a gem of an actor we have in Charlie Cox. His scenes are always well-acted, and his physical range is just insane.

Many people talk about his fighting chops, and rightly so, but portaying Matt Murdock in any scene always requires constant attention to what his body is doing. How is his posture? What is his head doing? Where are his eyes looking? You get what I mean. For an excellent example of this, look no further than the boxing scene, and observe the change that happens when his bad ear blanks out on him again. He embodies this completely.

Matt struggling to get back into the fight after his sparring partner has knocked out his bad ear, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

There’s also that emotional change that takes place as he oscillates between anger and resentment, on the one hand, and genuine despair on the other. It seems Cox was ready to take on the challenge of “make Matt look sadder than we’ve ever seen him before” and run with it.

Matt’s thoughts

So where is Matt’s head this episode? Well, I think the first thing to realize about Matt’s state of mind  is that he has just survived what should have been certain death after having put all of his eggs in the same basket. At the end of season two, there was an abyss between him and everyone in his life that continued, despite attempts to make amends and a minimum of hard feelings, throughout The Defenders. For all intents and purposes, Matt had set up a separate life, and severed most of his ties to the life he associates with “Matt Murdock.”

When Elektra appeared again (*sigh*) and turned his head around once more, it was like driving over a cliff. And you don’t really make plans for surviving that dive, do you? And when you do, having cracked all the eggs in your proverbial basket, you’re bound to be confused. And, as far as “Matt Murdock” is concerned, if that life is only defined by those who knew him as such, and they all think he’s dead, it may make some kind of weird sense for Matt to think of that part of himself as dead. As in, civilian Matt Murdock only exists within the context of those relationships. Consequently, only “Daredevil” – this symbolic manifestation of Matt’s perceived purpose, stripped of all normal human attachments – remains. 

Matt looking infinitely sad while on his bed listening to sirens in the background, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

This place is already a terrible place to be. When Matt realizes that he may no longer be able to do many of the things his heightened senses used to allow, it creates a perfect storm that completely fractures his sense of self and his role in the world. I will admit to being wary when the first teaser came out, with Matt saying that he’d rather die as the Devil than live as Matt Murdock. In this episode, there is a context for that statement, because it comes right after he talks about his new relationship with God, and he puts a distinct emphasis on the word “this”: “…in front of this God I’d rather die as the Devil than live as Matt Murdock.” It’s almost as if he’s sticking it to God. If this new and ugly-faced God has decided that the life he left behind is the only one that is compatible with a life without his sensory endowments, then “screw that.” Pretty much.

Matt invites his attackers to kill him, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

This anger gradually wanes and gives room to a profound sadness. This happens after Matt gets some of his senses back, and his hope is beginning to come back to him, but finds that he’s fragile. That a smack across the head from his sparring partner is enough to temporarily rob him of his ability to detect objects around him. It is at this point he actually turns suicidal. It is truly heartbreaking to watch. Though is there perhaps some part of him that can at least see it as a sign that his would-be killers are chased away at the last minute.

Generally though, we do have to look at Matt as someone who is, to some extent delusional. Not in the sense that he is psychotic, but that he is trapped in a kind twisted mindset that is not uncommon in someone who is suffering from a deep depression. There are legitimate reasons for his grief, but his despair takes him a few steps beyond that.

Senses watch

So, obviously a lot to comment on in this episode. First of all, the depiction of Matt’s sense of being under water and cut off from the things around him is done exceptionally well. If you listen to this episode in stereo, you can tell that the sound on his right side is gone. How brilliant is that?

And how brilliant is if of the writer (in this case, showrunner Erik Oleson himself) to destroy Matt’s “radar sense” by making him deaf in one ear? It’s fantastic. It’s one of the most insightful creative decisions regarding Matt’s senses of the entire show, going back to the very first season. As a nice side effect, it also cements the idea that the “radar” really is echolocation on steroids, which is by far my favorite interpretation of the radar sense. (And I’m saying this as someone who has written a ridiculous amount about Daredevil’s radar sense.)

Lose one ear, and the brain loses its ability to extract sound source information using the so-called interaural time difference, and the interaural level difference. These refer to the the slight difference between the time it takes for a sound, at either side of the midline, to reach each ear, as well as the difference in sound pressure (volume) at each ear. Given how crucial every single single spatial cue that can be extracted from sound would have to be, losing two such major cues would absolutely be enough to collapse Matt’s sense of where objects are and the space they occupy. Very, very nicely done.

Sister Maggie joins Matt who is getting ready for his boxing match, as seen on Marvel's Daredevil season three, episode one.

I’m a little more perplexed by the scene where Matt regains his ability to sense the vibrations around him by touch. I’m thinking that he never lost that in the first place, but by getting that gunk out of his nasal cavity, he is able to help coax his hearing back “online” by pairing his restored hearing with vibrations he can feel. That’s the only way I can make sense of it, even though it’s a compelling scene overall.

What about what he tells Karen in the reveal scene? That he can smell the curry on her (on her clothes, not from something she’s eaten), and taste the Jameson on her lips. Yup, this all checks out. The smell of curry would manifest itself differently clinging to her clothes than if she had been eating it. I would argue that he’s smelling rather than tasting the whiskey though, but these senses tend to blend together anyway so it totally works. Nice example.

Easter egg watch

In terms of imagery, we obviously have the scene of Matt at the top of the church, arms wrapped around the cross which is very recognizable.

Another scene that many people may have missed that is also straight out of the comics (I’m expanding this category to including everything that counts as fan service from the comics) is at the beginning, when Matt wakes up and falls out of bed. This is very similar to a scene of him, also falling out of bed, from Daredevil #170, after he discovers he’s lost his radar sense.

Matt falls out of bed after losing his radar sense, as seen in Daredevil #170
Scene from Daredevil #170, by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Quotes

Orphan: “Damn, what happened to you?”
Matt: “Life.”
(Mentioned here because Matt sounds so much like an emo 16-year-old, it’s actually quite funny)

Foggy: “What, so when you asked me to help you move boxes…”
Karen: “Uh, yeah I lied. I mean, technically, it was more of, like, a ruse.
Foggy: Gotcha. You rused.
Karen: Hmm.
Foggy: Journalism has changed you, Page.

Matt: “You know what I realized? Job was a pussy.”

Matt: “I am what I do in the dark now. I bleed for no one but myself.”

Maggie: “What you said about rather dying as the Devil than living as Matt Murdock… I just want you to know that I think you’re a hero. Hiding down here, feeling sorry for yourself. I mean, just out back, there’s an orphanage full of kids who’ve lost everything and everyone. Some of them are disabled, much worse off than you ever were. And they’re still trying to make the most out of life, the little cowards.”

Maggie:  Hands should be used for God’s work.
Matt: Yeah? That’s why he made me this way?
Maggie: No. That’s why he made boxing

Star player

Do I need to say it? It’s Sister Maggie, without at doubt. I love her character this season, and she is much more interesting than she ever was in the comics. In this episode in particular, she challenges Matt’s world view, cuts him no slack, and stays firmly grounded when Matt is all drama. Joanne Whalley is a perfect casting choice, and I love that her take on the character challenges the notion of how nuns are supposed to act and think. Bravo!

First thoughts on Daredevil season three

Spoiler warning: I’m writing this after having watched all thirteen episodes of Marvel’s Daredevil. While I won’t go too far into specifics, I still advice against reading further if you still have a few episodes to go. Full spoilers allowed in the comment section.

Note: I’ve also made some edits to this text since first posting it.

Update: After seeing the season for the second time, I’ve come around completely about Matt’s arc. I really tried to pay attention to it the second time around, and I get it now.

Rather than go back and change something I’ve written, which is unwise, I’ll do another post on just his arc at some point. First though, I’ll get to my individual episode reviews starting tomorrow.

By a “fortunate” combination of a cold that kept me home from work (yes, the cold was real…) and living in a good time zone (the show dropped at 9 AM in most of Western Europe), I have actually finished watching Daredevil season three already. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to go into reviews of individual episodes right away or do a “first thoughts” post, but the mood struck so here we are.

I have mostly positive things to say about his season. In fact, this is the first time I’ve watched a season of Daredevil and felt this good about it right afterwards. You might recall that I only came to love season one after a rewatch and some time to digest the missteps. I’m still not entirely over the last third of season two, despite being impressed with that season’s overall level of quality. Season three of Daredevil, on the other hand, is the best-paced and most satisfying season of anything to come out of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration, topping the first season of The Punisher (yes, even as a Daredevil fan, I rank that above the first two seasons of Daredevil).

In my first comment on Twitter, after finishing the season, I rated it as 96% perfect. Maybe that was a bit of a stretch, but I still mostly stand by that. And I’m curious to see how I feel after rewatching, something which has always heightened my overall appreciation for this show in the past.

There is some fantastic character growth happening this season. Fisk is menacing in a visceral way, and Foggy and Karen come into their own in ways that deserve a standing ovation. Sister Maggie is a fantastic addition to the cast (though I was actually a bit disappointed that they went the “expected” route with her origin after hinting that we wouldn’t). Father Lantom had an insanely strong comeback and both Bullseye and Ray Nadeem were great and fully fleshed-out additions to the cast. Oh, and we got to see more of Jack Murdock and young Matt, respectively. I loved that!

Most of the Marvel/Netflix shows have had issues with pacing, as well as bits and pieces that feel like filler. That is not the case with season three of Daredevil. The eleven hours and change flew by, and I didn’t want it to end.

This season also has a more drawn-out ending than previous seasons, and I mean that in a very good way. Sure, there are climactic things happening in the final episode, but the creative team makes full use of the “long movie” format and seem to realize that the final twenty minutes are not to a very long “movie” what they are to an actual movie that runs for just over two hours.

This is a big step up from earlier productions that have suffered from being forced to sputter along while saving this one major showdown for the finale. In this case, the “sputtering” feels fun and meaningful all the way through.

So far, I haven’t really mentioned Matt, and there’s a reason for that. Charlie Cox does a fanstastic job playing him, as usual, and I honestly can’t imagine anyone else in the role at this point. His arc, however, is by far the least satisfying and this is pretty much the entire reason I’m not calling this a complete home run. After all the talk about confronting one’s fears, I still can’t tell you what Matt’s biggest fear is or exactly how he overcame it. (Unless we’re talking true intimacy, but we already knew that.)

When he finally finds his way back to the metaphorical light at the end, it happens quite suddenly and inexplicably. Again, I can’t pin down any one thing that was done or said to bring that about. And as much as I still deeply care about the Netflix version of the character, he is being pretty much insufferable to the people around him for much of the season with relatively little to explain his sudden maturation near the end. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy every minute of screen time that he got, because I did, and I always want to see more of him. That, and his fight scenes are amazing as well.

There is also a slight issue with his powers that becomes more striking because everything else is so perfect. And it’s not even one my usual complaints (I’m over his random and oddly specific ability to know everything about guns people are firing even from absurd distances), but the way so many of his moves and actions are omitted that bother me. This isn’t actually new to this season, just more obvious because of how grounded the rest of characters are this time around. With most of them, you always know what they know and how they know it because it’s all presented so well and the puzzle pieces so well thought out.

With Matt, that’s not always the case. When he shows up at Nadeem’s house, I’m wondering: “How did he get there? Did he take a cab?” (The place is clearly in the suburbs.) When he meets Karen at the home of the man who shanked Wilson Fisk, in episode six, she is surprised to see him there. I was surprised to not hear him explain how he’d followed her, but that he had instead also found the guy’s address. How? If he knew, he didn’t have to ask Karen for help. And, how did he find out on his own? Did he google it? That would have been fine, but would have required showing us how Matt googles things. There are others scenes and events that have some of the same issues, but I guess I’ll get back to them when I review the individual episodes.

There are complications with this character connected to those of his senses that work really well – and the one that doesn’t work at all – that actually need a little more explaining and exposition. If there’s one thing (okay, two) I’ve been trying to communicate in my ten plus years of writing about this character, it’s this:

1) You don’t have to give up trying to make intellectual sense of his powers, and resort to what comes across as near-magic and deus ex machina appearances, and

2) you don’t need to shy away from showing people his perceptual deficits (and not only when he’s injured, which was done very well, by the way). I’m willing to bet an arm that more people are put off by too little of this than too much. Trust me, it’s okay to have a blind superhero occasionally run into trouble because of it.

For instance: In the final episode, when Matt calls Dex from the phone of Fisk’s fixer, it would have made the scene better if we had been shown how he did that from someone else’s smartphone than omitting that information (it would have taken fifteen seconds, at most). Some of us know that accessibility features can be switched on easily on modern smartphones, but a great many people don’t, and at least some of them must be wondering how he made that call on a phone that wasn’t his. Even Siri would have worked. 

Given these last few paragraphs, it might seem like this is a lot more than four percent, but I can assure you that it’s not. There really is so much to love this season, and none of the things that didn’t work for me are things that cannot be addressed and expanded on in future seasons.

Nothing and no one has been “broken” here, and so much of what many of us loved about the teamwork between the core trio has been restored by the end, even though it was a bit quicker and less complicated than it needed to be. Though I don’t expect Matt’s life to be carefree for long when next season inevitably rolls around, I do hope he can lean on his friends instead of pushing them away.

Luke Cage hits it out of the park in fantastic second season

This post contains spoilers for all of season two of Luke Cage. You’ve been warned.

Normally, I make sure to finish the Marvel/Netflix shows within 48 hours, but this time, I was out of town celebrating Midsummer. With my mom. So, I had to sneak in a few episodes here and there on my iPhone after she’d gone to bed. I’m kind of amazed I actually got five episodes in before getting home on Sunday (when I finished the rest). But this show was so good, right out of the gate, that I couldn’t stop watching. Even on my iPhone. And I’m rewatching it in the background as we “speak.”

The first season of Luke Cage was mostly solid, but there were some missteps. Killing off Cornell Stokes so early on meant that there was a big void to fill for the rest of the season, which would have been find if there had been anyone worthy of filling those shoes. Diamondback wasn’t it. Unlike the second season’s Bushmaster, Diamondback was not scary as much as cartoonish. Bushmaster is genuinely frightening, in the creepy kind of way that is best communicated by twitching as if possessed while absorbing bullets (you know exactly the scene I’m talking about). That, and his gripe with Mariah has a greater ring of truth than Diamondback’s obsession with Luke.

There was also plenty of silliness in the first season that would have seemed completely out of place in the second. As much as a part of me enjoyed the frankensteinesque scenes where Claire takes Luke to the old prison doctor for an acid bath bordered on silly. And, they made a Mary Sue character of Claire (and I’m not one to throw that label around lightly). The second season gives us more of a grown person’s superhero drama, with well-developed characters and so many layers.

Bushmaster being shot at close range, as seen in the first episode of the second season of Luke Cage on Netflix

Some things that this season has in common with the first one bears mentioning too. First of all: The music. It’s like its own character in this show. If you’re not catching yourself bobbing your head along to the music while watching this show, you’re not doing it right. Secondly, they’re both incredibly good-looking There’s some pacing issues, but nothing like what we saw in the first season. Contrary to what some reviewers have had to say, I think this season fills out its thirteen episodes nicely. It unapologetically allows itself time to breathe, and I never minded spending all that time with these characters. But, rather than going on in typical review style, I’m just going to list some of the things that stood out to me – big and small – or that i just plain appreciated.

All the connections…

This is the first season that really makes use of all the richness that living in a shared universe can provide. Matt is mentioned. Repeatedly. So is Jessica. Danny appears in a significant guest appearance spanning an entire episode, not to mention Luke making use of his Rand connections in the episode leading up to it. Colleen also makes a major appearance. As does Foggy, who is also mentioned several times off-screen. Even Karen Page gets a mention. Blake Towers, first introduced in Daredevil season two, shows up. As does Turk who has apparently switched to selling (legal) drug paraphernalia. Did I miss anyone?

More than being just fan service, these appearances makes sense considering the shared history of these characters. Of course, as a Daredevil fan, it’s nice to see that Matt’s (not real) death has not gone to waste but has made an impression on people.

Luke gets a hand from his lawyer friend Foggy, as seen in the fifth episode of the second season of Luke Cage

Shades and his relationships

Shades is the bad guy we love to hate, and then hate to admit that we love. Let there be no doubt about it, he’s a pretty shitty human being. He killed Candace in cold blood last season. But, there are not only rules to his madness that makes him hard to brush off as just another psychopath, he actually sells us on the notion that he cares about people deeply. At least some people. It really speaks to Theo Rossi’s abilities as an actor that we can watch him kill his best friend (and former boyfriend), and almost feel sorry for his loss. And his devotion to Mariah feels equally real. Forget Shades being simply a boy toy for his sugar mama, he really loves her. Enough to lose his cool and kill a guy point blank for badmouthing his girl.

Even more interesting is the fact that Shades seems to actually want to go clean, putting him and Mariah on opposite paths as the latter takes a turn for the meaner.

Luke gets his hands dirty

Just like Matt Murdock in the Netflix show, Luke is gradually being pulled deeper into the world of his alter ego. And, just like Matt, he is finding it harder to separate his civilian life from the persona of the hero he created. As the increasingly disillusioned Claire herself, puts it “You are more like Matt than you want to admit.”

But Luke Cage here, particularly at the end of the season, also reminds us of many of the Daredevil stories better known from the comics. Over the years, Daredevil has repeatedly been forced into situations where he’s had to make deals with the devil, often in the form of the Kingpin. And, he’s had to put himself at the top of food chain on more than one occasion. Both the King of Hell’s Kitchen story arc, by Bendis and Maleev, and Matt’s takeover of the Hand at the end of Brubaker and Lark’s run come to mind. I’m sure there may be Luke Cage stories to draw on as well in this regard, but I’m not familiar with them, and this is a Daredevil blog. So yeah, I see a lot of parallells.

Mariah going full Kingpin

Mariah kills a fellow inmate, as seen in the final episode of Luke Cage, season two

While Shades actually seems to want to be turning over a new leaf, at some point at least, Mariah is gradually accepting her fate in ways that are strikingly similar to Wilson Fisk’s in the first season of Daredevil. At first, we bought into the notion that she desired nothing more than to shed the baggage of the family business. She was always ruthless, but like Fisk, she’d been able to talk herself into there being a legitimate end goal. However, eventually, she sheds the Dillard identity in favor of the Stokes legacy and goes full psycho. When she personally sets a man on fire, even Shades seems taken aback by her cruelty. By the time we get to the scene of her killing a fellow inmate, I was pretty much floored. Now, it may seem like a waste that she herself had to die at the end, but she went out on such a high note that it’s hard to feel deprived of anything.

Amputation by Photoshop

Remember when Forrest Gump came out and everyone was amazed by how Gary Sinise’s legs could be made to disappear on camera? Of course, I have to remind myself that many of my readers are young enough to have been in kindergarten at the time, or not even born. But I do remember, and it was kind of a big deal. Which is why I have to marvel at how far that kind of special effects technology has come (and yes, I know it ain’t Photoshop specifically). Misty’s missing right arm looks extremely natural.

While we’re on the topic, I love that her new bionic arm looks slightly more like what you’d expect from a real prosthetic than its comic book counterpart, or Bucky’s arm for that matter, even tough it is functionally very sci-fi.

In closing

We don’t get much in terms of solid information on how much time has passed since Midland Circle, but it seems reasonable that the events of this season takes place over the course of a couple of months, and begin a couple of months after Defenders. I’m basing the latter assessment on where Misty seems to be in her recovery.

Meanwhile, I’m just intent on enjoying Luke Cage for what it brings to its own little corner of Manhattan. As mentioned, I’m already watching it a second time, and I’m very sure that won’t be my last. It’s just such a well-crafted ride. There are so many more things I would have liked to touch on, such as what happens with Luke’s relationship with Claire, and his father, as well as the guest appearances by Colleen, Danny, and Foggy, but I wanted to get this post up before real life swallows me up again.

What did you guys think? Let us know in the comments!

A scorched Earth approach to relationships – AKA my thoughts on Jessica Jones S2

So here’s another thing to get out of the way. And I do sort of mean get it out of the way, because spending very much time on the topic would not be time well spent. I saw the second season of Jessica Jones during the weekend after it came out, and I haven’t rewatched it since. Nor do I feel inclined to. Not because it was an awful twelve plus hours of television, but because it just wasn’t very good. I would easily rank this season as the weakest of the Netflix shows/seasons thus far, possibly with the exception of The Defenders, which I had lots of issues with. On the other hand, while the Defenders actively annoyed me, Jessica Jones season 2 left few impressions at all except an enduring sense of bafflement at some of the creative choices that were made. I have high hopes for the third season that has already been green-lit (with some caveats), but below are my main takeaways from this show’s second outing. Full spoilers ahead!

Jeri Hogarth’s story is the most interesting

Jeri actually has a pretty interesting arc this season. She is diagnosed with ALS in the first episode, and this sends her into a spiral of despair that shows us new and interesting sides of her. When she’s not sleeping with prostitutes (plural, simultaneously), she puts all of her faith in the would-be bringers of miracles that turn out to be nothing of the sort. Meanwhile, her partners are trying to push her out of their law firm, and put in a very Jeri-like effort to fight to keep what is hers.

There is only one problem with Jeri’s story being the more interesting: She isn’t the main character. Nor does her story affect the overall plot in any major way. This doesn’t take away from what’s going on with Jeri, but it does make the main plot points look a bit weaker by comparison.

Jeri drowning her sorrows with women, as seen in season 2 of Jessica Jones on Netflix

Creative decision: Mother issues

When it was revealed (about six episodes in?) that the monster woman stalking the streets and killing people was Jessica’s apparently not-dead mother, I may have actually audibly groaned. I admit that this is one of those things where people just differ in what they like. I think the people who did enjoy this season (and there were a few) probably enjoyed or at least didn’t particularly mind this little plot twist. In fact, most who have been critical of this season of Jessica Jones have primarily been critical of the first third of the season being too slow, not so much of what happens after that. I guess this means that the scene that pretty much killed this season for me, finally made it interesting for many other people. Good for them.

You see, I have a general aversion to “back from the dead” twists (I’m looking at you Defenders…), regardless of how they happen. It would have made me take notice in a positive way if Alisa, who is actually a compelling and well-acted character in her own right, had been a sort of mirror version of Jessica, rather than her literal mother. If she had been someone who was also the sole survivor of a similar accident whose life took a very different turn than Jessica’s, where she could have been someone that Jessica might still empathize with, and even project her mother issues onto, without this being too on the nose. Man, that would have been so much better. For starters, it would have been less clichéd and it also would have left fewer opportunities for Jessica to act as out of character as I thought she did in her relationship with Alisa.

Trish wakes from her overdose, as seen in season 2 of Jessica Jones on Netflix

Speaking of mother issues, Trish too seemed to be healing her relationship with her mother. This seemed even more out of character for me, and there was very little explanation for it. Yes, at first she gets in touch with her mother because she needs something from her, and there’s no emotional stuff, but gradually she seems to drift into Trish’s life in a manner that seems off. There’s also a point where Jessica admits to Trish that she was jealous of her for at least having a mother (I hope I’m remembering this right). This struck me as very odd. Even if Jessica might have harbored such feelings, once or twice, I doubt very much that she’d actually say as much. Besides, as you might recall from season one, we know that Trish’s issues with her mother are not a simple matter of the two of them falling out, but the result of actual child abuse. It’s as if the writers are milking the mother angle, more than writing from the perspective of what actually makes sense for these character to say and do.

Scorched Earth

Did you end you viewing of Daredevil season two wondering how these characters were ever going to patch things up after all the hurt they all inflicted on one another? Even knowing that things would probably get better in future seasons, things were pretty bad. Now imagine the writers of this season of Jessica Jones seeing that and going “Hold my beer!” Because what the writers do to Malcolm and Trish, the latter in particular, and their respective relationships with Jessica was just… I don’t even know how to put it. There is no way Trish and Jessica can come back from this. In fact, even trying to bring them back together at this point would just cheapen what happened in this story. The scene at the end of the season where Trish discovers her Hellcat powers could have been a fun moment. Instead, Trish being written as a horrible person for the latter half of the season kills most of the excitement for me. They pretty much destroyed her character. For what? Shock value? Explain to me why the story needed it. Trish’s treatment here is the one thing that brings down the hopes I have for a successful third season-

So, probably not the most enthusiastic of posts, but I still wanted to comment on this season. I realize I never wrote anything about The Punisher, after it came out, so maybe I’ll tackle that too some time. What I really do hope for Jessica though, is that she doesn’t get another season of past issues blowing up in her face. It worked splendidly in season one, but even season two spending that much time bringing up things from her younger years was a serious misstep in my view. She’s a private eye in a world where strange things happen. How about they do something with that? I’d be happy to watch!

Daredevil season 2 – The relationships and their lingering complications

I ran out of time, and wanted to get this up before the premiere of Defenders. So, for the time being, no pictures. Will add them later. And, I didn’t proofread it either so I hope it’s legible. 🙂

As I mentioned in my review of episode six, I decided to tackle the tail end of season two of Daredevil in a single post rather than one episode at a time. This not only saves a bit of time and space, but it also actually makes it easier to talk about the bigger picture and the broader strokes. As you can see below, I’ve divided this post into various relationships, simply because I think that’s a good way of actually analyzing what’s going on. There are certainly big events happening that lie far beyond individual lives, but the story is just as much about the various players happening to each other.

Before going on, I should add that season two remains difficult for me to watch, though much less so these days compared to a year ago. It is an amazing twelve plus hours of television, but is also really took an emotional toll on me and is one of the big reasons I had to take a break from all things Daredevil for a long time. Over the course of the season, several of the characters end up disappointing both their friends and, to a great extent, themselves. In many ways, this makes for very compelling and lifelike drama, but there are few heroes standing. Ironically, Elektra is the one who most obviously manages to to redeem herself at the end, though Matt is taking steps to do the same by “coming out” to Karen.

At the same time, I have to commend the creators for daring to take the characters in these different directions, and showing their uglier sides too. Hopefully, by showing all of them what doesn’t work in season two, they can be brought back together again, with a more mature understanding of themselves, in season three.

Matt and Foggy

It’s clearly evident at the start of the season that Matt and Foggy still have unresolved issues to address and a questionable willingness to actually address them. For Matt, being Daredevil is something that he enjoys and feels compelled to do, whereas Foggy doesn’t yet understand Matt’s position. Foggy’s reluctance to accept Matt’s choices, meanwhile, is probably both selfish and selfless. Foggy misses the simpler times when there was “just” Matt, and no Daredevil. At the same time, he is genuinely (and legitimately) concerned for his friend’s safety. When we see him yelling at Matt in episode two, after finding him passed out on a roof top, I understand Foggy’s frustration when Matt completely fails to acknowledge the severity of the situation. Compare this to a parent who loses their child at the park. Their priority when reunited is to hug the child in relief and thank whatever higher power they believe in that everything is okay. The second is to firmly tell that same kid that they must never walk off again. I’m not saying that Matt is a child, or that the comparison is perfect, merely that intense worry often turns into anger once the danger is over. Would it have served their friendship better for Foggy to express himself differently? Certainly, but people tend to say a lot of stupid things when they’re hurt or worried.

And the hurt continues throughout the season. Foggy is actually a lot nicer to Matt than I would have been at the end of episode six, considering he just had the entire Frank Castle situation dumped in his lap while Matt went off with Elektra. But, things start to go downhill from here. Much of this is Matt’s fault. Had he been honest about Elektra being the new client, much of what happens next would have turned out very differently. Instead, Foggy is faced with, once again, learning too late that he’s been deceived, as Elektra sabotages their case. Which in turn is not actually Matt’s fault. At this point, Foggy doesn’t want to hear it, and says things that he shouldn’t have. Matt is desperate to explain what’s going on, but is faced with the fact that his past actions have eroded whatever trust in him that Foggy had left. Step by step, these two begin a spiral of hurt, miscommunication and a stubborn unwillingness to see the other person’s point of view.

One of the most poignant scenes of the season, in terms of Matt and Foggy’s relationship, is when they officially decide to break up (around episode nine, as I recall). Foggy comes to ask for a temporary break-up of Nelson & Murdock, and Matt decides to make it permanent, catching Foggy completely off guard. This is also where Matt makes it clear that Foggy’s friend and “the vigilante” are the same person, and that he’s tired of “apologizing for who he is.” I think this is a very important statement for Matt to make, and a necessary one if they’re ever going to form a relationship of true and mutual acceptance. However, Matt’s resolve here is not what it seems, as is evident from the hurt he’s obviously feeling when Foggy leaves and his eyes start tearing up.

One thing to remember about Matt, and this has major consequences for how things turn out, is that he’s got a lot of baggage when it comes to forming attachments to other people. After his father died, he had no one until Stick showed up.
Stick then turns around and leaves when Matt tries to express his emotions (with the ice cream wrapper bracelet). And before he leaves, he makes sure that Matt is told to not let other people get too close. So, when Matt feels rejected by Foggy and Karen (more on that below), it reinforces Stick’s “programming.” There is a pull and push between Matt’s exciting exploits with Elektra on the one hand, and his civilian life on the other, where he’s beginning to feel that his friends don’t want him and are better off without him. If it weren’t for the fact that this part of his life pretty much implodes, the pull of Elektra, while still obviously there, might not have been as strong.

When we get further along, we’re beginning to see more of a truce between Matt and Foggy. Matt is redeemed somewhat in Foggy’s eyes when they learn of Frank’s escape, and Matt’s suspicions that someone “got to” Frank and caused him to have a meltdown on the witness stand, are validated. Foggy also offers some helpful practical advice near the end when Matt is looking for the tunnels where the Hand might be hiding out. Is this the beginning of Foggy actually accepting Matt’s “other side”? If he can’t make him abandon his vigilante activities, he can at least do something to help. In the end though, they do go their separate ways professionally and that’s another string tying Matt to his civilian life severed.

Matt and Karen

The big irony of Matt and Karen is that they actually have a lot in common, mostly things the other person doesn’t know about because they’re not being honest with each other. Not only does Karen have secrets of her own, she also shares Matt’s tendency to chase danger. It is interesting to see that Matt treats Karen almost the same way Foggy treats Matt when it comes to danger and risk taking. This makes Matt a total hypocrite, in my mind. True, Matt is obviously better able to protect himself against most dangers, but it’s not as if he’s invincible, as evidenced by his many injuries. He feels that these risks are worth taking, but seems completely unable to take in the fact that Karen obviously feels the same way about what she does. One theory, though a rather sad one, is that Matt may actually have a tragically low sense of his own worth.

Matt is a hypocrite in more ways than one, however, in his interactions with Karen (especially when compared with how willing he is to forgive Elektra’s murderous side). In episode seven, the two meet to prepare for Frank’s trial and end up having a conversation about what Frank does. Matt reacts with something akin to disgust when the differences between Karen’s morals and his own on this topic become evident. Which, with his secretly being a vigilante, feels extremely harsh. And while he may like to pretend that his “no kill” methods are beyond reproach, we can be sure he’s given more than one guy permanent brain damage at this point. Maybe it’s simply the case that Matt reacts so strongly because Karen is unwittingly sniffing around those parts of him that he’s ashamed of. Few things get to us more than when people bring our attention to weaknesses or inconsistencies that we know to be true, and Matt’s reaction to Karen might be a result of his trying to distance himself from the shadier aspects of his night job.

Karen, like Foggy, will go on to distance herself from Matt over the tail end of the season, and in so doing further underscores Matt’s existing programming, which tells him that it’s a bad idea to have people in your life that you care about, and that you may not really be worthy of their love. Many have pointed out that Karen overreacts to finding Elektra in Matt’s apartment, and I would agree. Especially with Stick being there which would indicate that this is something other than an affair with some strange woman. And, when Karen tells Matt that he’s no hero, after the Castle case falls apart, your heart aches for poor Matt. On the other hand, in Karen’s defense, she still doesn’t know about Daredevil. She strongly suspects that something big is being hidden from her, and that Matt (and, by extension, Foggy) is not forthcoming on this matter, and that Matt is not emotionally available to her in the same way that she is to him. Combine this with seeing the effect that his no-shows in court has on Foggy, and it’s easier to understand how she might read the whole situation with Matt and Elektra the wrong way. And, she may not even suspect an affair, just that this further proves that something big is up with Matt that he obviously prioritizes over everything else going on in their lives. That would be enough to piss her off, though her unwillingness to really listen to what Matt has to say is not admirable.

Matt and Elektra

I think Elodie Yung nails Elektra and gives us the most interesting take on the character I’ve ever seen. However, she still comes across to me as a bit of a mix between original Elektra and the version of the character we saw in the Man Without Fear mini-series from the 90s where she comes across as much darker. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there was definitely a difference in the dynamics between Matt and Elektra in her original appearance (innocent college student lost to the dark side after her father’s death), and her MWOF appearance (where she’s this borderline psychopathic vixen right from the get go). In the latter case, Matt’s relationship with Elektra feels almost primal. Elektra plays with him, he chases her, there’s passion, and exuberance. This relationship is similar to the one on the show, intense and passionate, but that also means that it makes more sense as that big and exciting college fling, than as a healthy adult relationship. In fact, in MWOF, Elektra simply vanishes, and they don’t meet again.

Much of the narrative of Matt and Elektra’s relationship hinges on this notion that they have so much in common, and I don’t think this makes perfect sense given this particular version of Elektra and their in-story history. There’s a false equivalency between what Matt does, and what Elektra does (even more so when you take into account why they do what they do), that seems even more jarring when you take into account how harshly Matt judges Karen’s take on the Punisher. The fact that they both like “extreme sports” certainly unites them, but there’s more to their respective escapades than that. Another part of the appeal for Matt, which I can certainly emphasize with, is that Elektra knows the whole truth about him, and accepts him. Foggy knows the truth, but doesn’t fully accept everything that comes with it. Karen doesn’t know, but probably would be more accepting (it may be too little, too late considering the way she finds out at the end of the season, but we don’t know that yet). In this sense, Elektra fulfills Matt’s need to be understood and validated, and even cheers him on. In the context of Matt’s civilian life imploding, it’s not hard to understand his “good riddance” attitude. Why not sail off into the sunset with Elektra? He’s already lost everything. And she makes him feel good.

But, the problem remains: Matt probably does get a kick out of the amount of hurt he brings to his “victims,” which means that Daredevil, to him, isn’t just about physical freedom and thrill seeking, or justice. But, he also does value his morality. He definitely has a dark streak, the “devil inside,” and Elektra likes that part of him and encourages it. But unlike Elektra, Matt doesn’t want to give that side of him free reins. At the end of the day, he does draw the line at killing. And he tries to keep himself on an even shorter leash than that. We should not view this as him denying some important inner truth whenever he exercises restraint. Seriously, the difference between a grown person in civilized society and a two-year-old is that the former doesn’t impulsively do whatever their lower instincts tell them to do. Matt’s sense of right and wrong is important to him, and absolutely central to who he is as a character. In this sense, he and Elektra are complete opposites, at least initially. Elektra actually enjoys killing, she’s manipulative, and aloof.

Thankfully, Elektra does go through some interesting changes. She finds her “inner light,” and recognizes that it was that side of him that she loved in Matt. I’m not sure this makes perfect sense, or is enough of a reason for Matt to love her the way he apparently (supposedly?) does. Remember, the story itself has to lead us to this destination, it shouldn’t be enough to say that, “Oh, but this is what happens in the comics.” On a personal level, one thing that does make sense from the perspective of how people usually work, is that he believes he can save her, and falls in love (again) with this idea of her. And I’m not saying Elektra is all bad at the end – she’s not – but it’s Matt’s idea of who she can be that compels her to change.

This in itself is an interesting contrast when you compare Karen and Elektra. In many ways, Elektra can carry her own in ways that Karen can’t, but Elektra needs Matt more (whether she realizes this or not) in ways that appeal to Matt. Karen doesn’t want Matt to save her (and not knowing about Daredevil doesn’t matter much, Matt is still an authority figure in Karen’s live for much of the show). His role when it comes to Elektra is much more clear. Aside from letting him indulge his Daredevil side, Elektra also brings out the side in Matt that wants to do good. This still doesn’t play out for me perfectly, and there’s still something about the Matt-Elektra dynamic that doesn’t sit right with me, but it makes more sense now than it did the first three times I watched this show. I just hope that the Matt and Elektra storyline will be over after Defenders. In the comics, she has always been this enigmatic presence that pops in and out of his life at irregular intervals, not a steady love interest (beyond their college years and her first death).

Matt and Claire

Matt and Claire don’t see a lot of each other in season two, compared to season one. I’m including their relationship here though, because her scene with Matt up on the roof of the hospital, before the ninjas show up, is one of my favorites. Mostly due to the fact that she echoes my own sentiment when it comes to how Matt chooses to distance himself from the people he claims to want to protect. I guess we need to remember that this takes place after he’s gone to see Fisk in prison (a scene that really needs its own discussion, but I’m seriously running out of time before the Defenders airs), where Matt is both still really hurt over being misunderstood, and, at the same time, very much aware of what a target he’s put on the people in his life that he still very much cares about.

What Claire does, though, is point out his arrogance in putting himself above everyone else. She invites him to not let the hero get in the way of also just being a human being, a friend. But Matt refuses to go to see and Foggy. He’s not at that point yet. One thing I hope to see in season three is what Born Again did so well in the comics, which is to make Matt appreciate his civilian life. Disbarred, and away from his friends, Matt starts to completely spiral out of control due to the Kingpin’s machinations. This is another reason I’m a bit ill at ease with Cox’s comments (see my previous post). Cutting the “blind lawyer” out of his life and going full Daredevil, if you will, has historically not been a great choice for Matt. He needs his balance. I hope he realizes that on screen as well.

Karen and Frank

On the one hand, I really do like Karen and Frank’s budding relationship and look forward to seeing it on screen in The Punisher, later this fall. On the other hand, I think there is a tendency to milk the “similarities” between the characters for much more than they’re worth, in ways that are in some ways analogous to what’s happening with Matt and Elektra. Yes, Karen has killed (at least) one person, but with Wesley, we know it was self-defense. And yes, Karen finds ways to personally relate to Frank’s “war” and feels sympathy for what happened to his family. But, unless Karen has actually taken a machine gun to a house full of mobsters, it becomes a bit of a stretch to overstate how much they actually have in common.

I also have to question Frank’s speech regarding how the only people who can really hurt you are the ones you love. This may be true, but that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or desirable for a loved one to make you feel like shit on any sort of regular basis. If Matt has hurt Karen, it’s not simply because she loves him. It could be because things happened between them where none of them were at their best. Not a big deal, but I’m not sure I’d recommend that Frank pursue a second career writing advice columns for the Bulletin (hey, it’s supposedly easy to get a job there.) 😉

I do like that Karen goes off and does her own thing though, and this kind of goes for Foggy too. Matt is such an overwhelming presence, that maybe everyone is better off just finding themselves before they’re ready to patch things up again.

In closing

After Monday, I just ran out of time this week, or else this post would have been at least twenty-five percent longer. And, it would have had pictures (I’ll add them later). As is, we’re just over nine hours away from Defenders, and I’m at a work conference, and in dire need of sleep. 😉

Tomorrow, I won’t be able to start watching Defenders until about 12PM ET, which is still a lot sooner than a lot of people, but I expect to finish some time after midnight my time and get it all in before bed. Needless to say, I’ll stay off Twitter and Facebook. If you want to comment here and talk Daredevil, though (no Defenders spoilers!), I’m all ears.

Thoughts on Marvel’s Luke Cage

Here’s another one of those items on my to do list before The Defenders so let’s get to it. I’ll keep this relatively brief, and just stick to what I thought were the strengths and weaknesses of Luke Cage.

The good

Misty Knight is awesome

If there’s one character I care about more than any of the others on this show, it’s Misty Knight. She manages to be both adorable and genuinely hardcore, a combination that makes her human and relatable. She loves her job deeply, gets invested in it – more than she should – and cares deeply about justice. I even dig the way she talks.

When I think about what I liked most about Simone Missick’s Misty, it really comes down to a series of strong and well-acted scenes. There are the montages of her visualizing a crime scene in great detail, her steamy first scene with Luke, the one where she’s talking with a psychologist, her time with Claire in the basement of Harlem’s Paradise, and her sneaky way of coaching Luke to break out of the police transport.

Misty Knight looking at evidence, as seen in Marvel's Luke Cage

Cottonmouth and Mariah

I probably should have given them separate sub-headings, but a big part of what makes both of them great is their weird family dynamic. Mariah has a great scene early in the season when she’s doing a public appearance meeting with teenagers in the park. She moves along, all smiles and personal anecdotes about the kids, but when she’s done her expression changes and she rubs her hands with hand sanitizer. From a pure cinematic point of view, this is a great “show, don’t tell” moment. Alfre Woodard, whom I happen to like a lot in almost everything she’s in, does a fantastic job of depicting this woman who does care about her community on some level but is deeply morally flawed. In some ways, she is the Kingpin of this show. Oh, and she has that weird yet alluring relationship with Shades. Love that.

Mahershala Ali is another one of those “good in everything” actors who does a great job of bringing Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes to life. Stokes is more of a classic gangster than his cousin, but also has enough complexity to make the character interesting. I’m probably not the only one to think they ended up killing the wrong villain (more on that below), and wish that Stokes’ story could have lasted a bit longer.

Cottonmouth at his piano, as seen om Marvel's Luke Cage

Claire Temple gets plenty to do

One point of criticism I have when it comes to Claire is how she’s forced to play slightly different versions of herself across the three different shows she’s had significant appearances in (i.e. not Jessica Jones). After skipping town after Daredevil season two, she is back and actually looking for heroes (though I’m partial to Jeri Hogarth’s term “people with complexities). I can see how this change of heart came about. She’s come to feel that there’s a role for her to play after she’s left her more traditional career. Still, the change in attitude is a bit jarring. Having said that, I really enjoy the character she gets to be in Luke Cage, and the relationship they have feels organic and well-earned.

Reva’s backstory

First of all, it’s interesting to actually get to see how Luke and Reva met, especially after just getting a taste of her in Jessica Jones where she’s this enigmatic presence whispering from beyond the grave. And, after we do get to meet her, we also learn that she’s not who Luke thought she was. To have him realize that their entire relationship was built on a lie, and that she was complicit in everything bad that happened to him, is one of those major heartbreaking reveals that would have a huge impact on anyone. I think it’s interesting for how it might affect the dynamic between Luke and Jessica when they are reunited in the Defenders. On the other hand, the creators could have done more with it, as Luke’s reaction is a bit too stoic.

Great use of music

I think the soundtracks of all of the Marvel shows have been really good, but in Luke Cage, they put the music and the people actually performing it front and center. With the night club backdrop, it makes sense to have performers, but this is still very ambitious. Also, who can forget Luke smashing his way into Crispus Attucks to the sound of som Wu-Tang Clan? 😉

The big themes

The people behind this show knew that they had something important to say, beyond the usual superhero action, and for the most part, I think they did a very good job of it. And, it’s a tough balance to strike between too obviously “relevant” and just relevant enough. At the end of the day though, the show touches on issues like race in ways that feel natural to the story, exploring the idea of “the black man with bulletproof skin” (oh, and I love it when all of Harlem is filling up with people wearing hoodies with bullet holes in them), without coming across as preachy.

The not so good

Pacing

Wow, it took almost three full episodes for Luke Cage to fully get my attention. The first scene in the barbershop is almost unforgivingly long, and had I not known anything about the character, or been invested in the MCU, I might have dropped Luke Cage before I got to the good stuff where things even out, and the story really gets going. Of course, all of the Marvel Netflix shows have pacing issues, to varying degrees, and the problem with all of the shows (except maybe both seasons of Daredevil) is that they don’t seem to have enough story to fill thirteen episodes, which is one of the main reasons I’m not heartbroken that The Defenders is only eight episodes. I think Marvel/Netflix needs to allow more done-in-one (or two) subplots to operate alongside the bigger events for things to feel a bit less contrived.

I will say this though, and this is sort of the flip side of the coin in terms of the pacing issue: I really enjoyed that Luke Cage allowed more and longer scenes of people having meaningful and adult interactions than this genre might traditionally allow. With Daredevil, I sometimes get the feeling that Matt and all the other people caught up in his whirlwind are being rushed from one disaster to the next with little rest in between. A little more room to breathe would have been nice, and there’s more of that in Luke Cage. Not all of it good, but much of it is.

Diamondback

Yeah… No. Diamondback feels like he would have been a better fit if this were a children’s morning cartoon from the 90s. His motivations feel contrived, his larger than life personality is a poor fit for Luke Cage’s tempered emotions (more on that below), and he just doesn’t deliver on the build-up from earlier in the season where he’s known by name only.

Luke’s emotional range

I think that Mike Colter is a good fit for the role of Luke Cage, but I do wish that he had shown us a bigger range of emotions. The story certainly would have allowed it. His reaction to Reva’s newly discovered villainy should have been more of something, and even when enraged, he’s not really all that angry. It kind of works, as is, but the Luke Cage part could have been better acted.

Detective Scarfe

I liked “nice” Scarfe and the way “nice” Scarfe and Misty interacted. I guess I liked Misty’s idea of Scarfe. The only problem is that all the things he does for Cottonmouth come way too easily for him. It’s very hard to empathize with Misty’s feelings, even after learning about his betrayal, when you know that he didn’t even seem conflicted about killing Chico. Because of that, his big turning away from the dark side scenes later on don’t feel genuine.

The one I can’t make sense of

Claire attending to Luke's acid bath, as seen in Marvel's Luke Cage

There’s one event that I honestly can’t make up my mind about. The “frankensteinesque” scene where Luke is put into a heated acid bath so that his skin can be penetrated fills me with an unexpected amount of glee. At the same time, it is tonally a bit over the top. Claire flirts with the Mary Sue trope by virtue of her perfect ability to generate flawless hunches (which also includes her earlier scene of diagnosing Luke’s “skin condition”). She actually throws a high-voltage equivalent of a toaster into the Luke cooker! But it is kind of fun. (I kind of hate myself for saying it.) 😉

What did you think of Luke Cage? What are you hoping for in terms of how his character might grow in The Defenders? Let us know in the comment section!

Review: “Regrets Only” – Daredevil season 2, episode #6

Matt sits back and lets Elektra look for the ledger, as seen in episode six of Marvel's Daredevil, season two

You may think I’m crazy for reviewing an episode that came out over a year ago, but what better way to get caught up, work through my issues with the tail end of Daredevil season two, and prepare for The Defenders?

After just re-watching all of episodes six through thirteen in preparation for this review though, I’ve realized its probably wiser to cover all of the rest of them in a single post, just looking at the major themes and developments. That would be less time-consuming, and help me squeeze in other types of posts as well before The Defenders hit in less than three weeks. If there’s time, I’ll even try to do a post on Luke Cage as well. He’s the only one of the Defenders that I haven’t at least discussed in his own post.

Following the format of all of my previous reviews, however, this one too contains a fairly lengthy episode recap, before I get into the analysis of things. Considering how long it’s been since the episode first aired, I’m guessing some of you might actually need the reminder. If you want to go directly to the rest of the review though, here’s a skip link to My thoughts.

Recap

A bunch of of Yakuza fighters on motorcycles arrive at Elektra’s apartment. They get their guns, enter her building and find a suited-up Matt and Elektra waiting for them and dropping from the ceiling. A long fight sequence ensues. When they’re done, a giddy Elektra asks Matt if he’s hungry.

After the credits roll, Matt and Elektra are seen having breakfast together. Matt is impatient, and annoyed. Elektra is hungry. Matt is wondering what she’s really up to and how she knows about him. Elektra reveals that the Yakuza have ties to Roxxon that in turn is part of the mess on her business side, and that Matt can evidently be identified by the shape of his ass. Matt eventually tells her to get lost, but she gets his attention when she mentions that the Yakuza never left after Matt thought that Daredevil drove them out, and that they should deal with them together. Matt finally agrees, but finds the need to lay down some ground rules: Nobody dies.

Matt and Elektra have breakfast, as seen in episode six of Daredevil, season two

Karen, with Foggy present, is questioned by the public defender assigned to the Frank Castle case, a certain Mr. Roth, and he appears to be fresh out of law school. Karen finds a lot of errors in his statement and finally refuses to sign it as is. During this encounter, Matt arrives, and the public defender reveals that the case will be over just as soon as he gets Karen’s signature and Castle pleads guilty. They also learn that he’ll likely be extradicted to Delaware, a state which – unlike New York – has the death penalty.

With the death penalty on the table, Matt immediately becomes interested in taking the Punisher’s case, to at least get a plea. Foggy isn’t too crazy about the idea, or creating a conflict with District Attorney Reyes. Karen, meanwhile, wants to know why Reyes is so eager to see Castle dead. When Karen leaves the room, Foggy is free to speak more openly about why Matt, of all people, should think twice about wanting to defend him. The two have a discussion, and Foggy finally gives in.

The trio go to the hospital and find a sea of reporters in the lobby. When they reach Frank’s floor, they meet a newly promoted Brett who politely points out that the area is restricted. Foggy and Matt explain that they’re looking to represent Frank Castle and that his current legal representation isn’t up for the job. Brett warns them that they’re committing career suicide, but let’s them through.

Matt, Foggy and Karen talk with Brett outside Frank Castle's hospital room, as seen in episode six of Daredevil, season two

They all enter Frank’s room, and Matt lays out their strategy. We learn that Frank doesn’t hold lawyers in particularly high regard because of the people they defend, but Matt makes a good argument. They don’t have to be there, and are not taking his case for money, fame or free advertisement. Matt explains that when Frank sustained his original gun shot wound to the head, a do not resusciatate order was placed on him, and Foggy adds the bit about the shoot-to-kill order a few days earlier. Someone in the DA’s office wants him dead, and their law firm wants to know why.

When Frank is still hesitating, Karen walks up to his bedside and shoves a picture of his family in his face. Just as Frank starts asking about why Karen was in his house, DA Reyes arrives and starts making threats. She claims that it would be a conflict of interest for Nelson & Murdock to represent Castle since one of his victims was a client of theirs. Matt very elegantly retorts that it would be hard for her to argue that since their dealings with Grotto appear to have been erased from public record. Brett then shows up to confirm that Castle has now agreed to become their client.

Matt, Karen and Foggy go to a nearby room to start drawing up a legal strategy when Matt is called away by a driver sent over by Elektra. Matt is forced to come up with an explanation, that he forgot a meeting with the new mysterious client. When Matt goes to leave, he gives Karen a kiss on the cheek and Foggy becomes wise to the fact that Karen and Matt have something going on. Karen walks Matt to the elevator.

Matt finds Elektra in her car outside, and she immediately insists he put on a change of clothes and accompany her to a gala where they are going to steal a secret Roxxon ledger. Matt, who was ready to get out of the car, immediately changes his mind as Elektra describes the strategy. Their way in is a Roxxon accountant without fighting chops. They need to get his keycard to access a secret floor.

Back in the hospital, Karen and Foggy are going through Castle’s case and they’re finding the charges against their client to be worse than they’d imagined. The arraignment is a couple of hours away, and Foggy is visibly distraught at the magnitude of what they’ve gotten themselves into. The two of them go to speak with Castle, and get confirmation that Castle is ready to plead guilty, but he will only speak to Karen alone. Frank wants to know how much Karen knows about his family, and Karen reads from the fake police report that was written up after his family was killed. To proceed, Karen needs more information from Frank himself, and he probes his memory for details, placing the Irish, the Mexican cartel and the biker gang at the scene. When Karen gets up to leave, Frank asks her to stay.

Karen leaves Frank's bedside, as seen in episode six of Daredevil, season two

Matt and Elektra have arrived at the gala, and enter the bar area, where Elektra draws attention from the crowd. They chit-chat, grab some drinks and are approached by a Mr. Hirochi, a man of obvious importance at this event. Elektra then identifies their target, Stan Gibson, at the bar. What should have been easy, becomes less so when Elektra goes to pick-pocket Stan’s key card, and Matt, just in time, overhears some radio traffic indicating that Stan is under surveillance. When Elektra concludes that they have to get him alone, Matt comes up with a clever idea to grab a glass of wine, and “accidentally” spill it all over Stan who has to rush to the men’s room to get it cleaned up.

Back in the hospital, Frank assures Karen that she was never in any danger and that he “only hurts people who deserve it.” If Frank had wanted her dead, she would have been dead. The two have a conversation about why he wanted Karen to say, and Frank reveals that he never went back to the house after his family was killed. He wants to know what she saw there, and Karen relays her observations, each bringing new memories for Frank that he shares with her. She gives Frank the photo of his family, and he gratefully accepts, thanking Karen for helping him remember.

Once Stan is in the men’s room at the gala, Matt follows, takes out his security guards, Stan himself and gets the keycard. He and Elektra take the elevator upstairs, where Elektra puts a device on the surveillance system that will erase the recordings and loop the footage on the security cameras. Matt, quickly realizes that floor is crawling with security guards and leads the two of them down a staircase until the nearby men can pass.

Foggy is back with Karen and Frank and brings good news from the arraignment: The death penalty is off the table since the state of Delaware doesn’t have the evidence to charge and get Frank extradited. He’s also pleaded with the DA to get the sentence down to one life sentence with the possibility of parole in 25 years. The bad news is that the DA insisted that Frank be put in general population, which is more upsetting to Karen than Frank. Thinking this is the best deal they’re going to get, Foggy gets Frank to agree to take the deal and plead guilty.

In the next scene, when the DA and a judge are brought in, Frank has a change of heart and, after a long pause, angrily declares that he’s pleading not guilty. Confused, Foggy asks Karen what changed since he agreed to plead guilty three hours ago. Karen says that maybe he just wanted the truth about the cover-up. As she does so, they see the reporters outside and realize that they’re headed into “the trial of the century.”

We’re back with Matt and Elektra who make their way through the building, ducking behind corners as needed, while Mr. Hiroshi is beginning to wonder about Stan Gibson’s whereabouts. Assured that he’s in the men’s room, he waits a while longer before becoming concerned. Finally at the right location, Elektra points Matt to a safe that he opens before sitting down at the desk. Elektra doesn’t find what she’s looking for and frantically searches the room. Just as Gibson is discovered in the men’s room, Matt identifies a strange sound coming from a wall, which leads them to a hidden switch leading to a hidden room. Matt points her to the most likely drawer, and she finds the ledger, just as Matt hears trouble coming. Knowing they’re about to be caught, they have no other option but to hide in a conference room, await company and fight their way out in an amazingly sexy fight scene, made even more exciting by the fact that we can only catch their shadows through the faded glass.

They sneak down one level, and hide out. When they’re spotted they pretend to be a drunk couple making out. The guards, suspicious of the two take out a flashlight and shine it in Matt’s eyes, to determine whether he really is blind. With this confirmed, the two are able to escape. (Though Matt can thank his lucky star that he doesn’t have light perception, or he would have been royally screwed by that flashlight test…)

Matt gets a pupil check, as seen in episode six of Daredevil, season two

Back in their car, Elektra starts reading through the ledger. She finds evidence of drugs, weapons and human trafficking, but something, presumably even more sinister, is written in code. Matt is intrigued, wondering what they could possibly be hiding. When Elektra asks, “Same time tomorrow?” Matt responds with an amused snort.

Our poor friend Stan Gibson is called into Mr. Hirochi’s office where he’s questioned about his involvement in the evening’s events. His guards are killed while Gibson pleads for his life, swearing that he has nothing but respect for the Yakuza. Hirochi, very ominously asks him. “Who said I was Yakuza?”

Matt returns home and finds Foggy waiting for him. Foggy tells him about everything that’s gone wrong, with Frank pleading not guilty, and Reyes pulling strings to get a speedy trial. With Frank agreeing to this, they’re set for a trial that starts the following week. After telling Matt he hopes that his schedule is clear, Foggy storms off and leaves Matt to ponder this turn of events.

My thoughts

All in all, Regrets Only is a very solid episode. It’s well paced with well-written dialogue, and plenty of dramatic moments, all beautifully packaged.

Beginning at the end, though, this episode is in many ways the beginning of the end for Nelson & Murdock, and Elektra is the one who sets things in motion with her promise of excitement that Matt finds impossible to resist, even when he knows that means ignoring other responsibilities. Up until now, Matt has seemingly been able to somewhat balance the two sides of his life, even though we all sense the lingering tension between Matt and Foggy from last season’s Daredevil reveal.

Later in the season – more on that in my next post – Foggy has to own his part of the blame for escalating the conflict and finding himself unable to really accept that Matt needs to be Daredevil, or even listen to him, but at this point, it’s pretty much all on Matt. He was the one who talked Foggy into even taking on the Punisher case, but when there’s actual work to be done, Foggy is the one who has to carry it all by himself. That’s not to say that Matt’s intentions weren’t good, or that what he and Elektra are doing isn’t important and worthwhile, but if Foggy feels more or less abandoned at the end of this episode, no one can blame him.

Matt comes home to Foggy waiting in his apartment, as seen in episode six of Daredevil, season two

Still, Matt does get to do at least some lawyering in this episode, in a very memorable scene where he goes up against first the Punisher, and then DA Reyes. In light of this other discussion we’ve been having on the TOMP Facebook page, that touches on, among other things, “who is the real Matt Murdock?”, I would point to this scene as one that, to me at least, virtually screams “Matt Murdock!” The way he uses Reyes’s rather sloppy way of covering her own tracks against her is a pure joy to behold. It’s easy to forget that Matt actually is a good lawyer, and an all-around intelligent person, and has a real eye (no pun intended) for strategizing and manipulating the opposition. When their encounter is over, Reyes is momentarily beaten, and while I’m sure Matt gets a bigger kick out of giving someone a physical beating, this must have felt like a very satisfying win to him.

When Matt takes off to follow Elektra, leaving Foggy and Karen to deal with the Punisher (in Matt’s defense, the intensive work of going through massive amounts of paperwork – of the actual, physical kind – is not really a task he would have been effective at), we get to what is the absolute highlight of this episode: Matt and Elektra crashing a party to go after a coveted Roxxon ledger. Everything about this part of the episode is gold and a big part of the reason I would rank episode six as one of the best of the season.

Elodie Yung delivers an incredibly sexy Elektra, and every step of their plan is well-executed (even when improvised), and downright elegant. There’s Matt’s clever trick to get to the keycard, the perfect division of labor between him and Elektra in keeping watch and digging around, the beautiful conference room fight scene, and the clever trick at the end where the two just barely escape.

What Matt and Elektra are doing tends to overshadow a lot of other things going on in this episode, but Frank also has some interesting stuff going on. He and Karen are starting to form some kind of relationship, so there is that, but my favorite Frank scene this episode is the one where he shouts a very, let’s say colorful, not guilty plea to Reyes.

There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the playfulness of Matt and Elektra’s story and the agonizing trauma that just oozes out of every scene with Frank Castle in it. Not only is Frank suffering, everyone who enters his room somehow gets sucked into all of it. No wonder Karen and Foggy are acting as if dealing with their client is emotionally taxing, even more so than it is hard work. The lighting and, more importantly, the dramatic bass tones of the music help underscore the threat of the Punisher, and his barely contained chaos, when he’s up against Reyes.

Senses watch

The interplay between Matt and Elektra is very interesting in itself, and even more so when looking at it just a few weeks before the premiere of The Defenders. This is the first time we see Matt go into action with someone else, and it happens to be someone with whom he is intimately familiar. There’s no need to explain anything, and the two fall into a pitch perfect division of labor that doesn’t waste a word between them. Matt keeps a constant ear out for anyone passing by and then goes on to crack open a safe, while sitting passively and nonchalantly by as Elektra visually scours the 13th floor office for the missing ledger. When she strikes out, he picks things back up again by noticing a peculiar electrical signal behind the wall, revealing a hidden room. I have to admit I’m a little unsure of how he’s supposed to pick up the contents of the different drawers with such specificity, though. As I’ve mentioned before somewhere, I don’t terribly mind a limited ability to “see through things” on Matt’s part. An empty box, for instance, would reflect sound differently than one filled with dense materials. But for someone to narrow this down to “paper” specifically, there would have to be a scent portion to it as well.

There’s a great deal of inconsistency generally in this show when it comes to Matt rather randomly identifying things, people and the guns they’re carrying through very solid materials or at great distances, on the one hand, but can’t detect the presence of a secret room using the same technique in this episode. All this while only being able to detect ninjas if they make a sound (as we learn in later episodes), a notion that is even more ridiculous in this context than when Frank Miller introduced it in the comics. I know I’m usually the one to point out when Matt’s senses are “too good” to make sense, but I’m just as happy to point out when his senses are portrayed as too week (for anything else he can do to make sense). The latter just doesn’t happen nearly as often. 😉 Anyway, I’ll have reason to return to the silent ninja dilemma, since it’s a little outside the scope of this post.

Matt and Elektra go to a party in search of a secret ledger, as seen in episode six of Daredevil, season two

Back to the good stuff though, because I’m thinking (hoping?) that this level of seamless cooperation will be on display in the Defenders as well, at least as the members of the team get to know each other. Matt has some very vital and unique abilities to bring to any team effort, but should have little trouble deferring to others when needed, especially for information gathering that is highly visual in nature. From what I’ve gathered from set photos from The Defenders (mild spoiler warning), Matt and Jessica seem to be involved in some common detective work in the early episodes of the show. When he can hear, smell and detect things she can’t, and she can see things he can’t, they’ll be more effective together than alone. And then they can go for a beer. 😉

One more thing before we drop this section, is the first scene at the gala when Matt points out that Elektra must look nice (see Quotes below). I’ve written a post before on why Matt being able to gauge attractiveness is not the least bit weird, and why I think he’d go about it exactly as explained in this scene, so check that out if you haven’t read it before.

Easter egg watch

Nothing much to report this episode. There’s more talk about Marvel’s “big evil corporation” Roxxon, of course. There’s also a scene where Matt mentions his taste in music, after Elektra asks him if he likes jazz, and says that he prefers ’90s Top 40. I’ve seen people point to this as an example of yet another nod to the 2003 Daredevil movie, and its rather infamous soundtrack. It may very well be. See my post from last year for more of these nods to the movie.

Quotes

Matt (about the Punisher): “His methodology is clearly wrong, but in his own kind of way, he was trying to do something noble.”
Foggy: “Is this about saving a man? Or saving a vigilante?”
Matt: “He’s a person. Like you, Foggy. Like me. And he shouldn’t have to die.”

Foggy (to Brett, about the Punisher): “So we thought he’d respond to our strategy of, you know, keeping him alive?”

Matt: “You must look nice.”
Elektra: “How would you know?”
Matt: “Turned a lot of heads. Raising a lot of heart rates.”

Elektra: “Not bad, Magoo”

Foggy: “I hope your schedule is clear, buddy. ‘Cause The People versus Frank Castle starts next week.”

Star player

It’s tricky to pick one for this episode. On the one hand, I’m inclined to say Elektra, again. She seems to be the only character who actually ends the episode with an untarnished “win.” Matt has to come home after an evening of fun – and it really was fun for him – and face Foggy. Foggy, on the other hand has had a really shitty day, and has every reason to be incredibly disappointed in Matt. Matt knows this. Later in this season, Foggy will start to come down hard on Matt, even harder than Matt actually deserves, but at this point in the season, Foggy is being about as fair as he can be.

Of course, I don’t usually base these “star player” ratings on the perceived success of the character, but on who has the most star power. In this regard, I think Frank Castle also shows some interesting character development, whereas Karen fills the role of facilitating that, more than anything.

Hm, when all is said and done, I think I’ll give this to Elektra though. She is the big influencer in this episode, and her power over Matt leaves a big mark.