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

Episode writer: Tonya Kong | Episode director: Julian Holmes

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. 

Christine Hanefalk

Christine Hanefalk

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Christine is a die-hard Daredevil fan who launched The Other Murdock Papers in 2007 to share her passion for Matt Murdock and his friends with other fans.

2 comments

  1. Felix Manning is a very interesting addition to the Daredevil universe, and although he doesn’t have a counterpart in the comics, that’s not a negative at all. Heck he creeped ME out when he started telling Karen all the things he knows about her!

    One thing I find interesting is that Fisk’s attorney is Ben Donovan. Ed Brubaker introduced us to “Big” Ben Donovan in issues 107-108-109-110, Volume 2. His son, also named Ben, makes his first appearance in #109 wearing a Columbia University sweatshirt. Perhaps he was attending Columbia Law School? https://www.law.columbia.edu/ – Too bad I can’t post the jpeg of the page here…I’ll do it on you FB page.

  2. I liked the realism and a more familiar feeling that Karen was wearing the same shirt she wore in the second season

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