(Editor’s note: For all of Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil series, William will be joined by writer Liz Belsky as they review the show. We’ll be reviewing the episodes over the next couple of days, primarily in groups of two or three, except for the premiere and the finale which will be their own reviews).
William: After a few episodes away from flashbacks, “Stick” and “Shadows in the Glass” serve a critic function: tell us how Matt learned to control his powers and provide us the secret origin of Wilson Fisk. After the rising action of both “World on Fire” and “Condemned,” what did you think of these episodes – which are a bit of a departure from the action that dominated the previous installments?
Liz: Man. What a buzzkill. Not that I didn’t understand what the writing was going for – a little bit of ebb and flow in the narrative never hurts, especially after two barn-burner episodes like five and six – but “Stick” was probably the first episode that really made me go “Ugggggghhh.” You know what the high point was? Karen’s one-on-one with Mrs. Cardenas, copious apologies to Jesus and all.
I’m not sure what it was that irritated me so much about episode seven: the pacing? The way the flashbacks to Matt’s childhood felt like an afterthought, coming in at this point in the story? The fact that it made me crave ice cream? No idea. But it annoyed me. Am I totally alone here?
William: I enjoyed the episode, but the placing of it was a touch uneven. I’m glad you enjoyed the stuff with Karen and Mrs. Cardenas, because I still can’t get invested in anything related to Karen’s solo search for evidence against Fisk. But for me, meeting Stick (played by the always fantastic Scott Glenn) I think is needed to understand Matt’s progression as a hero and to give further context into just how his powers work.
You want ice cream, but I want a sweat wrapper bracelet. Let’s go get a double scoop.
Liz: Here’s the thing: Stick is interesting. Stick is a dynamic character. We could have met Stick two or three episodes ago and it would have made much more sense. Although, to be honest, I’m not going to complain about anything that gives us further exposition on Matt’s powers. Seeing him learning to tap into his extrasensory perception is a lot of fun.
But I mostly agree with you re. Karen’s plot thread – at this point, she really seems to exist in order to facilitate conversation between Matt and Foggy, and to have weird, forced romantic interactions with the latter. Her stuff with Mrs. Cardenas felt like a welcome break from that trend, although Foggy coming to her rescue a few minutes later felt equally forced. (Chekhov’s keychain mace?)
“Shadows in the Glass” seemed like more of the same at first. But then: GROOVY FLASHBACK TO ’70S NEW YORK! I have no idea why I loved the flashbacks to Wilson’s childhood but felt that the ones to Matt’s dragged, but either way, I’m not complaining. This episode was hard to watch in the best way – which, for a show that deals in brutal violence, is saying a lot.
William: That opening shot with Fisk seeing his younger, bloodied reflection is a chilling visual and the subsequent reveals snaps all of his prior mannerisms into clarity. But you’re on to something: I think Daredevil has a bit of a problem in that its villain is almost more interesting than its hero. Seeing Stick train Matt is good and all, but learning just why Fisk is so obsessive over his cuff links is far more interesting than Stick be a huge asshole to someone whose Dad just died.
So much drama about dead fathers in this show! Matt and Fisk should just be pals over the mountains of unresolved daddy issues they both have.
Liz: Precisely. Matt Murdock, for all of his cool parkour moves and noble motivations, is honestly a little bit of a bore next to Wilson Fisk. I’ve always been the type of person who ends up rooting for the villain just because it keeps things interesting, but with this show, I don’t even have to look for reasons to prefer the Wilson/Vanessa/Wesley scenes over Matt’s copious ass-kicking. And I think you bring up a great point with regard to the Dead Dad Drama – so, as we’ve learned, Murdock and Fisk both hold themselves responsible for their fathers’ deaths. But whereas young Matt is wracked with guilt over his father’s murder stemming from a refusal to throw a fight on his son’s behalf, Fisk dispatched his own abusive father (with the claw end of a hammer!) with the intention of protecting himself and his mother. Matt had something terrible happen to him, and the guilt and trauma (and Stick’s formative influence) turned him into a hero. Wilson did something terrible – and the guilt and trauma proceeded to turn him into a villain.
Something I notice in a lot of fiction, and part of the reason I tend to gravitate toward the bad guys, is that in order to keep our heroes as close to ideologically pure as possible, writers often choose to have horrible things simply happen to and around them. Villains, on the other hand, do things. They’re proactive. They make choices that draw them down paths they don’t necessarily intend to tread. While Matt Murdock is far from a flat character, so much of his life circumstances have simply been thrust upon him by others. And that’s what makes the difference between their origin stories so striking.
William: I think you tackled that so perfectly, Liz. Matt and Fisk are such great products of their individual surroundings, but I also like that while Matt is operating in what’s clearly grey moral area – one that’s very different from the binary world of law. This level of morality is certainly something that Stick pushes him to confront in a variety of manners – but what makes Matt the hero Hell’s Kitchen needs is his ability to navigate that gray area with the moral compass that guides so much of his law career. What Charlie Cox brings to Matt Murdock makes me appreciate what he does as the Man in the Mask so much more.
A smarter writer than I can could probably make a great thesis about the dovetailing between Matt’s catholic guilt and the guilt he has over his father. And speaking of guilt, Fisk has his own penance of sorts: the reveal that “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” is a dead ringer for the wall young Fisk stared at is an eerie reminder of who he was before. How cute is it that he’s worried Vanessa will leave him once he tells her about his past? But let’s talk about that press conference: silliness aside (how could Fisk get coverage at a press conference if no one has heard of him before?!), but it’s a great reversal – the last thing Matt (and the audience, perhaps) would expect is for Fisk to emerge from the shadows. But it is such a strategically brilliant move. A popular mad man once said : “if you don’t like what’s being said about you, change the conversation.” I couldn’t stop grinning how smart this was.
Liz: The powers of guilt and public relations are probably the show’s two boldest themes at this point. Fisk’s announcement was a shocker, perhaps, but it was also a deeply savvy move. There’s power in having a dangerous name, but even more power in a name that everyone knows – and outing himself as a benefactor allows him to control his brand. Meanwhile, the smear campaign against the “devil of Hell’s Kitchen” continues to paint Matt into a corner, and it feels like only a matter of time until the details of his double life come to light.
Also, dude, I miss Claire Temple.
William: You and me both, Liz. You and me both.
“That’s another story.” – The details of Matt’s mother were just recently explored in Mark Waid’s Daredevil run. Those issues are very much worth tracking down. – WG
– “He seems pretty… fisticuffy.” Douglas Petrie swiping pages from the Joss Whedon School of Adjectives here. – LB
Swing away, Foggy! Swing away! – WG
– As a proud carrier of keychain mace, I’ll be the first one to admit that I’d much prefer to have a friend come bounding out of the shadows with a baseball bat when I’m threatened. C’mon, Karen, cool it on the pride for a minute. – LB
“Worse. She’s in love.” Glad to know Stick and I are on the same page about relationships – WG
– I’m probably not the only Breaking Bad fan who was hoping some barrels full of acid would make an appearance after Wilson’s mom ordered him to start hacking up his stepdad’s body. – LB
I love that Wesley brings Vanessa to Fisk. He’s such a good bro. – WG
If you’re wondering what “my type” is, it’s all of this. – LB
Seriously. Ayelet Zurer is a beautiful woman. – WG