Netflix Recap: Daredevil, Episode 1

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Daredevil Plot Summary:

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) are fresh out of law school when they take on Karen Page’s (Deborah Ann Woll) murder case. While Matt tries to prove her innocence, he also prowls the city at night as a masked vigilante and both actions quickly begin to draw the attention of New York City’s criminals.

Not many remember 2003’s Daredevil–starring Ben Affleck as the Man Without Fear–with much affection. Dour, cheesy and with a soundtrack full of the faux pop/metal that was popular at the time, it’s not the adaptation the character deserved. Even so, the film isn’t as bad as you’ve probably heard. It means well, it just misses the point. Marvel’s new Netflix series Daredevil, on the other hand, succeeds where the film failed, even if it’s not quite as strong as it should be.

Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and all of DC’s output over the last decade or so has been gritty and realistic, Marvel has mostly kept its MCU light and action-y with only hints of emotional turmoil. Daredevil is their first foray into gritty realism and it might actually be more depressing than Season 1 of Arrow. The images are beyond dark. The actors never seem to be directly lit, only obliquely or by natural light. The darkness is almost oppressive, but it fits with the angry, depressed version of the character we see here. He’s not Peter Quill using his cocky swagger to suppress past trauma. Nor is he the all-American picture of loneliness that is Steve Rogers. He’s Matt Murdock, angry young man using “justice” to justify his need for violence.

And the show is violent. Even when that aforementioned lighting makes the action hard to follow, it’s quick and merciless. Though it does slow down occasionally to suggest Matt’s heightened senses — a far more eloquent technique than having him explain it in voiceover. It’s in those moments when we get glimpses of who Matt really is under the intelligent, steely façade. Even with Foggy–his only friend–he’s aloof. Though perhaps some of the blame for that belongs to Henson, whose performance and dialogue is too much an attempt at comic relief. He comes off as more comic book character than person. The only person with whom Matt really seems to let his guard down is Karen Page.

In a show so unrelentingly tense, the only opportunity for the audience and characters to relax comes when Matt takes Karen back to his apartment for protection. For the first time, the mood changes. It starts with the lighting. A giant video billboard outside his windows projects a shimmering, ever-changing mix of pink, white and blue into the room. There’s something romantic, even sensual about it. It becomes even more so when Karen doesn’t hesitate to peel off her wet shirt to put on the dry dress shirt Matt hands her. Even she seems to notice the sudden intimacy, growing a little self-conscious before asking Matt about his blindness. For once, he drops his mask(s), allowing himself to be vulnerable as he admits to missing seeing. He even takes off his glasses. And that’s why it’s so chilling a moment later when he breaks that intimacy to question Karen about the case, revealing that his openness was a ploy to get her to let her guard down. It’s a strong character moment for both and Woll especially plays the moment beautifully. Karen’s brief calm is replaced with the bird-with-a-broken-wing quality she exudes for the rest of the episode.

Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.

That’s actually one of the show’s problems: how fragile Karen is. While that’s not necessarily at odds with the comic version of the character, it’s disappointing given what an interesting and dynamic actress Woll proved to be on True Blood. It’s too simple a role in that first episode and there doesn’t seem much hope for complexity considering it also appears this Karen will follow her comic book inspiration as object of affection and competition for Matt and Foggy. At least that’s what the final scene where she makes a lasagna for both and notes that her grandmother said she should only make it for her future husband sloppily indicates.

In fact, the final few minutes are weaker than the rest. It all ends with a montage intercutting Matt mercilessly pummeling a heavybag in a darkened gym with the various villains from an earlier scene doing nefarious things. It’s heavy-handed and a little too on-the-nose, but it also sets up a lot of story. And that’s what a pilot needs to do. There’s promise even if everything doesn’t quite gel. In fact, it feels like the great beginning of a comic book story arc, except we don’t have to wait a month between installments. God bless Netflix.

Rating: 7/10

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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.
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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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