Recap: Marvel’s Daredevil, Episodes 2-7

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Daredevil Episodes 2-7 Plot Summary:

When Matt (Charlie Cox) is beaten within an inch of his life trying to save a kidnapped boy, an off-duty nurse named Claire (Rosario Dawson) patches him up and listens to his life story. As the two grow closer, she becomes embroiled in his dangerous nighttime activities. Matt soon discovers that the man behind much of the crime in Hell’s Kitchen is Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and both men become engaged in a war for the city’s soul. Elsewhere, Karen (Denorah Ann Woll) enlists journalist Ben Urich (Vondi Curtis-Hall) to help reveal the dark truth of her former employer and she and Foggy (Elden Henson) take on a case to help the tenants of a rundown apartment building.

Charlie Cox in Daredevil
Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.

After the pilot, Daredevil seemed like a promising adaptation of my all-time favorite comic book character. Sure there were issues (the violence against Karen, the sloppy storytelling, the low lighting), but the show had 13 episodes to improve and it showed at least the potential to become something great. Now, seven episodes in, that’s not looking likely. Without seeing the whole season, it’s hard to definitively identify what isn’t working about the show. The closest I can come is that the episodes are structured a little too much like Breaking Bad.

From most people, that would be a huge compliment, but–full disclosure–I profoundly dislike that show. Yes, I know, I’m a disgusting deviant with no taste who you will never trust again, but that’s my truth. Anyway, especially in the later seasons, Bad’s episode structure always felt the same: disorienting or violent cold open, Walt denying he’s a bad man while simultaneously being awful to every person in his life, Walt feeling victimized, burst of violence/plot twist, credits. Daredevil mostly follows the same pattern.

The second episode, “Cut Man,” for instance, is prime Bad. Rather than directly follow up the end of the pilot–which showed Matt preparing to save a kidnapped boy–it drops the audience in shortly after the failed rescue attempt, when he’s lying in a dumpster after being beaten within an inch of his life offscreen. From there, we get tragic backstory through flashback, sloppy explanations of Matt’s powers via Claire, and a whole lot of violence that makes you wonder if Matt’s really a hero at all. Most of the episodes follow that same pattern with little variation. In the third episode, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm,” we get a case of the week instead of flashbacks. The fourth episode, “In the Blood,” follows Fisk instead of Matt. While the technique is shocking and frequently creates a sense of intrigue, it doesn’t help with the show’s severe pacing and focus issues.

Vincent D'Onfrio in Daredevil
Photo: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil feels like watching at least three different shows poorly cut together. While Matt is off with Claire taking down Russian gangsters and brooding, Karen and Foggy are essentially in a workplace rom-com. Karen even has her own agenda, working with journalist Ben Urich to take down the mysterious figure (who the audience knows is Fisk) behind her initial framing for murder. Fisk feels even more separated from the action. We don’t even get a glimpse of the series’ big bad until the end of the third episode and then, rather than involve him in the criminal action, he spends most of his time awkwardly wooing a gallery owner. While the choice is meant to suggest that he’s so powerful and so smart that he uses minions and other criminals to do all the dirty work, it also feels like the writers are wasting time on characterization that doesn’t quite gel. So this guy is an absolute monster but he gets nervous around women, so what? Clearly, they’re playing the long game with these characters, slowly building them up and bringing them together, but it’s moving too slow at present.

Like Breaking Bad, there’s a sterility to the storytelling that makes it difficult to fully engage with Daredevil’s world or characters. it feels too constructed, but at least Bad took the time to examine its characters’ emotional states and motivations. When Skyler tried to stab Walt near the end of the final season, we understood exactly why. That isn’t true here, of Matt or any of the characters. Claire may like that the vigilante is helping people, but why does she fall in love with him so quickly? All this man has done is throw exposition at her and get her beaten by Russian gangsters. Sure, she’s a nurse and therefore understands wanting to help people, but the only discernible reason for her affection is that the narrative demands it. She’s a plot device to show that Matt can’t love anyone right now and a convenient way for the show to give the audience information without relying on a voiceover. What makes them compelling as a couple is that she’s an audience surrogate and Matt so desperately needs to connect with another human being. Problem is, the show doesn’t bother to make Matt a complete human being first. Instead, it uses flashbacks as stand-ins for actual character development.

Scene for Marvel's Daredevil
Photo: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.

I’ve spent years criticizing Arrow for how sloppily integrated the flashbacks are, but Daredevil reveals that they’ve been using them right the whole time. The show comes to a full stop whenever the slow, meandering scenes of young Matt break up the far more interesting present day action. Even worse, they’re rarely related in any significant way to that action. It’s like two issues of a comic book slammed together. The show’s one attempt to connect past and present in the first half of the season comes in the seventh episode, “Stick,” when Matt’s titular mentor (played by Scott Glenn) appears in Hell’s Kitchen referring to some sort of war and doing that typical old mentor curmudgeonly act.

While the flashbacks show Stick training Matt how to exploit his heightened senses and being a terrible father surrogate, the present day storyline shows them going after some MacGuffin who turns out to be a deadly child/piece in a larger machine. It’s a needed explanation for how Matt became such a good fighter and a smart bit of world-building, but it completely destroys the momentum of the Matt v. Fisk storyline. It’s a second season opening episode at best. The show doesn’t need a larger conspiracy and it certainly doesn’t need to set up the future Iron Fist show. It needs to focus on the story at hand and–more importantly–explain why Matt started on this crusade in order to get the audience to really invest in it. While the flashbacks certainly suggest a lot of reasons for what Matt does (Catholic guilt, grief over his dead father, his enjoyment of violence), but without knowing the inciting incident, the only reason for Matt’s crusade is that he’s a comic book character. On Breaking Bad, we understood why Walt started cooking Meth. Walt was taking control of his life in the face of dying from cancer. Matt is doing the same, but without the life-threatening illness. We don’t see the tipping point that made him decide that the law wasn’t enough and mashing gangsters’ faces in was the best way to spend his nights.

Charlie Cox in Daredevil
Photo: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.

To its credit, the show almost gets away with not explaining why Matt is so violent because the action is so damn fascinating to watch. Even if it is gratuitously showy, the fight sequences are, unequivocally, some of the best in TV history. The hallway sequence that caps the second episode is one unbroken shot of pure mayhem. It’s breathtaking in it’s quiet brutality and you can’t help but admire the skill and audacity that went into making it. The same goes for the whole show. The writing, direction and some of the acting are worthy of respect. But half way through, I find myself constantly wondering if watching the show is even a remotely enjoyable experience. Outside of Deborah Ann Woll and Rosario Dawson’s stellar performances in thankless roles and some dynamite action, I don’t think it is. Like Breaking Bad, Daredevil is meticulously crafted and unrepentantly bleak, it’s a show that wants to say something. If only it weren’t such a chore.

Rating: 5/10

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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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