It is always a marvel to see the quality maintained in each Marvel Studios production. Time and time again they are unarguably always good, most times great and occasionally near perfect entertainment. That consistency for one studio over seven years, across multiple productions is nearly unheard of but Netflix Daredevil proves the point once again. Where all past comic book television shows have felt like “TV” shot on a well-lit sets, limited to three or four reoccurring sets, shot in unobstructed wide shots and close ups; as promised this show truly does feel like a thirteen episode long movie. The direction, lighting, set design, locations and stunts are all on par with the most respected television production companies including AMC (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) and HBO (Game of Thrones, The Sopranos).
Episode 3 “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” begins in a bowling alley; a group of mobsters enjoy a private lane as an unsuspecting regular Joe turns up looking for a friendly match. Tension is in the air for the safety of the ignorant man but things quickly take a turn when he shows his true colors as highly skilled assassin. A ballet of fight moves turn in to a bloody and brutal killing after his gun jams (in a funny little flashback to last episodes debut of small time hood and comic book character Turk Barrett) and he’s left to alternate means picking up a bowling ball to finish the job. This show is not one to hold back in violence either in tone or graphic display. The assailant unexpectedly waits for the police giving himself up and the reasons behind this murder and the hire of Nelson and Murdock to defend it are the intrigue that propels the story forward for both Matt Murdock and the audience.
At first dismissive of taking the case, his fast change of heart shows that Murdock has a keen sense for when something is amiss and isn’t afraid to use both his day job and night job to get the job done. This episode also introduces a new mainstay from Daredevil lore in the form of reporter Ben Urich, his fluff peace about what’s your favorite color is a biting (and accurate) satire on the current world we live in, where real news that used to make a difference just doesn’t sell anymore. He is of the old guard of real investigative journalism and an important ally in the future war on organized crime, Murdock is slowly building his own team of “Avengers” (in their own way) one by one.
Casting African American actor Vondie Curtis-Hall is just another telling sign of the multicultural diversity Marvel are looking to employ in the future of its shared universe. Marvel listens to its fans but doesn’t bow to their whims. The company is confident in listening to public demand but ultimately making decisions that they feel best serves the story and in this case the addition of Curtis-Hall and his weathered disillusioned Urich is perfect.
Even without the heavy level of street crime and poverty that existed in Hell’s Kitchen in the 60’s when the comic was first created, it’s easy to see in this day and age how easy an alternative legally or illegally can be enticing for those with debts. Be it bills, mortgages or medical expenses, it’s something organized crime can provide a solution to straight away. It’s a quick solution for desperate people but can be used as leverage over you for the rest of your life. They prey on the weak, the innocent and the desperate to build their empires and the real heroes emerging here are the people who don’t take the easy route out and continue to struggle fighting the good fight because it’s the right thing to do.
Karen not taking the money offered to her to keep quiet, Nelson and Murdock representing the innocent in need for next to nothing instead of the guilty for huge payouts are examples of everyday heroism. That their heroics aren’t super or fought with fists, but with morals and integrity is something that the Daredevil show can bring to Marvel Universe that other larger than life characters can’t. Urich is at a crossroads in his life with such a dilemma but the winds of change for the little guy are about to have a Guardian Devil on their side.
Again Matt’s sensory powers are displayed with a subtlety here, locking in to the tick of a watch to recognise a specific person or again the concentration on the beating heart in matters of the truth. The slight blurring around a focused subject is a cheap but effective way of showing his heightened radar senses in action.
The culmination of the episode, an alley way fist fight with more brutal interrogation methods from our masked vigilante, ends with an unexpected and shocking moment. Showing the right balance of fighting skill and desperate brutality Daredevil enforces shows he’s not a perfect superhero but someone overwhelmed by his limitations. He doesn’t care if it’s a clean fight as long as it’s a fight he can walk away from or limp away from as commonly seems to be the case, but desperate to do whatever it takes.
Episode 4 “In the Blood” slows things down to set up our villains, long prison scenes, garage scenes, and hospital scenes are spent with our Russian generic thugs talking about the effect the masked vigilante has had on business, all while standing around being tough and menacing. This really started to drag, though an exchange from Wesley alluding to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was fun. “The Russians can’t seem to handle one man running around in a mask, I mean if he had an iron suit or a magic hammer maybe that, would explain why you keep getting your asses handed to you”
Murdock took a backseat in this episode outside of exploring the relationship between himself and Claire Temple and her kidnapping at the hands of the Russians. Rosario Dawson is clearly being used as the voice of the audience, the outsider who can ask Matt the questions we are all thinking. How can you tell people are lying? How can you know that there’s someone on the third floor? She’s the show opportunity for exposition that the tight lipped Murdock wouldn’t normally say out loud. Internal thoughts and motivation that would be explained away in thought bubbles within the comic.
Dawson and Cox have a nice playful chemistry though I’m not completely sold on their relationship just yet, he seems pretty demanding and imposing on her life with little in the way of incentive for her personally, romantically or even financially. But we’ll see what happens as that relationship progresses further along in the show.
Speaking of exposition, that’s what this whole episode felt like, all set up for conflict to play out over the rest of the season. But the real drive of this episode was our formal introduction to Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin of crime Wilson Fisk. He certainly looks the part without looking unnatural and comic bookie. His bald head and imposing body (even with a leaner build than his comic book counterpart) suit the actor and his reserved nature is just restraint concealing a brutal and ruthless maniac that will explode in a moment’s notice. It was a slow burn throughout a prolonged date but boy did that happen here.
Let’s just say having people like Wesley opening and closing doors for him all these years has left Fisk unable to properly close a car door himself, even though he tried again and again repeatedly without any success. When you see it for yourself you’ll know what I mean. D’Onofrio-isms are already showing through though, nervous twitches, uneasiness and general feelings of oddness are staples of his past acting. I’ve come to the conclusion that it has to be a tick of the actor himself and not the characters he plays because these show up in a lot of his recent roles where it wasn’t called for (the movie The Judge springs to mind). Let’s just hope that they are utilized to add to a new and interesting version of the Kingpin rather than distract.
I also like that the investigation of her former employers shady dealings is something Karen is doing on her own, it gives her character something to do instead of just hanging around the office like Foggy but also presents her a strong and resourceful female character. Nelson and Murdock made a good choice in hiring her and she will be a fine assert to the firm (and future storylines). I look forward to seeing what happens next, now that all sides of this war have been established I can’t wait to see worlds start colliding.
Review by Dylan Boaden