I finally finished season 1 of Daredevil recently. Man, what a great show.
But I haven’t been reviewing as I’ve gone along, so let’s go back a spell and look at where I left off, with what was perhaps the strongest one-two-punch of episodes in the show. (If you’re curious about my thoughts on the first group of episodes, here’s my review of the first three episodes, and here’s my review of episodes 4-6).
As a refresher for those who haven’t seen them in a while, Episodes 7 and 8 of Daredevil were “Stick” and “Shadows in the Glass.” “Stick” used flashbacks to go through Daredevil’s training with his blind mentor, while “Shadows in the Glass” used flashbacks as well, but to tell the origin story of Wilson Fisk.
After I watched “Stick,” I felt it was the best episode of the season. When the series began, we just started seeing Matt Murdock in his black getup fighting people. Even though we got flashbacks detailing the way he was blinded, or how his father died, none of that really explained his motivation to go and start fighting crime. It was interesting to see a protagonist whose own motivations were kind of a mystery, but that could only go for so long.
The flashbacks in “Stick” were extremely helpful, not only in explaining Daredevil’s powers and abilities (that ice cream scene in the park became a real favorite of mine), but in providing some explanation for why this guy would go out and fight crime. As it turns out, Matt was told over and over and over again about his responsibility to be a “warrior” in some mysterious war. And we can tell that Matt, initially, looked up to Stick and really took his message to heart. Even after Stick disappointed him and left, that message about being a warrior destined to fight in a great conflict must have been ringing around in his head as he was first putting on his mask.
The episode also provided us with a great character in Stick, played by the ever-awesome Scott Glenn (who I have been a fan of since seeing Silverado). Stick seems to fit into an archetype we are all extremely familiar with: the wise mentor/father figure who nurtures the newly orphaned protagonist in the ways of kicking ass. But like every common trope that shows up in Daredevil, there’s a bit of a twist. Stick is not necessarily the good guy – and he’s not obviously the bad guy, either. He has more brutal methods, but the show doesn’t treat him as a villain for that reason. And while he had a strong emotional connection to Matt, he actively rejected the father-figure role that Matt was placing on him. Yet even when Stick and Matt come to blows by the episode’s climax, they aren’t complete adversaries. Later, Matt finds the bracelet he made for Stick all those years ago, so there’s a touch of humanity that remains in Stick, making him a more complicated (and therefore more compelling) character.
While the flashbacks in “Stick” helped us understand Daredevil more, the flashbacks in “Shadows in the Glass” were a complete game-changer on my view of Wilson Fisk. They already made him a more compelling villain than your usual comic book adversary in “World on Fire,” when it turns out Fisk was taking over crime in Hell’s Kitchen so as to cut out its worst elements. “Shadows in the Glass” took an interesting antagonist and got the audience to emotionally invest in his story arc. How the hell did they take one of the more hated villains in all of Marvel comics and get me to actually CARE about the guy?
Part of it has to do with the sympathetic backstory we got in the flashbacks. Now, the fact that he killed his abusive dad was not the biggest shocker in the world. I kind of guessed some parental-retaliation was behind Fisk’s vision of his bloody, younger self. Once his father showed his dickishness (about three seconds into his first scene), it pretty much confirmed my theory. That didn’t make any of the material less satisfying though. Both Fisk’s parents came off as very real characters in a dysfunctional family, and the steps taking Fisk from innocent kid to the person who violently kills his father were pitch perfect.
Modern-day Fisk, meanwhile, is continually haunted by the memory of that violence, while the wolves are closing in on him. He questions whether he is like his father, a cruel monster…even as he pays a man to kill his long-time friend and partner. When he chokes up shouting “I am not a monster…am I?” I almost want to say “No, of course not!” When he absolutely is.
I’ve got to be honest, I have a hard time sympathizing with characters who do shit like Fisk does. I lost sympathy for Walter White somewhere in the beginning of Season 2 of Breaking Bad, to give you an idea of how hard it is for me to see antiheros as anything other than the scumbags they are to other people. But I actually felt for Wilson Fisk, and weirdly cheered for him as Vanessa interrupted his normal routine, putting away the cufflinks that regularly remind him of his father’s cruelty. I was weirdly happy for him when he publicly came out as the savior of Hell’s Kitchen, ruining the attack planned by Matt Murdock and Ben Urich. I am aware of Fisk’s monstrosity, yet I also feel for the character…that is a huge feat to accomplish, and Daredevil managed to pull it off. Wow.
The second half of season one started off with a real bang, forcing us to see both the main protagonist and antagonist in very different lights. The new perspective provided the show with a burst of energy and freshness, while also fleshing out two already interesting characters and making them two of the most compelling characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before, Daredevil was pretty good; these episodes together have made it a great.
Shadows in the Glass: A+