“Some men get more than they deserve,” Daredevil tells us, “and some men deserve more than they get.” Fear, respect, the law – all of these are just words in a world where little old ladies get shot and the rich can sip champagne while neighborhoods burns. It’s the world’s unsung heroes who shoulder the biggest burden, taking no credit for the lives they save. It’s the true villains, then, that take it from them. Justice may be blind, but even the devil of Hell’s Kitchen can see what’s wrong in his New York. The world always finds something wrong to see in him, however.
Life’s not easy for a kid in Hell’s Kitchen, whether your name’s Matt Murdock or Wilson Fisk. Especially if your name’s Wilson Fisk. It’s Stick and Shadow in the Glass that finally pull back the curtain on the two’s mutual histories and it’s a jarring transition indeed from the bare-knuckle brawlers we’ve seen. Matt’s grew up confined to a church orphanage, blinded from the accident that gave him his sixth sense. Fisk grew up as a fat kid in the Bronx toughing the streets and a tougher father. It’s tempting to say that, in a different world, the two might’ve been friends. But that isn’t the one that Daredevil lives in.
For the majority of the series thus far, Matt’s powers have been something of an enigma short of a few vague references here and there. That all changes with Stick. Hot off the heels of Condemned, it’s not long before Matt gets his hands on a rather genteel version of Leland Owlsley (and a disappointing for fans expecting a fleshed out super villain) before being rudely interrupted by his old sensei, Stick. It turns out the old man’s in New York for the heads of the Chinese Triad’s human traffickers and Matt’s not getting in his way. A taser to the face is all Matt needs to feel nostalgic and flashback montage to when the two first met and Matt uncovered his powers for the first time.
As a mentor, Stick’s an enigma when first we meet him. Stick’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach is a startling departure from the Professor Xaviers Marvel’s offered us in the past and Scott Glen’s plays up the eccentricity its for all its worth. At first it’s hard to know why a hardened warrior like him would want a blind boy who rocks himself to sleep every night, but Stick senses something special in Matt he wants to hone…and exploit.
A drill sergeant as much as a radical, Stick and Matt’s early relationship recalls that of Bruce Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul’s “life doesn’t wait for you to fight back” training, only all the brutal with a ten-year-old in the mix. It’s more Whiplash than Karate Kid and it’s gut wrenching to watch their wry chemistry evolve from almost endearing to heartbreaking. There’s no room for “soft things” in Stick’s world, one that doesn’t have room for Matt. It’s only fair that Matt’s war has no room for deserters. It’s the sobering, if not inevitable dual between them that takes their differences to even more puzzling corners by its end on account of Stick’s shadowy bosses familiar to anyone of Electra fandom.
If misery loves company, then Fisk has his share in Shadow in the Glass. The chubby punching bag for his father, the Wilson Fisk we meet eighteen years ago is lives the nightmare his adult self still dreams about every night. “Kick him harder!” his father screams at him as he beats a bully under his father’s approving gaze, which routinely shifts to his terrified mother. The fateful climax downright horrifying. If you didn’t understand why Fisk had such an eye for staring at glorified drywall before or where that gravely stammer came from, you will now. It begs to ask what Daredevil‘s characters really deserve, enough for Matt to look for a reason to kill as much as a reason not to.
Why such bad things happen to such innocent people is a question Daredevil asks with equal thoughtfulness. It’s none other than Speak of the Devil in which Matt turns to his priest for guidance following up their premiere chat over a latte in what’s arguably the series’ most provocative scene. In a show starring a man of God, it’s different to see two characters debate good and evil in a wider spectrum that most shows might dare go. Their answers might surprise religious and secular audiences alike while providing an open book for its viewers to fill in.
Back in the present day, everyone’s feeling the fallout over the explosive remapping of Hell’s Kitchen, Karen and (Señor) Foggy most of all. Their efforts to combat the Kingpin’s mass evictions of low-income tenants rewarded with the death of dear, sweet Señora Elena’s a heavy note to take and a very human reminder of how well invested the show can be in the little people. Most of all, it recalls just how many people are out there to die in Matt and Fisk’s invisible war. “If it’s not you, it’s the guy next to you,” Stick commiserates to Matt. How many bystanders are going to get burned in the fire Matt’s lit? For that matter, what happens when he beats the answers out of the wrong junkie one of these days?
It’s to the series strength that it’s so adept at interweaving its plot lines, but it’s nice nonetheless to see it spotlight such personal, standalone themes. Fathers and their sons (or surrogate ones) is a big one, but love’s here too. That Vanessa should still be around to bring out a lighter shade in of him makes me wonder: Is she just a consummate Machiavellian cozying up to a powerful crime boss, or legitimately in love with the childlike reflection Fisk still sees in himself? Either are fascinating, though I do wish their scenes didn’t involve cheesy lightning cues. Whether by Vanessa’s hand or not, Fisk finding his courage and coming out into the public spotlight – and as a trusted critic of New York’s now infamous “Daredevil” – is Matt’s worst nightmare.
The series does well to keep an eye on the bigger picture nevertheless and Matt’s bread crumb trail finally leads him straight into Fisk’s den. Though the series might’ve lost the spontaneity of Cut Man‘s fight scenes, Speak of the Devil makes up for it in its sheer complexity with a fiery battle to the death straight out of Mortal Kombat, chains and all, between a bloodied Matt and one of Fisk’s very specifically talented Triad partners. A bonus round of cheap shots from Fisk finally gives us our first face-to-face encounter between our two leads of the series, garnering some “disappointing” results for Matt that I doubt his “meditation” will be able to heal so easily.
Like every three episodes prior, Speak of the Devil leaves us on a preview for things to come. While Condemned ended with our hero leaving a life to die rather than save it, Speak of the Devil leaves us with a broken, beaten Matt hinging on a friend to save his, unmasked and unconscious. It’s a show-changer that we’ve come to expect from the superhero genre, but one I’m excited to see how Matt’s going to have to “unfix.” That is, if he can.
All thirteen episodes of Daredevil are available for streaming through Netflix on TV, PC, tablet, mobile, and game consoles. Check back next week for our review of episodes 9-12 here at BagoGames.