The first episode of Daredevil set a high bar for this show, and I was very pleased to discover that those standards never lowered. I initially watched the first four episodes together in one large chunk, and didn’t really want to stop there. These episodes build on the relationships introduced in the premiere as well as introducing a few more key players.
Episode two, “Cut Man,” introduces Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who for the purposes of Daredevil, is also the Marvel character known as Night Nurse. Claire finds Matt Murdock half-dead in a dumpster and brings him up to her apartment to tend to his wounds. While Matt won’t reveal his name – it’s bad enough she’s seen him without his mask – he does tell her his condition was a result of tracking the Russians in an attempt to rescue a kidnapped child (the boy from the end of the premiere). Matt recruits Claire into helping him interrogate the Russian “detective” sent to find him and based on his information Matt is able to find and rescue the boy. Meanwhile Foggy and Karen bond over a night out on the town.
The pacing of this episode is a little slower – and less intense – than the pilot, but equally riveting. The fight sequence at the end of the episode is especially impressive in its choreography and execution. The choices made are fascinating and the camera angles and everything about it is brilliant. According to stunt co-coordinator Philip J Silvera, this fight sequence was actually done all in one shot, which is even more impressive. I love that the fight scenes in general aren’t fancy or stylized – they’re real. There’s no CGI, or crazy effects. Cox has been quoted as saying people will think so, but every move is actually his stunt man (though Cox has also said he tried to do as much as he could or was allowed).
I also loved the flashbacks to Matt’s relationship with his father in this episode. They’re wonderful and heartbreaking. The series makes frequent use of flashbacks; there are many ways this can be done badly, but the structure of the series works with the flashbacks and they’re used to great effect here.
Episode three, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” finally introduces us to Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), but not until the very end. The episode starts with a man named Healy assaulting several other men in a bowling alley, then surrendering to the police. Wesley, Fisk’s right-hand, approaches Matt and Foggy to work for his employer on retainer – and their first case is defending Healy. After a hung jury the man walks free, but Matt suspects there’s more to the story. Wearing the mask he confronts his client and demands a name. The man gives up Fisk, but his fear of repercussions leads him to kill himself brutally and painfully. Elsewhere, viewers finally get their first look at Wilson Fisk as he meets Vanessa (his wife in the comics, played here by Ayelet Zurer) for the first time.
This episode also introduces Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) as an investigative journalist who is looking into the corruption in the city. A lot of the Ben’s introduction also deals with his personal life, as he struggles to secure care for his ailing wife. When Karen is offered money to never speak of Union Allied again, she seeks out Ben’s help in uncovering the truth.
What stood out to me the most about this episode was the introduction of Fisk. In the first episode he was an invisible presence that felt powerful and malevolent – several people died on his orders in that episode. Here, a man fears him so much that he would rather die than face his wrath. But when we finally meet the man, it’s in a sophisticated and cultured environment, and he seems extremely vulnerable. This first scene with Fisk is a stark contrast to the man that’s been built up in our minds prior to this moment, and it immediately shows that this is a very complex individual.
Episode four, “In the Blood” brings the Russians back as they attempt to track down the vigilante in the mask through Claire. They manage to find Claire where she’s been hiding out in a friend’s apartment and kidnap her in an attempt to beat information on the vigilante out of her. Matt finds her, though not before she takes a beating at the hands of the Russians. Back at Matt’s apartment it’s his turn to tend to Claire’s wounds, and he finally gives her his real name. Anatoly tracks down Fisk – who generally doesn’t like coming out in public – and insists on a meeting. Unfortunately Fisk takes umbrage at having his date interrupted and things do not end well for poor Anatoly.
This is the episode that makes it abundantly clear that this show is not the kid-friendly Marvel Universe we may be used to. Naturally it was expected – Daredevil is a darker comic after all – but up to this point every installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is PG (at most PG-13) and fairly family friendly. From the start, Daredevil was much darker in tone than the films or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. There has been more language and violence – the guard killing himself in episode one, beating a guy to death with a bowling ball, then stabbing oneself in the eye. But the end of episode four introduces a whole new level of brutality. Daredevil is to the MCU what Angel is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Torchwood is to Doctor Who and it’s all the better for it. This series would not work nearly as well if it was brightened up and kid-friendly.
This episode also adds another interesting level to the character study of Wilson Fisk. Up until this point we have seen the fear that he instills in his employees, but he himself has been calm and very much in control. This scene shows us the violent, brutal and uncontrolled side of Fisk. Murdock frequently refers to the devil inside, and letting the devil out – it looks like he and Fisk have this in common.
One thing I really love about this series so far is how much it’s grounded in reality and how, even though it’s darker and more adult in tone than the rest of the MCU up to this point, it’s still very firmly rooted in the same world. There are so many great, yet subtle references to the rest of the MCU right from the start. While Matt and Foggy are touring their office for the first time, the realtor makes reference to “The Incident” in which “death and destruction rained down” on the city two years ago. In Ben’s office you can see a framed issue of the New York Bulletin with “Battle of NY” as a headline and next to that, a headline about the destruction in Harlem is a reference to The Incredible Hulk. In episode four Wesley expresses frustration with the Russians saying, “Maybe if he had an iron suit or a magic hammer, maybe that would explain how you keep getting your asses handed to you.” It’s fun watching for all these little Easter eggs.
Last summer Guardians of the Galaxy proved just how well Marvel films can handle humor, and now they’ve proven they can equally handle the other end of the spectrum. Daredevil also proves that a series can have a completely different tone and still fit in with the rest of the Universe.