Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Daredevil' Season 1 review: Episodes 5-9

"Lawyer by day. Vigilante by night. How does that work out?" — Claire

"You can keep the sticks; you're going to need them." — Stick

After finally watching the first four episodes of "Marvel's Daredevil" this week, I wanted to see more.

Impressed with the casting and the overall tone and direction, I could see potential. By Episodes 6 and 7 ("Condemned" and ""Stick"), "Daredevil" finds its groove. And by the ninth episode ("Speak of the Devil") — my favorite so far, I was hooked and got a couple "oh s**t" moments I so love from good TV.

So why does "Daredevil" pick up momentum? Because we're finally seeing Matt Murdock's pursuit of Wilson Fisk come to a head, where the rubber hits the road in the greatest and most memorable DAREDEVIL comic books.

The highlights of Episodes 5 through 9 are the first time Murdock meets Fisk face-to-face in Vanessa's art gallery (he's shocked to realize such a despicable man has someone who loves him) and of course, Fisk unleashing his rage on Daredevil, who just before that barely survived a brutal fight with a deadly ninja.

In Episode 5 ("World on Fire"), we see Fisk becoming the kind of power-seizing opportunist I've come to expect. Fisk — and even more so by Episodes 8 and 9 — takes a situation that could be disastrous for his plans and turn it into something beneficial. That's the kind of sleazy, manipulative Kingpin I love to hate in the comics.

Actor Vincent D'Onofrio's performance remains perplexing. At first.

That is, until I discerned what he and the writers are doing with the character. (And for those of you who watched the entire series, I want it known for the record I figured this out before the Big Reveal in Episode 8, "Shadows in the Glass." But more on that later.)

When Fisk speaks to other crime bosses, D'Onofrio's delivery is halting and overly intentional. He plays the mob boss as a man who (at least says he) has clear and good intentions for his city, but he's not comfortable in his own skin. But what's in fact true is Fisk is a man always attempting to keep himself in control.

As I mentioned in my review of the first four episodes, Fisk only loosens up a bit around Vanessa, which in itself is symbolic of her being the only person around whom he's comfortable. Once he finally opens up to Vanessa about his traumatic childhood, you'll notice he allows her to change his morning routine of making and eating an omelette by himself and picking out which black dress shirt and suit he'll wear.

Have you noticed actress Ayelet Zurer always wears white? This makes her a visual contrast to Fisk, but her white attire also is symbolic of her pure soul compared to Fisk's blackened one. Now why she's attracted to him is beyond me. ...

Now Vanessa's the one who joins Fisk for breakfast and chooses his outfit, breaking his cycle and need for complete control (at least in the aspects of his morning routine). More importantly, by the time he is dressed and looks at himself in the mirror he sees the man he is, not the frightened and distraught boy he was.

We are introduced to Fisk's father, Bill, an authoritative, overly aggressive and verbally abusive man.

This experience is why Fisk wears all black, has such a repetitive morning routine and speaks to others in such a controlled manner, to establish order out of the chaos — a direct reaction to the home environment in which he grew up. We also understand why Fisk searches for meaning in the "Rabbit in the Snowstorm" painting (also the name of Episode 3) after he has a nightmare; the white artwork with subtle brush marks is similar to the plain wall his father made him face. As an adult, Fisk looks for order where there's chaos and/or is calmed by looking into the abyss rather than face his past.

I had discerned all this by the time Fisk tells Vanessa he wears his father's cuff links not to honor him but to show he's "not cruel for the sake of being cruel … that I'm not monster."

Stick made his first comic-book appearance in DAREDEVIL No. 176.
Here, in issue 177, he helps Matt Murdock regain his radar sense.
(Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson)
Episode 7, "Stick," answered questions I had about the origins of Daredevil's fighting abilities.

Stick is even more crotchety and blunt than he is in the DAREDEVIL comics and the episode reveals it's Stick who began teaching young and recently blinded Matt Murdock how to fight and use his enhanced senses. He abruptly leaves the boy once he realizes he wants a father-figure and Stick was seeking a warrior.

Fast-forward to the present time and the two have yet to address those issues, much less resolve them, especially after Stick reneges on the promise he made to Murdock not to kill the person he had tracked to Hell's Kitchen and the New York area.

Hornheads (dedicated DD fans) will appreciate "Stick" as this is when the blind, tough-as-nails fighting master leaves a pair of billy clubs behind with Murdock, who assimilates them into his arsenal. Before that, Daredevil (still only referred to as "the man in the mask") had used a few objects here and there to ricochet off a wall or another surface to take down a bad guy.

My fanboy gut instinct tells me the Big Reveal of Daredevil's red superhero costume before Season I ends will include a fancier version of the same billy clubs. (Stick's weapons essentially are nothing more than rounded wood blocks, not unlike something a percussionist would use in a concert band or symphony.)

Charlie Cox continues to impress me as Murdock. His frank discussion with the priest about the theology and existence of the devil (his vigilante being called "the devil of Hell's Kitchen" by the NEW YORK BULLETIN) is one of the finest theological discussions I've seen onscreen. If only all ministers would be so straight with everyone …

Murdock sticks to his "liberal bleeding heart idealism" as an attorney and Cox is believable when he tells his law firm partner Foggy Nelson and their administrative assistant Karen Page they need to bring down Fisk through the legal process. (The irony of the Daredevil universe has always been Murdock can implement street justice as DD when the courts lets him and/or the victims down.) The trio has great onscreen chemistry, giving credibility to the tight-knit nature of the small firm.

Nelson insists Daredevil is nothing short of a terrorist and at best is a dangerous vigilante. Page, having been saved by "the man in mask," sees through the lies and spin that Fisk's team has spread about DD killing or assaulting various cops.

She sees the good in him. Page also has a grasp on the greater picture: "I'll take the devil of Hell's Kitchen over Fisk any day."

Throughout the first eight episodes, Nelson has been unable to reach Murdock by phone during various times of crisis in Hell's Kitchen.

Mild seven-month-old spoiler alert: It's fittingly ironic that Nelson discovers his best friend and the vigilante are one and the same. (There was no better place to take another break with such an "oh s**t" moment just as Episode 9, "Speak of the Devil," fades off to credits).

Since Daredevil/Murdock collapses and blacks out in front of Nelson before the attorney unmasks him, it will be interesting to see how Nelson interacts with Murdock after such a shocking discovery. My bet is since Nelson earlier was quick to express his frustrations with Murdock about "being on the same page" in decisions about their law firm that he will tend to Murdock's wounds and the two will discuss Murdock's vigilante activities. Doing so will bring plenty of tension to their law office, especially since Page doesn't know. How long will it be before Nelson, who tends to stick his foot in his mouth, mistakenly blabs about Murdock being Daredevil? The longer the better. End spoiler

About the time Murdock, Nelson and Page finally have enough leads to put the screws to Fisk and drag this spectre-like man "out of the darkness" and put the heat on his shady business dealings, Fisk beats them to the punch. He goes public with a press conference to share his passionate vision for improving the city. Page is stunned, telling Murdock it sounds as if Fisk believes what he's saying and as Murdock says, the scary part is Fisk is genuine.

So once again, Fisk manipulates an ugly situation to his own liking and makes Murdock's pursuit of revealing his criminal connections all the more challenging.

Reporter Ben Urich has been pursuing Fisk's connection to Page's former employer, Union Allied.

His research clearly reveals Fisk is the top suspect in a lot of related, ugly happenings. Urich first thinks Daredevil is in cahoots with Fisk, but realizes "black mask" instead is Fisk's "competition" for the top power spot. On the reporter's bulletin board, the king of diamonds represents Fisk (the only allusion so far to Fisk's comic book moniker of the Kingpin) while the jack of hearts is Daredevil aka "the man in the mask" aka "black mask."

Urich pins down a question I'm sure will be addressed in the remaining four episodes: "The question is: Which one will trump the other?" Grade: A

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