Saturday, April 20, 2024

Daredevil Rounds Back into Shape

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Wow, we’re almost at the end already. A lot has changed since my first set of Daredevil reviews. Frank Castle has killed, faced a trial, and gone to prison. Some have watched the series for the first time. Others are perhaps re-watching this latest season like me. It has been a good one, and as we hit the last stretch before the finale, we get the best run of episodes since the first four, as well as a great setup for the finale (which I will review next week, along with my overall thoughts on season 2 as a whole).

Let’s dive in.

man in the box

“Man in the Box”

Remember how I said back in my first review that I do not agree with the general opinion of this season getting weaker as it went? These next two episodes are a big reason why.

“Man in the Box” continues the strong quality of “Seven Minutes,” delivering one of my favorite episodes of the season. The focus returns to Matt as he deals with the aftermath of Castle’s release and the rescue of the kids the Hand had captured. Life has started to wear greatly on Matt Murdock, and we see the price he is paying both physically and mentally.

That weariness is evident from the start as he limps away from the warehouse where he found the caged kids, but only after convincing the police to bring them to the hospital where Claire works. We get a lot of Claire in this episode, and I love it. She’s the only person in Matt’s life bothering to call him out on his bullshit. Where Foggy and Karen continue to allow him to isolate, Claire makes clear just how big a mistake that would be. When Matt dwells on the ineffectiveness of everything he has done, Claire is there to let him know he is far from the only one fighting a futile struggle (the woman is a nurse, after all). When Matt wallows in his guilt over Foggy getting shot, she does her own futile best to make him face his friend.

As Claire so beautifully says on the roof of the hospital where Matt spends most of this episode, “Maybe you need to start thinking about climbing down from that cross of yours and spending some time with us normal people for a change.”

Not that Matt listens to her. In true Matt Murdock fashion, he spends the entire episode blaming himself for everything gone wrong. He put Wilson Fisk in prison, only to see Fisk take the prison over and arrange for Frank Castle to be a free man. Castle’s escape is why Reyes is murdered and Foggy is shot. He learns the full extent to which the DA’s office covered up the truth about Castle after a season of hints. The law is failing him and he is finding it too difficult to cope with.

(The Matt/Fisk scene is absolutely incredible. I spent enough time last week talking about how incredible Vincent D’Onofrio is, so I won’t do so again this week. He was terrifying, and I can’t wait for him to leave that prison. His threats definitely played a key role in Matt’s guilt and isolationism afterwards.)

Maybe things would have been easier with Elektra at his side, but she has her own issues in her brief screen time. She acquires her trademark sai from the assassin sent to kill her. She also finds out Stick sent him. Makes you wonder what about her is worth sending that assassin (wink).

When the Hand scale the sides of the hospital at episode’s end and Matt slips his helmet on, you can see how he steels himself to try and avoid falling from the cliff one more time. Matt Murdock is a man of extraordinary abilities, but he is still one man and the Hand are too much for him. All he hopes to do is protect who he can for as long as his body holds out.

(I imagine he feels even worse when he sees what the kids he rescued did. I’m glad the show never makes clear what the chemicals pumped into those kids do or why it keeps them under control. The Hand are mystical, and how many shows/movies/everything have failed miserably when they start trying to explain the mystical?)

Considering the brutal murders attributed to the Punisher of Reyes and the medical examiner, Greg Tepper, and Foggy’s own gunshot wound, Matt has a reason to feel guilty for his escape. Yet I love how Karen never believes Frank did it, not for a second, and continues to search for the truth. The victim choice is reason enough to doubt Castle’s involvement. The bullet count is even more so, and when Castle rescues Karen from the true killer, it comes as little surprise to her or the audience. Whatever carnage Castle is capable of, he does not kill district attorneys or medical examiners. I love the Karen/Frank scenes, and I’m glad we get more going forward.

Great episode. Everything moved forward exactly at the right pace and it all felt connected. In my opinion “Man in the Box” is Daredevil at it strongest.



Luckily, things stay excellent in “.380.” It picks up right where “Man in the Box” left off, with the Hand ninjas scaling the hospital walls to retrieve the children Matt rescued. Claire brings hospital security to restrain the kids after the killing of Gibson, the Hand arrive at the same time, and Matt is there to try and stop them. The kids are willing accomplices, however, and escape. The attack leaves one nurse dead and a hell of an incident to explain.

Naturally this leads to more Claire, and the conclusion of her brief appearance this season (and perhaps the show). She again takes Matt to task for thinking everything in his life is his to protect, which I have already made clear how much I like. She also ends up quitting her job as a result of Metro General’s attempts to cover up the Hand’s attack.

This episode is a real showcase for her character. Claire is very much a character that can relate to Matt Murdock’s struggles, and I loved how her decision to quit her job parallels Matt’s decisions regarding his own profession. She deals with the same futile struggle that he does, as well as the same corrupt bureaucracy. Like him, she believes strongly in her profession’s responsibility to help people. Just because her struggle does not have the same high stakes does not make it any less important. These two are a really great match for each other in many ways. Rosario Dawson is a big name to keep around, and maybe this was Daredevil’s way of writing her off the show, but I’m hoping it was not. If so, it was a decent send-off.

(I actually hope that this was a way to write her into the other MCU shows on Netflix, as she will not be limited to that one hospital.)

Karen also echoes Claire’s sentiments about Matt’s sense of ownership over the people in his life. I love their scene when Matt arrives after her statement to the police about her attempted murder; yes, the frustration about her not asking questions exists, but at this point the show is committed. She is hurt and does not trust anything he says. She does not feel she can rely on Matt. She does not want his help. As she says when Matt insists on coming with her after she leaves the police station, “I’m not yours to protect.” It’s an appreciated bit of independence from the leading lady that I’m not used to seeing in superhero media.

From here the episode centers around the Blacksmith, creating the same sense of cohesion throughout the episode as “Man in the Box” even as the characters find themselves pursuing very different leads. For her part, Karen lies to the police about Frank rescuing her and ditches her assigned police protection in order to help find the enigmatic drug dealer. Their scene in the diner is arguably the highlight of the episode, with Frank cutting through Karen’s words to find the truth behind them with fascinating skill. His speech about how his wife could so easily hurt him, and how he wishes she could still hurt him the way Karen is hurt by Matt, seems like something that would not work with any other character. I think it works here. Frank is defined by his grief for his family. I completely buy from his point of view that someone so capable of hurting you might be someone you want to keep close, as…problematic as that might sound in many scenarios.

(I have to say, assigning only two cops to serve as protection seems dumb. Even if these are the two very best cops in the NYPD, and they sure don’t come across as such, that’s not nearly enough if Frank Castle of all people wanted Karen dead.)

Of course Frank pushes Karen away just like Matt does in using her as bait to lure the Blacksmith’s men; he knows she will be upset by this, and also by the brutal way he tortures and kills them. After getting the information he wanted, he makes this clear when he tells Karen to get away and stay away from him. She is someone he could get close enough to that he could be hurt. It’s the last thing Castle wants. As we’ll see later, his efforts don’t work.

Matt also spends the episode trying to find the Blacksmith in attempt to protect Karen despite her protests. His investigation leads to the return of Madame Gao as the Blacksmith’s biggest competition, who leads him to the same ship that Frank is told about. He arrives in time to stop Frank from killing a man lying about being the Blacksmith. It’s telling just how much Frank wanted to believe it, even as he knew it wasn’t true. He’s a lonely, broken man looking for an end to his crusade, but that end will never come.

(Also note how easy Daredevil handles a weary Punisher blind with rage compared to the hyper-focused and fresh version from the first 2 episodes. Further proof of how desperate Frank is to find an end.)

And while I doubt anyone believed Frank died when the ship went up in flames during the ambush that ends the episode, I wonder if he wishes he had.

The Blacksmith takes a backseat at the end of the episode, when one of Stick’s men drives wounded to Matt’s apartment to tell him Elektra had found Stick and wanted to kill him. We get a scene of Stick preparing for her arrival that shows how long he has been doing this and how damn good he is at it. The Stick/Elektra relationship is one I enjoyed, and a big focus of our final episode this week.

elektra young

“The Dark at the End of the Tunnel”

“The Dark at the End of the Tunnel” opens with, and often comes back to, flashbacks of “Ellie” at a younger age when Stick is training her. These flashbacks do a really good job of establishing the reasoning behind the actions for both Elektra and Stick in both this episode and the season as a whole. Elektra’s skill is made clear in the way she defeats three grown men at the same time. The natural ease with which she kills is shown in the brutal beating of the last of these three, and her eventually killing him later. We’re told that Elektra is something more than just a girl Stick took in and trained when another of the Chaste wants her dead, and instead Stick kills him to protect her.

(The girl they cast to play young Elektra was a great decision, too. She looks fairly similar and nailed the mannerisms when she fights.)

This, of course, leads to the reveal that Elektra is the Black Sky, the greatest weapon of the Hand and the person they serve. We saw another boy in season 1 who was called the Black sky as well; it’s still not sure what exactly the Black Sky is or what makes one so special. Again, I like how vague the mystic elements of the story are. I’m sure more will be explained about the Black Sky later, but for now it’s enough to know Elektra is very dangerous and very important, and that it explains how easy she kills.

It certainly shows how easy it is for her to kill in the opening fight with Stick (which I thought was really good). Despite clearly thinking of him as the closest thing she ever had to a father figure, she shows no hesitation in her attempts to kill him. The flashbacks make it very clear that it is not just attempted assassination that made her so angry. Elektra is still bitter about being abandoned so many years ago, when “she needed him most.” She loved Stick, and still loved him when she ended up back with the Chaste before meeting Matt for the first time.

This abandonment is something she and Matt share, along with the struggles between two separate natures. Probably my favorite part of this reveal is the continued connection it makes between Matt and Elektra. It is so easy to see why they are so drawn to each other and why they care so much, even with everything they hide. They are the same person in so many ways. Not to harp on something I’ve already expressed displeasure about, but the Black Sky reveal makes Matt’s decision to end their relationship look even worse. He of all people should understand the struggle between what’s right and what he is capable of. It’s only his defining freaking character trait throughout two seasons.

Ultimately Stick is rescued after being kidnapped by the Hand, Elektra rejects them and her identity as the Black Sky, and it seems as if she has again turned another corner. It is a bit of a character 180 – she changes her mind from wanting Stick dead to actively helping him stay alive in a matter of moments – but I think the flashbacks do just enough to keep that change from being overly abrupt. Just a little abrupt.

The time not spent on the Stick/Matt/Elektra story is spent with Karen and Frank Castle, as has been the trend throughout the season, and the conclusion of the plotline with the Blacksmith. The reveal that the drug lord was Colonel Schoonover was a nice twist. I especially liked that Karen figured it out so quickly through recognizing one of the dead bodies at the dock in the various photographs hanging in Schoonover’s office. Karen and Ellison at the Bulletin, the interview, Frank’s ambush and Karen’s pleas to spare him, all of these scenes were very well done.

It just felt…abrupt. It’s part of a larger problem with this season trying to do too much and therefore not giving everything the attention or time it needed to have a full impact. After spending the entire season building up the Blacksmith as this important figure who was so responsible for the murders of Frank’s family, resolving it so quickly didn’t feel right.

(Though Schoonover did hint at Frank and his family being caught up in the gang shootout not being an accident. If they do move forward with a Punisher series, perhaps this will serve as the focus.)

Still, these scenes were well done, and Bernthal and Deborah Ann Woll were great as ever. There was a different tone to him in this episode compared to the previous. In spite of Karen’s pleas that he not prove he is the monster everyone says he is, Frank always has been. You can see the resignation on his face before he kills Schoonover, settling on a single bullet instead of one of the much more torturous implements in the shed; it will bring him no peace, his family will still be gone, and men like Schoonover will still exist in the world. When he discovers the stash of weapons hidden in the shed, we know this is now Castle’s life. He will punish the wicked until the day their bullets catch up to him. And with every shot he becomes just as bad as those he hunts.

Other Thoughts:

  • – Foggy and Matt get their own nice bookend to the season’s story as they meet in their old office. It’s sad to see how Foggy still wants Matt to convince him to stay. At this point it’s natural they split though, and they are definitely still friends as Foggy sets Matt on the right track to finding the Hand.
  • – Really disturbing how the kids are immediately sliced open to have their blood drained into that contraption again. No doubt the Hand are evil, evil people.
  • – Stick’s driver is a total badass. He freaking drove to Matt’s with a hole in his chest.
  • – I felt bad for the rep fighting for Claire’s job. Poor lady was definitely going to suffer some consequences for Claire’s actions.

Images courtesy of Marvel and Netflix

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