The countdown to season 2 of Daredevil is underway, but before it is released on March 18th we're taking a daily journey through the first season. Today, Tony senses greatness in the night.
There’s a rule of good writing (needless to say ignored or heartily flamethrowered by many of the greats) – Show, don’t tell.
That’s especially challenging in a first chapter or episode, because the natural urge of writers everywhere is to pen an origin story in a linear fashion, from A to B to C., to introduce us to their characters and tell us all they think we need to know, as quickly as possible.
Kudos then to Drew Goddard, writer of episode 1 of the Netflix original show Daredevil, who, in the pre-credits sequence, jumps straight into action, with DD foiling a people-trafficking shipment with his mad wicked ass-kicking skills. If your first scene has to make viewers sit up and take notice, count Goddard among the successes in recent TV superhero writing.
Daredevil is a brave show in its very bones, because the blind ass-kicker’s reputation was left rather tattered and torn by the Hollywood treatment given to it by the Affleck movie in 2003 (yes, it’s really been that long. No, it still doesn’t feel like quite long enough). The production team on the TV show seem to understand the uphill climb they face though – it’s like they’ve looked in detail at the Affleck version, nodded sagely, gone away and done, at all points, exactly the opposite of that.
In other words, they’ve made it really rather good.
The first storyline is not overly ambitious, but still gives a sense of what’s unique about the Daredevil mythos – yes, he’s blind, yes, he’s a lawyer, yes, his dad was a boxer, and yes, his other senses are ultra-heightened. But also, yes, it’s set in Hell’s Kitchen, and yes, the presence of gangs and organised crime is oppressive, almost a taste in the air of the show’s universe.
The central plotting conceit of Episode 1 is that secretary Karen Page stumbles upon a big financial scam, and winds up unconscious, waking up covered in the blood of the nice guy she was on a date with, just as police burst in and arrest her. In a way, it’s a sly origin story for Karen Page, who, in the Daredevil comic-books, was in situ as Murdock and Foggy’s secretary from the beginning. This episode shows us how she got there, as the two new lawyers swoop in to represent her on a murder charge – a task which becomes rather more easy when she foils an attempted murderer in her cell. As is frequently the way, Murdock’s day and night time activities and personas work in a degree of harmony, with Daredevil helping save Karen’s life a few times while Murdock and Foggy give her a new place to work.
While the plot is fairly linear, in line with, say, some recent DC outings like the early Flash and Supergirl episodes, there’s a rich sense of atmosphere here that has a broader world to click into – the pilot episode makes no bones about the fact that Hell’s Kitchen is an area devastated by the events of The Age of Ultron, and in fact the bad guys are specifically capitalising on a world of heroes who can “fly each other through walls,” aiming to pretty much rebuild Hell’s Kitchen in their own image (or the image of that other DC-based success, Gotham). And in particular, the Netflixers have been careful with the casting in this new, darker, Affleck-free Daredevil. Charlie Cox as Murdock/Daredevil looks slight but slippery, lithe and easy in his body and his world, a man who has found a way to be the best and most conscientious version of himself he can, despite the duality of his cause. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen looks 110 lbs wringing wet, which helps sell her initially as a somewhat strung-out stressfest, but as the episode progresses, we see her develop and show a spine of steel. Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Murdock’s best friend and legal partner, is an odd one – you suspect that the character, if handled wrongly, could easily become grating, but in the first episode at least, Henson pulls him back repeatedly from the edge and he ends up showing us why such a stand-up guy as Murdock would pick him as a best friend.
In this episode, also watch out for Toby Leonard Moore as James Wesley, factotum of the as-yet-unnamed Big Bad. He’s a cold, sociable sociopath who’ll stay with you longer than most of the other bad guys in this episode, and who deserves more development as the story of Daredevil unfolds.
Like many Marvel superheroes, Daredevil is a study in duality – lawyer by day, vigilante by night, and where this TV version seems to succeed where the film version failed is in restraint and depth and atmosphere when it comes to exploring that conundrum. There are thirteen hours in Season 1, so the programme makers know they don’t have to splatter the screen with everything all at once – which is why they can afford to eschew the linear origin story for instance and drop us straight into the action. Why they can take their time giving us pertinent (if occasionally tedious) flashbacks to Murdock’s young life with his father, and developing both character and most of all atmosphere – we get the sense even in this first episode that the duality of Murdock’s two halves will be a significant theme going forward, and the world in which the story’s set feels real and oppressive, without ever sucking the energy out of the story. It feels as though there’s corruption oozing out of the walls, and only Murdock with his heightened senses can ‘see’ it, everyone else having long grown accustomed to the world in which they live.
So – is the ghost of the Affleck Daredevil finally laid to rest by the first episode of the TV version?
Yes. It’s not perfect by any means – there’s a sense that the ending is hurried, music-backed shots of the consequences of Murdock’s actions, including quite a number of bodies, and a child kidnapping to lead him on into the night and the next episode, but there’s enough atmosphere here, enough potential in the casting and enough nous shown in the writing and construction of the show not only to persuade us to watch the next episode, but to convince us that what we’re watching has the degree of adult complexity to be something more than just the next superhero show off the lot. To be something gritty and complex and human and warm and just potentially scary.
Geeks of the world, it’s time to Netflix and chill right now. It’s time to let Daredevil out of the sin bin.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk