DAREDEVIL Season 1, Episode 10 Review: Nelson Vs Murdock

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Well, that’s torn it, says Tony.


Picking up a sidekick is always a lottery. If you choose an orphan and raise them in a double life, you stand a better chance of a peaceful working relationship, but possibly, just possibly, therapy bills and a lawsuit for abuse of trust down the line. If they hero-worship you in your Spandex, they’ve probably got a massively unrealistic expectation of the heroing business, and probably need to get a first life before they embark on a second. If your best friend discovers you, battered, bleeding and broken in your mask, you’d better know you’re going to face a cross-examination the like of which is the stuff of teen prom walks of shame around the world, with additional scolding and crushing disappointment.

Nelson and Murdock, attorneys at law was a partnership mostly born in Matt Murdock’s brain. While Foggy Nelson, the guy with whom he’d roomed all the way through college and interned at Swankysuits & Legal Raptors Associated, had become his best friend for many solid reasons over those years, Nelson was more willing to make his career in the corporate legal structure that swallows up much of the best legal talent in the Western world. It was Murdock who persuaded him to eschew the life of comfort and chrome, Bentleys and bonuses that could have been his, to work out of a godforsaken office on their home turf in Hell’s Kitchen, trying to ‘make a difference to the world,’ the dream of bleeding hearts and hippies the world over. It was a mark of Foggy’s trust of Matt’s dream that he decided to do it, sketching a sign for the business on a bar napkin as a symbol of the reality to come.

So when Nelson discovers Murdock, bleeding and in his Man in the Mask gear on the floor of his apartment, the level of betrayal he feels is almost unspeakable – not least because he buys into the general idea of what blind people can do, and kicking backflipping ass all over town is simply not in the wheelhouse he imagines for his friend, meaning he has to question everything Matt Murdock has ever told him, even down to the fact of his blindness.

Episode 10 flips back and forth between the ‘present-day’ interrogation of Murdock by his best friend and a handful of flashback sequences that show us their developing relationship, from their first meeting at college, through graduation, the beginning of the dream that is Nelson & Murdock, and their internship at the corporate law firm, where Murdock first has the idea that this is not the use to which they should be putting their legal skills. With Murdock under intense cross-examination, we also see his first outing as the Man in the Mask, to beat and scare the crap out of a paedophile father, assuming the role of guardian angel to the sicko’s daughter and doing some good on the other side of the law.

Much of the episode is given over to this sharp two-hander between Nelson and Murdock, as Foggy’s sense of betrayal, not only by Matt his best friend, but by Matt the lawyer who sneaks out to deliver his own highly illegal vigilante justice by night, and then lectures his friends on how they could get hurt investigating the links between Fisk and, for instance, the murder of Elena Cardenas. Matt who dares to claim that the law is their arena, and they’ll take Fisk on on their turf.

It’s fair to say that Foggy’s tired and emotional throughout the whole of this episode - he finds Matt after returning from a night of boozing with Karen to numb the pain of Elena’s death - but he also knows Murdock better than anyone else on the planet – or at least, he thinks he does - so he’s able to lay several charges at his door that hadn’t even occurred to us as viewers: that listening to his friends’ heartbeats to tell if they’re lying is unethical and invasive; and that possibly, the urge towards vigilantism is a drug to Murdock, one that he can’t give up, and that the Man in the Mask is merely the personification of an addictive personality that needs to punch people in response to the rough hand life has dealt him.

There are few holds barred in their back and forth – if there were, it would seem like a lesser friendship than they have. Foggy is lost at sea when he looks at Murdock, who had been the rock on which he could always depend for an ethical view. The fact that Murdock is only as messed up as he is because he went out fuelled by his own rage at Elena’s death, with murder in his own heart, is a Bourbon-dark moment of symbolism – you could see it as another Fall of Man, another Cain killing Abel, with Foggy left to simply stare at the man he thought he knew, fallen, broken in both body and, as far as Foggy’s concerned, in moral spirit too. We’re not at all sure at the end of this episode whether Foggy will be persuaded to forgive Murdock for his alter ego or for hiding it from him, and if he doesn’t, we don’t know what will become of Matt Murdock the daylight man – without Foggy Nelson by his side to walk the path of legal righteousness, what is there to stop Murdock becoming Heaven’s own devil, the permanent vigilante for good, the soldier that Stick wanted him to be. What, the next time they meet, is to stop him from killing Wilson Fisk?

While the majority of this episode plays out this grand drama of betrayal through this two-hander with flashbacks, it’s by no means the be-all and end-all of the plot developments here. In Fisk’s life, he gets another enigmatic visit from Madame Gao, who tells him more or less to pick a side and end the duality of his nature between the light and the dark – a somewhat ironic demand, both in terms of it being made to Fisk, who sees himself as an angel of light for Hell’s Kitchen, but who needs to use diabolical methods to achieve his aims, and especially given the relief it throws on Nelson Vs Murdock and the discovery of a duality in Murdock that Foggy never suspected.

Meanwhile, a strand of story that’s been bubbling away in the background for many episodes resurfaces as Ben Urich’s wife, Doris, sick in hospital, experiences a deterioration in her condition, forcing Ben to look at Hospice options. Faced with an end-of-life plan he can’t stomach, he tries to give up the case, handing over his research on Fisk to Karen in order to nurse Doris at home. She in turn takes him to an upscale, classy nursing home he could never afford – it’s not stated outright, but we assume she intends to use the money she got to keep quiet about Union Allied to pay for Doris to be properly cared for there. Then Karen and Ben make a discovery. In what might be said to be the show’s most comic-book coincidence to date, simply by going into a room to talk to a resident, they find Wilson Fisk’s ageing, occasionally confused mother – who’s being reported as dead in the wealth of stories suddenly springing up about the poor local fat kid who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. She strongly hints to them about her little Wilson’s involvement in the death of his father.

Fisk’s world is threatened from another direction too – at his ball to toast the best and brightest of the city, some as yet unknown hand poisons the champagne, and people fall, frothing at the mouth. Were we feeling cynical, we’d wonder if Fisk himself was responsible for that, except Vanessa, the woman who’s brought him so very much more into the light, is one of those who drinks the sparkling devastation.

Then, right at the end of this episode, we see the true extent of the betrayal and hurt that Foggy feels over Matt’s double life. Leaving his friend still broken and recovering on his couch, Foggy goes to their office, fills a box of his stuff, and drops the symbolic sign of Nelson & Murdock, Attorneys At Law into the garbage, the real world embodiment of his bar-napkin faith now soiled with deceit and secrecy. Their relationship may find a way to pick itself up on the other side of episode 10, but it’s unlikely ever to be the same strong unguarded thing again, the simple, happy connection of two friends who believed in each other completely. That free and open friendship, the ending of the episode tells us, may be the ironic first fatality of the Man in the Mask, and of Matt’s compulsive need to keep hold of his secret life.

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 day, he 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

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