Tony ponders the mark of heroism.
What makes a hero?
That’s by no means the main theme of Episode 2 of Daredevil, but it’s a question that comes strongly through. As with Episode 1, writer Drew Goddard wastes no time setting up the premise, but has some Hell’s Kitchen residents find Daredevil – and he’s still not going by that name, incidentally, or wearing the trademark Devil-red outfit, which is thematically important – wounded and bleeding in a dumpster. Rather than calling him an ambulance, they take him to local nurse Claire, who patches him up herself. And so begins the treatise on heroism.
Following the slightly shoehorned-in kidnap of a kid by the Russian mob at the end of Episode 1, DD has gone haring off in pursuit, and had his man-in-black, creature of the night ass handed to him, hence his ending up in a dumpster, bleeding profusely. And that in itself shows us something fundamental about the nature of Daredevil – unlike many Marvel superheroes, he hasn’t been conveniently bulked up and made into a superhuman fighter. He has ultra-sensitive hearing and smell, but otherwise, he’s a common-or-garden blind guy. His fighting skills are learned and relentlessly practiced, as we saw at the end of Episode 1. There’s no short path for Matt Murdock, but just as he overcomes the difficulties of a life of blindness, or the hardness of his legal training, so he sets his indomitable spirit to making himself the fighter he wants to be, to make a difference by darkness, as he does by legality in the light. Hero?
Undoubtedly, but not by any means a white knight. As he and Claire talk, they’re interrupted by one of the Russians posing as a cop, and they end up on the roof, with Daredevil stringing the man up, sticking a knife into him and pushing him off a room – he’s careful to ensure the man won’t die, but still, when he growls at him that he “enjoys this,” enjoys causing him pain, Daredevil definitely dabbles with Dark Knight territory. And the question is posed in our minds – how far can you go and still be a hero?
As a sidebar, the more you think about it, the more Daredevil genuinely stands up as “Marvel’s Batman” – he loses his father as a child, is instructed in the nature of moral manhood by both his memories of that father and by a third, outside force – where Bruce Wayne has Alfred, Murdock has his priest and the doctrines of Catholicism – he wears a mask to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies, he stands up for the underdogs and those crushed by the forces of crime and public apathy, he has no special fighting abilities except those he’s learned and trained himself in, and of course, the thing every schoolboy knows about bats is that they’re ‘blind’ – but they find their way through other, extremely powerful senses.
But back to Episode 2. If his antics with the bad guy on the rooftop make us question Daredevil’s heroism, two things put us back on firmer ground. When he asks her what made her treat his injuries herself, Claire tells him the word is getting around about a man in a black mask, making life difficult for criminals and thugs. She also tells him that she didn’t believe him when he told the rooftop guy he enjoyed it.
But more than that, what amounts to a torture session on the roof is not just about revenge for Murdock. It’s always about information – the information he needs to save the kidnapped kid’s life. And having got that information, wounded though he is, he limps to the bad guys’ hideout, beats all of them into unconsciousness, and takes the kid home to his father. There’s another important production value underlining this – quite apart from Murdock being a crusader for innocents abused by evil, in the best tradition of his church’s ‘angels,’ the fight scenes in the first two episodes of Daredevil never look like Hollywood fight scenes. They look long, and hard, and grittily realistic – none of the usual ‘felled with a single punch’ nonsense – many of the people Daredevil punches comes back for seconds and thirds. He also doesn’t always have the best of it, and by the time he’s done with them here, he looks like a man who’s gone a full fifteen rounds, and limping out with the kid, Charlie Cox gives a great impression of a man who just wants to fall down and slip away, but can’t because there’s a job to do.
If going above and beyond for the innocent makes you a hero, what then about taking in a stranger, and using the skills you have to save his life in the hope of making a difference? In our world, where we’re taught to fear strangers in our home, it’s arguable that Claire too acts like a hero in this episode, despite some serious misgivings and potential consequences if the masked man dies on her couch. Going above and beyond for a stranger because it’s the right thing to do. Hero?
What then of being the innocent, of having a life scarred by tragedy and seeing villains in every shadow, and still finding reasons to smile, to laugh, to normalise your life and carry on? That’s Karen Page’s journey in this episode – and again, kudos to the show for not having her trauma neatly swept under an episodic rug, ready to face new dilemmas this week. The truth is if any of us had faced the things Karen faced in the pilot episode, we wouldn’t be over it yet either. We’d see danger everywhere. But Karen, through the course of this episode, faces the danger of her thoughts and comes out the other side, knowing the fear reaction will still be there, but learning to trust human beings again. Carrying on despite everything. Hero?
And what then of Foggy Nelson? Never pushing, but understanding Karen’s reactions, her fears and the darkness of the world she sees, and giving her precisely what she needs – a friend through a sleepless night, a reason to smile and laugh, and, by demystifying the ‘evil-looking’ men around her, helping to break down the knee-jerk fear reaction to help Karen back to herself. Being there unconditionally when someone needs help. Hero?
The point that comes singing through this elegant episode, which sacrifices thrill-seeking story for deepening character studies, is that there are many kinds of heroes. Matt Murdock is perhaps uniquely impressive, earning the super in his superheroism, but in a world that sometimes looks and feels as though there’s corruption and evil oozing out of every pore, every heart, Episode 2 shows us that there are ordinary heroes everywhere, and that, by making the right choice, they can be us.
With its lack of outright preaching, its commitment to showing its lessons rather than telling them, a refusal to compromise the crunchy realism of violence, and that deepening sense of character, Daredevil already feels more ‘real-world’ than many of its rivals, more CSI than Supergirl, more vigilante than superhero. In a world growing perhaps a little weary of the superness of such heroes, Daredevil, on the strength of Episode 2, promises a healthy shot in the arm of grit and goodness.
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