Tony sees double.
Any show is allowed a honeymoon period of its first two episodes to set out its stall and define what it’s going to be about.
By episode 3, it’s expected to get down to business. Daredevil gives this informal rule a head-nod, but it’s a nod that’s barely noticeable, because it’s been clear from episode 1 that getting down to business is what Daredevil is about. That is the stall it sets out - it takes the premise of a comic-book superhero and strips it of almost all its ‘supernature,’ leaving the gruesome grit and moral greyness of a vigilante in a world of gangsters and crooked cops intact and on the screen. The idea for this new take on Daredevil was always to ‘make a crime show first,’ rather than a superhero show which foregrounded the extraordinary superpowers of the hero.
Episode 3 embraces that realism fully, focusing on the day-to-day struggle for survival in a world controlled by nameless criminal kingpins and dissolvable corporate entities that can do as they please, and the duality of Murdock as a lawyer by light, vigilante by night. Eventually, it’s also episode 3 that begins to introduce the opposing duality in the series’ Big Bad, philosopher crime lord Wilson Fisk, but that comes late in the day. Right up front, we get a reminder of the hardcore grit that Daredevil demands in order to make its world of violence, threat and high sakes believable. The pre-credits sequence of this episode brings death by bowling ball, and it’s positively vicious and blood-spattered – another difference between Daredevil and some of its sunnier DC stablemates like The Flash and Supergirl. Daredevil is set in Hell’s Kitchen, and the series sets out to prove that the king of Hell’s Kitchen will be one Devil or another – one nameless, shadowy force, or another. Long before he’s even seen on-screen, Fisk’s presence is almost its own superpower – a Dark Side of the Force that owns your world, and can crush you, innocent or guilty, as he deems necessary, creating the air of apathetic oppression that pervades the Kitchen.
Heely, the bowling ball assassin, is one of Fisk’s men, his victim a fellow ‘legitimate businessman,’ named Prohaska. The bowling ball is an inventive substitute for the gun that was the intended tool of ‘negotiation’ between these powerful men, but witnesses and the arrival of a mixed squad of clean and crooked cops on the scene means there’s a need for appearances to be maintained. Heely needs a lawyer.
Wesley, Fisk’s right hand man, and so far the soft-voiced charming fist of the invisible man, comes to Nelson and Murdock to offer a retainer if they review Heely’s case. He’s oil-slick smooth and twice as dangerous, but while Foggy has misgivings once he’s actually met their client, the obvious crookedness and the smooth front make Matt determined to take the case. The ‘super’ skills that Matt possesses help him bridge the gaps between presentation and reality, as he can recognise the sound of Wesley’s precision-crafted watch, and match his arrival to elevated heartbeats on the part of a nobbled juror – then, as his masked alter ego, he can intimidate the man putting pressure on the juror, to free her from Fisk’s hold, irrespective of that hold working to his legal advantage. It’s this kind of dualism that make the moral lines in Daredevil to beautifully blurred and realistic.
Able as Matt Murdock to push the case to a conclusion that satisfies the law, Murdock returns to Heely as the man in the mask, partly to bring his own brand of natural justice to bear, but mostly to wring information from the little man about the chain of command, the connections that wanted him saved, the name of the nameless boss at the top. And having weakened and breathed the name of Fisk, the ending of Heely’s storyline is as shocking and gruesome as its beginning. Fear is the currency of both Daredevil and Fisk, but when the man in the mask will only hurt you, and the man
with no name will kill you, and everyone you ever cared about, there’s something altogether inevitable and Roman about criminals with the strength to do the ‘honourable’ thing.
While this exploration of duality and fear and power is certainly the major theme of this episode, it’s by no means the only thread. Karen is still shaken after the events of the first two episodes which saw a man murdered in her apartment, herself strung up in a faked suicide, and the forces of dark oppression move against her for simply knowing something they didn’t want her to know, and telling someone about it. Now she finds herself paid off by the company behind Union Allied, the company she worked for, on condition of her silence about the illegal activity she uncovered – and again, the hidden hand of Fisk is felt. Having failed to deal with her in the simple, brutal way that is business as usual, she’s bought off, allowed, if she chooses, to go about her life like a good and happy little peon, the condition for her life being silent complicity in what was done to her and those around her.
She finds Ben Urich, a local journalist with problems and pressure points of his own – his wife is sick, sleeping almost all the time, and his insurance (like that of many ordinary Americans) is proving to be a Kafka-esque nightmare of forms and phone calls, simply to keep her cared for. But Urich has a history of campaigning journalism, for all he’s currently reduced to writing fluff pieces about the likelihood of the subway coming to the Kitchen. He finds himself faced with a scandalous reality – he still wants to be a crusading journalist, exposing corruption and criminal infiltration of the legitimate world, but his editor checks him, telling him it doesn’t sell papers, and that everyone they know is making twice what they do, sitting at home in their underwear, writing blogs. There’s a sobering note of truth there about the kind of world we’ve grown to accept – not so much bread and circuses to distract the Roman mob, as cellphones and reality shows to keep us cheerfully consuming whatever is made available to us. Again though, the message of Daredevil comes through clearly. You don’t need to wear a mask and have wicked martial arts skills to fight oppression, to make your own kind of difference – between them, Ben and Karen start a second front of fightback, trying to piece together the chain of money and influence that leads from Union Allied to the people who control the cops, who could carry out assassination-style killings and get into her cell to try to kill a seemingly unimportant murder suspect. It might be tiny, and it might be doomed, but Karen and Ben begin to prove that even in a world ruled by oppressive powers, you can still make the choice to own your soul.
And then, at the very end, after death by bowling ball, legal chicanery, the fight of one man to make the law mean something, the whispered battle to reclaim souls in a world of breathless dark power, and a kind of hideous victory for the greater fear of the nameless man, we meet Wilson Fisk.
Wilson Fisk the big man who, we assume, was once a big child, bullied for his size. Wilson Fisk who stands silent and alone, moved by art and the kindness of its curator. The title of the episode is given its meaning right there at the end and it aches as we watch it. After three episodes of build-up, three episodes of the evidence of unconscionable savagery committed in his name, we see Vincent D’onofrio’s Fisk, precisely dressed to complement his large frame, precisely moving to counteract the stereotype of big men as clumsy. Quiet, and precise in his speech, to counteract the stereotype of big men as oafs. D’onofrio is only on screen for a handful of minutes, but he delivers the sense of power expertly – Fisk is the man who inspires such fear by the knowledge that he will come after everyone you ever loved if you so much as breathe his name. He stands like a rabbit in the snowstorm he creates, hidden by the atmosphere of his power, with a vision, and a yearning to be singular, but not so much alone, in a place that allows beauty to thrive. Fisk sees himself as the ultimate ugly gardener, bringing beauty from the horror of Hell’s Kitchen. And now he has a face and a name, the end of episode 3 makes us thrill to see more of the philosopher crime lord and the vigilante lawyer as they stare at each other from their different prisons of the mind.
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