Bloody Hell, says Tony.
In any long-running show that intends to make its characters real, there will be episodes more geared to adding that reality into their bones than to driving along the storyline. There’s a sense in which In The Blood, Daredevil, episode 4, feels like one of those episodes, and yet at the same time, by the end of it, we’re so much further on in story terms, it almost feels like a different show. The Russian brother who have so far been the main recipients of Daredevil’s attentions as he tries to get to the Big Bad that is Fisk become instantly more than simple series villains in the pre-credits sequence, in which we see where they’ve come from, how much it’s taken them to survive and thrive in New York, how much personal strength it takes to be a genuine player, even on the side of ‘the devils.’
But the Russians, and their inability to deal with what Wesley, Fisk’s right hand, charmingly describes as ‘the masked idiot’ is becoming an irritation to Wilson Fisk, and he determines to take care of both problems, one way or the other.
Meanwhile, Foggy is having second thoughts about the good that he and Murdock are doing in Hell’s Kitchen, yearning after office equipment and elevators, for the trappings of an easy life which, to be fair to him, his skills could command in any law firm where the law was more important than human beings. Karen continues to try and find the links between the now-defunct Union Allied and the people who own the cops and tried to kill her, bumping into Ben Urich, the would-be campaigning journalist again as he refuses to let the seeds she’s sown lie. He’s like a bucket of ice water on her Nancy Drew impulses, and for good reasons – people get killed in Hell’s Kitchen getting their ‘girl investigator’ on. But still, there’s a story there, and he knows it, and determines to see what it’s worth.
The Russian brothers find a way of putting pressure on the man in the mask – they wait, and they watch, and then, with a certain ruthless efficiency, they put pressure on the only weak spot they know he has: Claire, the woman who patches him up when they try to kill him.
Naturally, there follows a degree of torture, and a rather more impressive degree of ass-whippery when the man in the mask finds them. But the driving force of the episode is character – the Russians have fought through their own version of hell to get to Hell’s Kitchen, and they do what they have to, to make their mark on the city and rise above their origins. Vladimir is proud and hot-headed, Anatoly by turns conciliatory, wanting to work with Fisk. So it’s Anatoly who chooses to interrupt Fisk on one of the most important and nerve-wracking nights of his life.
Because Wilson Fisk is on a date with Vanessa, the art curator who sold him the Rabbit in a Snowstorm painting. It’s not a thing he does with any regularity, wedded to his work as he is. And in Vincent D’onofrio’s performance, there’s character in every nuance – the big boy, who even as a powerful man has to steel himself to ask out a beautiful woman, because not only is she beautiful in the eyes of the world, but she’s captivating to him, and he can be as powerful as he likes, but none of it can matter with her. Things have to be more honest, more real with her, or he hasn’t really got her, won her, he hasn’t genuinely been found worthy of her.
You’d be amazed how few things can ruin a delicate battle for honesty and self-worth more effectively than a shouty, panicked Russian gangster, and Fisk ushers Vanessa out the minute Anatoly crashes their date. But as is becoming a hallmark of the show’s determination to bring grit and realism to its world, to be a crime show first with superhero elements, Vanessa won’t give him an easy time – she’s genuinely not sure how she feels about the interruption, and what it means about the interesting Fisk. For all he knows, he may have lost his chance with her forever.
The last five minutes of this episode though are possibly the most telling in the whole thing, in terms of character development. Because after spending the majority of three episodes building up the mystique of Wilson Fisk as the man who will end your world if you breathe his name, Fisk the sophisticate has been frightening not in his legend but in his ordinariness, his fragility, his extensive civility, a kind of unsure Corleone, speaking softly and letting other people carry the big sticks. It has raised, without us even really being aware of it, the question in our mind of how he started out, how, before he was this criminal kingpin he became a man that people would fear.
We don’t wonder that any more after the last five minutes of this episode. Those minutes are hypnotic, showing us, in Fisk the furious, exactly what the opening with the Russian brothers showed us. Just as there are no such things as simple heroes, arriving fully formed in story-books ready to fight evil, so there are no such thing as simple villains, arriving fully formed with a cackle and a hipster moustache. And Daredevil as a show intends to let nobody off the hook with an easy answer, and to paint nobody in the simplicity of two dimensions.
the trend of fairy tales and comic-book superheroes (which are arguably
their modern equivalent), from the Russian brothers in their hellish
cell who fought their way to freedom and America, to Fisk, the
super-sophisticate who unleashes an ungovernable violence out of himself
at the thought that he’s been embarrassed in front of the woman whose
approval he’s been seeking, and then gives orders that he’ll need a new
suit, Daredevil, episode 4 demands one thing of us above all – that we
treat it almost as a documentary, a reflection of the reality of human
beings, rather than a cape-fluttering bout of escapism. More than any
other ‘superhero’ show of its time*, it aims to dispense with the
‘superiority’ of its heroes, and to root them and ground them into the
real world in which we live.
*NB – Analysis does not include Jessica Jones, as we were advised to watch Daredevil before approaching that show.
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