The greatest trick The Devil ever pulled was convincing people he doesn’t exist. While there’s no doubts in the existence of “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” his criminal opponent, Wilson Fisk, he's been taking more direct queues from the big red guy below as he keeps himself behind shadows and closed doors, in a world where merely saying his name will get you killed by a corrupt cop. Fisk has become the devil people don’t believe exists, but is that about to change? Will he be exposed for the criminal he is? Or maybe something else entirely?
Episode 8, Shadows in the Glass – As Wilson Fisk faces increasing threats to his operations from unsettled partners and the masked Matt Murdock, he regresses back to his traumatic childhood. With the help of Vanessa by his side, he finds the strength to make a highly unexpected response. Meanwhile Karen and Foggy break Matt in on our Union Allied investigations.
Ever since he emerged as an art lover in episode 3, Vincent D’Onoffrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk has become the real fire in this Hell’s Kitchen. So it’s no surprise that an episode centred entirely on him makes for outstanding entertainment. From the gentle teases into his lavish but lonely home life to his business activities, D’Onoffrio owns the screen in his imposing strength and the subtle reveals of his weakness. As we learn, through his honesty with Vanessa, that underneath all his anger and imposing demeanour that he’s constantly afraid, complete with regular nightmares. This proposes an interesting contrast of Fisk’s character to Matt’s. As Daredevil is implied as “the man without fear”, Wilson Fisk appears to be the man overwhelmed by it. This is magnificently and shockingly delivered in Fisk’s opening morning routine as he sees himself as a blood splattered boy in the mirror; implying that deep down, despite all he’s accomplished he’s still that frightened child. This leads well into the episode’s progressive flashbacks of young Wilson with his abusive father. Full credit goes to the young Cole Jensen for his emotional transition: from a frightened and bullied fat kid to unleashing his repressed trauma. The pivotal moment is suitably horrific as their family life becomes ever changed. Yet the episode still manages to surprise us with how these events relate back to present day Wilson. His remark of hanging the “rabbit in a snowstorm” picture in his bedroom was far more than an attempt to impress Vanessa as we learn the comfort blanket affect its familiar imagery his upon him. Yet it’s his father’s cufflinks that deliver one of the best moments of the season; “That’s why I wear these, to remind myself that I’m not cruel for the sake of cruelty, that I’m not my father, that I’m not a monster!”. It’s a great play on cliché character development as rather than showing Wilson having an “Okay, I’m a bad guy now” moment; instead, we understand that this was him learning the necessity of crossing the line but only with justification. This single character is suddenly deeper than the entire cast of Gotham.
The only trouble with the episode is that while the Fisk story is outstanding, so little time is given to the other areas that some struggle to get going with less screen time. The biggest example is Karen and Foggy bringing Matt into their “foolhardily provocative Nancy Drewing”. Following Foggy’s induction into the club at the end of last episode, there’s barely a minute here between trying to hide it from Matt before he’s initiated too. This is a shame because there was much potential for good lighter material as the pair incompetently try to keep Matt in dark. Even if still within the same episode they could stretched things out a little further and given Karen and Foggy a slip up or two to talk their way out of. The meeting between Ben Urich and The Devil fairs much better. The rain soaked backstreet makes for an excellent dramatic scene and even though the intent is to get the pair on the same page, it does permit Ben some moments of hesitation. This also provides good setup for Ben’s great narration of his expose story in the works before the big man himself delivers the killer checkmate on their plans. Matt’s enraged reaction (nicely mirroring Fisk’s earlier table tossing) says it all. The villain has just made himself the hero in the public’s eyes while he still remains a wanted criminal. A man who wreaks evil from the shadows should be feared but the man who does so in broad daylight, that truly is a man without fear.
The series continues to shine with its incredible cast and characters but with the halfway point well passed could do with a little more clarity over its main story. At least a more defined endgame. Also we really need some more development of Matt’s character on route to seeing him in full costume for the finale. Right now, it still feels like the same person from the opening episodes. We could do with feeling these events having a greater effect upon him rather than just smashing his living room. It’s still brilliant but just needs a couple nudges in the right direction.
Episode 9, Speak of the Devil – While Matt, Foggy, and Karen dig deeper into Fisk’s life to find a legal way of taking him down, he seeks fatherly advice over his growing moral dilemma over whether he is prepared to the man, or more importantly, if he should.
You have to hand it to Daredevil this episode..... quite literally as very early on the existence of Marvel’s ninja army of choice, The Hand, is confirmed and Matt gets a damn good slapping from one of them. Now before any “one ninja doesn’t make an army” proverbs come flying out, consider the assailants earlier conversation with Fisk. A character previously presented as a leader stating that there are people even he must answer too, implying he’s part of an organisation. Then as Matt pre-fight converses before the ninja in red is dancing with him, (fist to cheek) they mention “the war” that Stick is a part of and implying much greater forces at work. There is most definitely a Hand in this game. As for the fight itself, what can’t you say about it? It’s an epic, swirling, brutal and at times even beautiful as they go all out in this epic clash. So far, Matt’s opponents have always been inferior, largely relying on outnumbering to a contest. There has been some one on ones but never with any real degree of peril. The contrast of seeing Matt up against an equal and even superior foe is enthralling to watch as he desperately fights on against his mounting physical injuries. The best feeling the fight achieves is consequence. We take every slice and stab with Matt and his moment of being dragged away like an animal carcass is just incredible; not to mention when things heat up! To top it all off, we have a Fisk encore as in true conniving villain style, he enters just when our hero is at his weakest. D’Onoffrio’s incredible as he swoons in with confidence here, laying a “come at me bro” on the critically injured Matt resulting in firm “Fisk smash, puny Devil” victory. You also have to love the Jason Bourne camera shot as a bloodied Matt escapes into the water.
It’s good to see the gang’s “Nancy Drewing” playing a bigger role this episode as they go digger into Fisk’s past and present for anything that can tie him to the known illicit companies or corroborate any of the evidence Ben has (courtesy of The Devil) on him for publication. It creates a great sense of nobility in futility as even though their every lead dries up their opponent gets stronger and stronger in the public eye (even knowing he’s evil, Fisk’s press speech was damn inspirational!) they stand by with conviction what must be done, especially when the tragedy hits home (like some other big damn heroes they’re on the losing side but still not convinced it’s the wrong one). The best results come from Matt, both in his personal and team investigations as debates the big question, even of the evil can killing another soul be justified? Charlie Cox has his best episode yet as he pulls on this moral thread with the returning help of Peter McRobbie’s (Brokeback Mountain, Lincoln) Father Lantom. The idea of Matt meeting Vanessa also adds wonderful depth to this while providing the comedy of a blind man in an art gallery. A chance arrival by Fisk shows Matt the loving connection between the pai,; humanising Fisk much more in his eyes. The debate all circles back to Matt’s internal conflict as he must decide not just if his actions are just but also his motives. In the wise words of his latté loving confidante, “Are you struggling with the fact that you don’t want to kill this man but have to..... or that you don’t have to kill him but want to”. It all creates a wonderfully more complex dynamic on the typical hero/villain relationship. Though even in that achievement, Daredevil refuses to rest of its laurels as just as quickly the wavering moralities are hammered straight by a murderous killing and suddenly Matt’s world on fire is black and white again. To be able to change and switch character (and audience) perspectives so effectively like this is just magnificent writing (hats off to writing couple of Christos & Ruth Gage for pulling it off).
Its final scene revelation may get overshadowed by everything before it but this episode is Daredevil firing and delivering on all cylinders. Action, emotion, laughs, character, and story development all get knocked out of the park. Its hero maybe down for the count but this show is shooting for the stars.