Warning: This contains spoilers.
Let’s talk about James Wesley.
The role of Wilson Fisk’s right-hand man could have been an utterly thankless one; nothing more than a way of drawing out the suspense before we finally see the Kingpin for the first time. But thanks to a superb performance from Toby Leonard Moore, he’s turned out to be one of the surprise highlights of Daredevil.
Wesley is an effortlessly cool character in his own right. He’s always in control of any room, and knows how to manipulate the other members of Fisk’s rogues’ gallery with the slightest twist of the proverbial knife. But as The Path of the Righteous starts with Fisk keeping vigil by Vanessa’s bedside in hospital after a failed poisoning attempt, we finally realise that Wesley is far more than just the Smithers to Fisk’s Mr. Burns. While the dodgy financial advisor Leland Owlsley (Bob Gunton) is concerned about business being jeopardised by Fisk’s emotional state, Wesley is genuinely concerned for his wellbeing. Theirs is a fascinating dynamic that elevates the drama beyond most superhero TV shows – and also makes it somewhat harder to stomach when the episode ends with Karen shooting Wesley point blank. Although, to be fair, he really shouldn’t have put a loaded gun within her reach.
It’s a fantastic bad-ass moment for Karen, a character who started off playing the victim, which is why it’s such a shame that writer Douglas Petrie has her turn to the bottle as a way of coping with the enormity of what she’s done. We get that she can’t just shrug it off like Matt can reconcile his nightly beating sessions, but going back to Karen The Victim feels like a step in the wrong direction. While we’re on the subject of women, it’s disappointing that Claire leaves so unceremoniously at the end of Episode 11 too. Rosario Dawson and Charlie Cox have had superb chemistry throughout the season, so let’s hope that there’s more for her to do in the future.
Still, this thinning out of the herd is kind of the point – by the season finale, the battlefield is clear for Matt to finally lock horns (pun only slightly intended) with Fisk.
With his relationship with Foggy at an all-time low, Matt finds himself steadily losing more allies. As if Claire’s sudden departure wasn’t depressing enough, Episode 12 ends on a truly chilling sequence, as Ben Urich returns to his apartment to find Fisk lying in wait, which turns out to be only a small part of his brutal plan of revenge – despite the satisfaction it’ll inevitably bring, we expect most people will wince at what Fisk does to Leland when it turns out he was behind Vanessa’s attempted murder all along.
And then there’s Madame Gao. After her ring of blind drug traffickers is razed to the ground in spectacular fashion, she’s one of the few who gets out alive and decides to return home – which, according to her, is “considerably further” than China. Rumour has it that she’ll feature again in the upcoming kung-fu inspired series Iron Fist, and we’re hoping the rumours are true – Gao is a fascinating character and Wai Ching Ho is a great actor.
Considering the way things are building to a crescendo, the first half of Episode 13 feels like something of an anti-climax, as the newly-reconciled Matt and Foggy find a way to incriminate Fisk through… legal stuff. Sadly, the law firm of Nelson and Murdock has been steadily downplayed to make room for the origins of Matt’s career as a hero and Fisk’s rise to power – a balance that will hopefully be redressed in future seasons. That said, we do get some more cracking action beats. There’s something joyously surreal about seeing Matt chuck his cane into an alley, Clark Kent-style, before free-running across the streets of New York, and the final fight between Fisk and Matt is everything it needed to be – not least because we finally get to see The Costume.
While the black mask certainly has its charms (not least because it looks like Matt has been cosplaying as the Dread Pirate Roberts all season), the Daredevil’s official outfit is a thing of beauty. The iconic horned helmet is now present, but the suit feels like battle armour – more chunky and real than anything we’ve seen in the MCU so far. It feels like something a street-level vigilante would actually wear. But Matt isn’t the only one who’s finally putting on his true colours. Freed from the restraints of his business partners, Fisk has embraced the savage side of his persona, and the result is electrifying. The Kingpin has arrived.
A brave step in a new direction has paid dividends for both Marvel and Netflix – despite the occasional teething issue here and there, Daredevil is undeniably one of the most satisfying shows either company has made to date. Now let’s see if the rest of The Defenders can reach the same high standard.
Want more Daredevil? Read our interview with Charlie Cox.
All of Marvel’s Daredevil is available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
Photo: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.