If you haven’t seen Episodes 1 to 5 of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, this will contain spoilers.
“I’d like to speak to the man in the mask, please.”
After five episodes of agonised waiting, Matt finally gets his first conversation with the Kingpin, and boy was it worth the wait. In an incredibly tense stand-off, Wilson Fisk’s sinister voice whispers – never shouts – down a walkie-talkie, telling him they want the same thing: to save Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a classic “We’re not so different, you and I” speech, but it works so well, planting the seeds of doubt in Matt’s mind and ours.
If the first five episodes of Daredevil have been about setting these characters up, the next few are about knocking them down again. We see people on both sides of this fight struggle to get a grasp on their situations, naively trying to reassure themselves that they are the one in control.
After a close call with the cops from the end of Episode 5’s (literally) explosive cliff-hanger, the Daredevil spends most of the next episode, Condemned, cornered in an abandoned building with Russian mobster Vladimir (Nikolai Nikolaeff). After performing some cut-price surgery – difficult to watch, even by the show’s violent standards – to stop him from dying, Matt proceeds to grill Vlad in typical bad-ass fashion, but a few cursory questions reveal how little he comprehends of the vast criminal network he’s trying so desperately to penetrate. “You’re snapping at scraps, falling from a table,” Vlad taunts him.
But Matt isn’t the only one who’s flying blind. Karen is still trying to uncover the link between Union Allied, the company whose shady pension dealings almost got her killed in the first episode, and everything else that’s going on in Hell’s Kitchen. She wants to leap in like a modern day Nancy Drew, but she’s held back by veteran journalist Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), who gives her some tough love to teach her that this is one situation that can’t be seen in black and white. “There are no heroes, no villains,” he tells her, “just people with different agendas.” It almost makes us yearn for the good old days, when Marvel’s villains were unambiguously evil so-and-sos, who wanted nothing less than total world domination.
Still, at least some good has come of her investigation – it gives us more reason to love the idea of Foggy and Karen as a couple. There’s been obvious chemistry right from the start, and it’s not often that we see the comic relief get the girl in dramas like this. There’s been little to no sign of a Matt-Karen-Foggy love triangle thus far, and if DeKnight and the other writers are wise, they’ll keep it to a minimum as the series progresses.
Episodes 7 and 8 spend a lot of time looking forward, for reasons we’ll come to later on, but they also spend a lot of time looking back – further fleshing out two of the show’s most important characters thus far.
First of all, let’s look at Matt. In a cold open that would make Quentin Tarantino nod his head in approval, we’re introduced to Stick, a blind old man (played with gruff relish by Scott Glenn) who became a sort of mentor to Matt after the death of his father. Think Bill from Kill Bill crossed with Yoda, with a little Ra’s al Ghul thrown in for good measure. Their training scenes are fascinating, lending more believability to the idea of being able to ‘see’ using heightened awareness of your other senses – it certainly makes more sense than just saying he can sense that someone’s bleeding by “tasting the copper in the air”.
His return to Matt’s life brings with it some surprises and further moral dilemmas. He wants Matt’s help on a mission, but will only let him tag along if he agrees to start killing. It’s not an original quandary for superheroes – it’s basically the entire reason Batman exists, after all – but it provides the two men with ample room for confrontation and explains why their training ended so abruptly when Matt was a child. “I needed a soldier,” Stick sneers, “but you wanted a father.” His appearance ends on an intriguing note; one that’s sure to have fans of the comics salivating with glee. We definitely haven’t seen the last of Stick.
More unexpectedly (but infinitely more satisfyingly), Shadows in the Glass is dominated by Fisk. As his business contacts become increasingly sceptical of his control over the masked man ruining their operation, he retreats into his lavish apartment, hiding away from even his assistant, Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), perhaps the only real friend he’s got. It’s an unexpectedly sad episode; there’s something undeniably tragic about Fisk’s home existence and it seems his past is no happier.
We’ve heard him divulge a little about his life, in conversation with the beautiful gallery owner, Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), but here we see the young Willy Fisk for ourselves; an overweight, emotional little boy a million miles away from the shadowy businessman we’ve seen so far. Suffice it to say that little Willy’s childhood wasn’t a happy one. The reveal of how Fisk inherited his father’s cufflinks – and exactly why he was so drawn to the all-white canvas he hangs above his bed – is one of the most devastating moments in a series that’s been packed with drama.
Speaking of Vanessa, it’s fair to say that she’s quickly become one of the most fascinating parts of Daredevil. Far from the naïve, sheltered socialite she first appeared to be, she proves to be well-versed in the seedier aspects of New York life. By the end of Shadows in the Glass, she and Fisk have become a formidable-looking pair – capable, perhaps, of holding their own against Netflix’s other political power couple.
Not content with simply being complex by Marvel’s standards, Daredevil has spun a web of intrigue that would put most other dramas to shame. The dominoes are stacking up nicely. What will finally make them topple is anyone’s guess.
Update: June 2016: Daredevil Season 1 is available in HD for £5.99 on TalkTalk TV Store for “a limited time”.
Marvel’s Daredevil is available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I buy and rent Daredevil online?
Daredevil Season 1 is available to buy and rent on pay-per-view platforms Amazon Instant Video, TalkTalk TV Store and iTunes.
Photo: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.