Welcome to The A.V. Club’s Daredevil binge-watch. From Friday, March 18 through Sunday, March 20, A.V. Club contributor Caroline will be watching and reviewing every episode of Netflix’s returning superhero series. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting five reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and four reviews on Sunday. You can follow along and comment on the whole season on the binge-watching hub page or chime in on individual episode reviews. For those watching the show at a more moderate pace, reviews by Oliver Sava will run daily starting Tuesday, March 22.
Huh. This was a weird episode in ways that were both good and bad. I certainly didn’t expect the show to put a button on the Punisher arc so quickly (there’s a good chance he’ll be back, but this at least plays like a temporary conclusion) nor did I expect such a violent episode to suddenly transform into a sexy romantic comedy. “Penny And Dime” felt scattered while I was watching it, but in the end I was pretty satisfied with the way everything concluded. So let’s break it all down, shall we?
To start with, the Irish are back! Everything I credited the show with subverting in the second season premiere gets played completely straight here as an Irish leader named Finn shows up in town, establishes his superiority by brutally murdering a colleague, and sets about tracking down the Punisher. Finn tortures him to get information about his stolen money (so that’s why the Punisher cut off a random dude’s hand), but winds up with the fuzzy end of the lollipop (er, shotgun) after the Punisher escapes with some help from Daredevil.
This is the most violent episode of the season, with Finn both stabbing a dude in the eye with an ice pick and taking a power drill to the Punisher’s foot. A lot of shows make the mistake of conflating gore with importance, and it’s disappointing (and kind of boring) to see Daredevil feature brutality that doesn’t really add to the narrative or shape our understanding of the characters. Daredevil works best when it’s subverting prestige drama clichés—as it did last year with its portrayal of criminal kingpin Wilson Fisk as an insecure gentle giant. When the show gives into those clichés, however, it falls apart.
For instance, if I never see another murderous man motivated by the death of his family again it will be too soon. There’s rightfully a lot of critique about how frequently male characters are motivated by the death of female loved ones (fridging isn’t exactly what happens here, but it’s close enough). And while that tragic backstory is an inherent part of the Punisher’s comic book origin, I’m disappointed that Daredevil didn’t add its own twist to the source material. There are glimmers of intriguing specificity—like the Punisher immediately buckling when a dog is threatened or his story about surprising his daughter at school after returning from a tour of duty. But then he goes into a “the last time I saw her I was holding her lifeless body in my arms” speech and my eyes glaze over.
I also don’t really understand why the Punisher suddenly gives up his ruthless pursuit of crime lords, other than maybe the fact that he’s too physically injured to keep going. Bernthal sells Frank Castle’s emotional breakdown beautifully, but it kind of feels like his moral transformation comes out of nowhere. On the other hand, I’m glad the show doesn’t feel the need to drag things out all season just for the sake of creating tension.
Which is also how I feel about the Karen/Matt romance, which comes to a head tonight as they share a sexy kiss in the rain. The two actors have great physical chemistry and the slow-motion rain sequence is both beautiful and sensual, but is there something specific that made Matt see Karen as more than a friend or is it just a matter of two attractive single people working in such close proximity to one another?
In trying to link the many disparate elements in this episode I keep coming back to Father Lantom’s speech after Grotto’s funeral. Guilt is linked to closure, he tells Matt. So feeling guilty is a sign you still have a problem to solve. The Punisher story concludes as Frank acknowledges the guilt he feels for not reading his daughter a story the night before she died (and, more broadly, for not saving his family). Matt, meanwhile, gets his own closure as he instructs Sgt. Brett to claim sole credit for the Punisher arrest, restoring Hell’s Kitchen’s faith in the criminal justice system and shamelessly ripping off the ending of The Dark Knight. And with the weight of the Punisher off their shoulders, Karen and Matt are finally ready to act on the tension that’s been building up between them.
To be honest, it’s not quite as thematically tight as I would have liked, but then Elektra shows up and who even cares anymore? Onwards, dear readers!
Standout moment: It’s not really highlighted, but I appreciate Foggy peacing out as soon as he picks up on the fact that Matt and Karen want to hook up. He’s a solid bro to both of them in that moment.
Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: Nope
Burning question: What the hell is going on with Karen’s break-in at the Castle home? Did she know the house was empty? Why was she hiding from passing cars, whose drivers surely wouldn’t find it weird that a person was standing in a house? Also what was up with that van? And—most importantly—why did she flip through a random children’s book like it was going to give her a clue?!? (I understand that the audience needs to see the book, but what’s her in-world justification?)
Excitement to start next episode: 8/10