“The Devil You Know” is an episode about two lonely, disaffected men in vulnerable positions. One relies on his support system to guide him towards the light, while the other falls under the spell of a monstrous force that pushes him towards the dark. It’s a relevant, timely story about the power and perils of masculinity—a theme I’ve always felt Daredevil is interested in exploring. Rejected by Julie and stripped (at least temporarily) of his FBI job, Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter relatively easily falls under the sway of Wilson Fisk. If his life had unfolded differently, perhaps Matt Murdock would’ve found himself in the same position.
In my opening review of the season, I praised the way Charlie Cox adds moments of wry levity and earnestness to his portrayal of this tortured Catholic vigilante. And yet the downside is that his Matt Murdock comes across as such a fundamentally decent person that it can be hard to buy into questions of whether he’ll give up on his friends and fully embrace the darker side of his personality. To its credit, I think the show realizes that. There’s a difference between how Matt sees himself and how Daredevil the show sees him. Matt may feel like everyone he loves dies or abandons him, but this episode makes it clear that Foggy, Karen, and Sister Maggie have no intention of abandoning their friend. Matt even seems to realize that too, if only on a subconscious level. He claims he wants to be alone, but as both Foggy and Sister Maggie point out, Matt keeps reaching out to those who are close to him too. And when his friends ask him to turn himself over to the FBI to help get them (and himself) out of legal trouble, Matt doesn’t hesitate to agree. Though it ends with a fairly terrifying action sequence, “The Devil You Know” is also an earnest celebration of the power of friendship.
Dex, however, doesn’t have a caring support system around him, and he never received the core of love and stability that Matt received from his dad before he died. Dex is in danger of going off the rails, which he does in a serious way in this episode. Given their shared traumatic childhoods, Fisk knows just how to manipulate Dex into becoming his agent of chaos. He plays upon Dex’s insecurities, presents himself as Dex’s one true friend, and then gives Dex permission to unleash the violent tendencies he tries to keep locked away. One of the most interesting moments in this episode comes when Fisk tells Dex that he accepts him “without shame.” Guilt may be the term most often connected with Catholicism, but shame is tightly intertwined with that as well. Both Dex and Matt feel ashamed and afraid of their darker impulses—worried that revealing them will drive the people they care about away. Fisk’s ability to manipulate that emotion in Dex is a scary reminder of how easy it is to radicalize angry, frustrated, frightened young men.
Of course, there’s very little subtlety to Daredevil’s dual portraits of these two disaffected men. The show literally has them fight each other while wearing versions of the same costume just to drive home the “two souls at war” theme. The Bulletin fight sequence is really, really brutal, especially because it calls to mind real-world attacks that have been carried out against newsrooms and office buildings. It’s also not my favorite action sequence this show has ever done. Daredevil hasn’t really set up the idea that Dex is particularly great at hand-to-hand combat, so watching him suddenly go toe-to-toe with Matt in a ninja battle felt off. Considering Dex’s best skills are throwing things and shooting people, I’m also a little confused why he didn’t come prepared to do more of that. I guess using a gun would hurt the lie that he’s Daredevil because Daredevil doesn’t use guns? But that’s a pretty big stretch, especially because Dex winds up using Karen’s gun anyway. The scrappiness of Dex picking up random office supplies to throw at Matt is kind of fun, but his poorly thought-out plan feels like a lazy way for the show to get the two Daredevils to fight each other in close quarters. To its credit, however, there’s a real “anything can happen” energy to the Bulletin fight, much more so than in the cool but predictable prison riot sequence.
“The Devil You Know” is the sort of episode where the ending is so game-changing that it’s hard to care about all the stuff that happened before it. And the great thing about a binge-able show like Daredevil is that you don’t really have to! Six episodes in, Daredevil’s third season is finally getting to the place where the early procedural elements fall away (R.I.P. about-to-testify Fisk-shanker Jaspar Evans) and the actual story of the season starts to take shape. In retrospect, these first six episodes have been a sort of origin story for Dex’s version of Daredevil. Now it’s time to watch his actual story play out.
- Sister Maggie continues to be the absolute fucking best, and I want way more scenes with her!
- Watching Fisk get access to his fancy clothes and furniture was the first time I really felt the injustice of his house arrest in the way the rest of Hell’s Kitchen clearly already did.
- Within the show’s timeline, how long ago did Karen murder Wesley? A year? Two years? Three years?
- Jaspar’s drug-addicted son is another example of another young man who becomes lost without the right influences to guide him.
- I assumed Fisk was going to murder Julie in order to turn Dex evil. Instead, he seems to have simply predicted that if he reunited the two of them, Dex would freak her out in some way and destroy the fantasy scenario he’d created in his mind. That’s a much more interesting idea that avoids having to fridge a female character. Well done Daredevil!
- There’s a fairly famous comics arc where Karen Page becomes a drug-addicted sex worker/tragic fallen figure. This season seems to be playing around with that iconography while (hopefully) not actually giving into it.
- I *think* Ellison died during Dex’s attack, but I’m not entirely sure. If he did, I’m sure it will be just a matter of days before Karen is made editor and/or owner of the New York Bulletin.