Daredevil has dipped its toe into the mystical, mythical elements of this world in previous episodes, but it dives headfirst into the Eastern-influenced fantasy in “Guilty As Sin,” which begins with a horde of ninja ambushing Elektra and Daredevil while they’re standing around that big ole hole in the ground. Unable to hold their own against the sheer number of ninja, Elektra and Daredevil are saved by their shared mentor Stick, who swoops into action and drives them to safety. The entire sequence feels like a different show than the one we’ve been watching this season, but it sure is fun, beginning the episode with thrilling action that sets a rapid pace for the rest of the story.
The opening is also nonsensical, though, especially once it moves away from the hole and into Stick’s car. The streets are completely empty for the chase, which makes everything feel especially staged, and how is it possible that no one has noticed these ninja when they operate so openly and aggressively? Accepting the addition of ninja to this series already requires a strong suspension of disbelief, but when the series has aimed for a grittier, grounded point of view, it’s hard not to ask questions about the logic surrounding this new plot point. Once the initial ninja thrill dies down, the show has to find a way to integrate this element into the overarching narrative and tone of the series, and it struggles in that regard after Stick, Matt, and Elektra (or Ellie, as Stick calls her) escape their attackers.
Scott Glenn continues to be entertaining as the Stick, but even he has difficulty selling The Hand’s generic backstory, which begins with a bloodthirsty, greedy Japanese man discovering the secret to immortality and using it to gain influence across all of Asia. The main goal of The Hand is to gather weapons, with the ultimate objective being something called the “Black Sky,” an elusive weapon that has never been activated. The Chaste was formed as a response to The Hand, and Stick has been assembling a team of warriors to protect the world by kicking ass without mercy. Matt is one of those warriors and Elektra is another, and Stick works hard to save Elektra from The Hand’s poison because she’s the pupil who is willing to make the lethal decisions required to be effective in this war.
There’s a war brewing in New York City, instigated by a clan of evil ninja searching for a weapon that will help them take control of the world, and the only people that can stop it are Stick, Daredevil, and Elektra. That’s a flimsy foundation to build the back half of this season on, and hopefully the writers will bring more depth to this concept because as of now there’s no pathos to The Hand, which makes them an uninteresting opponent. There’s a cool factor to undead ninja warriors, but that isn’t going to sustain six more hours of story if there’s not something more beneath it.
As I said in my review of Elektra’s debut, Elodie Yung’s performance isn’t as strong when she’s in a more vulnerable mode, which doesn’t fare well for an episode that mostly has Elektra lying in bed, recovering from a poisoned wound and pining for Matt’s affection. It certainly doesn’t help that she has some very rough dialogue, and this Elektra sounds like a very different character than the one we’ve seen in the past few episodes. Elektra’s worst moment in the episode comes after she confesses that her first meeting with Matt was a planned mission, and she tries to atone for her deception by delivering this painfully clichéd line: “I did the thing I promised him I’d never do. I fell in love with you, Matthew.”
Writer Whit Anderson is barely trying to make this feel like a real moment of heartfelt confession, and the basic script makes it difficult to believe the rekindling of Matt and Elektra’s romance. This softer side of Elektra does successfully set a point of contrast for the brutal moment when Elektra slices the throat of a young agent of The Hand who attacks Matt in his apartment, but the writing could use much more nuance to make these opposing sides of Elektra convincing.
While the pacing for the Stick material slows down once they arrive at Matt’s apartment, the intense pace of Frank Castle’s trial never lets up, and Anderson’s script is at its best when it focuses on the courtroom drama. Clancy Brown makes his Daredevil debut as Colonel Ray Schoonover, and he does exceptional work bringing emotional weight to Schoonover’s testimony detailing Frank’s military experience and the events that led to him receiving the Medal of Honor. Schoonover recounts how Frank saved his entire team from an ambush by taking on 32 Afghani insurgents by himself, killing every single one because he’s Frank Castle and Frank Castle is just that good, and these revelations give the audience valuable context for explaining how Frank’s past shaped him into The Punisher.
“Guilty As Sin” firmly cuts Matt off from Foggy and Karen when he botches his cross-examination of Frank, and it’s the final straw after a long series of fuck-ups that have been making Foggy and Karen’s lives hell. Foggy’s disappointed face says it all when he hears Matt use his cross-examination as an excuse to preach to the jury about the need for vigilantes, but Foggy should also know better than to have a vigilante cross-examine another vigilante, even if Matt is the only person that knows Frank’s real story because he heard it himself as Daredevil. The entire trial is a huge conflict of interest for Matt, and Nelson & Murdock ends up suffering greatly because Foggy isn’t more aggressive about not taking on the case when he knows Matt’s personal involvement in it.
The good thing about the trial is that it continues to enlighten Frank’s character with moments like Schoonover’s testimony and the courtroom outburst from the son of one of Frank’s victims, which reveals how Frank’s actions impact the people he doesn’t directly target. Frank is starting to understand the consequences of his actions, and while the episode doesn’t linger too heavily on his reaction to the outburst, I appreciate that the script addresses that Frank is aware that his mission hurts more people than just the ones he kills.
When Frank explodes on the stand screaming about how he’s guilty of all the murders he’s accused of and would gladly commit them again, it seems as though he’s accepting punishment for his deeds, guaranteeing that he won’t get a lighter sentence like Nelson & Murdock is hoping. There’s more to it than that, though, and the final scene of this episode reveals the true reason Frank makes sure he ends up in prison: to meet Wilson Fisk. The return of this show’s season 1 big bad introduces a slew of intriguing storytelling possibilities for the next episodes, and the prospect of Fisk and Frank working together is far more exciting than whatever is going on with the evil ninjas plotting to take over New York City. That’s because these two antagonists have both been thoroughly developed, and if Daredevil wants to make The Hand a compelling threat, it needs to find a way to make the audience understand why they fight.
- The concoction Stick makes to heal Elektra’s poison sounds incredibly unpleasant. Elodie Yung does good work capturing the searing pain of having it poured into her open wound.
- The ending fight between Matt and his Hand attacker does a great job accentuating the force of the action, and the show typically has more powerful fights when it keeps them in close quarters.
- Karen’s line about New York needing heroes and Matt not being one of them is almost as bad as the aforementioned Elektra line. It’s ironic because he’s Daredevil! (*groan*)
- Vincent D’Onofrio is absolutely not bench-pressing all those weights.
- “Nice meetin’ ya.” Stick is such an asshole.