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An uneven Daredevil stumbles with its characterization of Elektra

Illustration for article titled An uneven Daredevil stumbles with its characterization of Elektra
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Elektra Natchios is an essential part of Daredevil mythology, introduced by Frank Miller during his landmark run on the Daredevil comic and appearing in both the first Daredevil movie and her own spin-off film, a flop that, combined with the disastrous performance of Halle Berry’s Catwoman, turned Hollywood producers against the idea of superhero movies led by women. Jennifer Garner’s previous performance of Elektra was better suited for the softer sides of the character that came through in her romance with Matt Murdock, but she struggled to bring an appropriate intensity to the character in assassin mode, making it difficult to believe that her Elektra had a killer instinct.

Netflix’s Daredevil works hard to distance its Elektra from Garner’s portrayal, and Elodie Yung’s strengths and weaknesses in the role are the opposite of Garner’s. Yung is at her best when Elektra is severe and intimidating, but she struggles to make Elektra convincing when she’s in a more sentimental, vulnerable mode. The final scene of “Kinbaku” reveals that much of what Elektra tells Matthew earlier is a performance to get him in her penthouse just as she’s about to be ambushed by the Yakuza, but it’s obvious from the get go that Elektra is acting, and not very well. I doubt that “Elektra is obviously acting” was the direction given by Florina Sigismondi for that opening conversation between Matt and his old flame, and the stiffness of Yung’s performance makes for an underwhelming introduction to the character.


Writer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has primarily worked on series that are more grounded than Daredevil (The West Wing, Private Practice, Parenthood), which would suggest that her script for the episode would be a bit more natural than the overblown dialogue this show often relies on. Unfortunately, she adjusts to fit the blunt style of the series, and while there are glimmers of a more believable, fully realized show in this episode—specifically Matt and Karen’s Indian dinner and subsequent stoop make out—the majority of the script still takes a lot of shortcuts to advance plotlines without fully exploring the circumstances surrounding them.

The Karen and Matt plot has been rushed this season, but it’s downright lethargic compared to how quickly Elektra and Matt’s courtship moves, with Hissrich detailing the course of their past romance via flashbacks to three key events: Elektra and Matt’s first meeting at a fancy party, their steamy visit to Fogwell’s Gym a few weeks later, and the night in Monte Carlo that tears them apart. That first meeting begins with casual flirtation that effectively breaks the ice between the two characters, but then Hissrich takes a shortcut by outlining the reasoning behind their attraction in short speeches Elektra and Matt make about each other. The dialogue is intended to give the impression that the two of them have an immediate insight into the others’ personalities and motivations, but it plays as a clumsy way of telling the audience about the emotions driving this relationship rather than showing these emotions in Matt and Elektra’s interactions over a longer period of time.

This episode includes scenes of Foggy standing up to the D.A.’s office and Karen digging deeper into the conspiracy surrounding Frank Castle, but that time would be better spent exploring Elektra and Matt’s past and giving their relationship more dimension. Yes, there are subplots to deal with, but they can be put on hold for an episode to give more attention to the character dynamic that will play a huge part in the back half of the season. It’s what Jessica Jones did for its best episode, “AKA WWJD?”, and writer Scott Reynolds was able to bring significant depth to Jessica and Kilgrave’s relationship by making it the main focus of the episode (with one quick tangent to show Jeri Hogarth’s divorce drama). The treatment of Elektra is far less layered than Kilgrave, and beyond that initial speech from Matt, the script doesn’t really delve into why Elektra acts the way she does beyond the shallow explanations that she’s bored and gets off on violence.

There are some strong moments in the script where there’s a legitimate sense of intimacy between the characters, like the scene in Fogwell’s (and not just because they have sex in the boxing ring) and the first part of the sequence in Monte Carlo. While the episode never provides a reason for them to break into Fogwell’s that night, it’s still nice to see Matt bring Elektra into his past, and the scene does good work establishing violence as foreplay for this couple when they spar before sex.


Considering how heavily sex and violence are connected for these two, the sex scene is surprisingly tame, and a less delicate touch from director Sigismondi would have helped intensify the passion of the scene. I understand that there are limits to what Marvel can show with sex, but Jessica Jones showed the value of using sex as a character tool by taking a more realistic, explicit approach to the action, and while the image of Matt with his hand around Elektra’s neck while she rides him is evocative, it still doesn’t have much force behind it. (I do think Elektra being on top is a smart way of reinforcing her dominance in this relationship, though.)

The most real moment in Elektra and Matt’s relationship comes when they arrive at a mansion in Monte Carlo and scope out the fridge, which contains a block of cheese that Elektra cuts on Matt’s abs while he lays on the marble countertop. The blocking reveals the comfort and carefree attitude these two characters have when they’re together, but it also maintains that violent undercurrent by having Elektra wave a large knife around Matt’s face, an action that accentuates Matt’s fearlessness. They feel like a real couple in this moment, which is an important development when the rest of the scene involves tearing them apart.


The final flashback makes Elektra a femme fatale caricature as she tries to convince Matthew to kill the man responsible for his father’s death, and her sudden obsession with getting Matt to take a life is jarring. She gets extreme pleasure from this temptation, but the audience has no idea why, making it an overly convenient heel turn that draws a moral line between the two lovers. Where did this blood lust come from? Why does Elektra want Matt to give in to it? These answers will eventually be answered, but having those answers earlier would give this final flashback greater impact.

The hastiness of the Elektra and Matt story ends up elevating the material with Karen and Matt, and their chemistry has never been stronger than in the aforementioned scenes in the Indian restaurant and on Karen’s stoop. The dinner scene is in a fantastic location, and the colorful Christmas lights that cover Panna II Garden Indian Restaurant give the scene a warmth that isn’t usually found in this show’s heavy reliance on sickly yellow and greens. The visuals are aggressive, but the conversation is gentle, providing a strong idea of why these characters are connecting on an emotional level without having them explicitly state those feelings. The gentleness is carried over to their make out on the stoop, which draws attention to the internal conflict preventing Matt from going further with Karen without making him talk about it directly.


Matt and Karen’s romance makes more sense after this episode, just in time for Matt to get sucked deeper into Elektra’s mysterious plot. “Kinbaku” ends with Elektra preparing to jump into battle against the Yakuza members who are about to storm her apartment, and despite the flaws with her characterization in this episode, there’s still a palpable sense of excitement when Yung pulls up Elektra’s scarf before the episode cuts to black. It’s time to see Elektra cut loose in battle, and her prowess in action might be enough to make up for her weaknesses elsewhere.

Stray observations

  • Stephen Rider is one of the regular cast members this season, so it’s a shame that Blake Tower isn’t getting any significant attention beyond his interactions with Nelson & Murdock.
  • Marci makes a brief appearance to tell Foggy about the D.A.’s plan to build a mayoral campaign around taking down vigilantes, and she gives us our very first mention of Jessica Jones by name on this show. Turns out Marci is now working for Jeri Hogarth’s law firm, which hopefully means she’ll show up in Jessica Jones season 2 because I enjoy her character.
  • Anyone else annoyed that the show killed off Ben Urich and then gave Karen a plotline that Ben would have been extremely useful in? I’m still mad the show killed so many of its best supporting characters last season.
  • In the scene with Matt beating up Roscoe Sweeney, I like how the staircases are framed in the background to create the illusion of horns emerging from Matt’s head.
  • “Wow. There’s an actual list?”
  • “She’s going to turn city-wide disaster into damn fine lemonade.” Mmmm, urban disaster lemonade.

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