The Hand gets a hold of Elektra in “The Dark At The End Of The Tunnel,” and her character takes major damage once she realizes her destiny as the evil ninja clan’s Black Sky. That title is a fitting metaphor for what’s going on with season 2 of Daredevil, and by the end of this episode, there’s nothing to look forward to in the season finale. Whatever good will the show gained with its treatment of Frank Castle is wiped out by the rushed, clumsy conclusion of the Blacksmith mystery, and yet that still works much, much better than the nonsense happening with Elektra.
Elektra tells Matt that the Black Sky revelation explains everything about her bloodlust, but it’s more of a non-explanation, a fantastic development that compels her to act a certain way because some mystical prophecy or whatever says it must be so. Elektra loves to kill because she was born to be The Hand’s ultimate weapon and lead it to victory in the ill-defined war Stick keeps talking about, and while it’s technically an explanation, it’s a lazy one that doesn’t bother to explore the real emotional factors that motivate a killer.
Frank Castle kills people because he watched his family get gunned down after he came home from fighting a war, and there’s a lot to emotionally latch on to with his story: the effect of the war on his psyche, the difficulty of his transition from soldier to civilian, the complicated feelings he had toward his family after coming home. Frank’s arc is frightening because it’s plausible. His narrative is rooted in major issues the U.S. is currently facing with regards to veterans, mental health, and gun violence, whereas Elektra’s is seemingly rooted in Yellow Peril and the offensive theory that Asians represent a threat to Western culture.
This is where the race-bending of Elektra becomes a big problem, and after non-stop Asian stereotypes, it’s exhausting to find out that Elektra is another one. In his The Nerds Of Color piece on Anti-Asianism in Daredevil’s first season, Takeo Rivera brings up a lot of issues that have been exacerbated in season 2, and with Elektra we see further proliferation of, as Takeo writes, “ the longstanding orientalist notion that Asians, while competent, have no sense of independent thought and blindly follow authority.” For most of her appearances this season, Elektra has been confident, strong, and independent, but she’s also shown the occasional glimpse of vulnerability that the other Asian characters are denied. Those vulnerable moments weren’t always convincing, but at least they were there, and they made her a more fully formed character.
That vulnerability and independence are taken away from Elektra when she learns that she’s destined to be The Hand’s greatest weapon, and while she briefly argues against her fate, she quickly succumbs to it. The characters constantly refer to Elektra as “it” in this episode, stripping her of her agency by treating her as something less than human, and while the writers do make a point to have Elektra take offense at this treatment, that doesn’t excuse that the script is subjecting her to it in the first place.
This Black Sky junk isn’t a part of Elektra’s comic-book backstory, and it’s sad that the writers of this show ignore the complexity of her comic-book character in favor of a much shallower, less compelling approach. It’s possible that they don’t want to hit the same Elektra beats as the Daredevil film, but there’s no pathos behind this new approach, particularly when Elektra barely puts up a fight to assert her own will in this situation. Part of the reason she sides with The Hand is because this is her chance to be loved, and the idea that Elektra is so desperate for affection that she would join an evil ninja cult because they worship her is an insult to the character.
The Elektra plot is bad, but the most disgraceful thing about Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Douglas Petrie’s script is the moment when The Hand escapes from Daredevil and Elektra by turning out the lights. The entire gimmick behind this superhero is that he’s blind. As in he cannot see anything, so turning on the lights doesn’t do shit. It makes sense that the ninja would turn out the lights to conceal their escape, but it doesn’t make sense that the ninja would be able to get away from Matt because of it, even with the handy contrivance that Matt can’t sense them.
I can understand why the writers made The Hand undetectable by Matt’s senses because it makes for a tougher opponent, but it also stretches credulity to the limit. I’m willing to accept that a man gains superpowers because he was doused in radioactive waste, but I can’t accept that there are ninja so good that a man who can feel the slightest variations in the air around him can’t sense them. Matt can track their breathing and the motion of their swords, but somehow he can’t track their bodies. Maybe there’s some mystical explanation for this, like the ninjas are all actually made of a mist with no solid form, but then how they can wear clothes or hold weapons or land a punch? The writers expect the audience to just accept that these ninja are undetectable and that’s the end of that, but in the process they muddy the viewer’s understanding of Matt’s abilities, which creates distracting questions that are never answered.
While Matt is dealing with The Hand, Karen finally solves the mystery of the Blacksmith, who turns out to be the one character who had a connection to Frank before he became The Punisher. I should have known this show wouldn’t waste Clancy Brown on just one quick appearance, and Colonel Ray Schoonover comes back this week to add some more depth to Frank’s character before he reveals his dark side. Ray and Karen’s conversation about how Frank used to act in Afghanistan reveals new facets of his personality that make his current situation all the more tragic, but the big reveal doesn’t have much impact because Ray has barely been on the series and we’ve never actually seen him with Frank.
We hear about their relationship and how Ray was like a father figure to Frank, but it’s all hastily delivered exposition intended to raise the emotional stakes for when Frank finally kills the man responsible for his suffering. Half-baked father figures are a recurring motif throughout this episode, and Ray joins Stick and Ellison as a surrogate father with an underdeveloped parent-child relationship. With Ray, we have a classic “show, don’t tell” scenario, and his dynamic with Frank would be much stronger if the series had them spend some time together instead of having Ray talk about moments they shared together in the past. Their first exchange doesn’t happen until Frank is about to kill Ray, and at this point it’s too late to give this moment the gravitas needed to make it a satisfying conclusion to the Blacksmith subplot.
The emotional weight in this scene comes primarily from Karen’s reaction to Frank, and she finally reaches her breaking point with him in the moments before he kills Ray. She begs and pleads for him to follow the law now that they’ve tracked down the person responsible for his pain, and it’s a foolish request given what Karen has already seen from Frank. He’s a ruthless killer, but Karen has been holding out hope that Frank would start to redeem himself by not murdering his greatest enemy, and she thinks that her relationship with him is enough to make him change. She’s wrong, though, and Frank would much rather have the satisfaction of completing his revenge than Karen’s friendship.
“The Dark At The End Of The Tunnel” rushes through the Blacksmith beats, but at least there’s some kind of emotional foundation, even if its been haphazardly built. The Elektra revelations are like a bomb that destroys her foundation, and rather than finding a way to make The Hand more interesting, the writers decide to make Elektra less interesting by pulling her into the ninja clan’s shitstorm of stereotypes. It’s a huge mistake for this series, and it shatters any expectations I have for a satisfying conclusion to The Hand’s story.
- Karen and Ellison’s relationship drives me crazy. The character of Ellison has changed completely since his appearances in season 1, and while this personality shift could be attributed to Ben’s death, it still doesn’t explain why the hell he’s become such a crusader for Karen. They suddenly have this deep bond in season 2, but the writers have done minimal work in actually building that bond. It’s just there because the writers want it to be there.
- This show introduces a non-white member of The Chaste this episode and wastes no time in killing him off.
- Anyone else immediately think of Barney Gumbel’s short film from The Simpsons when Frank tells Karen he’s already dead?
- Something went down with Frank and Ray in Kandahar, and I bet Will Simpson from Jessica Jones was a part of it, too.
- I really don’t need to see that much fingernail torture.
- “Only thing gonna crack tonight is your skull…asshole.”