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Daredevil dips in quality as the plot rushes into darker territory

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Matt Murdock’s superhero alter ego is referred to as both “Daredevil” and “The Devil Of Hell’s Kitchen” in this show’s second season, and while they share a key word, the two names have very different connotations. “The Devil Of Hell’s Kitchen” is the one that makes more sense in the context of a gritty street-level drama, describing the person who patrols Hell’s Kitchen dressed like a devil. “Daredevil” is a more flamboyant title, one that has a strong association with entertainment derived from the dangerous actions of reckless performers, and it implies a more positive perspective of the hero from those who use it. As the name of the show, “Daredevil” is the name that ultimately has more weight behind it, and “Dogs To A Gunfight” begins to reveal the negative aspects of Matt’s daredevil side.

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Daredevils are people who enjoy putting themselves at risk for the delight of others, and as that smile at the start of the season premiere showed, Matt Murdock enjoys his work. It’s even more satisfying because it’s not just for the delight of others, but their well-being, and he’s hooked on that thrill. The script by Marco Ramirez and Douglas Petries draws a connection between Matt’s secret vigilante life and alcohol addiction with Karen’s misinterpretation of what she sees when she goes to Matt’s apartment, and while Matt doesn’t have a drinking problem, he definitely has an addiction problem.

There’s a moment earlier in the episode, shortly after Foggy rescues Matt by searching multiple rooftops until he finds his unconscious best friend, where Foggy tries to grab the Daredevil costume and Matt compulsively snatches it up and holds it close to his body. He fights for it the way an alcoholic fights to keep their booze, and in that moment, Matt reveals his top priority, which isn’t his friends or his legal practice. Matt would likely be in police custody if it weren’t for Foggy, but Matt becomes less concerned with the people that care about him as he dedicates himself more fully to his vigilante mission.

Karen recognizes that something is wrong and tries to reach out, but Matt refuses to come clean, even when the focus of their conversation becomes Daredevil’s detrimental impact on Hell’s Kitchen. Karen is deeply shaken by recent events and blames the Punisher’s arrival on the rise of Daredevil, and rather than using this opportunity to come out as Daredevil and put some of Karen’s worries at ease, Matt keeps up the charade because he doesn’t want another person in his life telling him to stop doing the thing he loves most. He could use the classic male superhero justification that he’s keeping this secret for Karen’s safety, but considering the danger she’s already been put in because of her work with Nelson & Murdock, this line of reasoning doesn’t work well. The Karen and Matt dynamic is becoming increasingly frustrating, and it doesn’t get better from here.

While Matt is recuperating at home, Foggy and Karen are dealing with the Grotto situation, setting up a deal with the D.A. to get him in witness protection. This plot provides a heaping load of exposition from Sergeant Mahoney, who tells Foggy and Karen all he knows about this new vigilante shooter. He tells them about how the cops and the public feel about the shooter, and explains that he’s just the latest in a string of “Devil Worshippers,” people who have taken inspiration from Daredevil to wage their own personal wars on crime. This is valuable background information, but it would have been nice to see the writers show these reactions from the public and the police rather than having one person recount them.

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Likewise with Karen talking about how Hell’s Kitchen’s acceptance and praise of Daredevil birthed the Punisher. Karen’s argument would have more power if the series slowed down and spent more time establishing Daredevil’s role as a community hero, but the writers rush through that to start showing how Daredevil’s presence is damaging. Daredevil has built up a reputation in the time that has passed in this world, but he hasn’t built up that reputation with the audience, who hasn’t been watching his ascent between the first and second seasons. The writers try to give an impression of that in the premiere by starting with a lighter tone, but it’s not enough to make these later darker developments feel like a natural response to what’s already happening in Hell’s Kitchen.

Foggy and Karen’s story introduces one of this season’s primary antagonists: District Attorney Samantha Reyes, who briefly appeared at the end of Jessica Jones. Michelle Hurd brings an appropriate intensity to a character that is defined solely by her threatening, condescending behavior, and she does the best she can with her exaggerated dialogue. Like the first season, a lack of nuance will be a recurring issue throughout this season, which would be more acceptable if the show leaned more heavily into the superhero element of the plot rather than the crime drama element. Superhero stories can be broader because they don’t strive for realism, but crime dramas need to be more grounded and specific if they’re going to be believable.

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Frank Castle continues to be a mystery this episode, but we do start to see more of him when he’s not trying to kill people. The biggest revelation about the Punisher in “Dogs To A Gunfight” is that he’s not just attacking specific gang targets, but anyone that commits a crime, which makes him an even more dangerous figure. When a pawnshop owner tries to sell Frank child pornography, Frank beats the man with a baseball bat. We don’t know if Frank kills the man, but given his M.O. thus far, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that he does, which further complicates the character.

This pawnshop scene expands the range of people that Frank will punish, and we can already see the slippery slope he’s on, which started with the murder of gang members and now has him attacking the general population of criminals. There’s a specific reason why the child pornography enrages Frank so much, but the scene establishes that if Frank Castle finds someone doing something that disagrees with his personal moral code, he will hurt them and probably kill them. That’s an extremely unsettling situation because a personal moral code can be deeply flawed, and as Frank kills more people, the potential for moral corruption increases.

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“Dogs To A Gunfight” builds to a climax involving D.A. Reyes setting a trap for the Punisher using Grotto as bait, an operation that is interrupted by the arrival of Daredevil, who has seemingly recovered from his last bout with Frank. The second fight between Daredevil and Punisher is a lot like the first one, except it’s raining (evoking the rain fight back in “Into The Ring”) and they’re getting shot at by cops with horrible aim, which adds extra spectacle and danger to the confrontation. It’s entertaining, but not quite as visceral as their first encounter, and Frank’s resilience gains an almost superhuman quality as he falls great distances with minimal harm.

After tumbling through a skylight, the side effects of Matt’s bullet to the head return to paralyze him, and the fight ends with Frank slowly moving toward Daredevil, formulating a plan in his head. The two men are gone when the police sweep the area, implying that Matt’s fate is now in the Punisher’s hands, and while it’s not as strong a cliffhanger as the premiere’s headshot and rooftop tumble, it teases a different type of confrontation between Matt and Frank in the future. They’ve had a physical fight and now it’s time for a philosophical one, and these final moments set the stage for next episode’s debate about the merits and limitations of vigilante justice.

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Stray observations

  • Welcome back, shirtless Matt! We missed you!
  • Foggy’s throwaway line about what would have happened if people saw him dragging a costumed Matt from that rooftop makes me think about the logistics of Foggy getting Matt to his apartment, and I don’t buy that Foggy is able to accomplish this unseen. It’s a clear example of the writers covering up for a shortcut in their script.
  • Karen tells Matt that D.A. Reyes is the one that brought up “The Punisher” name to Grotto, but she’s misremembering. It was Assistant D.A. Blake Tower that mentions “The Punisher,” and not until Reyes leaves.
  • Mahoney casually references Detective Oscar Clemons in this episode, one of many Jessica Jones shout-outs sprinkled throughout this season.
  • I would have loved it if this show referred to The Punisher as “Dumbass With A Gun,” as per Foggy’s suggestion.
  • Matt uses his heightened sense of smell in this episode. Glad to see that the writers remembered he has it.
  • Man: “Check out the phone man. That’s a brand new Ikea.” Cashier: “Idiot.”
  • “That asshole opened fire in a hospital. You’re not the one who deserves to be punished.” In this instance, Matt is correct.
  • “Kiss for good luck, sweetheart?” (Karen sticks up her middle finger.)
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