Welcome to The A.V. Club’s Daredevil binge-watch. From Friday, March 18 through Sunday, March 20, A.V. Club contributor Caroline will be watching and reviewing every episode of Netflix’s returning superhero series. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting five reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and four reviews on Sunday. You can follow along and comment on the whole season on the binge-watching hub page or chime in on individual episode reviews. For those watching the show at a more moderate pace, reviews by Oliver Sava will run daily starting Tuesday, March 22.
If your idea of a perfect superhero show is one in which the characters sit around and discuss their backstories, then boy are you going to love “Guilty As Sin.” The episode starts and ends with two exciting action sequences (and, to be honest, that amazing final cameo is already softening my opinion of this uneven hour), but in between there’s enough exposition to fill a season’s worth of storytelling. Even more troubling: “Guilty As Sin” implodes its best character.
Seriously, what the hell happened to Elektra? Daredevil’s unique creation is suddenly punctured by cliché after cliché. It turns out everything she’s ever done—including meeting and dating Matt Murdock—was done at the behest of Stick, Matt’s childhood mentor whom we met in season one. But you’ll never guess what happened after she took Matt as her mission! Actually you’ll definitely be able to guess if you’ve ever seen a movie with a femme fatale before. As she reveals, “I did the thing I promised him I’d never do. I fell in love with you, Matthew.” God bless Élodie Yung for managing to deliver that trite line with a straight face.
I think the idea here is that Elektra’s life-threatening injury causes both her and Matt to invest in their relationship to an unhealthy degree, overlooking their fundamental incompatibilities because they’re both so grateful she’s alive. (Plus Matt feels super guilty for being the cause of her near-death experience.) Elektra briefly decides she wants to be “good” like Matt, but can’t stop herself from slitting a young intruder’s throat moments later.
I’m perfectly fine with the idea of exploring a more vulnerable Elektra and a more cutthroat Elektra, but there’s something decidedly off about the execution here (no pun intended). I don’t know if it’s a writing thing or a performance thing, but this just doesn’t feel anything like the woman we’ve come to know and love over the past three episodes. Elektra is a supremely self-assured and independent person, but all of a sudden she’s defining herself exclusively by her relationship to Matt in a way that doesn’t feel 100% intentional on the show’s part. (Matt, for instance, similarly invests in their relationship but without altering his entire personality.) Yung plays the throat-slitting moment not like Elektra is returning to her old ways but like she’s having a mental breakdown—widening her eyes and asking, “Do you still want me?” as if she genuinely doesn’t know the answer. (No, girl, the answer is going to be no.)
Maybe I’m nitpicking too much, but Elektra isn’t the only thing off about “Guilty As Sin.” As in season one, Stick and his ties to mysticism don’t completely fit into Daredevil’s more grounded universe, even if Scott Glenn brings a dose of welcome dry humor to the show.
In a long monologue that kind of feels like it wants to be a flashback, Stick tells Matt all about an ancient group of immortal warlords called The Hand. They’re after a weapon called “black sky,” but Stick’s rival group, The Chaste, are committed to stopping them. It’s serviceable as far as these things go, but, like Matt, I’m not super interested in that particular side of Daredevil’s mythos.
There’s more backstory and exposition in the Frank Castle trial as well, although that at least feels more relevant to the main story. Colonel Ray Schoonover recounts how Frank Castle once saved an entire team of men by single-handedly killing 32 enemy combatants (I kind of wish the show had taken the opportunity to point out how our culture’s opinions of killing change so drastically within the context of the military, but the story is mostly here to emphasize’s Frank heroism and skills). Later a doctor testifies that thanks to the bullet wound in his brain, Frank is an extended state of fight or flight (called “sympathetic storming”) that makes him incapable of making premeditated decisions.
Matt, meanwhile, gets a chance to show off his courtroom prowess as he convincingly argues that New York needs vigilante heroes. While Frank pushed his heroism too far, Matt explains, the jury should try to help him with his psychology issues, not punish him for them. (In general, this is one of Charlie Cox’s strongest episodes from a pure acting standpoint. He effortlessly conveys both his courtroom confidence and his Elektra-related guilt.)
Things seem to be looking up for Frank until he suddenly declares himself guilty, a decision that makes much more sense once he pays a visit to the jailbird pulling his strings:
That’s right, biddies, Wilson Fisk is back! So let’s forget all about this misstep of an episode and see what Fisk has in store for us next.
Standout moment: Matt scoffs at tales of immortality and Stick replies, “I thought you were a Catholic, Matty. Doesn’t your whole belief system hinge on one God pulling that off?” I may or may not have exclaimed, “Oh snap!” to my empty apartment.
Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: No MCU connections, but in addition to playing a Colonel in this episode, Clancy Brown also played a General on The Flash. That’s gotta count for something, right?
Burning question: Does Karen assume Matt had a threesome with the old man and hot lady she finds in his apartment? Or does she think he slept with Elektra and then invited Stick over to hang out?
Excitement to start next episode: 6/10
In other news, I’ve determined that Élodie Yung looks like the love child of Olivia Munn and Megan Fox: