Chained to a chimney on a rooftop overlooking the Dogs Of Hell’s clubhouse, Daredevil is in an extremely compromised position in “New York’s Finest,” an episode that delves into Matt Murdock and Frank Castle’s conflicting opinions about fighting crime. A situation pulled directly from the comics—Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Punisher #3 (2000) to be exact—Daredevil’s bondage forces him to confront the Punisher on a deeper level, one that brings out his Catholic side as he argues the merits of hope and redemption in the face of Frank’s bleak, murderous worldview.
Matt’s Catholicism is highlighted in the very first scene flashing back to young Matty’s experience in the Catholic orphanage where he’s tended to by an out-of-focus nun who is most likely his mother. (In the comics, Maggie Murdock left her husband and son to join the Catholic church, a decision motivated by her post-partum depression as revealed in Mark Waid’s recent Daredevil run.) As the nun cleans Matty’s bloody body—presumably this takes place during his training with Stick—the camera lingers on her rosary beads and the statue of a crucified Jesus hanging on the wall, highlighting key Catholic images to remind viewers that this is where Matt comes from and what defines his work as Daredevil.
Frank Castle used to be a Catholic, too, but something changed. Frank had one bad day that turned him into The Punisher, and there’s no place for Catholic ideals like hope and redemption in his vengeful mission, which is quickly evolving into a grander criminal-killing initiative. Most of this episode focuses on Matt and Frank’s conversation on the roof, fleshing out Frank’s backstory by revealing that he was a former soldier and exploring how his foreign warzone experience has influenced his perspective of the warzone that used to be his home. As is to be expected from this series, the dialogue is more concerned with addressing the thematic content of the series rather than sounding natural, and the two characters are mouthpieces for conflicting points of view regarding how vigilantes should behave.
As the past week of heated Batman V Superman arguments has shown, people have very strong opinions on how superheroes should act, and many of the criticisms I’ve seen deal with the amount of killing that goes down in the film. Should superheroes be allowed to kill? They already beat and torture people, so is there really such a big a line between that and just ending a person’s life? Of course there is. It’s the line between life and death. Matt does a lot of disagreeable things in this season, but I completely agree with his arguments on the roof, responding to The Punisher by bringing up all the things that bother me about his actions.
The Punisher is a fascinating villain, and this episode makes him even scarier by spotlighting his psyche and exposing the worldview that drives a man to kill others for their sins. He’s been desensitized to the taking of lives due to his experience as a soldier, and he’s convinced that the only way to stop the spread of evil is by killing evildoers, not realizing that he absorbs their evil and spreads it himself in the process. Matt wants to try and bring Frank to the light, but all he does is expose how dark Frank’s soul has become. Matt mentions the men hanging from meat hooks and the hospital shooting from the season premiere, but none of this has any impact on Frank. Frank knows what he’s done and he has absolutely no issue with his methods; in fact, he thinks there should be more people like him standing up to protect their communities.
His perspective is frightening because it’s so believable, and all you have to do is look at the arguments for open carry gun laws to see how Frank’s view of vigilante justice plays out in reality. People want guns so they can protect themselves from other people with guns, and what we end up with is a country plagued by gun violence, and very little of it committed in the name of justice. You can already see how Frank is veering off course with his mission, and while he says that he only kills the people that need killing, he tells that to Matt right after he holds a gun to an elderly man’s head (from behind a door) when he comes up to the rooftop to investigate all the racket.
Once you numb yourself to killing another person, it becomes easier to keep doing it when it serves your personal needs, and this episode highlights the hypocrisy of The Punisher’s perspective as he tries to argue it. The rooftop conversation builds to one central decision for Daredevil when Frank captures Grotto, and Matt has to choose between shooting Frank with the gun taped to his hand or letting Frank kill Grotto. The Punisher thinks Daredevil is a half-measure, and giving Matt this choice is a way of bringing him closer to Frank’s mindset, perhaps so The Punisher and Daredevil can work together to protect Hell’s Kitchen. But resisting temptation is another huge aspect of Catholicism, and rather than giving in, Matt finds a third option, shooting the chain so he can break free and kick Frank’s ass. It doesn’t save Grotto, but it saves Matt’s soul.
After Grotto is killed, Frank fires a bullet at the Dogs Of War’s motorcycles, setting off a gigantic explosion that draws the gang into the building, where Matt is trying to make his escape after shooting his way out of his chains. The wave of combatants ushers in the season’s first truly ambitious action sequence, taking inspiration from season 1’s hallway fight for a close quarters brawl that begins in a hallway, then continues down the stairs and onto the ground floor of the building. Rather than a tracking shot, this sequence uses a handheld camera to get up close to the carnage, emphasizing the cramped environment while allowing for more freedom of motion. It’s an impressive scene, and while it’s not as clear as that first hallway fight, the more chaotic camerawork works as a reflection of Matt’s mental state as he barrels his way through bikers, armed with the chain that had him bound just moments earlier.
“New York’s Finest” features the triumphant return of Claire Temple to Daredevil, and while she’s saddled to a plotline that is ultimately a vehicle for Foggy to show off his talent for talking down homicidal gang members, it’s still very nice to have Rosario Dawson back on the series. Claire has only been in six episodes of Marvel’s Netflix shows (five in the first season of Daredevil plus her one guest appearance on Jessica Jones), but Dawson’s performance has made her one of the most well-defined characters in this world. Claire feels real in a way many of the more prominent figures on Daredevil don’t, and it’s easy to empathize with Claire’s anger and frustration because Dawson does such good work making her a regular person who keeps getting sucked into the superhero madness. Claire represents the perspective of the regular people of Hell’s Kitchen, and she’s an essential component in keeping the story grounded as fantastic superhero elements become more prominent in this series.
- D.A. Reyes continues to be a very cartoonish villain, and the writers make her extra aggressive so Karen can respond with equal aggression as she tries to solve the puzzle of The Punisher.
- I don’t buy that A.D.A. Tower doesn’t know the history of the people that previously filled his position, especially if there’s a recurring pattern of Reyes dumping them to save herself.
- Matt says he didn’t ask for the name “The Devil Of Hell’s Kitchen,” but what did he expect when he started beating people up dressed as a devil?
- This show would like you to think the start of this episode’s big fight is one long take, but the cuts are very obvious.
- The Punisher sure does find Grotto very easily.
- “Listen to me: Had five. Now two. Your fault. That clear?”
- “This city, it stinks. It’s a sewer. It stinks and it smells like shit and I can’t get the stink out of my nose.” Somebody’s been watching The Matrix!
- Foggy: “Matt made a mistake when he let you go.” Claire: “What makes you think he did?” I love the little wave Claire gives Foggy as she walks away after this line.