Daredevil second season continues down two very different paths with “Seven Minutes In Heaven,” an episode that splits time between Frank Castle’s misadventures in prison and Daredevil’s hunt for the evil ninjas overtaking New York City. The prison story is tense, grisly, and personal, offering important information about Frank’s past by having him form a temporary alliance with Wilson Fisk, but The Hand material continues to fall flat. Frank and Fisk are both antagonists who have received a wealth of character development, and it makes their thread far more captivating than whatever is going on with The Hand’s blood farm.

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Matt is falling deeper down the Daredevil hole now that he knows about the war brewing in New York City, and he’s forcibly pushing the people he cares about away because he doesn’t want them to get hurt. Matt acts like a huge jerk when Foggy visits him, and he encourages the shuttering of their law firm and their friendship because that’s the safest thing for Foggy and Karen. This isn’t made explicit, but the subtext is there, particularly in the quality of Charlie Cox’s performance when Matt’s being a dick. There’s an undercurrent of sadness rather than malice in how he treats Foggy, like he’s forcing himself to say things he doesn’t really mean.

My hopes that The Hand would gain some more pathos are still unanswered at the end of this episode. They remain a generic evil ninja clan, one that is even more evil with the revelation that they’re drugging people and siphoning their blood into a giant stone sarcophagus. Like the first episodes with The Punisher, the show’s introduction to The Hand largely revolves around creating drama with shocking moments, but Frank Castle shooting down a bar full of Irish gangsters makes more sense within the context of this series than a room full of people in cages being used to feed what’s in that sarcophagus. Those early Punisher moments were terrifying because they were believable, but the story’s shift into a more fantastic mode for The Hand means that this villainous group needs something to ground it in reality or their actions won’t have any emotional impact.

Vincent D’Onofrio made a fascinating Wilson Fisk because of how he depicted the character’s vulnerability in the first season, but Fisk’s time in prison has hardened him, stripping him of any nuance in the process. He’s fully assumed the supervillain role and is now committed to becoming New York City’s Kingpin, but first he needs to seize control of the prison he’s locked in. D’Onofrio’s performance is especially cartoonish in this episode, but his characterization fits the writing. Fisk is big and intimidating and acts like he’s in charge although he’s still making his way up the food chain, and D’Onofrio plays all these elements aggressively.

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Fisk is still scary, but it’s a more conventional kind of supervillain scary that lacks the gravitas of Frank Castle, who shows exactly why he’s so feared when he’s locked in a cellblock with a bunch of inmates that want to kill him. What ensues is Daredevil’s most brutally graphic action sequence yet, a close-quarters hallway fight that highlights how horrifying violence is when people are fighting to kill. Bodies are stabbed over and over, and one guy even gets his head smashed in with a hammer because, as we’ve seen before, this show loves Oldboy.

It’s an extremely unpleasant sequence that doesn’t feature any flashy fight choreography, just powerful bodies colliding into each other and using whatever they can to draw blood. The action hurts to watch, and there’s an overwhelming sense of relief when Frank has a moment to catch his breath on the ground. The shot of Frank on the ground in his bloodstained white prison clothes, surrounded by dead bodies in orange is a very evocative image, and seeing the final result of the carnage keeps the tension high until the end of the scene.

Wilson Fisk has a plan to take the throne in prison and eventually the larger city, and Frank is a part of that plan. In a convenient development, the prisoner standing in Fisk’s way, Dutton, has a direct connection to the gang shooting that cost Frank his family, and Fisk’s initial idea is to use Frank to take out Dutton, then kill Frank so he doesn’t continue to pose a threat. That changes when Fisk sees Frank in action, and he decides to keep Frank around as a weapon, pulling strings so Frank is out of prison by the end of the episode and back on the streets so he can take down Fisk’s competition.

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Writers Marco Ramirez and Lauren Schmidt Hissrich move very quickly with this story, so there are significant shortcuts taken involving Fisk’s rise to power and the ease with which he manipulates the system to get Frank out of prison when he just entered it. The character of Dutton is an especially neat contrivance, allowing the writers to deliver a lot of exposition about the deaths of Frank’s family while introducing a reason for Frank and Fisk to work together. Dutton reveals that the shootout was a sting that went south, and the feds were going to crash this gang meeting in hopes of capturing the mysterious Blacksmith, who had a line on heroin from the Middle East. Blacksmith got word and didn’t show up, someone started shooting, and the next thing Frank knows, his family is dead and he’s taken a bullet to the head.

Despite the narrative shortcuts, this new information about the Castle murders does add a compelling new wrinkle to the conspiracy surrounding those events, and it sets Frank on a new path of vengeance at the end of the episode, sending him after Blacksmith and the feds that helped set up the sting that cost him everything he cared about. Frank continues to be the most intriguing element of Daredevil season 2, and the strength of his story draws attention to how far The Hand has to come before it becomes an interesting opponent for Daredevil. The writers still have a lot of work to do with the evil ninja clan, and they need to work fast because the season is heading toward its conclusion.

Stray observations

  • There’s a specific cadence to D’Onofrio’s line delivery that is intended to increase the intensity of his dialogue, but he exaggerates so much that the intensity starts to give way to accidental humor.
  • Karen Page hasn’t written a single article yet but she’s given her own office at New York Bulletin and unwavering support from Ellison, who was a total asshole to Ben last season. I can suspend my disbelief for evil ninja blood farms, but this is too much!
  • How creepy is it that Ben Urich’s office has remained untouched since his death? I like to think it was actually cleared out but Ellison put all of Ben’s stuff back up when Karen approached him, so it’s extra creepy!
  • I was wrong and D’Onofrio actually was lifting all those weights at the end of last episode! He’s so strong.
  • “You don’t get to create danger, and then protect us from that danger. That’s not heroic. That’s insane.”
  • Hirochi: “There are more men outside.” Daredevil: “Not conscious ones.

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