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.
Hear me out: This episode features underground tunnels, a kidnapped martial arts mentor, a plucky reporter with a patronizing boss, a violent vigilante, and tons of ninjas. You guys, is this a stealth remake of 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?!? TMNT started as a Daredevil parody. Is it possible this episode is closing the loop?
Maybe the binge-watch is getting to me, but I really think it fits: Matt is moral leader Leonardo, Elektra is pissed off loner Raphael, Karen is April O’Neil, Ellison is Charles Pennington minus the annoying son, Frank is Casey Jones, and Nobu is Shredder, complete with face scars. Plus what does Stick get tortured with? Giant SPLINTERS! Hell, this episode even devotes extended flashback time to a teenaged ninja who, it turns out, is some sort of ancient weapon, which is close enough to a mutant in my book. And we might as well say Foggy is Michaelangelo because why not?
Okay, so I’m stalling a bit because “The Dark At The End Of The Tunnel” is a weird episode and I don’t exactly know how to talk about it. It finally provides answers to this season’s biggest mysteries, but, unfortunately, those answers aren’t particularly satisfying. For instance, it turns out Blacksmith is actually Frank’s old commander Colonel Schoonover, who organized former soldiers into a band of drug smugglers led by a guy who looks like Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer (but that’s a whole other tangent). Schoonover almost kills Karen because she knows too much, but Frank tracks Schoonover down and kills him instead.
There’s some great tension as Karen slowly realizes Schoonover is up to no good and later picks up on the fact that Frank is tracking them. And I laughed out loud when Frank shot Schoonover in the head instead of listening to his dramatic monologue (Daredevil really wants to have it both ways with condemning/glorifying violence, huh?). But I’m not sure this is a big enough payoff to all the Blacksmith build-up. Is there still a larger conspiracy at play (maybe one involving Kandahar?) or is it just a massive coincidence that the random shoot-out that killed Frank’s family happened to be orchestrated by a guy he served with? Either way, Frank clearly wants this to be his closure so he decides it is, which is good enough for me. I’m still a little confused by Karen’s sudden insistence that Frank shouldn’t kill, but I guess it’s tied to the horrific diner murders she witnessed in the last episode.
But the scene that really drove me crazy was the reveal that Elektra is actually “Black Sky”—the weapon The Hand have been searching for across the years. On a very basic level I don’t understand what that means: Does she have extra superpowers she can tap into if they unlock the weapon inside of her? Or has she always been operating at weapon-level and they just want as her leader? And either way, isn’t it a good thing if she becomes their leader and can order them to stop killing The Chaste? Reform from within, baby! Matt is immediately horrified even though he has no more idea what Black Sky is than I do. Watching the characters have very intense emotional reactions to something I didn’t understand was frustrating, as was the fact that Elektra’s morality was once again shaped by Matt mansplaining her innate goodness to her.
(For the record, Karen also tries to mansplain morality to the Punisher, it just doesn’t work.)
But the good news is I finally figured out how to articulate my discomfort with The Hand! I actually don’t mind their mysticism/regeneration as much as I thought I would back in “Guilty As Sin.” And I’m certainly not immune to the pleasures of a kickass ninja battle (I love that the silent Hand soldiers are an extra challenge for Matt). But they’re just too big a threat for this street-level show. This version of Daredevil is not the right hero to be dealing with two massive armies of mystical ninjas engaged in an ancient international war that is either ongoing, about to start, or just ending (I swear Stick says all three of these things at various points).
What saves this episode, though, are the Elektra flashbacks. Lily Chee is utterly captivating as young Elektra and seeing the intimacy of her early relationship with Stick helps me understand why grown-up Elektra feels so deeply betrayed by his attempts to have her killed.
Actually on the whole I probably liked this episode more than this review makes it seem. Despite some wonkiness it was full of interesting visuals, tense moments, and creative ideas—like the way Matt and Stick can communicate through whispers only they can hear—which helped distract from my confusion. I’m hopeful that a lot of my questions will be cleared up in the finale, but there’s only one way to find out!
Standout moment: I’ve got two: The sweet scene in which Stick drops young Elektra off at the ambassador’s home. And the moment Karen realizes “Shining Star” is a message from Frank.
Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: Anything?
Burning question: In Episode 208 Stick says to Elektra, “What do you think [Matt] will say when he finds out what you are? What you’ve always been? Haven’t told him yet, have you?” But here it’s revealed she had no idea she was the Black Sky. So does she have another secret? Or was Stick referring to the fact that she kills people, which Matt 100% already knew?
Excitement to start next episode: 6/10