Photo: Daredevil (Netflix)

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.

Daredevil isn’t a subtle show. When I praised “Kinbaku” for juxtaposing Matt’s relationships with Karen and Elektra, it’s not like I was piecing together some delicate bit of subtext—that was pretty clearly what the episode meant for me to takeaway. For the most part, however, “Semper Fidelis” is operating on a slightly more nuanced level. Granted there’s nothing understated about the opening montage in which potential jurors argue over whether Frank Castle is either a hero or a villain right before he steps in front of a giant American flag. But other than that, there’s a lot that goes unspoken in this episode, which is refreshing in some ways and a little frustrating in others.

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Breaking News: Violent vigilante only wanted to make America great again.

Like “Regrets Only,” this episode splits its time between the Frank Castle case and Matt and Elektra’s investigation into the Yakuza. But while that previous episode streamlined both its halves, “Semper Fidelis” gets bogged down in plot mechanics. Matt and Elektra shake down a cryptographer to break the Roxxon ledger code, which leads them first to a train car filled with dirt and eventually to the Midland Circle building where they are shocked and aghast to discover… an incredibly deep hole! It’s an odd reveal to a storyline that’s mostly there to keep the Matt/Elektra sexual tension simmering and allow for the requisite Daredevil action scenes, which are solid enough if a little uninspired.

Welcome to our bottomless pit of despair

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But the Yakuza investigation is downright straightforward compared to the convoluted Castle case. Let’s break this down: Matt and Foggy aren’t trying to prove Frank’s innocence (he’s admitted to killing people), they’re just hoping to reduce the charges against him so that he gets put in an isolated mental health facility rather than thrown to the wolves in gen pop. After Frank rejects their idea to gain sympathy by claiming he suffers from PTSD, Foggy decides they should try to prove Reyes is corrupt, push for a mistrial, and (I think) just hope they face a kinder D.A. next time. To do that they want to prove Reyes forced chief medical examiner Gregory Tepper to lie about the way Frank’s family was killed, which everyone agrees might not even be relevant to this case in the first place.

If you got confused reading that last paragraph, I don’t blame you. I get the sense that Daredevil is trying to inject some realism into the courtroom side of things by employing the kind of legal minutia that probably does factor heavily into most real-life cases. But that’s not an effective choice for an episode that spends so much time away from the trial. A simpler set up—say one in which Foggy and Matt are arguing against a death sentence—might have made the courtroom drama more immediately compelling.

Yet confusing plot mechanics aside, I’m impressed by the subtle work “Semper Fidelis” does with its characterizations. For one thing, Matt’s double life finally catches up to him. Not only does he miss his opening statement and skip out on countless planning sessions, he inadvertently encourages Elektra to threaten Dr. Tepper, which results in the doctor’s testimony—a.k.a. Nelson & Murdock’s main defense strategy—getting thrown out.

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What’s great is that Matt is 100% in the wrong here and the episode doesn’t try to mitigate that. While investigating the Yakuza is important, it’s not a life or death situation. Matt could’ve easily put the investigation aside until the trial was over, but it’s clear his desire to spend time with Elektra (and potentially his desire to beat people up) is clouding his judgment. He can’t even get too mad about Elektra’s intimidation tactic because it’s the exact same stunt he pulled with the cryptographer at the start of the episode. Daredevil boldly pivots from a show about the burden of Matt’s heroism to a show about his superiority complex. And after watching Matt make so many bad choices, it’s immensely satisfying to see Foggy dress him down. “Stop acting like these things just happen to you,” indeed!

Also great is the Matt and Karen date night scene, which reminds us that as much as they might claim to care about Frank as a person, they’re both projecting a lot of their own issues onto him. Matt is determined to prove that vigilantism isn’t unethical so long as the vigilante in question doesn’t kill. Karen, meanwhile, is determined to prove that killing is sometimes justified if it helps prevent future crime. That he’s secretly a vigilante and she’s secretly a murderer goes unspoken.

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This discussion of killing vs. not killing bad guys is far more interesting than the one Daredevil and the Punisher had back in “New York’s Finest.” Watching a brooding man condemn murder while an idealistic woman defends it is an unexpected dynamic that nevertheless fits perfectly with what we know about both characters. I thought Daredevil would use Elektra as a wedge to drive Karen and Matt apart, but having a fundamental ideological difference be the first thing to dampen their fairy tale romance is a far, far more interesting choice.

Grade: B+

Standout moment: I love that Foggy’s impassioned opening statement was immediately undercut by Frank saying, “That was a pretty thick slice of bullshit there, counselor.” Great delivery from Bernthal.

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Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: Zip

Burning question: How long ago was Frank’s family killed? Are we talking months or years?

Excitement to start next episode: 7/10

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