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Marvel’s Daredevil: “Condemned”

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So far, every episode of Daredevil has had a gritty fight sequence as its centerpiece, and while “Condemned” by no means skimps on the action, its most grueling battle is one fought with words, not fists. After being cornered by a squad of police officers—most of whom are in Wilson Fisk’s pocket—Matt Murdock holes up in a derelict building with a wounded Vladimir, doing everything he can to keep him alive and get information that will bring him closer to Fisk.

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To Matt’s surprise, he encounters the criminal overlord sooner than he thinks via Vladimir’s walkie-talkie. “You’ve been asking about me,” Fisk’s voice softly crackles through the speaker. “I thought it was time we spoke.” Having—let’s just call him this even if the show isn’t—The Kingpin and Daredevil interact for the first time over the radio is an unexpected choice, and yet also makes complete sense. Delaying a physical confrontation fits the slow-burning nature of a full 13-episode season, and having their conversation be strictly audio plays to Matt’s disability, and thus, his powers. Without being able to detect Fisk’s corporeal presence or conjure a fiery outline of his form (as we saw him do with Claire Kelly in last week’s episode), who knows what’s running through Matt’s head when envisioning his foe? Their verbal back and forth also further drives home Fisk’s intellectualism. As much as he has no qualms about using a car door as a crude, makeshift guillotine, he’s also articulate, intelligent, and knows that there are more ways to hurt someone than just beating the shit out of them.

That strategy comes into play during their conversation. In many ways, it’s a dynamic we’ve seen countless times in comic books and their respective adaptations—the villain getting under the hero’s skin by noting how similar they are. But at the end of the day, The Joker and Batman aren’t really that much alike. Yes, they both have extreme world-views that they inflict by dressing up in a costume and attacking their enemies. But one figure revels in chaos while the other wants order and justice. Bruce Wayne is ultimately a good person and The Joker is not.

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Neither is Wilson Fisk, but his heightened romantic feelings towards Vanessa Marianna show us that, unlike The Joker, he’s not a sociopath, and he’s completely right when he tells Matt that they both want to make New York a better place. The difference between them comes in the execution, not the philosophy. “I want so save this city, like you,” says Fisk. “Only on a scale that matters.” That means buying out police officers, then killing them if necessary, as he does moments later to frame Daredevil as a murderer. That means accepting civilian casualties to wipe out the cancerous Russian mob.

What really makes the whole thing stand out from similar scenes in previous comic adaptations (and the comics themselves) is that Matt seems to believe Fisk. While his soon-to-be archenemy stays calm, regally sitting in his SUV across from an equally stoic Wesley, Matt thrashes around the room, kicking at rubble and slumping to the floor at Fisk’s words. He looks almost like a pouty child as he realizes this is a fight he might not be able to win.

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But when the chips topple from the table, when the outside world begins to turn against Daredevil after Fisk airs earlier security footage of the vigilante beating up a bunch of cops, Matt gets a second wind from an unexpected source: Vladimir. Although they’ve spent the greater part of the episode clobbering each other with kicks and two-by-fours, the Russian gangster eventually realizes that he and Matt are in the same boat. Or maybe he’s just thankful that his rival has saved his life more than once (with the help of Claire’s medical knowledge over the phone, of course). Or maybe, like Matt’s own father, he just wants to go out with a little dignity. Not only does he help Matt lift a steel manhole cover so they can escape the building and army of police outside—he finally gives up Leland Owsley’s name when they’re in the sewer.

This bit of information is an undeniable lynchpin in bringing down Fisk’s empire, even if Vladimir won’t live to see it happen. Mortally wounded, he prefers to stay in the sewers and go out in a blaze of glory as the police close in on him. Matt accepts this and heads back to the streets as a wanted man, undoubtedly wondering if his cause is worth all this carnage. As I said before, he knows that Fisk is partly right, which makes The Kingpin a more formidable foe than ever.

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Stray Observations

  • The writers really do love throwing around “dickhead” as an insult.
  • The show has been pretty economic in its number of locations, but that was especially true tonight. Events more or less toggled back and forth between Claire, Foggy, and Karen at the hospital, Matt and Vladimir (as well as the police and Ben Urich outside) at the condemned building, and Owsley and Fisk in his car. The lack of places gives everything an appropriately claustrophobic feel.
  • We get a little bit more info about the mysterious Madame Gao. Apparently the Chinese are trafficking heroin. I’m still holding out for her involvement with The Hand, although they’re Japanese in the comics, so I’m not sure if that will happen.
  • Did Matt roaring and pounding on Vladimir’s chest to revive him remind anyone else of a similar scene from Lost?
  • “I’m not big on guns,” Daredevil tells Vladimir, once again echoing The Dark Knight. I must say though, I love how Matt doesn’t put on any kind of gravelly voice when playing his alter-ego. It’s refreshing.
  • “He’s a blind guy in a war zone. Seems like jumping’s a pretty reasonable option.”
  • “That’s what makes you dangerous. It’s not the mask. It’s not the skills. It’s your ideology. The lone man that thinks he can make a difference.”
  • Next up…Stick!
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