“Cut Man” features the introduction of a significant new character and the revelation of the incident that set Matt Murdock on his path of blind justice, but it’s unlikely that viewers will end the episode with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) or the murder of Jack Murdock on their minds. After watching Daredevil pummel his way through a hallway full of Russian goons in a thrilling, intricately choreographed single-take action sequence, it’s damn near impossible to walk away from this chapter without focusing on the badassery of this series’ title character.

The brawls in the first episode were plenty exciting, but the showdown between Daredevil and the Russians takes the action to another level, teaching a master class on how to create an impactful fight sequence. Before any punches are thrown, director Phil Abraham takes time to establish the space where the fight will go down, slowly moving the camera to reveal the two side rooms filled with Russian gangsters (the obstacles), the backroom containing the abducted young boy (the goal), and the length of the hallway separating them. The camera spends most of the time focusing on the hallway when Daredevil arrives and starts the beatdown, and what isn’t shown is as effective as what is. We don’t see the opening moments of the fight when Matt charges into the first room, but we hear it, and the sound editing creates a strong picture of the chaos behind the door.

That chaos bleeds into the hallway when Matt throws a man through the door, then tosses a piece of office equipment at the head of one of the thugs checking on the noise from the other room. Those first two visual beats hit with incredible force after only getting sound, and the intensity builds from that point forward as Matt punches and kicks and leaps around the hallway. This interview with stunt coordinator Philip J. Silvera is a great look at what goes into creating this show’s action sequences, revealing that this episode’s big fight was truly filmed with one shot, with the actors hitting a minimum of 105 beats. That’s extraordinarily ambitious for a feature film, let alone a TV series, and it makes for an unforgettable conclusion to the episode.

It also proves that Charlie Cox is the perfect man to play Matt Murdock and his devilish alter ego. Once the fight breaks out, the camera rarely shows the action in the side rooms, making it easy for Cox to switch out with his stunt double, Chris Brewster. It’s very difficult to spot a difference between the two performers (although I’m going to assume that Brewster is the one doing all the fancy flip kicks), showing that Cox has the athleticism and precision required to play a convincing Daredevil. He has a big, imposing presence when he’s heading into the action, and he maintains that inner strength even as the fight visibly exhausts him. We see the Murdock resilience that is brought up so often in the flashbacks, that ability to take a beating and keep on fighting. The violence informs the character, and it’s not a coincidence that Matt channels Battling Jack as he fights to reunite a boy with his father.

Drew Goddard’s script contains a number of flashbacks to Jack and Matt, further fleshing out their relationship before taking Matt’s father away from him. The first flashback takes place before Matt loses his sight, and it’s a touching scene that shows how much Jack needs his son as Matt tends his wounds after a boxing match. Matt interacting with his father’s face is one of the ways the show establishes the intimacy between the two of them; Matt shows his father a lot of love and care, but it’s usually after his father has taken a beating, which may be why present-day Matt shows his affection for his dad through vigilante violence. This flashback also does a strong work establishing Matt and Jack’s living situation: their landlord typically doesn’t receive rent on time, and the only reason why Jack is able to pay on time this month is because he got an envelope full of cash for losing, likely by throwing the fight.

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Jack Murdock is a complicated character, but it’s hard to find a lot of sympathy for him after his actions later in this episode. After Matt is blinded, Jack realizes that he can’t stay involved with the mobsters that pay him to lose, but he makes a proud, selfish decision that ultimately robs his son of a father. Jack is threatened into throwing an upcoming fight against Crusher Creel, which leaves him in a difficult position, but Goddard makes a questionable choice in establishing that Jack knows he will be killed if he wins this match. He makes sure to place a large bet on himself that will become Matt’s inheritance, but that doesn’t change the fact that he essentially commits suicide because he’s tired of his son thinking he’s a loser.

In his phone call to a mysterious party (most likely Matt’s mother, Maggie), Jack says that he wants his son to hear the crowd scream his old man’s name just once, but is that sound worth losing a parent? Would Matt rather have a sizable inheritance or his father? Jack puts his pride over his newly blind son’s well-being, but we’re supposed to think that he’s a big hero by standing up to these mobsters. Even if Jack didn’t win the match, he likely wouldn’t have had the best future considering he’d already become involved with Hell’s Kitchen criminal element, but he could have weighed his options instead of throwing in the towel. He knows he’s going to be killed if he doesn’t do what he’s told, but he does it anyway, not considering how it will forever traumatize his son, who is woken up in the middle of the night by a gunshot that he somehow knows has just killed his father.

Memories of the past rush through Matt’s mind as he recovers on the couch of Claire Temple, the night nurse that patches him up after her neighbor finds him passed out and bleeding in a dumpster. That final fight with the Russians is payback for the ambush that leads to Matt unconscious in garbage, an encounter that the viewer never sees, but learns about first through Matt’s wounds, then through his recounting. This show’s willingness to focus on battle damage may make it difficult to watch for the squeamish, but Matt’s wounds in “Cut Man” tell a story, helping the viewer visualize a fight that would have been a lot of work to stage in an episode that already has an extended single-take action sequence.

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Luckily, Matt has Claire to patch him up, and the series greatly benefits from the addition of Rosario Dawson. The show needed another prominent female character, and Claire’s self-reliant, assertive personality is especially refreshing after the victimization of Karen Page in the first episode. Claire is a good Samaritan that finds herself signing up for far more than she planned when her she becomes an accomplice in Daredevil’s crimefighting campaign, standing behind him as he tortures a corrupt detective to get the location of the missing boy, but Dawson’s performance makes it easy to understand why Claire doesn’t just turn and run as things get crazy. She fully comprehends the insanity of this situation and realizes that she’ll end up in cuffs if the cops discover her helping a vigilante, but she also recognizes the good that the masked man does, and she wants to be a part of that.

In the E.R., Claire has seen thieves brought in with bones broken by the masked man, and helped take care of a young woman that was assaulted in a parking lot but saved by Matt, the only person who could hear her screams. Claire admires what Matt is doing, and there’s a part of her that wants to see these criminals suffer for the pain they inflict on this city. When the detective talks about how the Russians will keep stealing and selling women and children for as long as people are buying, Claire can’t hold back her rage and tells Matt to stab the man in his trigeminal nerve, leading to an especially grisly torture sequence.

I’m not the biggest fan of superheroes using torture to get results, but it works in the context of this series, which spends a lot of time exploring the similarities between Daredevil and his enemies. If Matt turns to unsavory methods in his fight against crime, is he still a good man? Is he a hero if he derives pleasure from hurting others? When Matt dangles the detective off the ledge of Claire’s roof, he tells the man, “I need you to know why I’m hurting you. It’s not just the boy. I’m doing this ‘cause I enjoy it.” Is this a revelation or just intimidation? Claire doesn’t believe Matt’s words, but I think there’s definitely a part of Matt that delights at the opportunity to bring pain to bad people. As a Catholic, Matt lives with a lot of guilt, and putting on a mask and fighting crime is a way of directing that inner turmoil outward.

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Claire is valuable to the narrative for a number of reasons. She gives Matt someone to confide in when he’s Daredevil, and while she still doesn’t know very much about the man behind the mask at this point, including his name (she calls him “Mike,” after an ex-boyfriend that also loved secrets), having someone else in on the secret takes some of the pressure off of Matt. Before Claire, Daredevil’s missions were exclusively solo affairs, but the writers now have someone Matt can work off of when he’s playing the superhero. And then there’s the chemistry between Cox and Dawson, which has a lot more heat than the softer flirtation between Matt and Karen. Claire’s romance is with Daredevil, and it has the passion needed to convince the audience that Claire would risk her safety to help this man whose mission she believes in, but is also very attractive.

With Matt recovering on Claire’s couch, Foggy and Karen need something to do that doesn’t involve the main character, so Drew Goddard has them go out and get drunk. One of the flaws of these early episodes is that Foggy and Karen are often on the sidelines working on something together while Matt is off doing his own thing, and these subplots aren’t especially intriguing. They primarily function as way to build some chemistry between Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll, and the two are cute together, but not exactly lighting the screen on fire with their sparks. It’s nice to see the show address that Karen is struggling with the trauma of recent events, but it doesn’t spend too much time having her wallow in victimhood. She eventually gives in to the influence of alcohol and forgets her problems for the night by having fun with Foggy, introducing some much needed levity to an episode that spends a lot of time on torture and daddy issues. The side story ultimately feels like a distraction from the main Daredevil action, but any flaws are forgiven with that final exhilarating fight sequence, which lets the devil out just in time for him to face his greatest opponent as Wilson Fisk prepares for his grand debut.

Stray observations:

  • How great are Charlie Cox’s lips? Because his eyes are often covered, the lips are usually the focal point on his face, and what a sexy, pouty focal point they are.
  • Claire’s face after watching Matt drop a fire extinguisher on a man from stories up is the perfect mix of disbelief, admiration, and fear.
  • Why am I not at all surprised that Foggy Nelson is a Pirates Of Penzance fan?
  • I love the scene where young Matt explains Braille to his father. As someone that doesn’t know all that much about Braille, I really enjoy learning more about it, and it helps me get a better idea of what Matt is dealing with as he gets used to a life without sight.
  • After beating up two roomfuls of men, Matt knows that he can’t save a kid looking like another bad guy, so he lifts his mask and softens his attitude before entering the backroom. It’s a nice touch that spotlights Cox’s ability to quickly transition from Daredevil’s violent intensity to Matt’s compassionate charm.
  • I’m hoping that Claire calling Matt “Mike” is an intentional shoutout to Mike Murdock, the fake twin brother that Matt disguised himself as in early Daredevil comics.
  • Matt: “Does it hurt?” Jack: “It don’t tickle.”
  • “The correct answer is: ‘Yes, and you sound amazing.’”
  • “You should be out having a life! Doing poppers and…popper dancing!”
  • “Your outfit kind of sucks, by the way.”
  • “This is my night off. I’m really not looking for some guy to die on my couch.”
  • “You absolutely do not get to drink for free.”
  • Claire: “Okay, that right there, that’s what I’m talking about. I find a guy in a dumpster who turns out to be some kind of blind vigilante who can do all this really weird shit, like smell cologne through walls and sense whether someone’s unconscious or faking it. Slap on top of that, he can take an unbelievable amount of punishment without one damn complaint.” Matt: “The last part’s the Catholicism.”
  • “The thing about red, you can’t tell how much you’re bleeding.”
  • “You haven’t lived until you’ve argued with a 90-year-old Okinawa survivor about sturgeon meat!”

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