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Foggy Nelson now knows that Matt Murdock is the masked vigilante of Hell’s Kitchen, and as expected, this revelation has a huge impact on their relationship. The two have been best friends since freshman year of undergrad, but their bond quickly crumbles when Foggy realizes that Matt has been lying to him for years, leaving the future of Nelson & Murdock in question. “Nelson V. Murdock” is the most important episode of Daredevil’s first season, but not just because it features some very big plot developments. Its importance comes from a focus on character relationships and tonal variety, cutting to flashbacks that deepen Foggy and Matt’s friendship while introducing levity and positivity to a narrative that can be overwhelmingly dark at times.

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Foggy Nelson is a character that doesn’t belong in Matt’s grim and gritty world. He’s cheerful and fun and isn’t plagued by major past trauma, making him a sharp contrast to his best friend. He doesn’t belong in Matt’s world, which is why Matt needs him so much. He needs someone that is distanced from the pain and suffering that defines so much of his existence, which may be why he never revealed his secrets to Foggy. With Foggy, Matt is just a normal blind guy, not a superpowered urban vigilante, which keeps him grounded as his life becomes more fantastic.

But this show hasn’t spent very much time exploring that dynamic. It hasn’t shown much of Matt and Foggy’s relationship outside of work, providing a better idea of the two of them as co-workers rather than confidantes. Matt’s been doing his thing as a masked vigilante, and Foggy has been doing his thing taking care of Karen and Mrs. Cardenas and helping with the Union Allied investigation. That finally changes in “Nelson V. Murdock,” which features Foggy and Matt together in the same room for nearly the entire episode and pairs these present-day scenes with flashbacks to the two of them in college, working at Landman & Zack, and starting their own firm. It brings a lot of dimension to their relationship, helping the viewer understand why learning about Matt’s secret identity is such a devastating blow to his best friend.

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It also awakens something inside Elden Henson that brings his Foggy Nelson to life. He’s grown more comfortable with the character over the course of the series, but his Foggy doesn’t really click until this episode, and it’s the focus on Foggy and Matt’s relationship that brings out Henson’s strengths. His jovial, affectionate personality in the flashbacks is a dramatic shift from the hurt, betrayed person that confronts Matt in the present, and showing these different sides of Foggy gives Henson a lot more to work with.

The episode also highlights how Foggy’s behavior directly impacts Matt, which intensifies the chemistry between the two. Foggy’s cheerful optimism brings a softness to Charlie Cox’s characterization in the college flashbacks, and his anger at Matt in the present pulls a pained performance from Cox that makes Matt’s considerable physical wounds pale in comparison to the emotional hits he takes as Foggy confronts him about years of lies. There’s a palpable sense of shame, guilt, and remorse that radiates from Matt, but it’s not enough to make Foggy sympathize with him. After leaving Matt’s place, Foggy goes to the office and tosses the newly acquired “Nelson & Murdock” sign in the trash, a visual that perfectly encapsulates the change in their dynamic.

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There’s a surprising amount of sexual tension between Foggy and Matt in the flashbacks, beginning with Foggy pointing out that Matt is really, really good-looking when they first meet. He technically points this out because he’s excited about the class of female Matt opens up for him by being his sexy blind roommate, but there’s an enthusiasm about Matt’s beauty that you don’t typically see in straight male relationships. When the flashbacks jump to Foggy and Matt taking a drunken walk through campus, there’s an undeniable attraction between the two of them, and it almost feels like the scene is building up to a kiss as they sit on some stairs and talk about their future together. The flashbacks establish an intense intimacy between the characters, and the fight between Foggy and Matt in the present could easily take place between two lovers. Especially with Foggy asking questions like, “Was anything ever real between us?”

Foggy firmly entering Matt’s story makes Karen and Ben’s subplot feel especially tangential, with the two teaming up once again to track down Wilson Fisk’s mother in her swanky retirement home. The script by Luke Kalteux brings more spotlight to the troubles plaguing Ben’s life, giving him a touching scene with his ailing wife Doris before he learns that his request to extend health insurance coverage has been denied, which puts him in a difficult position where he has to choose between his duty as a reporter and his wife’s health. Ben is offered a chance to become the editor of the Metro desk, which would lead to a pay bump and better benefits, and he’s seriously considering this offer until Karen interferes and screws everything up.

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Ben is dedicated to his job and desperately wants to break the real story about Wilson Fisk, but he also understands that his commitment to his wife’s health trumps his obligation to his work. He goes to Nelson & Murdock to give Karen all the information he’s gathered on the case, but instead of letting Ben walk away, Karen tricks him into going to a nursing home under the pretense that it would be a good place for Doris. How Karen figured out that Wilson’s mother is staying at this location is a mystery, and deceiving Ben so that she has someone to accompany her is an extremely selfish move on Karen’s part that will have catastrophic consequences down the line.

While Karen and Ben interrogate Wilson’s mother for information about his mysterious past, Wilson is dealing with considerable pressure from Madame Gao and Leland Owlsley, who are becoming increasingly nervous about the changes in Wilson’s character since he met Vanessa. This leads to another tense conversation between Gao and Wilson, taking place on a beautiful rooftop location that exudes a serenity that contrasts with the content of their conversation. Gao wonders when Wilson’s ambition is going to turn to her, and her anxiety about Wilson’s emotional volatility makes her a key suspect when Wilson’s fundraising gala is interrupted by people keeling over from poisoned champagne.

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One of those people is Vanessa, who becomes this show’s latest female victim as she lies limp in Wilson’s arms, foaming at the mouth. This development was inevitable from the moment Wilson told Vanessa that the safest place is at his side, and at least it’s a non-violent victimization. I’d love to see the second season of this show build emotional stakes without hurting women in the process, but there’s also no denying that making Vanessa a target provides a big boost of momentum for Wilson’s story. His love for Vanessa has already had a big influence on his actions, and while his enemies may be trying to hurt him by going after his girlfriend, they awaken something even more terrifying and dangerous in the process.

Stray observations:

  • This episode has our first hint that Elektra is on the horizon with the mention of a beautiful Greek girl that Matt took Spanish to impress. Fingers crossed that the second season recreates the Matt and Elektra college chase scene from Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.’s The Man Without Fear miniseries.
  • Not showing Claire patching up Matt and interacting with Foggy is a mistake. Showing Claire with a non-Matt member of the cast would have made her feel like a bigger part of the ensemble.
  • Good god, Karen. You’ve been attacked so often in such a short period of time, why would you ever leave your office door unlocked so someone can sneak in and surprise you? She’s lucky it’s just Ben in this episode and not one of Wilson’s goons.
  • Train’s “Drops Of Jupiter” is used to set the time period for Matt and Foggy’s freshman year at undergrad, and it works very well at establishing the early ’00s.
  • Is Foggy’s “mother-effin’” the closest we’ve come to an MCU F-bomb?
  • Van Lunt is mentioned once more in this episode, and it looks like he’s done very well for himself after abandoning the office that is Nelson & Murdock’s current home. There’s also mention of Van Lunt’s astrologer, which is a clever little tie to the character’s role in the Zodiac crime syndicate in Marvel Comics.
  • Why does Matt bring his bloody fingers to his mouth after beating up the man that abused his daughter? That’s not sanitary.
  • “You got your peepers knocked out saving that old dude!”
  • “Goose died…and he was married.”
  • “A blind old man taught you the ways of martial arts. Isn’t that the plot of Kung Fu?”
  • “I think you’re unsettling half the time. See me lighting a match?”
  • “Misspelling ‘Hanukkah’ is a mistake. Attempted murder is something else.” Fun fact: I misspelled “Hanukkah” while typing that line.

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