The violence on Daredevil is very effective at showing how dangerous the world of Hell’s Kitchen is, but it’s very easy to see how it can be a turn-off for some viewers. In the first two episodes, the violence was in service of Matt Murdock’s character, with each new action sequence increasing in intensity to show how Matt loses himself in battle and becomes possessed by something frightening, yet captivating. There were lots of crunching sounds in those fights and the choreography delivered some especially hard-hitting visuals, but they never got particularly graphic. Nowhere on par with the violence in “Rabbit In A Snowstorm,” which shows a man’s bone break through his flesh before he gets his head crush with a bowling ball, and another man committing suicide by impaling himself through the eye with a metal fence spike.
The violence isn’t necessarily gratuitous. The bone-popping, head-crushing brutality of the opening sequence with Fisk’s hitman, John Healy (Alex Morf), in a bowling alley spotlights the cold, terrifying nature of the man that will become Nelson & Murdock’s client, and when Healy impales himself at the end of the episode, it’s to show that he’d rather accept this grisly fate than whatever Fisk has in store for him now that he’s given up his name. There’s a point to the violence, but does it have to be so graphic? There’s definitely an “oh shit!” factor in these grotesque moments, but there’s little to admire about them, whereas the moments of intricately choreographed, less graphic violence are showcases for performer athleticism and action direction.
When Healy is arrested, Fisk’s right-hand-man Wesley uses this as a chance to start a relationship with Nelson & Murdock, the firm that caused a lot of stress by helping Karen Page. Wesley comes to the office to bribe Foggy and Matt, and Matt quickly realizes that this man is a connection to the bigger fish he’s trying to catch, taking the case in hopes that it will lead him to the man behind Hell’s Kitchen’s current troubles. This episode starts to move pieces into place for the inevitable confrontation between Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, and reaching out to Nelson & Murdock is a mistake that leads the masked man closer to his large, bald target. By drawing a connection between John Healy and the larger organized crime in Hell’s Kitchen with the bribe, Fisk gives Matt the information he needs to later intimidate Healy and finally get a name for Hell’s Kitchen’s up-and-coming kingpin.
After an episode apart, Foggy and Matt are back in action in “Rabbit In A Snowstorm,” which leans heavily into the legal drama elements of this series as the two men make their way into court for the first time. This is especially beneficial for Elden Henson, who is able to bring more weight to his performance with material that pushes him outside of his comic relief default. The script by Marco Ramirez also provides a better sense of Foggy’s inferiority in this relationship. Foggy doesn’t have Matt’s moral superiority, and when Matt has a sudden change of heart about defending Healy, Foggy is discomfited by his partner taking his side because he knows his side is the less nobler one. Matt is also the stronger attorney in court, judging solely by performance. His natural charisma radiates when he speaks to the jury, and it’s easy to see why Foggy would give up a position at a prestigious law firm to pursue a new endeavor with the brilliant Matt Murdock.
Classic Marvel Comics journalist Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) makes his debut in this week’s episode, investigating the deeper story behind the Union Allied scandal for a non-Daily Bugle print newspaper (The New York Bulletin) that is struggling to stay afloat. Technically he’s investigating for himself, because his hilariously stereotypical editor, the single-named Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor), is only interested in “sexy” content that can compete with the internet bloggers that are destroying journalism. There’s very little nuance in Ellison’s character, and while the script tries to humanize him a bit by having him offer to make a call to Ben’s insurance company, it doesn’t quite make up for the clichéd characterization. Granted, Daredevil is not a show that operates in nuance. It tackles its themes hard, which makes for some heavy-handed storytelling at points, but I’ve actually come to appreciate that after finishing the season.
This show is a hard-boiled crime drama, but it’s also a superhero story, and I’m reminded of the exaggerated writing of superhero comics whenever Ramirez’s script gets especially blunt. Ellison’s bitching about bloggers, Matt’s closing argument in court about the nature of good and evil, Vanessa’s speech about the value of art, the directness of these moments feels like a superhero comic book, which helps me remember that this story is happening in the same universe where an Asgardian god hangs out on Earth and a talking raccoon and tree are part of an interstellar gang of rebels. I appreciate these moments of exaggeration, but they shouldn’t define the characters. Matt and Vanessa show more dimensions over the course of the series, but Ellison spends most of his time as a caricature that isn’t so much a person, but a living obstacle preventing Urich from exposing the crime in Hell’s Kitchen.
Vondie Curtis-Hall is another strong casting choice for this series, and he finds a great balance between Ben’s weary exhaustion and his enduring passion for the things he cares about. One of those things is his job, and he’s fiercely committed to telling the important stories, even when his editor is shutting them down. Unfortunately, Ben also has a sick wife in the hospital to worry about, and an insurance company that doesn’t want to keep offering extensions of coverage. He’s in a tough position, but he’s given extra motivation to keep pursuing the Hell’s Kitchen crime story when Karen Page comes to his office, confused about what she should do after being asked to sign an agreement that would guarantee her silence regarding Union Allied.
This episode introduces a slew of complications for the crime boss that has gone out of his way to keep his identity a secret, and as Matt discovers Wilson Fisk’s name, the character finally steps out of the shadows. The man we see is far from the tyrannical myth being cultivated across Hell’s Kitchen. The way this show handles Wilson Fisk’s introduction is one of its strongest points, and spending time establishing the threat of the villain makes for an intriguing contrast when we finally see him on screen, staring at a piece of art that make him all too aware of how alone he feels. But that’s about to change thanks to art dealer Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer), who is immediately drawn to this man that exudes as much sadness as he does power.
We don’t see very much of Fisk in this episode, but Vincent D’Onofrio makes a big impression with a daunting physical presence that disguises the suffering soul underneath. He has instant chemistry with Zurer, who makes it clear that she’s not just selling a painting with this conversation, but starting a more meaningful dialogue that will hopefully continue in the future. All the talk regarding Fisk up to this point has focused on making him a scary, authoritative figure, but the first time the viewer sees him is in the early throes of love, swept up by the charm of this beautiful, sophisticated woman that could save him from his life of loneliness. It’s a choice that grounds Fisk in emotional reality, and his relationship with Vanessa becomes essential as the more heightened supervillain aspects of his character come into play.
- This episode gets all Tarantino-y with the early flashback to when Healy buys a gun from Turk (yay, Turk!), and it’s a very fun way of incorporating some humor before the opening action sequence while revealing that the current Hell’s Kitchen illegal gun market isn’t selling the best product. There’s a part of me that would like to see more of that type of storytelling on this show, but there’s another part of me that thinks it’s wiser if we just get a dash of Tarantino instead of a big heaping serving.
- The conversation between Urich and his ex-mobster pal feels a lot like The Wire, with two men having a conversation about the former glory of their city, standing in a decaying urban environment while the majesty of the present-day metropolis looms in the background.
- Matt using his enhanced hearing to realize that Wesley is intimidating a juror is the kind of thing I would love to see more of on this show. I enjoy seeing how his powers come into play in the courtroom.
- Ben Urich and Vanessa Marianna are two of my favorite characters in the Daredevil mythos, so this episode really hits a soft spot in my fanboy heart.
- Foggy: “You wouldn’t care if you could see the zeroes on this check.” Matt: “Well maybe you would if you couldn’t.”
- “Everybody we know is making twice what we are, writing for blogs, working from home in their underwear.” It’s like Ellison can see my life.
- “For the record: this is the first time you ever said I was right. I hate it.”
- “I’ve got a measles outbreak to deal with because idiot parents don’t want to vaccinate.”
- “Ever try putting a puzzle together with a piece missing? It’s damn aggravating.”