At the end of yesterday’s review, I pointed out how Wilson Fisk is transitioning into a supervillain role in this series, one of the many ways Daredevil becomes more of a superhero narrative in the back half of its first season. Up until “Stick,” the series is firmly rooted in the crime genre, and the appearances of the masked vigilante are more in line with the typical plain-clothes action hero rather than the costumed crusaders that populate the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That begins to change when Stick arrives, bringing with him more fantastic elements like a deeper exploration of Matt’s extraordinary gifts and a superpowered child weapon that puts all of New York City at risk.
With the opening sequence of “Speak Of The Devil,” the series takes a strong step away from hard-boiled crime noir as it pits Matt against a ninja in red, a visual that Daredevil comic readers will quickly associate with The Hand. (But again: no actual mention of The Hand.) While still plenty violent, the action choreography is a lot flashier thanks to the presence of two high-flying martial artists. This is how people fight in superhero comic books, and it’s a lot of fun to see this series embrace a more exaggerated fighting style as it continues.
Cutting to this fight sequence throughout the episode keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, and whenever the narrative needs a boost in momentum, the action jumps to Matt and Nobu beating the hell out of each other. This fight stands out because there’s considerably more use of weaponry; Matt has incorporated his signature billy clubs into his attacks, and Nobu swings a kyoketsu-shoge that allows him to cut Matt from a distance and ensnare him in compromising positions. The combination of weapons-based combat with acrobatic martial arts makes for a thrilling sequence that builds in intensity until it ends with Nobu going up in flames, fighting until his very last moment.
It’s fitting that the episode that leans heaviest on superhero elements would be the first scripted by a comic-book veteran, with Christos Gage co-writing the story with his wife Ruth Fletcher Gage. The moment when a hero and villain first meet is key in establishing their relationship, and this episode has two introductions that showcase the different sides of their dynamic. The first meeting is between Matt and Wilson in Vanessa’s gallery, which shows Matt the human side of his enemy and makes him understand that people that will be hurt if he is killed.
Then there’s the first meeting between Daredevil and Kingpin, which shows Matt the ruthless monster that will manipulate and murder to get his way. After receiving a beatdown and multiple stab wounds from Nobu, Matt is in no condition to go up against Wilson, and even though he lands a few punches, it’s like hitting a brick wall. Wilson shows no indication of pain or even annoyance with those punches, and responds with incredible force that crushes Matt. As a first fight between nemeses, it does exceptional work establishing Wilson as a physical threat, but this scene is especially valuable because of what it leads to in the episode’s final moments.
Foggy is at Matt’s front door when he comes crashing into his home, a bloody, wounded mess after two fights, and when Foggy hears the sound, he panics and makes his way into Matt’s apartment through the roof. The masked man stumbles out of Matt’s room and passes out in front of Foggy, which prompts him to call the police until he starts to notice Matt’s features, hanging up the phone and pulling off the mask to discover that his best friend and legal partner is the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a huge moment that completely changes the dynamic between the two characters, and a cliffhanger that makes it very hard to resist barreling right into the next episode.
I asked for a scene of Matt, Foggy, and Karen at Josie’s, and I finally get it this episode, but it is a real downer. (I should have been more specific and asked for a scene with the three of them at Josie’s enjoying themselves.) They hit the bar for the wake of Elena Cardenas, who is killed by a junkie hired by Wilson because she’s standing in the way of him fulfilling his agreement with Nobu and his employers. The Mrs. Cardenas case has always been connected to the larger plot, but it felt like a sidestory in previous episodes, secondary to whatever was happening with Matt and Wilson. That’s not the case in “Speak Of The Devil,” which makes Mrs. Cardenas an essential figure in Matt and Wilson’s conflict.
The script emphasizes how Mrs. Cardenas’ interference complicates Wilson’s relationship with Nobu and his employers, and when she’s murdered, Matt is able to quell his doubts about what he must do to save Hell’s Kitchen from the evil of Wilson Fisk. Matt’s doubts are a major subject in his conversations with Father Lantom, and he’s deeply conflicted about a choice that is beginning to look more and more inevitable. People keep telling Matt that he is going to need to cross the line and kill in order to truly put an end to his enemy, and he goes to his priest for guidance with his next steps.
As to be expected, the dialogue gets pretty heavy-handed in these scenes, but it works because Matt is talking to a priest, and priests tend to be pretty blunt. So much of religion revolves around strict lines between good and evil, right and wrong, and that doesn’t leave very much room for nuance. Peter McRobbie gives a strong performance that makes Father Lantom an engaging character, and it’s interesting to see how his dynamic with Matt differs from the other fathers in his life.
Unlike Jack and Stick, Lantom offers guidance that isn’t rooted in violence. He’s not teaching Matt to get back up when someone knocks him down. He’s not training Matt to fight the people that would hurt this world. He’s giving Matt the tools he needs to decide whether violence really is the best choice, and offering him comfort by telling him there are larger forces that will ultimately pass judgment. Matt needs to be told that he doesn’t have to carry the weight of his city’s salvation on his back; he needs to understand that he has the option to walk away if he wants to. Matt’s mission is a choice, not an obligation, but the choice becomes clearer as Wilson Fisk continues to hurt the people Matt cares about and the city he loves.
- The Hand wanting control of a city block certainly sounds like set up for Shadowland, The Hand’s home base in Hell’s Kitchen that was also the name of a lackluster Marvel Comics event a few years back spotlighting street-level characters. Could Shadowland be the basis of the plot for The Defenders?
- The charming side of Matt Murdock hasn’t been spotlighted very much in the last few episodes, so it’s nice to see him turn on the charisma when he meets up with Vanessa.
- Father Lantom is an established Marvel character, but not a very big one. He appeared in Runaways, my personal favorite superhero comic, which was also in development as a Marvel Studios film at one point. It would be a great way for Marvel to tap into the YA market, so hopefully there are plans for a Runaways project on the horizon.
- “Donde esta la biblioteca?” has become so overused to depict people with a very limited understanding of Spanish that it really pulls me out of the scene when Foggy says it to Mrs. Cardenas. Totally unnecessary line.
- “I could say I’m Captain America, doesn’t put wings on my head.”
- “Plus he kicks ass. You should’ve seen the way he was flipping around in the rain.” “There’s something very intimate in experiencing art through someone else’s eyes. That’s a good line, by the way. You should use it.”
- Matt: “You’re not gonna kiss me.” Foggy: “I’m feeling a little somethin’.” This is definitely set up for the sexual tension we’ll see in next episode’s flashbacks to college Foggy and Matt.
- “I heard a crash. Not the fun, sexy-time kind, but more of a I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up variety.”