How did Matt Murdock go from blind orphan to high-flying, ass-kicking vigilante? Who taught him to fight if it wasn’t his father? The answer is right in the title of this episode, which introduces a key figure from Matt’s past as Stick (a perfectly cast Scott Glenn) arrives in present-day Hell’s Kitchen, returning after 20 years to seek the help of the newly christened “Devil Of Hell’s Kitchen” and incorporate more of Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics mythology into the TV series.
A huge portion of Matt’s life on the page has been spent fighting The Hand, a mystical order of ninjas, and while that name is never specifically mentioned in this episode, it certainly looks like the show is setting the stage for The Hand as a future threat. When it comes to Miller mythology, though, this episode is more concerned with showing young Matt’s growth as a protégé of Stick than digging in to all the ninja stuff. There are hints regarding the true nature of the enemy looming on the horizon, but these come in the form of ominous warnings and cryptic explanations. There’s a mystical element waiting in the wings, but for now, Daredevil is still focused on telling a gritty crime drama, so the script merely teases future fantastic developments.
The casting on this show is already impressive, but nobody channels the appearance and spirit of their comic-book character quite like Scott Glenn does with Stick. I revisited Frank Miller’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear in preparation for these reviews, and it’s eerie just how much Glenn looks like the character as drawn by John Romita, Jr. Writer Douglas Petrie has clearly done his homework, too, because the Stick on screen sounds exactly like the one in the comics. He has a brusque attitude, but he also has a sense of humor, which helps endear the audience to him after watching him ruthlessly kill a man in the opening scene.
When we first see Stick, we are supposed to fear him; some may say that showing the raw bone and muscle of a freshly amputated limb is gratuitous, but seeing the damage in visceral detail heightens the horror of the scene. Stick softens over the course of the episode through flashbacks showing him help young Matt acclimate to his new abilities, but that opening sequence is a reminder not to forget the pain this man is capable of inflicting. By the end of the episode, Stick will have killed a child without any remorse, so what does it say about Matt that this is a man he considers a key influence in his life?
The next two episodes of Daredevil are a daddy issues extravaganza, with “Stick” delving into young Matt’s grief over the loss of his father and how he copes by transferring his feelings of affection to a sensei that has no interest in reciprocating them. Stick teaches Matt how to harness the gift of his overwhelming senses and molds him into the acrobatic martial artist he is today, but by teaching the boy how to fight, Stick inadvertently steps into a fatherly role he never wanted. Jack Murdock was a boxer that refused to teach his son how to fight, but Stick’s training allows Matt to channel his father’s spirit, which creates an emotional bond between his dead dad and his blind sensei.
This show does a great job highlighting the guilt Matt feels, guilt that was rooted in him as a Catholic boy, then intensified by the death of his father and disappearance of Stick. Matt blames himself for his father’s death, and when Stick leaves, he explicitly tells Matt that he’s a disappointment so that he will always blame himself for that too. Stick wanted to help Matt let go of that guilt and that grief. He wanted him to let go of all the emotions that hold him back from reaching his full potential as a warrior. But Matt can’t do that. Guilt is what fuels Matt, and without it, he doesn’t have any fight.
When Stick makes him an unwitting accomplice in child murder, Matt is full of fight, destroying his apartment as he takes on Stick in a brutal close-quarters fight sequence. The student defeats the master, but it’s a hollow victory, especially when Matt discovers the bracelet he made Stick 20 years ago from the wrapper of the ice cream cone he bought him. It’s a sappy development, but it pulls a lot of valuable vulnerability from Charlie Cox, who captures the hefty emotional weight of this tiny object. That weakness stems from emotion, and it’s going to be an obstacle he needs to overcome for the coming war. And something big is definitely coming judging by the cliffhanger, which ends with Stick meeting with a large, scarred individual that is most likely his protégé Stone.
You can tell that Douglas Petrie is a Whedonverse alum from the cadence of his dialogue, and the banter between Matt, Foggy, and Karen in their office at the start of this episode is heavily reminiscent of casual conversations between Buffy (Matt), Willow (Karen), and Xander (Foggy). That scene does a lot to establish a sense of comfort amongst the three coworkers, and it would be nice if the show spent more time exploring that group dynamic rather than having Matt in his own world while Karen and Foggy figure out what to do without him.
Karen and Foggy’s subplots start to get repetitive, and you can see the writers running out of ideas for Matt’s friends in “Stick,” which basically combines the two Karen subplots from episodes four and five. There’s Ben and Karen investigating the Union Allied fallout with lots of discussion about the dangers involved, and there’s Foggy and Karen working on Mrs. Cardenas’ case, which ends up being where the real danger is. That leads to another scene of Karen getting attacked, which would be the perfect opportunity to show that Karen can actually fend for herself, but instead casts her as an overpowered victim who needs to be saved by Foggy.
Karen already had the Mace out, would it really have been so hard to have her use it on her two attackers, then maybe give them a few kicks while they’re keeled over in pain? She gets her one good shot in after being saved—much like Claire with the baseball bat in episode four— but that’s not enough. It’s all intended to make Foggy look like the hero and build up Karen’s feelings for him, which in turn leads to her inviting him to join her investigation with Ben, but it would be a nice change of pace if this show would build up a male-female relationship without making the woman a victim in the process.
- In the opening scene, the Japanese man starts shooting his gun when the elevator doors open, but why does he keep firing after he sees there’s no one inside? Are we to assume Stick is in there when the doors open, but can move so quickly that he evades the bullets? Or does the shooter really like wasting ammunition?
- The cuts to young Matt’s stunt double are a lot more obvious than the cut to his adult double. It helps that Cox does a lot of his own stunts, which makes for smoother transitions because the camera doesn’t just cut to him reacting after the action beats.
- “Stick” begins a long stretch of episodes without Claire Temple, a.k.a. “Hottie McBurnerPhone,” and I really wish the writers had found a way to somehow incorporate her into the narrative in these chapters. The show is already aching for female characters, and taking Claire off the board just makes that all the more apparent.
- I love that Ben uses a Jack to represent Matt on his corkboard. It’s both appropriate for Matt’s relationship to Wilson (the King), and happens to share a name with his dead father.
- “All ‘terror’ without the ‘–ist.’”
- “The numbers are like tea leaves. Nobody reads them like I can.”
- Nobu: “Each man must stand for himself, or fall with the unworthy.” Leland: “What the hell does that mean?”
- Stick: “You like ice cream?” Matt: “Yeah.” Stick: “Then shut up and eat it. I’ll ask the questions.”
- Karen: “I was a mean three-point shooter on my high school basketball team. I like the long shots.” Ben: “This isn’t a game, Karen.” This exchange is so bad it’s made me groan out loud both times I’ve watched this episode. Hard-boiled isn’t Douglas Petrie’s strong suit.
- “Surrounding yourself with soft stuff isn’t life, it’s death.”
- “I know a lot of shit. This beer, for example, sucks.”
- “Nice catching up. You can keep the sticks. You’re gonna need ’em.”