Welcome to The A.V. Club’s Daredevil binge-watch. From Friday, March 18 through Sunday, March 20, A.V. Club contributor Caroline will be watching and reviewing every episode of Netflix’s returning superhero series. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting five reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and four reviews on Sunday. You can follow along and comment on the whole season on the binge-watching hub page or chime in on individual episode reviews. For those watching the show at a more moderate pace, reviews by Oliver Sava will run daily starting Tuesday, March 22.
I watched most of this episode with a massive smile on my face, which, let me tell you, was not my experience with the first four grim and gritty episodes of the season. There’s a whole new energy to “Kinbaku,” not to mention a brighter, more saturated visual palate. If Daredevil’s plan is to change up its tone every few episodes then I heartily approve. Dividing a season into mini-arcs prevents binge-watchers from getting bored while still offering the same serialized storytelling that makes binge-watching so satisfying. The Punisher hasn’t dropped out of the story entirely—Karen is still doggedly determined to prove his story is more complex than D.A. Reyes claims—but he very much takes a backseat to one Ms. Elektra Natchios.
Let me say right off the bat that I can’t wait to read Oliver Sava’s more in-depth review of “Kinbaku.” This is a complex, thematically rich episode that deserves the kind of attention I’m not able to provide in a shorter binge review. The episode’s main thrust is juxtaposing Matt and Karen’s present day courtship with the one he shared with Elektra 10 years ago, when he was still in law school. After spending so much time with the Daredevil half of his persona in the first four episodes, it’s nice to see Matt Murdock take center stage again.
Karen and Matt are the less complicated half of “Kinbaku.” They’re sweet, romantic, and slightly awkward together on their first date, which ends with a sexy but tame make-out session on her front stoop. Though she’s got some skeletons in her closet (like the time she straight up killed a dude), in this episode Karen represents light and goodness—everything Matt should be striving for in a healthy, happy life.
Elektra, meanwhile, is the devil on his shoulder. Élodie Yung is utter perfection in the role and the show makes the most of her in this debut. Upset by Elektra’s sudden reappearance, Matt reflects on their complicated relationship in a series of flashbacks. When they first met at a fancy faculty part, Elektra appeared to be just a reckless, privileged woman who viewed the world as her playground. But Matt slowly came to realize she was actually far more twisted.
The first hint comes in Matt’s dad’s old boxing gym, where Elektra decides the best way to test whether Matt is really blind is by trying to roundhouse kick him in the face. The mere fact that she figured out Matt’s secret immediately proves she’s someone special—Foggy lived with him for years and had no idea. And the boxing ring scene tells us everything we need to know about Matt and Elektra’s relationship: It’s passionate, aggressive, and slightly unhinged, but also super, super hot.
Things escalate even further as they break into a mansion (where they literally set about shattering a realm of domesticity), and Elektra reveals she’s brought them there to seek revenge on Roscoe Sweeney, the mobster who murdered Matt’s father.
In Daredevil’s very first episode, Matt confesses to Father Lantom that he fears there’s an uncontrollable bloodlust inside of him. And now we know exactly where he got that “Elektra complex.” Elektra grows aroused as Matt beats Roscoe, pushing him to commit murder as some sort of sick relationship building activity. When Matt refuses, Elektra abandons him without a word—dropping out of his life for a decade. So when she shows up in the present day asking for legal advice, Matt is right to be suspicious. It turns out she’s once again hoping to push him to embrace his dark side by luring him into a situation (a little too easily) in which he must fight alongside her.
The duality is clear: Karen is attracted to Matt Murdock—the dashing but humble lawyer with a heart of gold. Elektra is attracted to Daredevil—the ruthless vigilante with an innate love of violence. That the episode presents these dueling romantic scenarios without reducing Karen and Elektra to mere ciphers for Matt is just one of the many, many things for which it deserves praise. (The fact that it was written and directed by two women—Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Floria Sigismondi, respectively—might have something to do with that.)
Though “Kinbaku” ultimately reveals Elektra is as dark and twisted as the Punisher, her story unfolds with a zippy originality that his was sorely missing in those first four episodes.
Standout moment: I love Matt casually catching stuff Elektra throws at him when they first break into Roscoe’s house. He’s so happy to use his abilities in front of her! And can we talk about this knife placement?!?
Also the single-take in which Matt leaves the joyful bubble of his date with Karen and walks back into the chaos of Hell’s Kitchen is a fantastic mix of camerawork and sound design.
Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: Ben Urich’s former editor Ellison mentions that “the incident” (i.e. the battle of New York in The Avengers) destroyed the New York Bulletin’s servers. Also, if I heard correctly, Foggy’s former flame Marci is working at Jeri Hogarth’s law office or at least has heard of Jessica Jones.
Burning question: Do restaurants have braille versions of their menus for blind customers?
Excitement to start next episode: 8/10
For the record, this was the equivalent of the boxing ring scene in the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie. In a word: Yikes.