If the first episode of Daredevil was, as we said in our review, staking a claim to be the best of the superhero TV dramas, then with this second episode it showed just how it was going to differentiate itself from the rest of them. After all, when was the last time you saw a superhero’s lung collapse? All superheroes – or the interesting ones, anyway – pay a price for their superheroics, but it seems like for every punch Matt Murdock throws, an equal or greater one seems to come flying back at him. In fact, it seems his ability to take punishment is as much a superpower for Murdock as his enhanced senses. His mission is emptying him of blood and tearing off bits of flesh every night, but Murdocks, as we learn this episode, always get back up. Or they like to think they do, anyway. “It ain’t how you hit the mat,” the battling Murdocks tell each other. “It’s how you get up.” This is more or less the main theme of the series; playing into the idea that Murdock’s mission is a crippling one, but one that he won’t shirk.
This episode’s flashback to Battlin’ Jack Murdock and his shopping list of problems was probably the weakest part of the episode for us. As Lorenzo said, “They all have parents who die in alleyways, don’t they?” Which isn’t the fault of the show. They didn’t create this genre and they inherited Murdock’s origin story from the comics, of course, But you could see exactly where it was going the minute it was set up, to the point that even those unfamiliar with the story (like Lorenzo) could say, “Oh. This must be the part where his dad gets killed.” But it’s indicative of the show’s darkness that Jack’s noble “sacrifice” was nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to cover himself in glory in the eyes of his son while leaving him without a father. It’s not clear (yet) exactly how Matt saw his father’s actions. Is he a hero to him or a fool? Is he honoring his father’s sacrifice by fighting corruption or is he repudiating it? We suppose it all depends on how cynical this show wants to be. Then again, it’s a show that has a 9-year-old swilling scotch before performing minor surgery on his father’s face, so it’s already come firmly down on the side of cynicism. We’re not particularly fascinated by the backstory so much as interested in how it shaped Matt.
In other news we were treated to a truly fantastic introduction to Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson. If the supporting female characters in this sausage-heavy genre must be secretaries and nurses, then at least make them interesting and smart women, which, thankfully, the show has done. In one episode, Claire’s a better written and more interesting supporting character and possible love interest than poor Iris West, who’s had over a dozen episodes to establish herself in the otherwise excellent The Flash and hasn’t managed to grow much past “annoyingly airheaded and emotionally manipulative” tropes that most classic superhero-girlfriend characters are afflicted with. Instead, Claire’s as much a hero in her own right with a set of principles and moral code just as highly developed as Matt’s. Which makes a certain amount of sense as this version of the character is loosely based on the classic Marvel Comics character Night Nurse. While her actions seemed to make little sense going into the episode, we come to find by the end of it that she’s been paying attention to Matt’s work – as, apparently are quite a few others in the neighborhood – and she supports it. She then proceeds to demonstrate this support by offering suggestions as to how to torture a Russian mobster who abducted a child, finally settling on “Hey, you should totally stab that guy in the eye.” This ain’t no Lois Lane shit. As supporting characters with romantic possibilities go, Claire Temple’s hardcore. How many times have you seen a superhero’s potential girlfriend dress up like a serial killer from a slasher flick and offer pointers on torture?
For that matter, how many times in a superhero story have you seen a former damsel in distress deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome? Karen hasn’t even come close to recovering from her ordeal in the first episode, which is a nice touch that more clearly cements this world as one with consequences. She thinks the city is filled with people in dark corners, ready to spring out at a moment’s notice to hurt her. She’s not entirely wrong on that front, but Foggy sees her as someone who needs a friend and some distraction and it looks like we may be getting two budding romances at once, both of them springing up around violence and crime – out of violence and crime, to be more exact about it. Foggy is occasionally just a bit much as a character (and in Elden Henson’s performance) but the story is so relentlessly dark in so many ways that his sitcom-character qualities are needed, even if they do sometimes stick out from the surroundings a bit. He may be a character who sounds like he should come with a laugh track, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the bleakness surrounding him.
And finally, the episode ends with one of the most jaw-dropping fight scenes we’ve ever seen on television. While the choreography was amazing, and helped further cement this show’s extremely high standards in this area, it wasn’t the moves that had us staring open-mouthed the entire last ten minutes. It was the exhaustion on display in all the combatants; the way he had to keep pounding away at them, over and over and over again; the way they all kept getting up, because in the real world, it’s virtually impossible to knock someone out with one punch, the way you see so many action heroes do. Once again, in keeping with the theme of this story, for every punch Matt throws, he gets an equal or greater return of force, making every fight scene less about skill and more about endurance. It ain’t how you hit the mat, it’s how you get up. And when Daredevil gets up one last time and scoops that little boy into his arms, you’re getting just about as perfect a representation of heroism as you could possibly ask for.
What a fantastic episode.
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