Wai Ching Ho in Netflix’s “Daredevil.”
Who’d ever have predicted this show would do an episode about the Power of Love and have it make perfect sense for the dark world these characters live in?
Turns out Vanessa isn’t quite as nuanced as perhaps she first came across. We mentioned before that it was difficult watching a clearly very intelligent woman make what looked like horrifically bad personal choices. But it became much more clear this episode that she’s as in love with Fisk’s power as she is with Fisk the man – and they seem to share some of the same moral views. We admit, we burst out laughing when, upon hearing Fisk’s horrifying tale of how he snapped and killed his father with a hammer, hitting him in the skull over and over again until he was literally dripping in his blood, her first action is to stroke his face and coo “It wasn’t your fauuuuuullllt.” Oh, honey. You’re just a regular little Hell’s Kitchen Lady MacBeth, aren’t you? Don’t be coy, now. We saw you getting off on picking out the King’s cufflinks, And what did you do when you apparently got a “That guy you dated a couple times is going violently crazy. Come over NOW” call from a man you don’t even know? You put on a dress that’s at least a size too small and hightailed it over there instead of offering the somewhat less insane response of “You know what? These are too many red flags for me. I’m out.” So no, Vanessa isn’t nuanced. She gets off on powerful, potentially violent men – or at least, she gets off on this one. And while it can be debated whether or not she really believes he’s good for the city and trying to do right by it, it’s hard to deny that the most terrible parts of his life, from the explosions to the patricide to the violent mood swings, all clearly intrigued the hell out of her. It’s also hard to deny that she seems very much in thrall to his power. To be honest, she’s much more interesting now that this is all laid bare.
It can also be debated whether Fisk himself thinks he’s trying to do the right thing, although he clearly has trouble with the concept. All the Bach cello suites, perfectly prepared omelets and bespoke suiting in the world can’t mask the scared, blood-drenched little boy underneath the facade. “I’m NOT a monster!” he exclaims like a child, “Am I?” This is not some Lex Luthor-like mastermind, assured of his own rightness and brilliance. This is a child-man whose father beat the love of power into him while also beating any semblance of self-love out of him. Wilson Fisk loves power and loathes himself. In a way, that penultimate scene of Vanessa hugging him in her bathrobe and joining him for breakfast is horrifying. A Wilson Fisk crippled by fear and self-loathing is a beatable opponent. A Wilson Fisk who believes he deserves both love AND power is potentially unstoppable.
Contrast Fisks’s story with Matt’s. Fisk wakes up scared and panting; a victim of his fears, surrounded by luxury. Haunted by his father’s death. Matt wakes up beaten and alone, in an apartment utterly trashed by a former father figure in an epic bout of disapproval. One by one, all of Fisk’s associates come to see him to express their disappointment and threaten to end their partnerships with him. Leland is upset that the masked man found him and tried to hurt him. Nobu is upset that Black Sky was killed when he relied on Fisk to help make sure it went smoothly. And Madame Gao, in one of the best scenes of the episode, quietly confronts Fisk on his home turf, reveals what a dangerous opponent she can be (“I speak many languages.” “How many?” “All of them.”) and threatens to end their partnership if he doesn’t shape up. At the heart of all their complaints is the idea that he’s distracted; both by the masked man and by his own demons and desires. It’s implied that Vanessa is one of those distractions, but by the end of the episode, we come to see her as a very powerful (in her own way) ally. In fact, Wesley was smart enough to see her as the one weapon in his arsenal to counter Fisk’s deteriorating state.
As Fisk’s allies are threatening to leave him and he counters by falling in love and coming back stronger than ever, Matt finds out he has allies of his own and that they share both his commitment to justice and his bravery, which seems to both pleasantly surprise him and worry him.”I don’t want anyone to be a hero,” he says sharply to Karen, whose motivations are becoming slightly suspect, “I want you to be safe.”It could have come off condescendingly paternalistic spoken by a different actor, but Charlie Cox has imbued Matt Murdock with a quiet, wounded core that gives even his dickier responses a heartfelt quality that separates him from the Tony Starks or Bruce Waynes of the hero set. He ends the episode knowing he can’t fight this battle alone and he more or less recruits Ben Urich to help him. It should have been a great moment showing our hero learning the value of allies and teamwork, but instead it turned out to be almost laughably feeble. Because just as Matt urged Urich to turn Wilson Fisk into a public figure, Vanessa urged Fisk to do the exact same thing. This is why she’s suddenly become the most interesting and most dangerous person in the story. She makes Wilson Fisk better. Not morally better; but better at being Wilson Fisk.
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