We’re coming down to the wire, so now seems like a suitable time to throw on my film critic hat and comment on Daredevil‘s consistently creative cinematography, its cleverly deliberate editorial style, its subtly impressive sound design, and its powerfully impressive art direction and production design. (And shooting in NYC certainly doesn’t hurt!) This season may have had its peaks and valleys, but when you have talented people in charge of the look, the pace, and the style of a good TV show, there’s usually something worth savoring in each episode.
Kudos as well to the writers, the stuntmen / chaos choreographers, and the small but colorful ensemble; Charlie Cox pulls off “noble lawyer” with no problems at all, and he also does a great job of playing a blind man who can see but has to pretend that he can’t. (That’s probably not all that easy.) As Karen, Deborah Ann Woll goes from vulnerable victim to tenacious truth-seeker in fine fashion, and she’s particularly strong in the series’ sadder scenes. (She has a killer cry.) Elden Henson (as Foggy) provides some welcome comic relief, as well as a few touching moments once all of Hell’s Kitchen starts to fall apart, and Vondie Curtis-Hall (as reporter Ben Urich) adds an essential dash of old-school, world-weary, low-key nobility to the story.
Oh, and Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. Wow. The writers can take a lot of the credit here (Fisk is a brilliantly-written character), but it’s D’Onofrio’s wildly unpredictable performance that elevates Daredevil at every turn. Whether he’s sitting in a kitchen eating an omelette or choking someone to death in a furious rage, it’s hard to take your eyes off this character, and (best of all) it’s clear that Mr. D’Onofrio is having fun in even his calmest scenes.
Rosario Dawson (obviously) brings a lot of class whenever she pops up as Matt’s potential love interest / frequent wound-dresser, but unfortunately she doesn’t have a whole lot to do once Daredevil hits the mid-point. (It’s probably my only “serious” gripe about the whole series.) Bob Gunton (as Leland Owlsley) is another standout, but that’s no surprise. He’s been playing despicable bastards for decades, and he’s always good. Toby Leonard Moore (as Wesley) is consistently hiss-worthy as well, and I also quite enjoyed Nikolai Nikolaeff’s performance as the ill-fated Vladimir, who was undeniably evil, but was also sort of conflicted about it.
(film critic hat off)
Let’s dig in to the final episodes.
Episode 11: The Path of the Righteous
Vanessa clings to life after swallowing poisoned champagne! Karen and Ben (VERY UNWISELY!) decide to track down Wilson Fisk’s mother! Foggy hooks up with that brassy lawyer ex-girlfriend who was a real asshole a while back but now doesn’t seem quite so bad! (Her name is Marcie!) Matt figures out where to get the material he needs for a stab-proof super-suit! AND THEN KAREN PUTS SIX BULLETS IN WESLEY’S CHEST! Whoa. That’s how you end an episode.
On a more character-based level, this is the episode where “Karen & Foggy” sort of dissolves, which kinda sucks because they were pretty sweet together. It’s also where we figure out (all by ourselves) that Leland had something to do with the poisoned champagne; that Ben Urich is still willing to put up a fight; and that Karen, while she may often seem helpless, is simply not a woman to be trifled with.
Episode 11 is basically the beginning of the end for the crime kingpin we love to hate, and you have to admit that it’s fun to watch his empire crumble.
Episode 12: The Ones We Leave Behind
The dominoes just keep on falling, and by “dominoes” I mean villains. The first to go was the Russian mob ran by Anatoly and Vladimir; then it was Nobu who found himself on the wrong end of a small inferno. Now Mr. Fisk has to contend with the shocking demise of his right-hand man, and he is not happy about it. Fortunately, Vanessa has awakened from her poison-induced coma, which helps Wilson to get over Wesley’s hole-ridden chest. At least a little. Also it looks like Madame Gao has bailed on Hell’s Kitchen forever, which is probably a smart move given what has happened to the rest of Fisk’s villainous cohorts.
On the heroic side of the city, Ben and Karen have finally unearthed something ugly about Fisk’s past — but nobody seems to care. Meanwhile, Foggy and Marcie concoct a sneaky plan of their own (because that’s what lawyers do), and Matt (rather cleverly) finds his way to a big drug lab and proceeds to dismantle it, as well as a bunch of guards. And then just when it looks like things are looking up for the good guys, Fisk breaks in to Ben’s apartment and strangles our favorite reporter to death! What? No! He was just about to write his blistering exposé! Damn you, Fisk!
The penultimate episode of Daredevil underlines one of the program’s key selling points: it’s not afraid to kill off some major characters when the right moment arises. That’s not to say I want every character dead, but it’s nice to keep a viewer off-balance and/or in suspense, and killing off major characters is one way to accomplish those things.
RIP Ben Urich!
Episode 13: Daredevil
As you can probably tell from the title of this episode (more likely you’ve already finished it for yourself), this is where Matt Murdock becomes the “true” Daredevil with the suit and the mask with the pointy little ears. Full-bore myth-building stuff here. But how well does the season’s final episode close down the rest of the lingering plot threads? Pretty damn well! Matt and Foggy make up; Karen proves herself to be a very resourceful ally; Fisk ends up in a cell; Vanessa hops aboard a helicopter; Madame Gao has vanished; Leland Owlsley’s head meets the bottom of an elevator shaft; hell, even that dirty cop Hoffman and the straight-shootin’ Sergeant Brett pop up to help close down the police corruption subplot.
And if you don’t take a good deal of enjoyment in watching Fisk’s massive crime network fall apart in very operatic (not to mention Godfather-y) fashion, just stick around for the villain’s last-ditch effort at evading justice, which culminates in a one-on-one Daredevil v. Kingpin mega-brawl that’s simply a whole lot of fun. This is not exactly an Avengers-style explosion of wild action lunacy, but given Daredevil‘s cool, quiet, and frequently low-key attitude, it’s certainly satisfying enough for a solo superhero at the tail end of his first big adventure.
So that’s that! About 12 hours of Daredevil goodness for all you Marvel nuts to enjoy, revisit, and argue about on Twitter. I thought the season had a few slow spots and some minor glitches, but overall I found the show’s noir-ish visual style and relatively “reality-based” approach to superheroism pretty damn refreshing. Daredevil (S1) feels a lot like a “typical” crime story (full of cops, crooks, lawyers, and reporters) that just happens to have an upstart superhero at the center of its story — and I’ll be more than happy to tag along if they decide give give Matt Murdock and his pals another 13 episodes to poke around in.
And something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Wilson Fisk.