It took only three episodes for Daredevil to assert itself as something different. Where most superhero-related TV shows consist of stand-alone episodes that (maybe) toss a few mysterious moments into the mix that will pay off later, Daredevil seems fine with being one of those shows that cannot be watched “a la carte.” Like most of the best serials, franchises, and soap operas, Daredevil works best if you’ve dedicated yourself to watching them all, in order, in a hurry, like a lunatic.
Chalk it up to Netflix’s “all episodes at once” release structure; by not having to adhere to a weekly schedule, Daredevil‘s producers have been able to dismiss all sorts of tropes and cliches that have come to plague similar shows. Do we really need those “previously on…” montages anymore? I say no, and Daredevil agrees with me. And don’t even get me started on the ham-fisted dialogue that’s usually required when one character has to clunkily sum up the previous episode to another character. Ugh. There’s very little of that stuff here.
Like it or not, Daredevil seems to be paced more like an old-school mini-series (or just a very long movie), which means that some episodes will be laden with action, and others will focus more on character development, subplot threads, and table-setting for the big altercations to come. Fortunately for all involved, the talkier episodes are just as compelling as the hyper-kinetic, action-crazy ones.
Episode 4: In the Blood
One cool way to avoid the “supervillain of the week” structure is to introduce a whole bunch of villains early on — and then gradually allow each of them to step up a take the spotlight for an episode or two. So while Wesley, Leland, and Madame Mao wait in the wings for something overtly nasty to do, Anatoly and Vladimir step up to bring “the masked vigilante” down.
We also get: a great batch of essential interplay between Matt and Claire as they start to fall for one another; a nifty new team in Ben and Karen, who decide to (very cautiously) snoop around and start to unearth some very dangerous secrets about United Allied Construction; and a darkly offbeat romance between the nefarious Wilson Fisk and a mysterious art dealer named Vanessa. (And serious kudos to whoever cast Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk, a/k/a Kingpin, who is one of Marvel’s most memorably unpleasant villains.)
Episode 5: World on Fire
“Previously on Daredevil… SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!” (Anatoly’s head falls off)
Whoa. So I guess it’s safe to say that if you were dying to see Wilson Fisk do something horrific, well, you just got your wish. Not only has he beheaded Vladimir’s brother (with a car door!), but now his slimy underling Wesley has pinned the murder on (you guessed it) a certain vigilante in a black mask. The plot thickens all over the place in the fifth episode: Vlad flips out; Matt and Claire make out; Foggy and Karen hang out; and Fisk simply dismantles the Russian mob and astutely asserts himself as the boss of the bosses.
The coolest revelation in Daredevil‘s fifth episode is that the series works as well as a procedural as it does as an action/adventure story. Obviously we’ll always need a handful of kick-ass alleyway brawls in a Marvel-based program, but “World on Fire” proves that the characters and their slyly interconnected plot threads are the show’s foundation. Plus it’s just fun to watch Matt, Foggy, and Karen come to the aid of a sweet old lady — only to butt heads with corrupt cops, unhappy villains, and the most intimidating law firm in town.
Oh, and then Fisk blows up half of Hell’s Kitchen and Matt gets busted by the cops … while still in costume! #gasp
Episode 6: Condemned
OK, so those were three dirty cops so it’s cool that Matt broke free and beat them all up. Whew. But here’s where our hero escapes the fire only to land directly in the frying pan. In other words, Matt Murdock is now public enemy #1 in Hell’s Kitchen, partially because almost all of the cops are dirty crook bastards, but mainly because Wilson Fisk is one deviously clever criminal mastermind.
Sort of a direct sequel to episode 5, “Condemned” boasts a fast-paced and intense “all in one night” narrative format, which allows our key characters to react to the bombings in all sorts of interesting ways: Foggy suffers a nasty injury and holes up with Karen at the hospital; Claire does her best to keep her new beau abreast of all the accusations that are being slung his way; Ben shows up at the crime scene and starts to put a few of the pieces together; and deep inside an abandoned warehouse, Matt does all he can to keep the wildly resilient Vladimir alive long enough to spill some beans. Meanwhile the cops are about to kick the doors down.
Also there’s a great bit of verbal sparring between “Daredevil” and “Kingpin” that proves to be one of the show’s most entertaining scenes so far.