[Note: All articles on The Reel World contain major spoilers for its main topic.]
Daredevil was the first show to debut in the promising Marvel/Netflix partnership that already has plans for four more shows. Season 1 of Daredevil has been a critical success, and it has opened up limitless possibilities/expectations for the Marvel Television Universe. Overall, I came to adore the show, and it is probably a lock for my Top Ten of 2015 list. As with any good piece of art, I left it with many questions and thoughts about what it could have done and where it will be going. Here are seven of those questions.
1: Why does Marvel still have a black men problem?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to have a portrayal of a black man that inspires much confidence in me. The most prominent roles have been a spy on the margins of the stories designed to create situations to showcase white men on screen, a sidekick whose sole motivation so far is to follow the lead of our white savior, a sidekick that is more competent at his job but on the sidelines of the story for some reason*, and an intergalactic doorman who is put in a storyline position where he has to perpetually fail at his job in order for the plot to move forward.
*Not a tragic white man.
To a certain extent, Daredevil is a major step forward for the MCU in this regard. Ben Urich (played beautifully by Vondie Curtis-Hall) is a fully-realized character with his own backstory, hurdles, agency, etc. Then, in the penultimate episode of the series, Urich is killed by Wilson Fisk in a moment clearly designed** to be the major emotional blow of the entire season. However, the context of this death undermines it a great deal to me and actually caused it to lose much of the emotional weight that I would have previously expected a Ben Urich death to cause.
**The penultimate episode serving as the episode where a season’s biggest death is now so common that it has become cliche.
Why did Wilson Fisk murder Ben Urich? For “going after my mother.” Why does Fisk think that to be the case? One of our protagonists (Karen Page) lured Ben to Fisk’s mother’s nursing home under false pretenses, and Urich ended up taking the fall for it. From an emotional perspective, this death served as a rallying moment for Karen, Matt Murdock, and Foggy Nelson to move forward from their issues in order to focus on taking Fisk down. Ben’s sickly widow, at Ben’s funeral no less, is even put a position when she has to comfort Karen! The great Ben Urich character is reduced in death to a device to service the main white characters, ie: the real heroes of the Daredevil story.
This modern take on the “Uncle Tom” stereotype is still so pervasive in cinema and television. Shedding light on its use here is not about accusing this show of being racist or anything like that. I’m not offended by the fate of Ben Urich or how his death was exploited. It just needs to be pointed out because it’s lazy and unneeded.
2: Why does Marvel still have a women problem?
There are three female roles that got “Main Cast” treatment for Daredevil. One character was a secretary who was saved in the season premiere by our two white knight lawyers (and then became their secretary because she had nowhere else to go), a nurse who primarily exists to provide immediate medical care to our superhero whenever he needs it, and an art dealer who becomes the primary romantic interest for a character teetering on the edge of villainy. The latter, of course, is positioned so that her involvement with said character (Wilson Fisk) is blamed for him becoming a more reckless criminal (which of courses leads to much wanton death and destruction). Marvel, you can do better.
(The first two questions should really be combined into a single question: “Why does Marvel have major issues portraying people that are not white men?”)
3: What is the future of combat on Daredevil?
One of the aspects of this show that immediately makes it stand out from anything else that I have seen in Marvel shows, Marvel films, or mainstream film/television in general is the combat scenes. Unlike most Marvel properties on the (big and small) screen, you see the effects of the violence in Daredevil. You see the blood spattering, the bones breaking, and the lights go out in (some of) the victims’ eyes as they draw their final breaths (and these characters seem to actually stay dead). Does the violence border on excessive? Absolutely. Nonetheless, I applaud the show for not conforming to the standard of casually employing violence for the sake of entertainment and giving it no weight.
With that all said, I’m curious about how the combat in the series of evolves. There are definitely moments, as the season progressed, where the fights remind me of the zombie attacks in The Walking Dead (existing because the audience expects it to exist). It seems like the show rarely passes on an opportunity to show off its ability to choreograph a brutal combat scene*.
*I legitimately laughed out loud when the costume maker went toe-to-toe with Daredevil. Completely necessary!
I hope the show strives to spread out such scenes in the future. Every episode doesn’t need one and every character shouldn’t be capable of fighting the same way (it makes it inherently less special).
4: Does Matt Murdock’s blindness negatively impact him in any way?
While the 2003 Daredevil film was flawed in many, many ways, you cannot say they did not put in time to make sure the audience knew Matt Murdock was blind and this affected his day-to-day life. Yes, his blindness is also his source of his extraordinary powers, but it limits him in other small ways that help to frame the character in a sympathetic manner. Does the show do that at all?
This is not a rhetorical question! I cannot think of any moment where Matt Murdock’s life as an adult was negatively affected by not being able to see. Please send me any such moments from season 1 so I can look like a fool.
5: What is Hell’s Kitchen and why should I care?
I am going to commit a writing foul (in the site’s first article no less) and do something that bugs me in other articles: I need to make a lazy comparison for the sake of convenience.
What is Hell’s Kitchen? Why is it important? Does it have its own mayor? Does it have its own police force? These are just some of the questions that would come to my mind if I did not live fifteen minutes from New York City. One of the biggest issues I had with the show is that they just expected the audience to care about the idea of Hell’s Kitchen and the competing methods of Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk for how to save it. I’m not really sure what needed to be saved to be perfectly honest. Murdock seemed primarily concerned with the criminal element led by Wilson Fisk. However, if Fisk’s arc is to have any credibility whatsoever, there has to be something wrong about Hell’s Kitchen in order any of his actions, long before Murdock’s vigilante days, to make sense. The whole premise of his character is that his criminal actions initially come from a desire to save the “city.”
If you think that paragraph was clumsy, consider it a meta comment on the portrayal of Hell’s Kitchen.
The whole idea of Matt Murdock training in the martial arts to save his city is obviously very derivative (a complaint that is, itself, derivative) of the Bruce Wayne story. As a point of comparison, Batman Begins spends almost the entire film establishing the institutional problems with Gotham City that make it impossible for the unprivileged to succeed and for the corrupt to stay in power. While they simultaneously establish that Bruce Wayne’s desire to save the city is as much ego-driven as a desire to be noble, there was not a single point in that film where I questioned why Gotham City was in trouble, what were some of its biggest problems, and why anyone would go to such insane lengths to save it. To me, that was all missing in Daredevil. It *felt* like the show was just trading on the idea of saving a city and expected us all to go along for the ride (which I did) instead of actually putting in the work to make us care about Hell’s Kitchen.
6: Is this the best Marvel television show at the moment?
After a few episodes of Daredevil, I still had Agent Carter comfortably in the lead of “Favorite Marvel TV Show.” Daredevil won out in the end though. The show’s ability to organically create a dynamic ensemble that it can go to at any moment for the pathos necessary to punch you in the stomach is probably the show’s biggest accomplishment. In one moment, a Russian gangster is just a forgettable background character predictably served up for Wilson Fisk to rid himself of on his journey to the top, and then in the next moment, you want nothing more than for him to team up with the series’ lead to avenge his brother. That’s the kind of show I can get behind.
7: What’s next?
I genuinely did not leave this show craving more Daredevil as it’s currently constructed (or what remains of the foundation it seemed to be building). The most interesting aspect of the Wilson Fisk character to me was his relationship with Wesley (there was a chemistry and love there that the show wishes he had with Vanessa). While I find the dynamic between Matt, Nelson, and Karen to be equal parts charming and endearing, it seemed that the show blew their wad on how far they could push the relationships without splitting them up for good.
Season 1 obviously proved that there are some very creative people running this ship, and I’m sure they are more than capable of producing future seasons of Daredevil that entertain me. My hope is that they will continue to take chances and do things in season 2 that no one else is doing in the mainstream. Part of what made season 1 so gripping is that it did not feel like more of the same. Season 2 needs to feel the same way, or I fear that the show will quickly grow repetitive.
Final Season Grade: 8/10.