This episode took us back in time to see just how Matt Murdock became the ultimate badass he is today. And all without a single training montage. Hallelujah!
Mentor figures are very common in hero fiction and often double as substitute fathers. This is usually because the vast majority of fictional heroes are either orphans or lack a clear father figure in their lives because their fathers are either dead, secretly the villain, or a complete deadbeat. Curiously, comic book heroes don't have many mentors. They have an abundance of dead father figures, oh lord do they have dead father figures, but your average Obi-Wan, someone who teaches them how to fight and/or use their powers before sacrificing themselves so the hero can complete their journey, are surprisingly rare.
Daredevil is one of the few Marvel heroes to have a traditional mentor, albeit one who was added retroactively by Frank Miller during his tenure. As a grumpy old blind Kung-Fu master who often talks in cryptic sentences, never tells the hero what he needs to know, and has no time for his pupil's whiny bullshit, Stick comes across like he was put together from the pages of the big book of mentor clichés. If they'd cast the wrong actor, or an actor who just wanted an easy pay cheque (I'm looking at you, Terence Stamp) in this role then I don't think this episode would've worked as successfully as it does. Luckily, they cast Scott Glenn, who is just so perfect for this role that I could cry. With a face that looks like it was carved from granite, Glenn's Stick was everything I expected him to be. And by that I mean a complete bastard and an unapologetic complete bastard at that.
Stick recognised the potential in Matt and decided to mould him into a warrior like himself, an heir to the Spartans, but with more clothes and less AGGRESSIVE SHOUTING!!!!! In essence, he became like a second father to Matt, a father who used to call him names and smack him around, but all in the name of training him to became a warrior -- so there’s no need to call child services. Once again I have to compliment this show on its great use of flashbacks. If this were a movie (which is what Joss Whedon wanted after Marvel got the rights back from Fox) it is likely that Matt's history with Stick would've either been horribly condensed or cut out all together (as it was in the Affleck film). But this isn't a film, it's a serialized television series that doesn't actually broadcast on television but we still call it a television series because there isn't an accepted alternative, and being a (not really) serialized television series means that there is room for the writers to fully explore the backstory of its characters. So we get to see Matt and Stick's entire turbulent history, from the happy days of ice cream in the park (BEST! MENTOR! EVER!) to Stick suddenly abandoning Matt because he made him a friendship bracelet and SPARTANS DON’T MAKE FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS! However, they do secretly keep friendship bracelets (and I double checked and he definitely took it with him when he left Matt). Did he abandon Matt because he thought Matt wouldn't have the stomach to do what is necessary to win this mysterious war or was it because he realised he cared too much about this kid to make him cannon fodder for his secret army? Has that changed now that Matt is all grown up?
I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane, but I'll be the first to admit that the present day storyline had its fair share of faults. Some parts of this episode were fairly predictable. It was obvious that Black Sky was going to be a person, not a thing. And it was just as obvious that it was going to be a child, or at least look like one. And it was painfully obvious that once Matt realised that he would stop Stick from killing it. Which begs the question of why Stick even brought Matt along with him in the first place? From the way I saw it, Stick didn't need Matt's help killing the Black Sky. Which makes me wonder if this was all just a test to see if Matt would be the obedient little soldier Stick needs him to be. Obviously, he failed, but Stick's conversation with his friend (I won't say who he is, even though I have a pretty good idea) suggest that he hasn't entirely given up on Matt.
Although very different in terms of style, tone and content, these four Netflix series are being structured in a similar vein to Marvel’s movies. Each will be a standalone story centred on their respective protagonist, but will introduce elements that will all eventually build up to a crossover event featuring all four leads called The Defenders. In that sense, ‘Stick’ is the equivalent of a post-credit scene or one of those moments in Age of Ultron where Thor started to talk ominously about stuff that had nothing to do with what was going on, but you know will be relevant three movies from now. There is no doubt in my mind that this "war" that Stick talked so cryptically about is the event that is going to unite all of these heroes somewhere down the line. And I also have a good idea who exactly it is that they will be fighting.
The way Stick laughed at the idea of Nobu being just a simple Yakuza boss made it clear to me that he is really working for the Hand. Now, I'm well aware that lot of you reading these reviews will have no idea who or what the Hand even are, so I won't go into comic spoilers here -- I'll be a good boy and keep my trap shut -- but let me just say they are a big deal, and Stick isn't kidding when he describes Nobu as someone Fisk is afraid of.
This episode suggest that this series is about to take the MCU into uncharted territory. Previously, everything fantastical in the MCU had either a scientific or extraterrestrial origin. Even Thor, a mythological god, is really just an alien with advanced tech and long life. To date, Marvel has shied away from anything even remotely supernatural. Well, it looks like that is about to change. No one came out and said it, but the way everyone talked about the Black Sky strongly implied that he (or should that be it?) possessed some kind of supernatural ability.
I doubt this means we're suddenly going to see the likes of Brother Voodoo running around Hell's Kitchen. More likely the writers are going to take the same approach as Arrow and slowly introduce fantastical or supernatural elements bit by bit over time. I do worry, though, that introducing magic and mysticism into a series as gritty as this (even though it is set in a universe with superheroes) may be too much of a tonal shift. I'm hopeful they can make it work, but I can't help but worry about it.
I'm in two minds about Karen's storyline in this episode. I get that her investigation is likely to provoke incidents like this and it would be unrealistic for Karen, who isn't a trained fighter, to fight these people off by herself. She could handle herself against one attack, as we've already seen (I cheered when she maced that guy), but not two. However, I didn't like seeing her in the typical damsel in distress scenario where she needed a male character to come along and rescue her. And I also didn't like how slightly contrived this attack was (what are the odds that Karen would be attacked by the exact same henchmen Elena just told her about?). Also, Foggy following her around with a baseball bat walks a fine line between concerned and creepy.
Notes and Quotes
--Twin fighting sticks are Daredevil's signature weapon in the comics. I like how these iconic elements of the character are being introduced bit by bit.
--Once again the question of whether or not Matt should kill his enemies was brought up and Stick seems to be firmly on Team Kill the Fuckers.
--So I'm curious to know what everyone's theories are about where Matt's mother is?
--This episode was written by Doug Petrie, a former Buffy writer who was responsible for some of the series' best episodes. He is set to be co-showrunner for season 2 alongside Marco Ramirez.
--The orphanage Matt was placed into after his father died was St. Agnes. Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also spent time there as a child. Could they have known each other? Unlikely, since Matt is a good ten years Skye's senior.
--The characters on the map that Nobu and his men were looking at in 'Into the Ring' translate into 'Black Sky'.
--The excellent tracking shot that opens this episode is a reminder of how Daredevil is a lot more cinematic than its Marvel brethren, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter.
Stick: "Took you twenty years to learn how to get out of that one."
Matt: "Yeah, I've learned a lot since you've been gone."
Stick: "Like what?"
Matt: "You're a dick."
Stick: "That's true."
Ben: "My experience... there are no heroes, no villains. Just people with different agendas."
Matt: "Maybe you should've stuck around and finished training me yourself."
Stick: "I needed a soldier. You wanted a father."
Matt: "Well, I guess we're both disappointed then."
Stick: "What a shithole."
Matt: "You have any idea what I pay in rent?"
Stick: "Expensive shithole."
Three out of four friendship bracelets.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.
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