You’ve heard of the proverbial one-two punch. It’s a classic boxing combination that begins with a jab, thrown with the non-dominant hand. The goal of the jab is to bring the opponent closer while preventing them from seeing the follow-up cross, which is sheer force meant to take the opponent down.
The previous episode, “Speak of the Devil,” was a jab. The emphasis on religion and violence distracted us from the true threat to Matt’s safety and stability: the secrets he keeps from his best friend. “Nelson v. Murdock” is the follow-up blow, the cross—an emotional gut-punch that we were too distracted to prepare for.
And it breaks my heart.
But we’ll get to the heartbreak in a moment. First, consider this episode’s C-plot: Fisk and Gao. Their conversation was a primer in the “you can’t be a little bit evil” philosophy. Fisk is all circumlocution and head-smashing—no half-measures for him—and Gao encourages that Manicheism, telling him that he must choose light or shadow. Gao may be the only person that Fisk truly respects, and her (sometimes hokey) Eastern wisdom is an interesting counterpoint to his own tendency to speak abstractly.
It’s also interesting to consider the people who have the most influence on Fisk: his mother, Vanessa, and Gao. Fisk only seems comfortable taking advice from, and opening up to, women. He can work with men (Owsley, Wesley, Nobu) but seems focused on having the upper hand in those interplays. With women, he’s both more open and more malleable. That also makes him more vulnerable.
Ben, on the other hand, is not malleable, but he is between a rock and a hard place both professionally and personally. Karen exploits that vulnerability by making him (and me!) think that she might have a solution to his problem. Her language is very precise—she asks Ben to take a drive upstate, saying it “might change [his] mind.” He thinks she means about his wife; we realize eventually she means “change his mind about dropping the investigation.”
Karen is a fascinating character, and I’m so delighted that this show allows her more dimensions than love interest/potential victim. But she’s also one of the most morally ambiguous characters: inclined to do good, but willing to cut some moral corners in order to do so, which makes her character an interesting foil to Matt. (I hope we get Karen’s backstory at some point.)
This episode is really about Matt and Foggy, though. The title of this episode evokes a court case, and Matt is on trial here. Back in “Rabbit in a Snow Storm,” Matt’s courtroom summation discussed the ambiguity of guilt and innocence, good and evil. In this episode, Foggy’s indictment of Matt moves from confusion (“Matt?!”) to personal qualms and a sense of betrayal (“Are you really even blind?”) to a consideration of the larger moral consequences of Matt’s vigilantism (“Judge, jury, and now executioner?”).
The flashbacks parallel that movement, focusing on their meet-cute in the dorm room and moving up to their internship at the corporate law firm, where Matt and Foggy realized that becoming a high-priced defense lawyer doesn’t mean fighting on the side of good.
In one of early flashback scenes, Matt and Foggy were drunk and sitting on the campus stairs. Matt almost let his secret slip—“Since my senses are so…”—and Foggy, without realizing it, finishes the sentence correctly with an ironic “Delicate?” This would have been the perfect moment for Matt to reveal the truth of his superpowers, since revelations always go down better with a few ounces of liquor.
But he doesn’t, and Daredevil trusts us to understand why. It’s the Irish stoicism he learned from his father. The abandonment he learned from his mother. The history of loneliness—no family and no real childhood friends, since everyone treats him like he is “made of glass.” Matt doesn’t share his secret because he simply doesn’t know how to make himself that vulnerable to someone else. And there comes a point of no return: it’s just too late to transform a dark secret back into a confidence. The penultimate flashback is the only one not of Foggy and Matt together. It’s Matt, alone, beating someone up.
We may understand where Matt is coming from, but Foggy simply doesn’t, since he doesn’t have the luxury of watching Matt’s story play out on screen. I am normally very bored by fights between friends or lovers that boil down to “How could you do something that I don’t want you to do?” but Daredevil —and actor Elden Henson—really sold me on Foggy’s perspective.
Foggy also asks some very pointed questions: does Matt want to stop? Why did he keep training between Stick leaving and his recent return to fighting? And Matt answers him simply: “I don’t want to stop.” He has finally answered the question that has plagued him for most of the season. His desire to keep fighting will be the thing that keeps him fighting.
But at what cost? Matt starts this episode in tremendous amounts of physical pain. Over the course of his day-long conversation with Foggy, he gradually moves off the floor, onto the couch, and eventually into some pjs. But as he heals physically, he is more injured mentally and emotionally. By the end of the episode, Matt is sitting up and fully dressed, unable to stop himself from crying (in a manly, chin-quivery way, of course).
Which brings us full circle to the Matt/Fisk parallels. Vanessa was poisoned because of what Fisk does; her survival is ambiguous. Foggy can’t handle what Matt does—attempted murder!—or that he keeps it a secret. And he leaves. Sob.
Bits and Pieces:
• I hope I got the vocabulary correct in my opening boxing “hook” (pun!). I used this resource, and this one, because I know absolutely nothing about boxing.
• Foggy got some great lines in this episode, especially “You run around dressed like a moron beating people up!” and “Misspelling Hanukkah is a mistake, attempted murder is a little something else!”
Four out of four wounded handsome ducks.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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