Daredevil: Nelson v. Murdock

“We’re going to be the best damn avocados this city has ever seen.”

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?)


Patrick said...

Another stellar episode from a season that didn't really have any missteps. All of the conversation scenes between Matt & Foggy were fantastic, and well-balanced. On the one hand, we sympathize with Matt and why he's doing what he's doing. But Elden Henson portrayed Foggy's sense of betrayal in a very believable & sympathetic way.

The scene that really hit me in the gut was definitely listening to Matt talk about hearing the little girl being abused by her father. In the hands of lesser writers & actors it would have felt like a cheap and exploitative attempt to gain sympathy for Matt's side of the argument. But the way it played out, you can't help but feel the helplessness and rage Matt must have been feeling as he heard that night after night. Whether you agree or not with his choice to take the law into his own hands and become a vigilante, anyone with a hint of a soul would understand why an act like that could push Matt over the edge. Charlie Cox does such an incredible job on this show portraying Matt's inner struggles, whether it's scenes like these with Foggy, or the conversations he has with the priest(still probably my favorite moments in the series).

Anonymous said...

I'm with you Patrick. Matt's conversations with the priest and his conversations with Foggy in this episode are my favorite bits of the series.

I also normally dislike the "I'm so upset you didn't tell me" superhero reveals, but this one is done so well. Normally it OBVIOUS that the hero is doing the right thing, so the friend's objections seem somewhat petty. But the show allows Foggy to have some legitimate issues with what Matt does (LOVE the "Misspelling Hanukkah is a mistake.." line), which makes his sense of betrayal believable and understandable instead of annoying. The show itself questions Matt's actions and methods so it's not a shock when Foggy has objections. Foggy's essentially realizing that Matt has never been the guy Foggy thought he was. We know as the audience that at the core he's the same guy, but Foggy has never seen this side of him. The freaky senses. The fighting skills. The violence. The consuming rage. Matt has kept an entire part of himself a secret.

And watching their friendship crumble is made all the more heartbreaking by watching snapshots of the growth of their friendship.


Jess Lynde said...

Great thoughts, everyone. I agree wholeheartedly that Elden Henson did a wonderful job conveying Foggy’s sense of betrayal, and it gave me new perspective on the "should Matt kill?" debate. As you all know, I've pretty much been on the "if he's taking up this mantle and this fight, he should be prepared to go as far as necessary" side of it. But seeing how hurt Foggy was, and his disappointment in Matt for going around the law, certainly made me see the "he shouldn't kill people" perspective through new eyes. Ultimately, I still think Matt has to be prepared to go all the way, but Foggy's hurt and objections made me start worrying even more about the consequences for Matt's soul if he does.

Marianna said...

Wonderful review! To echo what others have said, I usually don't have a lot of patience for the "How could you keep this from me?!" drama. However in this case it was done very well with Foggy bringing up excellent points, and also because it completely fit with Foggy's personality that he would be so hurt by Matt lying to him. So credit goes to the writing and acting for the thorough character development of non-lead characters to give them so much depth!

Billie Doux said...

The review and comments all cover everything I have to say about this episode beautifully. A full episode about the consequences of Matt keeping a huge part of his life from his best friend could have been dull or cliched, but instead it was beautifully done and I'm actually worried about the consequences to their friendship.