Daredevil: The Path of the Righteous

Bloody and alone.
“The martyrs, the saints, the saviors—they all end up the same way. Bloody. And alone.”

For a show about a lonely superhero and his lonely adversary, there’s a lot of conversation in this episode. Matt and Karen, Matt and Claire. Fisk and Wesley. Matt and the priest. Etc. Nearly every scene in this episode is based on two people talking. And, in that dialogue-heavy script, the show contrasts the loneliness of Matt and Fisk with the complexity of their social networks.

“The Path of the Righteous” expands, but does not belabor, the various parallels in this show. It’s not just about Matt, but Claire, Foggy, and Karen—and the different ways they relate to Matt. It’s Karen and Wesley playing their own games, and the way that Matt thinks he has lost Foggy just as much as Fisk really does lose Wesley.

Wesley’s death, and the conversation preceding it, is the highlight of this episode. I love the way this scene is shot. Look at how creepy it is at first, with Wesley lurking in the background. Karen’s figure is smaller, spotlit as though we should expect something to happen to her vulnerable body. We are aware of Wesley before she is; she does not have the upper hand here.

Horror movie moment.

If the Matt/Nobu scene was the crowning achievement of Matt’s training (and the fight choreographer’s skill), then the Karen/Wesley standoff is Karen’s coup de grace. She may not have years of physical training or a superpower, but she kicks ass in her own way. She maintains a weakened, off-kilter posture as she takes stock of her situation:

This show is so beautiful.

Once Wesley tells her she has “made a choice” to pursue Fisk—chosen “the path of the righteous,” in this episode’s parlance—her posture becomes a method of concealment. Her disguise is that of a beautiful, unintimidating woman:

What's changed? Oh, just a gun.

But the gun is on the table, just out of focus and slightly out of frame. Although the camera doesn’t let Karen own the gun—it’s too far away—it is in the back of her mind just as much as it is in the extreme forefront of the shot: a blurry possibility. For the rest of the scene, the gun is only ever visible if Karen is visible in the shot. If Wesley is alone on screen, we don’t see the gun.

Karen is willing to die before agreeing to work for Fisk, but she’s not willing to martyr those around her. When Wesley threatens to go all Keyser Soze on Karen’s friends and associates, we can see the idea of actually winning this duel come to the forefront of Karen’s mind. She has something to fight for.


Whereas Karen’s friends are what keep her fighting, Wesley’s social ties are his undoing, as his ringing phone distracts him long enough for Karen to grab the gun. She shoots him midsentence, which is perfect, since he was such a mansplaining bastard in this scene. And his phone keeps ringing into the darkness to symbolize just how angry Fisk is going to be when he finds out that his closest dependent has died.

Like Matt, Karen conceals her true strength. With that concealment comes power; Wesley takes her at face value. But that concealment is also a risk: Wesley keeps his actions from Fisk. He thinks that pursuing Karen on his own terms is both the best way to serve his friend and the strongest response to the situation. (He’s wrong.)

For Matt, concealment is also a burden. In his apartment, Matt’s demeanor with Karen is depressed and forlorn, but with Claire it’s much peppier. At first, I thought this was just a weird choice on the actor’s and director’s part to lighten the mood. Then I realized that Matt is peppier with Claire because he’s simply more open. She knows who he is. It’s the burden of concealment that weighs him down. (This also makes me think about some of the flashbacks we saw of Matt and Foggy in the previous episode. Matt didn’t get moody—didn’t start chuckling mildly rather than laughing—until he had something to hide.)

We can see the contrast between how Matt relates to Karen and Claire in the way they are framed:

Seriously, this show is gorgeous.

Karen is a ministering angel in this shot. Matt sees her as one of the innocents he must protect, and the shot replicates his vision of her as, if not flawless, than at least not a part of his vigilantism. But Claire plays for Team Superhero, and Matt doesn’t conceal anything from her. That puts them on more of a level playing field. They relate as people, not as obstacles or symbols:

When Karen is hounding Matt for information, she asks if his evasions are all Matt is going to give her. Matt, having disclosed everything to Foggy the night before, cannot make himself more vulnerable: “That’s all I have,” he says. “Well, it’s not all I have,” responds Karen. “I found something [about Fisk].” Fisk hides his past, true nature, his true goals—and he sucks information “into a black hole.” Matt hides his superpower and his nightly vigilanting. What they both “have” are secrets.

The threat of disclosure puts not just Matt and Fisk, but also their social networks at risk. In the previous episode, we saw how Matt lost the most important relationship of his adult life because of what he kept hidden. But disclosure also makes both men’s associates vulnerable: Karen and Vanessa are both at stake in this episode. (Claire knows enough to get out of town.)

And that brings me to the lead quote at the top of this review: Claire’s notion of martyrs as bloody and alone. Martyrs—and heroes, and villains—aren’t alone. They’re necessarily part of a vast social network of friends, acquaintances, co-workers, costume tailors. Each of those people is affected in some way by the choices the hero and the villain makes.

In her voicemail to Matt, Karen says that she “thought we were supposed to be a team, not whatever this is.” That’s where “The Path of the Righteous” leaves us: with dismantled social networks, ruined friendships, and far too much concealment. Whatever “this” is, it’s a serious problem. Perhaps the grandiose struggle between the lonely hero and the lonely villain is nothing more than window dressing for each man’s struggle against self-imposed loneliness.

Josie’s Bar:

• Rosario Dawson is 100% awesome. We’re all in agreement on that, right? Good.

• The priest ponders whether God created Lucifer as a warning to us all... and thus the Daredevil costume is born!

• I loved Matt telling Turk that he just wasn’t in the mood for the whole song-and-dance violence thing, and Turk agreeing.

• Melvin Potter’s character in the comics drove me a bit batty, but I really like the way he is portrayed here.

• The title of this episode is, I assume, a reference to Jules’ misquotation of Ezekiel 25:17 from Pulp Fiction. Here’s an interesting take on how Jules—who totally adds the “path of the righteous” stuff—is actually a complex pastiche of various biblical ideas.

Four out of four drinks at Josie’s Bar.

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...

Yes, the priest talking about God possibly creating Lucifer as a warning to us so we "tread the path of the righteous" was definitely interesting, made more so by the actor's impeccable performance. But I think even more compelling in that scene was Matt asking if having "the Devil" inside him, "clawing to be let out" is part of God's plan. Charlie Cox does such an amazing job portraying Matt's moral struggles in this show, trying to reconcile his faith with his inner desire for violence.

TJ said...

Fantastic episode of a wonderful first season.

I'm just going to add that the song playing in the background in the bar-scene is...

Heartless Bastards - Only for you

...and judging by all the comments on YT, lots and lots of people found this song through Daredevil. Don't you just love it when you find music accidently through a TV show?!:)

Jess Lynde said...

I like how last episode gave us the extended look at the part of Matt’s trio that pulls him toward “the light” and the law, then this one shifted back to the other, more bloodthirsty side of that trio (even though Matt still sees her as someone he needs to protect). Karen comes at all this from a very different perspective than Foggy --- having been subjected to multiple murder attempts and losing several people she cared about for trying to do the right thing --- and she puts her money where her mouth is in this episode. While Foggy wants to work within the law, when push comes to shove Karen doesn’t hesitate to put her enemy down permanently, so that he can’t hurt her and everyone she cares about another day. Meanwhile, Matt continues to struggle in the middle, wrestling with what he wants to do vs. what he thinks is right. They make for an interesting spectrum.

Docnaz said...

I hate it when people say they are going to "reach out" to someone instead of call or contact them. Jeez it is so annoying.

Billie Doux said...

I'm watching these episodes without knowing what's coming or what happened in the comics, and I honestly thought Karen was going to die. And then I was shocked that Wesley died, and how he died.

The "latte" discussions are so interesting, a huge part of Matt slowly determining his own identity. With body armor, I hope. Matt soooo needs body armor. I'm tired of watching him get hurt.

Another terrific review, Josie.