Daredevil: Semper Fidelis

"Right or wrong, you can't deny that it works."

I think the most pressing concern with this season is that, so far, there has been no clear villain. Is it Punisher? Is it Elektra? Reyes? The Yakuza? Semper Fidelis seems to resolve this problem.

The main antagonist of this season appears to be Daredevil. The morality of Matt Murdock's actions has been a running theme since the first episode, but this season is not backing down from it. And Matt himself can't escape it. This is the episode where his staunch worldview truly begins to crumble, and it is explored intimately in this episode. There is a lot to talk about.

The People v. Frank Castle

The episode opens with potential jury members telling us how they feel about Frank Castle. There are some who think he's an insane, fascist, amoral serial killer, while others think he's the only thing truly protecting them and doing the world a service by gunning down criminals. Since "New York's Finest," The Punisher's war on crime has served as a parallel to Daredevil.

This is brought up directly during Matt and Karen's second date when she talks about how she doesn't really see the difference between those who save lives (like Daredevil) and those who prevent lives from needing to be saved (Punisher). She inadvertently reveals her own support for such figures, even despite the illegality of their actions. Neither she nor Matt know how to feel about this, cutting their date short due to awkwardness.

Karen's words haunt Matt, who refuses to see any connection between what he does at night and what Frank Castle did. He's keeping himself willfully blind to the fact that the only reason he's making sure a mass murderer like Frank gets a fair trial is because he related to him, he sat down with him and listened to his story.

Whatever he might think of him, Matt's relationship with Frank is rooted in empathy. He's trying to keep a man, who he likely views as a version of himself who lost his way, from dying. Or, at least, he would if Matt's other life wasn't encroaching on this most important trial. In light of this, Foggy and Karen take the lead on the case. Karen is proving to be the small law firm's most diligent worker and the only one capable of making progress with Frank, and Foggy even provides a serviceable opening statement in Matt's absence. Still it is sad to see them working so hard only to be blindsided (no pun intended) by Matt's own issues after he led them into this.

Elektra Natchios v. The Yakuza

Matt's second client demands way more time of him than the terse Punisher. Which makes sense, as she is also the neighborhood's biggest "devil-worshipper". It is a bit sad to see our hero Daredevil rendered so starry-eyed and impotent in the face of Elektra. Especially when there is basically only one reason for it.

Elektra isn't dangerous because she knows martial arts, or because she's rich, or because she's unpredictable. She's dangerous because she brings out the worst in Matt. The rage he's been letting out as Daredevil is turned all the way up in her presence. If there is a greater reason for her war against the Yakuza, she's not telling. Right now it seems like she's just using this criminal element to exploit Matt's dark side.

And she's doing a good job. When he fights with Elektra, Matt is way more brutal, continuing to pound guys' faces in long after he's beaten them unconscious. Matt would probably be perfectly fine with this: fighting side-by-side with a kindred spirit, comparing scars, having soft, sexy chats in their underwear. If only Elektra had any sense of boundaries.

Elektra's alter-ego is her only ego. As such, she cannot stand that Matt is trying to keep his identity a secret. She finds his regular life boring, mocking everything he does outside of indulging in violent mischief. Doesn't stop her from stalking Matt when he's having dinner with Karen; watching the episode again, I noticed Matt and Karen only talked about the Medical Examiner at the beginning of the scene, meaning Elektra was listening to them the whole time. Stalker.

But she won't stop there, as she threatens the Medical Examiner Matt and Foggy planned to use against Reyes in the trial. This sets them back once more when the judge learns the man was threatened and removes him from the trial.

Matt is understandably pissed when he confronts her about this as Daredevil, but her only argument is that she was just playing by "his rules". So Elektra has completely run away with the message Daredevil brought to New York, believing all of their problems can be solved through nightly vigilantism. It's a pretty childish notion, but so is dressing up in a red costume and calling yourself justice, which is probably why Matt doesn't bring it up.

Regardless of how hostile he acts toward her whenever she calls him up or does something to royally screw with his life, Matt still ends up doing exactly what Elektra wants. Because what she wants usually involves smashing a bunch of criminals to a bloody pulp. And he likes that.

Oh, and the Yakuza are digging a giant hole in the ground. The ending seems to imply that it is bottomless.

Matt Murdock v. The Devil of Hell's Kitchen

Revealing Elektra's involvement to poor, beleaguered Foggy leads to another falling out between Nelson and Murdock. It also might be my favorite scene of the season so far. Foggy lays into Matt, telling him the brutal truth. Everything going wrong in Matt's life right now is his own doing. He's the one who lied to his friends, who indulged Elektra, who took on The Punisher, and he's the one who paved the way for both of them by single-handedly throwing the criminal underworld into chaos last season, all of which he still refuses to acknowledge. The question it seems we should be asking this season is whether or not Daredevil's actions are noble, or if they ever truly were to begin with.

Matt's end of his conversation with Karen was just as telling as hers. Matt tells Karen he believes in the law, which may be true for Matt Murdock, but is not whatsoever for Daredevil. Matt also claims that only God can decide who lives and who dies (and sometimes a jury), and that he doesn't see Frank Castle's actions as justice or vengeance, just murder. I think we were meant to find Karen's beliefs shocking, but I was more astonished at Matt's rationale. In his mind, God must be cool with him dressing up in a devil suit and cutting in half the lifespan of every thug he bludgeons. Yeah, if we're being realistic here, it's a rare few of those guys who ever regain enough faculties to actually learn their lesson, as Matt seems to think they do. A lot of hypocrisy.

Like so many other heroes, Matt is unwittingly creating his own monsters, and the devil inside him might be the most destructive. It seems like the season is building up to a moment where Daredevil seriously crosses the line, most likely by killing someone. Then what kind of hero are we dealing with? Or what kind of show, for that matter.

Bits and Pieces:

* Broken glass might be a theme this season. There was the shooting of the Irish gang through a window in the first episode. The shattering glass that deafens Matt when he's concussed. Elektra had a thing a few episodes back about breaking glass for no reason. And here, Matt starts busting in a window, threatening to throw the pervy professor out. After the interrogation is over, the window breaks apart and Matt looks a tad disturbed.

* Security at the prison won't let Karen carry in anything Frank could use to escape when she visits him. Even paperclips. This show's attention to detail could be very well-utilized if Bullseye ever comes into the picture.

* The coroner's report apparently stated that Frank's children were killed by the same bullet even though they and their mother were "shredded", with each sustaining multiple gunshot wounds. Sounds like some JFK conspiracy stuff to me. Magic bullet, suits intimidating people and everything.

* Judging by the first scene, it seems as if white men really don't like The Punisher while black women really do like him.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: The shot of Frank Castle walking into the court room and standing directly in front of an American flag after we hear people's mixed opinions about him.

Quotes:

Frank: It wasn't on a battlefield. That's not where my life went to shit.

Matt: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury... Imagine if you will--
I just thought this was funny.

Karen: We're not talking about something that happened to Frank Castle. We're talking about something that is happening to him.
A very good speech. This show has a remarkable knack for humanizing these comic book characters.

Matt: And did you find what you were looking for?
Elektra: Mostly I found that I was alone.
Matt: Then why didn't you come back?
Elektra: Because you don't know what I know. Because you deserve better.
There had better be more to this. As it stands, Elektra's "let's stay up all night, beat the shit out of people and do whatever we want" characterization isn't doing much for me.

Foggy: I don't care, I DON'T CARE, MATT! Stop acting like these things just happen to you! No one is making you go out at all hours of the night fighting bad guys, and nobody makes you lie to your friends over and over again! Elektra is not the problem, Matt. You are.

Foggy: Tell your girlfriend to stay away from my trial.
Matt: She's not... Elektra's not my girlfriend.
Foggy: Then you should be the one to tell Karen about her.
THANK YOU, FOGGY NELSON. God, I was wondering how long Matt was gonna keep air-cheating on Karen before this was addressed.

Karen: You don't treat me like I'm just your secretary, I've done more work on this case than you have!
Thank you, Karen Page!

Though we are more than halfway into the season and I still don't really know what's going on, this was an awesome episode. Four out of four Yakuza holes to China.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Terrific review of a complicated episode, Logan.

I also thought that Karen was seeing the Punisher's version of vigilantism as better. I love that this show is making me wonder if the Punisher's version *is* better, and I'm one of those people who don't believe in the death penalty. You made an excellent point about how the condition in which Matt leaves the bad guys.

The fact that Matt is so obsessed with beating people up that he's losing interest in the law, not to mention Foggy, upset me. Matt could quite possibly do more good as a lawyer. It also bothered me that Matt was blowing off Karen for Elektra. It's a real tug of war, his life as a lawyer versus his life as a vigilante, and I'm not happy that the vigilante is winning.

Hole in the ground. Fascinating.

Kakashi Sensei said...

Many thanks, Logan, your review of this episode shed some light on things that I could not voice before.

It has been a while since I finished watching Season 2 but I am still on the fence about whether Elektra "worked" for me (as a character and how she is portrayed - and without comparing her to her comic book self/selves). The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that she does work on one level and does not work on another. And that is why I feel conflicted about her.

She works as temptation, as dark force that speaks directly to the darkness in Matt. That darkness is an important part of him, but one he strives very hard to contain. Maybe too hard? At times, I want to tell him to loosen up a bit and to let go of all the guilt he is carrying around with him. But he probably senses that he cannot give in to the darkness because it would turn him into something he abhors ... and yet secretly admires (like the Punisher).

But here is where she doesn't work for me: It's her called "childish"-side, as you put it. She is very emotionally immature and worse, she is "hung up" on Matt in ways that make her extremely vulnerable. I have nothing against characters that have vulnerable sides, quite the opposite, but in her case, it contradicts her other role as evil temptation too much. She voices several times how "lonely" she is, which puts her "coming back" into a romantic context that diminishes her power and agency in this. She stalks Matt especially when he is with Karen, which makes her seem motivated at least in part by jealousy.

Elektra has the potential for a very strong female super-villain, but the romance angle completely killed it for me.

TJ said...

I don't know anything about comics and I don't know anything about Elektra.

But she soo reminds me of Faith, the superhero that goes lost/bad/good. She just screams self-destruction imo.

What a fantastic second season this is...