Daredevil is the new gold standard in superhero television shows. Hell, it's even better than some of the bloated big-screen films (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Fantastic Four reboot) that are beginning to water down the Marvel universe.
Here’s the reason for its achievement: old fashion character development. Show creator Drew Goddard wisely knows that all that running around and punching amounts to nothing if we don’t care about the person behind the mask.
So, through well-inserted flashbacks, we learn of Matthew “Matt” Murdock’s (Charlie Cox) early accident that led to his blindness, burgeoning mutant powers, and his relationship with his father who was a boxer in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s just enough to not bog down the show for old fans like me (because superhero origin fatigue is a real thing) and just the right amount for new recruits to introduce the man with no fear.
1.01: “Into the Ring”
We meet Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) trembling over the body of a murdered man with a blood-drenched knife. Matt and his money obsessed partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) take her on as their first client. Page is justifiably worried about placing her life in the newbies’ hands, and Foggy isn’t all that interested in helping the penniless woman at first.
She chose wisely.
Matt, using his heightened senses (he can hear a person’s pulse), quickly discovers she’s not 100% innocent, though she is of murder.
Daredevil, Murdock's masked hero—in these beginning stages sporting a poor man’s Zorro attire—bookends the debut episode with some of the most realistic fight scenes. Just under six minutes of screen time is devoted to the vigilante in action…and these scenes are spectacular.
I'm no pugilist, so I won’t try to describe the technical side behind the maneuvers and all, but I will say that when Black Widow, Nick Fury, etc., fight in The Avengers—it looks slick and occasionally staged (how do they manage to go on as long as they do, barely winded, with just superficial contusions). Here, Daredevil tires out like a person would—fight scenes look and feel labored—and when he goes through a window, he is knocked unconscious.
Will he get up before the baddie comes to finish him off? Who knows until it plays out.
Note: Daredevil is based on the comic created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, and first appeared in Daredevil #1 in April 1964.
1.02: “Cut Man”
Once again, Daredevil is unconscious. But this time, he’s in a dumpster outside Claire Temple’s (Rosario Dawson) apartment, and he’s near death—narrowly making his escape after being lured by the Russian mob to a false location in rescue of a kidnapped boy.
His fame is already on the rise because Claire assumes he’s the Good Samaritan (“the man in black”) whose handiwork is being seen all about town. She patches him up, and he goes back in search of the boy. The final fight scene is a heart-thumping corker.
Director Phil Abraham plants his lens in a dingy hall—doused in a grimy yellow-green color—as the weary Daredevil enters to take on multiple armed assailants. No gimmicky cutaways and bullshit martial arts. Just one tracking shot as our hero’s already worn-down body is further depleted. A mini-choreographed masterpiece.
Trivia: Claire is an amalgamation of two Marvel characters: Doctor Claire Temple and Night Nurse. [source: Wikipedia]
1.03: “Rabbit in a Snowstorm”
Fisk’s main stooge, James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), approaches Nelson and Murdock to hire them (through a company front called Confederated Global Investments) on retainer to handle occasional cases in Hell’s Kitchen. Foggy is about to turn them down, because their first referred client named John Healy (Alex Morf) seems a little too familiar with beating the legal system, when Matt pushes to take it on because he senses it will lead him closer to the criminal element he’s working to eradicate.
Actor Vondie Curtis-Hall is a good fit as Ben Urich—an investigative journalist who knows something is brewing in the city, but is constantly shut down by his superiors who feel mob stories don’t sell papers like they used to. He gets a much-needed adrenaline boost when Karen Page—who now works as Matt and Foggy’s secretary—offers inside intel on her former company that could expose a much wider city corruption. That corruption includes Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), aka Kingpin, who makes his first appearance after we only hear his voice in the first episode.
Trivia: Look closely. Ben’s office walls have a newspaper clipping on The Avengers’ Battle of New York.
1.04: “In the Blood”
James Wesley lays down the law to brothers Vladimir and Anatoly Ranskahov (Nikolai Nikolaeff, Gideon Emery), who head the Russian mob, that Daredevil needs to be assassinated. They follow the thread to Claire Temple, kidnapping and torturing her for information on DD’s whereabouts.
Meanwhile, Ben tells Karen to take the payout from her previous company and avoid meeting with him anymore, so he can begin putting the jigsaw pieces together of who is now running Hell’s Kitchen.
A window to the duality of Wilson Fisk is opened, as we first see the shy, warm Fisk begin romancing Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer), an art gallery curator. Then, this is juxtaposed with the flipside creature that murders Anatoly Ranskahov for interrupting his dinner date. It’s cruel, deranged, and highly unsettling to view, as the sociopath repeatedly slams Anatoly’s head in a car door. Necessary, though, to see the true evil that Matt Murdock is up against.
Trivia: Marvel enthusiasts will appreciate Fisk instructing Wesley to tell Mr. Potter (aka villain Gladiator) he “will need a new suit.”
1.05: “World on Fire”
All-out war begins as Fisk pins the death of Anatoly Ranskahov on Daredevil. All the while, Fisk’s plan is to exterminate the Russians’ remaining grasp on Hell’s Kitchen.
Matt “witnesses,” through his advanced hearing, two police officers kill a suspect while in custody, after the detained man mentions Fisk's name. Later, Daredevil does a beat down of one of the detectives and swipes the man's cell phone, which inches him closer to his query.
Cupid is running amok in this episode. Claire is worried that Matt is going too dark in his pursuit, and says she can't fall in love with “someone who’s so damn close to becoming what he hates.” He agrees with her, and the hurt written on her face is a compliment to Ms. Dawson’s top acting.
At the same time, Karen and Foggy (Murdock & Nelson have signed on to help a group of tenants who are being strong armed from their building, and Foggy brings Karen along to assist in some Good Samaritan home refurbishing) appear to be growing closer.
Also on the love train, are Fisk and Vanessa, with Vanessa seeming to be onboard with the Kingpin’s ruthless ways as together they watch explosions erupt—that he’s set in motion—across the city while they are dining.
Note: Matt explains his super senses to Claire as an impressionistic painting based upon feeling, direction, and “micro-changes in air density, vibrations, and blankets of temperature variations.” How Daredevil came to be has always felt like one of the less thought-out origin stories but it’s presented here as very plausible.
Surrounded by dirty cops who are about to finish off Vladimir, a handcuffed Daredevil makes quick work of them, fleeing with the Russian mafia leader. He then keeps Vladimir among the living by cauterizing his bullet wound with a flare—gotta admire this guy’s medical MacGyver qualities!
As a corrupt dragnet—headed by detectives Blake and Hoffman—closes in on the empty warehouse where they are hiding out, Fisk sets up Daredevil by having a sniper (Bullseye, anyone?) shoot cops, including Blake, from the warehouse roof. Realizing the masked hero isn’t working for Fisk, Vladimir gives Daredevil Fisk’s accountant—Leland Owlsley—and then holds off the approaching police, sacrificing his own life so Daredevil can escape.
Note: As he tries to piece together the different criminal links around town, Ben Urich uses a King playing card to represent Wilson Fisk. In the comics, Fisk is known by his more popular nickname of Kingpin.
This episode includes some major Daredevil backstory, featuring Scott Glenn as Stick (a character created by the legendary Frank Miller), the man who’d helped Matt Murdock hone his skills, but then abandoned him when Matt started to grow too attached. (For anyone familiar with Mr. Glenn in 1982’s The Challenge, it’s a helluva kick seeing him swinging a sword again in this adventure.)
Stick has come to ask, in a roundabout way, for Daredevil’s help going after something he calls Black Sky. When it’s discovered Black Sky is a young boy being transported in chains via a shipping container, Daredevil prevents Stick from killing the child. Later, the old man claims he relocated and murdered the boy anyway, and a Battle Royale ensues between mentor and mentee.
Other developments have Karen bringing Foggy in on her investigation with Ben. The reporter adds another playing card to the wall—a joker representing Daredevil—that he aligns side by side with Fisk wondering aloud who trumps who?
Best line by Daredevil to his mentor: “You got a warped perspective on the whole good/bad thing, you know that?”
Check back next Thursday for a quick recap of Episodes 8-13 to get you caught up before Season Two is released the next day, 3/18!
David Cranmer aka Edward A. Grainger is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP books http://www.beattoapulp.com/ and writer of the forthcoming The Drifter Detective #7: Torn and Frayed. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.