So I’m Six Episodes Into Daredevil

It’s kind of hard thinking about how to approach the topic of Daredevil, particularly since everything I read leading up to its release said the show was going to be good.  That stuff isn’t wrong; from what I’ve seen, Daredevil is a really entertaining superhero drama.  Of course, there’s not much that’s interesting about a post doing nothing but extolling the praises of Netflix’s latest TV show.

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I can’t get enough of the intro sequence. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

So let’s talk about a few things that could be better and a few things that aren’t necessarily bad, but strike me as unusual.

First let’s address some of the problematic stuff.  In the very first episode, Matt and his partner Foggy come to the aid of Karen Page, a woman who has been framed for the murder of one of her coworkers after she uncovered evidence of suspicious money handling at her job.  Karen can’t return to her apartment, so Matt offers to let her sleep at his place while they’re trying to get her name cleared.  Now, Karen is a major character in the series (her actress, Deborah Ann Woll, gets second billing in the credits), and this first episode acts as her introduction.  Given the importance of the character (she quickly gets embroiled in a subplot where she’s helping a reporter further investigate the dirty dealings of her old employer), you’d think that any kind of sexual aspect to her character might be played out slowly over the course of the season, but instead the show manages to subject her to the male gaze of a blind guy within the first half hour of the entire series.  I’m aware that Matt Murdock is characterized as a playboy who goes through girlfriends quickly, but it’s not a trait that strikes me as particularly charming or necessary.  Fortunately for Karen, she seems to be developing a very charming romance with Foggy that I already suspect will go south before season’s end (it’s never a good sign when on your first date you both end up discussing your mutual friend and whether or not he’s touched your face).

This is one of those shows that falls very squarely in the “torture works” category of storytelling, which creates some problems not only from an ethical standpoint, but also from a plausibility standpoint.  One of Matt Murdock’s most often touted powers is his ability to perceive when people are lying based on their heartbeat.  It’s a cool idea, and I’m totally willing to go along with it, but every time he beats the crap out of someone and then demands information from them makes me roll my eyes (how can you tell someone’s lying based on an elevated heart rate if you’ve already put them in a distressing situation that’s naturally going to elevate their heart rate?).  The trick works when he’s lawyering, but acting like he can tell the difference when he’s just broken a goon’s arm for information is really pushing it.  Beyond the plausibility problem, this whole torture thing is just another example in a long list of contemporary stories where we set up heroes who do morally questionable things and excuse the gray area by calling it pragmatic.  Torture is not an effective method of gathering intelligence, and it’s tiresome to see otherwise admirable characters resorting to it because we’ve built up this false idea that it works.  Give me a character who realizes that their methods need to be adjusted because actively hurting people to get information ends up working against their goals; that’s a plot I’ve yet to see explored, and all the superhero television that’s going on right now would be an excellent place to do it.

As for things that are unusual, I have to comment on Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk.  Fisk is a character who, like most of the Daredevil cast, I’m not especially familiar with, though I understand his basic concept as a high powered crime lord.  He’s typically depicted as a very meticulous villain who prefers not to get his hands dirty, although he has no qualms about doing so.  D’Onofrio sketches that version of Fisk extremely well, but something about the awkwardness of his presence, particularly in the scenes with Fisk’s love interest Vanessa, suggests a take that’s reminiscent to me of someone with autism.  This version of Fisk is cold and calculating in his business, but his attempts at personal connection betray a clumsiness and uncertainty that I’ve never noticed in other versions of the character.  I’m bringing this up more as a musing than as something with larger implications for how the character should be judged; Rachael pointed out to me that there’s a real problem with excusing antisocial behaviors like harassment or abuse as the result of perceived social disabilities when legitimate social disabilities are often misunderstood and villainized.  Fisk is still responsible for the horrible things that he orchestrates, whether he’s supposed to be read as on the autism spectrum or not, and the possibility of him having a disability is only an extra dimension that I thought was worth noting in this version of the character.

Anyhow, as I’m sure everyone else has already said everywhere else on the internet, Daredevil is a show that’s worth watching if you’re interested in superhero fiction, and it’s one of the most compelling shows in the genre that I’ve seen, even with its problematic elements.

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2 thoughts on “So I’m Six Episodes Into Daredevil

  1. I haven’t watched it yet, but I want to. Having said that…

    You make an *excellent* point about torture and how the current age of superhero entertainment is a perfect place for pop culture to examine it more critically.

    Your line about Murdock’s womanizing not being “particularly charming or necessary” made me pause. On the one hand, obviously, that’s a negative quality and I’m sure it does him no favors as a protagonist we’re supposed to root for. But I’ve got to ask, is Murdock under any obligation to be charming? Or might it be that nowadays every dramatic TV show is expected to have a dark and flawed “anti-hero” main character, whether that makes sense for the show or not?

    My TV tastes skew heavily towards comedy; I never got into Lost, any of the police procedurals, or even the prestige dramas like Mad Men or The Sopranos. But everything I’ve heard about Daredevil makes it sound worth checking out. Thanks for putting your thoughts on it out there!

    • I guess I forgot to mention it, but the friendship between Matt and Foggy is a pretty major dynamic for the lawyer side of Matt’s identity, and Foggy very clearly has a sort of ambivalent “am I hero-worshiping my friend or exasperated with how he goes through girlfriends?” attitude towards the whole thing. I think it’s supposed to be at least partially endearing as a commentary on Matt’s difficulty connecting deeply with people given all the trauma in his past, but I feel like there are better ways to show that than just saying that he goes through lots of girlfriends and he always knows when a woman’s pretty.

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