Monday, April 27, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 3, "Rabbit in a Snowstorm" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Can you believe it?  Daredevil has been out for a little over three weeks now, and they’ve already announced a second season which will be coming out around this time next year.  It’s incredible just how well the series has done.  Of course, everything about this show is so good that a second season was inevitable.

Continuing my series of reviews of Daredevil, we come to one of my favorite episodes, because we get to see Matt as more than a masked vigilante with preternaturally heightened senses.  We also see him as a lawyer, and some of the tension he feels between his vigilantism and legal career.  Daredevil’s third episode, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm,” serves to build up the tension of the show and raise the stakes for Matt and his friends.

The episode begins in a bowling alley.  A man named Healy walks in, asks to bowl, walks up to another patron, and starts beating him up, going so far as to bash his face in multiple times with a bowling ball.  Though from the audience’s perspective this is a clear-cut case of pre-meditated murder, Healy claims self-defense, and asks for a lawyer.  This incident sets up the conflict for the episode:  Healy is clearly not an innocent man, and he is also very clearly working for someone else.  It is up to Matt and Foggy to defend him (without compromising their morals) and at the same time Matt needs to figure out how Healy and his employer fit into the suspicious activity he’s been investigating under the mask.  I like that this episode reminds us that Matt Murdock has a day job, and that his activity as a vigilante does not run counter to his legal work, but rather that he sees both as working together.

The beginning of the episode also introduces us to Ben Urich, a reporter for the New York Bulletin (the Daily Bugle in the comics) who is investigating organized crime in the City.  He is interested in the same suspicious activity that Matt has been investigating, and has even heard about the masked vigilante that has been going after the Russians.  The other key in this scene is that Ben’s contact in organized crime is very worried about what has been going on—and is going to be pulling out and retiring.  This helps set the scene for the season:  those who are in organized crime are worried about Kingpin and what he’s been doing to consolidate his power in the City.  However, it feels to me as though this scene does not fit:  we don’t really find out who Ben Urich is, we never meet his contact again, and the pieces don’t get filled in until later in the episode.  However, this may be the only misstep of the entire series, so I think I can give it a pass!

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At this point the story turns to Foggy, Matt, and Karen at the office.  A stranger in a well-groomed suit—familiar to the audience as Kingpin’s assistant Wesley—enters the office and asks to put Nelson and Murdock on retainer.  This instantly raises Matt’s suspicions:  Why would such a powerful company (Confederated Global) be interested in hiring their small firm?  The only answer Wesley provides is a check for a very substantial sum as payment for them to take on a case.  When Wesley leaves, Matt decides to follow him while Foggy goes down to the precinct to talk to their new client.  By following Wesley, Matt picks up on the sound of his pocket watch ticking, which lets him key in on who he is for the rest of the episode, and also overhears Wesley’s conversation with someone else in the car about having hired them for the case.  Meanwhile, Foggy is at the precinct interviewing Healy, and immediately grows suspicious when Healy tries to get help from Foggy in crafting his statement.  Foggy is close to rejecting the case outright and leaving—after all, the guy’s a sociopath trying to use them to get away with murder—when Matt walks in and says that they will take the case.  We find out later that Matt only wants to take the case to use their client to find out more about Wesley and who he works for.  I really like all of the conflict this creates between Matt and Foggy over the direction of their law firm:  are they only going to defend the innocent, or will they also defend people like Healy who are clearly guilty?  Interestingly, they take the opposite stances on the question in this episode as they took in the first episode, when Matt was adamant that they only defend the innocent, while Foggy took the “not yet convicted of a crime” approach to innocence.  I also enjoy the look into how Matt and Foggy operate as lawyers which this episode provides:  Running through the facts of the case together, opening and closing arguments—the arguments were especially interesting, particularly Matt’s closing argument in which he states that Healy may very well be guilty, in which case justice will find him somewhere, but that in the courtroom they can only consider the facts in evidence.  This is a fascinating idea:  Matt is essentially coming out and saying that if the legal system cannot punish a guilty criminal, then he will take it on himself to do so on the streets.

During the opening argument, Matt discovers that one of the jurors is being blackmailed into throwing the case.  The night before the closing argument, Matt follows the juror, sees her meet with the man who is blackmailing her, and confronts him.  He forces the man to destroy everything he has on her and tell her to excuse herself from the jury.  However, we see in a conversation between Wesley and Kingpin’s money man, Leland Owlsley, that the blackmailed juror was only one piece of their puzzle for getting Healy out.  In fact, they have more at play to get him exonerated.  That conversation is also fascinating in that we learn that Kingpin has a limit to the number of people he will kill—at least in such a short period of time.  Because they killed so many people in the first episode (covering up the Union Allied scandal), they need to avoid drawing more unwanted attention by letting the legal system handle this case.  I find it interesting that Matt refuses to let a case be decided by a partial juror—even if the juror has been “persuaded” to decide the case in his favor.  This says something about his character:  the rule of law is far more important to him than something as selfish as a personal legal victory.  Additionally, it shows us that the villain (Kingpin) has his limits:  He will pay a guy to bash someone’s skull in so he can take over his company, but he doesn’t always solve his problems with murder.

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After Healy is released due to a hung jury, Matt confronts him that night to demand information.  The two of them fight—Healy nearly succeeds in taking out Matt with a pipe—and Matt eventually subdues him and stabs him a couple times with his own blade to force him to answer.  Matt demands to know who Wesley was working for, and Healy finally told him:  “Wilson Fisk.”  When Matt instructed him to leave town, Healy—terrified—called Matt a coward for not killing him himself and instead sentencing him to an even worse fate at the hands of Fisk.  To avoid that fate, Healy impales himself on a fence spike, killing himself instantly.  This fight is not exactly shocking for its brutality—there are worse fights in the earlier episodes—but the results are a shock.  I like how they raise the stakes:  That Healy is willing to kill himself to avoid answering to Fisk instantly ups the stakes for the season and the coming confrontation with Fisk because Matt is going to have to deal with Fisk, and do so decisively, or he and everyone he cares about will be in danger of Fisk’s retribution.

There are several minor plots in the episode that lay the foundation for future developments.  The storyline with Ben Urich expands from his introduction by the river.  We learn that he works for the New York Bulletin as an investigative reporter looking into the Union Allied Construction company scandal.  However, his editor decides to take Ben off that story—a decision he is unhappy about.  We next see Ben at the hospital visiting his sick wife.  Unfortunately, she will need to be moved out of the hospital, and there is little the hospital can do to keep her there.  I actually liked how these scenes with Ben started to flesh out his character a little more.  In the grand scheme of things, Ben Urich is a minor character, but he has an important arc in this story—one which would not be nearly as powerful if they did not take the time to introduce us to his wife and her struggles this early in the season.

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The second minor plot involves Karen and the nondisclosure agreement which Union Allied asked her to sign.  While meeting with the company lawyer, she is concerned about signing it, and leaves, saying she will have Matt and Foggy look it over.  We next see her visiting the widow of the man who was killed in her apartment.  Karen expresses her condolences for her husband’s death, but the wife is very short with her—we find out that she is blaming herself for her husband’s death.  Finally, she tells Karen that she already signed the nondisclosure agreement and suggests that Karen do the same and move on.  However, this is something Karen can’t do, leading her to go meet Ben and talk to him about it.  The fact that they are laying the groundwork for several different ways in which the heroes attempt to confront and resolve this situation is very intriguing.  It seems like most heroes just beat up the bad guy, but the Daredevil team wants to avoid that if they can—they will use the courts or the press if possible.  I like how much this series distinguishes itself from other superhero shows and movies.

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The final scene of the episode finally introduces us to the main villain.  We see Wilson Fisk standing in front of a painting in an art gallery.  A woman—later identified as Vanessa—walks up to him to discuss it.  He tells her that it makes him feel “alone.”  I love that they introduce us to Fisk in this way:  instead of depicting him immediately as a villain, he is introduced alongside his love interest in a non-threatening environment.  He feels “alone.”  That is vastly different from the other villains we meet.

All in all, this episode introduces us to some new characters and furthers the plot in meaningful ways.  I think my favorite part of the episode is how much emphasis they place on Matt’s profession as a lawyer; so many other superheroes seem to have no other job—Cap is a professional superhero, Iron Man blows off board meetings.  Considering how important the law is to Daredevil, it is good that we get to see him in the courtroom; I was actually a little disappointed that this episode had the only courtroom scenes (spoiler alert!).  Perhaps in Season Two, they will explore that aspect of the character further.

What were your favorite parts of this episode?  Do you want to see more of Matt and Foggy’s legal practice?  What are you most looking forward to from Season Two (but avoid spoilers for the later episodes for those who haven’t watched past episode 3)?

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