Monday, May 4, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 4, "In the Blood" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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In the fourth episode, “In the Blood,” the villains get their own episode, and the episode is all the more tragic for it.  We grow to care for one group of Kingpin’s business partners, and that makes their eventual fate all the more heart-wrenching for us to watch.  And this is one of the best elements of this series:  It makes us care about the villains we’re supposed to hate.

The episode begins with Anatoly and Vladimir in a Siberian prison, plotting to escape and return to Moscow.  However, Vladimir says that instead of Moscow, they should set their sights on a more inviting target:  America.  Because the guards decided to leave the dead body of their cellmate in the cell with them, they were able to rip a couple of ribs out to use as shivs for their escape (which we do not see, though we do get to see Vladimir pull off a rib).  This scene at once demonstrates the Russian brothers’ brutality towards others and care for each other.  It definitely sets the stage for the rest of the episode, particularly the focus on Anatoly and Vladimir and their relationship.

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In the present, Matt is cracking skulls on the streets to track down the lead he got at the end of the previous episode—the name “Wilson Fisk.”  At present he is beating his way through the Russians, who are attempting to escape from him.  Anatoly flees to the brothers’ taxi garage and base of operations, where he and Vladimir meet with Wesley, who is displeased with their handling of the “masked man” situation.  This scene is an excellent exploration of the relationships between Vladimir and Anatoly and Wesley/Fisk.  The Russians—especially Vladimir—do not want to be in Fisk’s debt, or to be receiving assistance from him for anything.  Vladimir in particular is shown to be hotheaded, rash, and prideful.  Anatoly is more discerning and more willing to explore the idea, but ultimately does not want to be in Fisk’s debt.  They are extremely mistrusting of Fisk and Wesley.  As soon as Wesley left, the brothers went to the hospital to visit Semyon, the man Matt threw off a roof in “Cut Man” (1x02).  Vladimir and Anatoly are surprisingly bad at doing their own dirty work—evidently Semyon was the man responsible for doing the dirty work up until his “unfortunate accident.”  They wake him up, and he manages to give them a little information—just enough to find Claire’s apartment.  I didn’t give that particular scene much thought at the time, but thinking back they were really making us sympathize with Vladimir and Anatoly and everything they had to do to maintain their position.  Again, this is just setting us up for what happens at the end of the episode.

Meanwhile, Matt went to Claire earlier in the episode to get stitched up after his latest bout with the Russians.  While there, Matt instructs her to put her number in his phone and to memorize the number herself in case she needs him.  When the Russian thugs track her down at her friend’s apartment, she calls Matt, who rushes over too late to save her.  However, when Matt does track the Russians down at their taxi garage, he engages them in a brutal fight.  The concept of a blind vigilante sounds absolutely ridiculous; the concept of a blind vigilante fighting Russian mobsters armed with automatic weapons sounds like a death sentence.  Turn out the lights, however, and the odds all favor Matt.  Through surprise, stealth, and strategy, it is as though Matt is everywhere and nowhere simultaneously.  The Russians’ numbers steadily dwindle until there’s only one left, and Matt and Claire together finish him off quickly.  After escaping from the Russians, Matt and Claire return to Matt’s apartment where he stitches her up and asks her to stay with him until they figure something else out.  Shockingly, this is the end of Matt’s involvement in the episode.  While in a movie it would seem counterintuitive for the hero to become a minor player in his own movie, in the TV format it makes a lot of sense:  Reducing Matt’s part leaves a lot more time for the other plots, particularly the one with the Russians.

After Matt defeated the Russians and freed Claire, Anatoly and Vladimir returned to find what had happened.  At this point they have nothing to go on:  no prisoner, no names, no leads.  They have nothing to do but go to Fisk for help.  Vladimir refuses to go, so Anatoly goes on both of their behalf.  At this point the audience can really see that they have no other options.  They do not want to do it, but they do not think they have a choice.  We almost have to sympathize with the difficulty of their situation.

Before noting the outcome of the Russians’ plot, there is also a minor plot with Ben and Karen happening on the side to discuss.  Early in the episode they meet in a diner to discuss their Union Allied investigation.  Karen notes that Union Allied is in the process of liquidating, and that they are actually moving all of their assets to a new company, something Ben isn’t too surprised to hear.  We also get a hint at Karen’s sordid past in this scene—a hint which is very tasteful and in line with the characters.  We don’t know much, just that it is enough to discredit her if she goes public.  I really hope that in the future we will learn more about it.  Karen next goes to the auction where Union Allied is being liquidated in an effort to learn who is buying up all their property.  However, Ben convinces her that she needs to be smart and not draw attention to herself, so she starts bidding and wins some supplies for the office, including a fax machine (to Foggy’s delight).  Following the auction, Ben and Karen meet again at the diner, and Ben expresses her concern for her safety, noting how many of his previous informants have been hurt or killed.  Though it is easy to pass over this exchange at first, it is a very subtle foreshadowing of what is to come.  This whole plot is actually very well done in its slow build until it finally merges in with the main plot later in the season.

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The fourth facet of the episode comes from Fisk and Vanessa going out to dinner—this is where the Russians’ story eventually leads.  Fisk and Vanessa are enjoying dinner and discussing their backgrounds:  She is not originally from Hell’s Kitchen and loves the neighborhood; He is originally from Hell’s Kitchen—though he left at 12 and spent several years away from the city—and he wants to see it reborn.  That he is so passionate about his city makes Kingpin a uniquely sympathetic villain:  we can see that both Kingpin and Daredevil love Hell’s Kitchen, and both are fighting for the same thing.  However, because they have different visions of the future for Hell’s Kitchen, they are inevitably going to conflict.  In any event, before Fisk and Vanessa have finished their meal, Anatoly arrives at the restaurant looking to accept Fisk’s deal—and making a scene in the process.  Fisk is visibly upset, sees Vanessa home, and instructs Wesley to handle Anatoly.  Once he is finished attending to Vanessa, Fisk meets Wesley and Anatoly on a deserted stretch of road—and proceeds to beat Anatoly to a pulp.  The fight scene between the two of them is absolutely brutal—even more so than when Healy bashed a guy’s head in with a bowling ball in “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” (1x03).  Fisk is practically beside himself with rage at Anatoly for humiliating him and exposing him in front of Vanessa.  The final action of the fight—smashing Anatoly’s head clean off his body by repeatedly slamming it with a car door—was probably the most violent thing they have shown thus far in the series.  That they managed that by only showing Anatoly’s body resting against the open door, Fisk slamming the door (without seeing Anatoly at all), and a shot of blood pouring down out of the SUV once Anatoly’s head is separated is very impressive—and disturbing.  This show definitely earned his “TV-MA” rating in this episode.

The two greatest tragedies of Anatoly’s death are the sheer senselessness of it and the sympathy we have for him after everything we’ve seen in this episode.  There was no reason that things had to happen this way.  If he had waited, if he had called, if he had done any number of things differently, he would have lived.  And even with what he did, that he was there to make a deal with Fisk should have been enough to persuade Fisk to show him mercy.  Instead, Fisk acted irrationally in killing him in a fit of rage and passion.  Perhaps he really thought that what Anatoly had done was deserving of death.  Either way, it displayed a very twisted concept of justice.  Of course, considering the goodwill Fisk had already earned in this episode for his behavior toward Vanessa, I suppose we needed to see his darker side to balance it out.

Even more than the senselessness of the killing, the whole preceding episode made us sympathize with Anatoly.  We grew to like him because of his dedication to his brother, because of what they were willing to do to escape Siberia, because he is such a likeable character.  And then Fisk brutalizes him.  As the audience we are left both saddened by his death and scared of what this will do to Vladimir.

My favorite part of this entire episode is how well it makes us sympathize with Anatoly and Vladimir.  Seeing their back story makes them every bit as sympathetic as Matt and Fisk.  I am very glad that the Netflix platform allows the series to take the time to develop all of the villains—not just the main villain.  I look forward to seeing more of this in future Marvel Netflix series.

What did you think of this episode?  Did you see Anatoly’s death coming?  Which of Fisk’s allies is your favorite?

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