Monday, May 11, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 5, "World on Fire" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Daredevil season 1, episode 5, “World on Fire,” picks up right where the previous episode left off after Matt’s battle against the Russians to rescue Claire.  You will remember that the Russians discovered Claire’s identity and captured her to get information on Matt.  He tracked them down and rescued her, though she was savagely beaten before he arrived.  Afterwards, he brought her back to his apartment.  The episode also continues Vladimir’s story arc from the previous episode.  In so doing, the episode demonstrates one of the benefits of Netflix TV over movies:  it can take the time to allow a story arc to build.

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The first shot we see is of Claire in Matt’s bathroom examining her injuries before going out to the main area where he is cooking breakfast.  Over breakfast, the two of them engage in one of the more fun and enlightening conversations of the series.  It starts with her asking if he has a real job, or if he is one of those “billionaire playboys” she’s heard so much about (an obvious reference to Tony Stark, though Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) and Bruce Wayne (Batman, obviously) also fit that description).  When he comments that he’s a lawyer and has his own firm, she jokingly expresses disappointment.  In the process, she opens a cut on her back—something Matt picks up on immediately.  Not only can he move around by hearing, but he can taste the copper in the air from the reopened cut and he can hear bones shifting when she breathes, indicating that a couple of her ribs have hairline fractures.  This leads Claire to ask him to describe what he sees:  more than five senses, an impressionistic painting, “the world on fire.”  I find the description and imagery to be fascinating.  I don’t think they will use the same reds and yellows palette next time, but it is appropriate this time because Matt’s world of Hell’s Kitchen really is on fire.  I think his perception of things actually colors the way he sees:  the reds and yellows could be fire, but if you look at it from another angle you see warmth and joy.  Ultimately, the “world on fire” is a foreshadowing of what will happen at the end of the episode, starting in the very next scene.

From Matt and Claire in the apartment the scene shifts to Vladimir calling around to find his brother Anatoly (the decapitated body from the last episode).  His questions are answered very quickly when one of his men finds Anatoly’s body nearby, along with a black mask—leading Vladimir to believe that Matt is responsible.  We as the audience know that Fisk personally killed Anatoly and is manipulating Vladimir into going after Matt.  This of course sets up the conflict for the episode:  Vladimir is hunting for Matt, who needs to prove his innocence.  Meanwhile, Fisk has his own plan in motion to deal with Vladimir.  I like how this show can fit in all of these crosses and double crosses when a movie would not be able to.  We get to see just how cold and calculating Fisk is in his actions.  I think Fisk has as good a shot as anyone at making the jump to the movies, but he character needs this small-screen introduction for us to fully appreciate how manipulative he is.

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Vladimir may not know that Fisk is responsible, but Fisk makes sure that the rest of his co-conspirators are aware by showing them his SUV while the blood and brain matter are being washed away.  This gives us another glimpse into the minds of the villains, each of whom gets a chance in the spotlight throughout the series.  Gao is the smartest of the group and expresses concern that they are eliminating the Russians from their group, because one of them could be next.  Nobu and Owlsley are only concerned about the money involved; they want their fair share of the profits.  Ultimately, this whole exchange highlights one of the problems with dealing with criminals:  What they have is never enough; they always want more.  This makes infighting all but inevitable.  For now, they all agree to allow Fisk to put his plan into motion and take out Vladimir before he becomes a problem.  As part of this he feeds Vladimir misinformation through Turk Barrett until he has all the pieces in place, at which point he lets Vladimir find out that he is responsible.

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Meanwhile, Foggy and Matt receive a new client, Mrs. Cardenas, who was referred to them by Brett’s (their police buddy) mother.  She is involved in a tenement case, which will occupy Matt and Foggy for the rest of the series.  The landlord is trying to force them out, but most of the residents refuse to leave.  Foggy and Karen go to confront the opposing counsel (who happens to be Foggy’s ex-girlfriend) with the facts of the case.  I really like how confidently Foggy comes across in that particular scene.  Up until this point he’s the forgotten member of the team and only there for comic relief.  I think this is really where his character starts to turn:  He is actually good at what he does, and he can take on the big boys without flinching.  And at the same time he is still the same lovable character:  he takes it on himself to help Mrs. Cardenas and her neighbors to fix up their apartment building using his contacts.  Matt meanwhile goes to the local precinct to get information, and instead learns that two detectives (Blake and Hoffman) are working for Fisk when they execute a Russian for saying his name.  This brings Matt back later in the episode to confront Blake while wearing the mask.  In the confrontation he learns the locations of the Russians and goes to finish his business with Vladimir.  I find it interesting that Matt doesn’t bother trying to convince people that he did not kill Anatoly; I think he finds the reputation to be useful at this point in the series.  However, given his Catholicism, I would expect him to try to distance himself from that accusation as much as possible.

One of the more enlightening subplots this episode is Fisk’s second date with Vanessa.  This time he decides to buy out the entire restaurant for the night to ensure they aren’t interrupted again.  I find their entire conversation to be extremely enlightening.  She describes one of her previous suitors (the description is a nod to the comic book depiction of Kingpin), which makes him slightly jealous.  When she comments on the wine selection, Fisk tells her that it was another recommendation from Wesley, calling him his “friend.”  I love just how much they build up Fisk and make us sympathize with him.  His greatest desire through the series is to rebuild his city—a city that he loves.  He is isolated by his business, to the point that his only friend is his assistant.  Vanessa seems to be the closest thing to a personal attachment (beyond Wesley) that he has had since his mother.  He desperately wants her to love him back and stay, and what’s remarkable is that she does agree to stay, knowing full well that he is a dangerous man.  He knows that he is dangerous, but he is convinced that she is safe at his side.  I think the most shocking part of the exchange is that she does not recoil and leave when Fisk sets the world on fire.  She is horrified by it at first, but elects to remain because Fisk gives her a noble reason for what he did.  I really hope that this dynamic will continue to play a part in future seasons of Daredevil.

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The end of the episode comes as a huge shock.  Vladimir “discovers” that Fisk was responsible for Anatoly’s death and goes on the warpath, ordering all his men to gear up and take everything they’ve got to attack Fisk.  Meanwhile, Matt tracks Vladimir down and prepares to assault one of the Russian hideouts.  However, while Matt and the Russians are preparing, Fisk uses Madame Gao’s blind heroin runners as suicide bombers to take out all four Russian hideouts simultaneously.  One of the bomb blasts is so close to Mrs. Cardenas’ building that Foggy and Mrs. Cardenas are both injured by the debris.  Matt barely survives by using a Russian as a human shield.  Vladimir only escapes alive by the skin of his teeth.    And amazingly, Matt still manages to go after Vladimir and subdue him.  Matt is just about to finish off Vladimir when the police pull up with drawn guns to arrest him.  This final act had a lot more action to it than the second episode’s (“Cut Man”) when Matt took out 2 rooms full of Russians to save a kid.  However, the two scenes have completely different focuses:  “Cut Man” shows Matt’s limits; “World on Fire” shows Matt’s strength.  Likewise, the twists and turns of Fisk’s plan in “World on Fire” stand in sharp contrast to the straightforward plan that the Russians employed in “Cut Man.”

This episode is one of the reasons I like Daredevil so much, and why I think it absolutely deserved the quick pick-up for a second season.  We get to see so much character development with the villains.  Fisk especially is an awesome villain, easily the best-developed in the MCU by season’s end.  Foggy and Karen do a lot with very few scenes—they play off of each other very well.  Matt and Claire’s romance is very short-lived, which is fine with me since I prefer subtle romances.  I think their relationship—friends, some romance, but nothing that they will act on—is very interesting, and I think it’s what the characters need in this series.  At this point Matt really needs to learn what it means to be Daredevil before he can try having close relationships that span both sides of his character—Matt Murdock and Daredevil.

What was your favorite part of this episode?  What is your opinion of Daredevil’s abilities as they are described in this series?

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