Monday, May 18, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 6, "Condemned" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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“Condemned,” Daredevil episode 1x06, brings one character’s arc to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion while increasing the stakes for all of the other characters to a much higher level.  Though it might not have as much action as some of the other episodes, the amount of character development packed into this episode is astounding.

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The episode begins right where the previous episode left off:  Matt is about to be arrested by the police on suspicion of having blown up the Russians, while Vladimir and another survivor lie on the ground.  The police cuff Matt before making a comment about “taking care of” him and Vladimir, leading Matt to realize that they are dirty cops in Fisk’s pay.  Matt knocks out all of the officers before escaping with Vladimir.  Matt’s interaction with Vladimir all through this episode is fascinating.  He beats on Vladimir, but he does not kill him—he doesn’t even let him die.  He saves Vladimir from the dirty cops so he can interrogate him, and along the way he saves his life.  Though Vladimir distrusts him and attacks him, Matt refuses to stoop to his level.  Eventually, Matt seems to respect Vladimir’s decision.  Ultimately, this whole interaction serves to develop Matt’s character in terms of his nobility:  He will “torture” a man to keep him alive, and does not mind causing pain to get information, but he will not allow Vladimir to die.    He does not like harming police officers—and especially not innocent ones like the patrol officer to found him in the warehouse—but he will do what it takes to complete his mission.  Even after Vladimir surprises him with an attack, Matt continues trying to help him and keep him alive.

The warehouse scene also helps to expand our understanding of Matt’s abilities.  Matt can sense everything in the warehouse around him, even down to the number of flares in a roadside emergency kit across the room.  He knows that the bullet is still inside Vladimir’s body based on a temperature variation compared to the surrounding tissue.  He can tell how many police officers and dogs are outside the building, suggesting that the range of his powers is at least as expansive as an entire warehouse building.  I’ve said this before:  I love the way that this show is building on Matt’s abilities naturally so that we don’t see everything in action immediately.  Though he may be a bit “depowered” compared to his comic book counterpart, Matt’s enhanced senses are still extremely sensitive.

Vladimir gets the most complete character arc of anyone in this specific episode.  He begins as an antagonist to Matt, fighting him at every turn despite Matt’s efforts to save his life.  His motivations are extremely well explained—not just in the previous episodes with his realization that Matt supposedly killed his brother, but with his first words to Matt that he would not cooperate with Matt because of that belief.  That he believes Matt killed Anatoly was his driving force in the previous episode, “In the Blood” (1x05), and drives his refusal to give Matt information and his attempt to attack Matt, sending them both crashing through the floor.  And yet, after Matt refuses to kill him and instead saves his life multiple times—coupled with the realization that Fisk played him for a fool—Vladimir chooses to help Matt in their escape attempt.  Finally, Vladimir chooses to give Matt the information he needs—the name “Leland Owlsley”—before taking on a tactical team to give Matt a chance at escape.  It is amazing what these three episodes did for Vladimir’s character:  he went from a bit player and something of a psychopath to a well-developed character with people he cares about and powerful motivations.  And in the end he pays for it with his life, humming a Russian song to himself while walking to his death.  Amazingly, I found myself empathizing with him—a testament that they developed this character very well.

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The other villain who received screen time was Wilson Fisk, who showed extreme depth of character.  He was concerned about Madame Gao’s reaction to discovering that he had botched the destruction of the Russians by allowing Vladimir to escape.  He recognizes Ben as a potential threat if he thinks something is fishy with their handling of the warehouse.  When he spoke to Matt, I think he really meant everything he said.  He does respect Matt as a lone man attempting to make a difference for his city—I think he senses a connection between them as two men who both love their city and want what is best for their city.  However, he realizes that they both cannot get what they want, and he needs to destroy Matt by blaming the bombings and cop-killings on him so that Fisk will be free to enact his vision for the city.  Though he does not do a lot in the episode, everything we see helps to flesh out his character a little more and set up the confrontations between Matt and Fisk later in the season.  I really like how sympathetically they portray Fisk—even as he is ordering the deaths of Matt, Vladimir, and half a dozen cops.

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The other characters all receive some screen time, but their stories aren’t quite as central as Matt and Vladimir.  Claire went back to work at the hospital, and just in time to assist those who had been injured in the bombings.  One of her first patients is Mrs. Cardenas, who was brought in by Foggy and Karen after her building had been damaged by the bombings in the last episode.  Interestingly, this brings her into contact with Fogy and Karen for the first time in the series, though it is a brief meeting.  Karen immediately rushed Mrs. Cardenas to another room and moved on to another patient, though Matt called her away almost immediately to help him save Vladimir’s life.  Watching Claire struggle internally over whether or not to help Vladimir and then decide to do it was a good development of her character.  Up until now she has been primarily interested in helping Matt and the good guys; now she is actually willing to help Vladimir, who is not only a villain but the man responsible for her capture and beating.  Of course, she did seem to enjoy listening to his screams while Matt cauterized the bullet wound with a roadside flare a little too much.

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Foggy and Karen are only in the episode for a few scenes at the hospital.  Foggy discovers that he was injured in the bombing and is treated at the hospital.  Meanwhile, the two of them try to contact Matt to make sure he is okay.  I liked the line Foggy threw in that sometimes he forgets that Matt is really blind.  It is amazing to think that all along the pieces have been in place for Foggy to realize Matt’s secret, but he was just so blind to it (pun intended) because he assumed that “blind” meant “blind.”  They also laid some of the groundwork for Matt, Foggy, and Karen to have a disagreement over the vigilante.  Foggy and Karen saw a news report accusing Matt of setting off all the bombs and shooting three police officers.  That same report showed the footage of Matt beating up the cops at the beginning of the episode.   Though Karen still believes in Matt, this whole incident is solidifying Foggy’s distrust of the masked vigilante.  It will become a serious problem if/when Foggy ever learns Matt’s secret.

The final subplot of note is with Ben, who has constructed a full diagram of Fisk’s conspiracy and started filling in names.  He doesn’t have all the information yet, but he’s getting close to it.  After the bombings, Ben is the first to suspect that the Russians are involved, and the first reporter on the scene at the warehouse where Matt and Vladimir were holed up.  Evidently Fisk is afraid of what Ben could do if he discovered the truth about all of his behind-the-scenes manipulations, though we don’t have too much context for Fisk’s fears.  We’ve heard about a number of Ben’s articles exposing crime in the city; perhaps Fisk is concerned that Ben could unravel that mystery and expose him, as well.

One other thing to mention is the sniper who took out three of the cops at the warehouse.  The internet has been full of speculation ever since Daredevil was released suggesting that the sniper was Bullseye because of all the playing cards we saw in the episode, including one in the sniper’s bag.  While I don’t deny it as a possibility, I do think that if the sniper was intended as an important character like Bullseye, he would have been given more of a character arc.  As it is the sniper was there for two scenes:  one looking through a scope, and the other shooting the cops.  Consider the other Marvel Marksman for contrast:  When Hawkeye was introduced in Thor, he had his signature weapon (more “signature” than a sniper rifle) and was also named.  We never heard the name “Bullseye” in the episode—which isn’t conclusive proof, but does cast doubt.  Also, regardless of whom his first target was—Ben or Officer Blake—he missed since Blake did not die immediately.  They could take that sniper and develop him into Bullseye next season, but they could just as easily introduce a Bullseye who is different from that sniper.

Though there is not quite as much action in this episode as others, it more than made up for that with all of the incredible character development.  We know more about Vladimir (Rest In Peace) and Fisk now, to say nothing of all the set up for future conflict within Matt’s team.  I really enjoyed this episode and how much it did with the characters.  I can’t wait to see how some of the building conflict gets resolved.

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