Monday, May 25, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 7, "Stick" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Daredevil season 1, episode 7, “Stick”:  The episode when they start world-building and planting seeds for the future of Daredevil.  It’s a good thing they picked Daredevil up for a second season; otherwise this episode would not make any sense!  As it is, this gives us an excellent lead-in for the future of Daredevil while not distracting from the present conflict.

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The episode begins on the wrong side of the world with a completely different blind ninja badass taking on a completely different shady businessman.  Stick is the second person we see, after a Japanese guy runs out of a stairwell, pulls out a massive handgun, loads it, and proceeds to unload it wildly into an empty elevator.  Stick appears, interrogates the man, and cuts off his head with a katana.  Just from this quick scene, we can see how radically different Matt is from his mentor.  Matt refuses to kill; Stick has no problem killing.  I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised by their big showdown at the end of the episode.

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The scene switches to Matt, Foggy, and Karen discussing the recent bombings.  Karen’s faith in the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” (as the press has dubbed him) remains unshaken—but she might be the only person in New York that actually believes in him anymore.  Foggy himself has bought the press account hook, line, and sinker.  He does not think the “Devil” is a terrorist; he thinks he is worse than a terrorist—a psychopath—since at least a terrorist would claim responsibility for his actions.  Matt is also angry about everything that has happened, but his anger definitely stems from a slightly different cause.  He is angry that he has been tried and convicted in the press; if he is going to be convicted, he believes it needs to happen in a court of law.  The cops should not be allowed to settle things “the old-fashioned way.”  He believes that he is in the right; he wants everyone else to realize that, but I don’t know if he’s figured out just how that would work.  This is a radically different view of superheroes than we’ve seen elsewhere in the MCU.  Heroes are respected and even revered—Iron Man, Captain America, Thor.  Or else they work entirely in the shadows and no one sees their actions—Hawkeye, Black Widow.  The closest we’ve come to a feared and hunted hero has been the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk (not really overtly in either of the Avengers movies), but we really did not see as much of that from him as we have seen from Daredevil.  In this series we see the results of this for those closest to Matt—and even for Matt himself.  We see the machinations by the villain to vilify him using the press.  And we see Matt’s attempts to redeem himself in the public eye, even as he does not see a need to redeem himself in his own eyes.  This is very fresh and unexpected for the average superhero fare.

In the next scene, Owlsley meets with Nobu with regard to a funds transfer to clear the docks and keep police away so that Nobu can receive a very important package.  Matt attacks Owlsley as soon as Nobu has left, putting him at a disadvantage, and tries to get information from him about Fisk.  However, Matt is distracted momentarily by Stick’s arrival, giving Owlsley the opening necessary to tase Matt and escape in his car.  While I wasn’t too thrilled with how easily Matt was distracted by sudden unexpected sounds, I suppose that is one of his weaknesses in the comics:  if his senses are over-stimulated, it will distract him and make him vulnerable.  I just think there might have been a better way to show that particular weakness.

I really liked the use of flashbacks throughout this episode to tell more of Matt’s origin story, specifically Stick’s role in training him.  We see their first meeting, along with the (unsolved) mystery of how Stick found out about him and his gift.  We see Stick demonstrating how Matt can hone his gift to detect the very ingredients in his ice cream just by taste and smell.  We see Stick testing Matt’s limits.  We see Stick showing him how to fight.  We even get our first sighting of Matt fighting with two sticks—his classic weapons from the comics.  And then Stick leaves Matt because he senses that Matt is trying to turn him into a father figure.  I really enjoyed seeing how Matt became the warrior he is; even better, his background with Stick was a crucial part of the current story.

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Stick returned because he needs Matt’s help to finish the mission he was carrying out at the beginning of the episode.  He is trying to track down the “package” that Nobu is receiving, something called “Black Sky.”  Before leaving for their mission, Stick tells Matt that he needs to cut his friends loose for their own sake; if he has people he cares about, then he will be unwilling to do everything necessary, and he might even put them in danger.  Matt, however, is clearly reluctant to do this.  At the docks we discover that “Black Sky” is a small boy who looks to be around 10 years old.  It is never clarified who the child is or why he is so dangerous, but Stick kills him with a bow and arrow anyways while Matt is busy dispatching all of Nobu’s minions.  Matt’s refusal to kill—or to allow someone else to kill—drives him to fight Stick in anger because Stick murdered the kid.  Their fight ends with Matt’s apartment trashed and Stick leaving.  I think the emotional center of this plot comes right after Stick leaves:  Matt finds a bracelet he had made as a present for Stick as a kid.  At the time Stick had crumpled it up to show Matt that he couldn’t have close relationships; however, now it turns out that Stick had kept it all these years.  Matt realizes that he drove Stick away again, even though Stick really did care about him.  However, Stick is obviously not gone for good; at the end of the episode we saw him reporting back to an unknown character (identified as “Stone,” one of Stick’s other pupils from the comics) about Matt and “when the doors open.”  What is Stick’s war?  What doors are going to open?  How do Nobu and his organization factor into this?  What was so special about the kid?  We don’t get answers to any of these questions in this episode—or in season 1—but I suspect that some of these questions will be answered in season 2.  This may even be the primary story for season 2.  I like how well this story fits into season 1 despite obviously setting up future plotlines:  it fleshes out Matt’s back story, simultaneously tying him and Stick together with one of the season’s minor villains (Nobu).

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Karen’s effort to expose Union Allied with Ben’s help is the only secondary plot in this episode, but it is a big one.  The two of them meet at the diner to discuss what Ben has found.  However, he is still hesitant to work with her because he is afraid that she will get hurt during the investigation—and it will be his fault for putting her in the situation.  However, she refuses to be deterred from her mission.  I found their conversation about the “Devil” to be very interesting.  Ben is extremely suspicious of the “Devil” because, as he puts it “My experience there are no heroes, no villains, just people with different agendas.”  Interestingly, this is almost a perfect summation of the conflict between Matt and Fisk.  They both have different agendas, and they both think that they are the “hero.”  We are meant to see both of them as potentially the hero; if the show weren’t called Daredevil, we might even be tempted in some episodes to call Fisk the “hero.”

Following her conversation with Ben, Karen brings Mrs. Cardenas some groceries and presses her for information about the two men who trashed her apartment.  Mrs. Cardenas is able to provide some information—just enough for Karen to recognize them when they attack her as she leaves the apartment building.  The two men start roughing her up, but she is rescued by none other than Foggy, armed with a baseball bat and softball.  The two of them quickly dispatch the attackers, and Karen decides it is time to introduce Foggy to Ben.  The two of them go straight to Ben’s office, where he shows them his diagram of Kingpin’s organization.  The three of them immediately look at the two cards at the top of the diagram:  the King of Diamonds, representing the heretofore unnamed Wilson Fisk; and the Jack of Hearts—his eyes blacked out with a Sharpie—representing the “Devil.”  In what might be a clever Easter Egg, Ben asks the others, “Which one trumps the other?”  There are several card games that involve “trump cards,” but two in particular came to my mind with this reference:  Pitch and Euchre.  In Pitch, the Ace of the trump suit is the highest card, and the face cards follow in descending order, meaning that the King of Diamonds would trump the Jack of Hearts (if Diamonds are trump).  However, in Euchre the Jack of the trump suit is the highest card (the “right bower”), followed by the Jack of the same color (the “left bower”), followed by Ace, King, Queen of the trump suit.  So in Pitch, the King(pin) would trump the Jack(’s son, Matt), which isn’t even trump; but in Euchre, the Jack(’s son, Matt) would be the surprise trump over the King(pin) (see what I did there?).  Was this intentional?  I don’t know, but it might be!

The main action of this episode took a detour away from the primary conflict between Matt and Fisk by instead fleshing out Nobu’s place in the conflict and in Fisk’s confederacy—as well as Stick’s place as a link between Matt and Nobu’s organization.  This was clearly designed to set up the next season (or further down the line).  However, the plot with Karen kept the episode squarely set within the overarching plot of the season.  I really enjoyed both parts of the plot, especially since we get to see several different ways that people are trying to respond to Fisk and his conspiracy.  Going forward, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Stick next season.

What was your favorite part of this episode?  How do you think the Stick/Stone/Nobu plot is going to factor into next season?  Do you think that will even be part of next season, or do you think it is going to be saved for either The Defenders or Daredevil season 3?  Let me know in the comments!

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