Monday, June 15, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 10, "Nelson v. Murdock" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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At the end of the last episode of Daredevil, “Speak of the Devil” (1x09), Matt was left bruised and bloodied from a horrific beating at the hands first of Nobu (who got deep-fried) and then of Fisk.  Fortunately for our hero, he managed to escape and get to his apartment before collapsing.  However, he had little opportunity to recover from that physical beating before receiving another beating in “Nelson v. Murdock” (1x10).  This beating was not physical, but emotional, and in some respects was probably worse than anything Nobu or Fisk could have done to him.  And along the way this gives us some of our best character development yet from Foggy.

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The episode picks up the morning after the last episode ended, with Matt waking up on his couch after his fight with Nobu.  His face is covered in cuts and bruises.  His suit is discarded on the floor beside the couch.  He examines himself and finds a number of cuts that have been stitched closed.  He is about to get up when Foggy calls out from the kitchen, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  Or maybe I would.  What the hell do I know about Matt Murdock?”  It is obvious that this whole situation has hurt Foggy on a profound level.  Just how much it hurt him and why is explained through their conversation about Matt’s powers and vigilantism, interspersed with flashbacks to various stages in their friendship.  I really enjoyed this episode.  Even though there is virtually no actual fighting, the character development and conflict more than makes up for it in the way it advances the plot while simultaneously fleshing out Matt and Foggy’s back story.

We find out through flashbacks that their friendship goes all the way back to college when they were roommates.  Foggy actually recognized Matt’s name when he introduced himself, because the two of them are both from Hell’s Kitchen and Foggy heard about Matt’s accident in the news.  This is also the first time that Matt deduces Foggy is lying (about why he’s taking Punjabi) and subtly pushes Foggy into revealing the truth (he’s taking it for a girl).  They hit it off right off the bat, and over the course of the episode we see how close the two are.  Foggy never avoids or tiptoes around the subject of Matt’s blindness, and it is clear from the next flashback that Matt appreciates this quality in him.  This scene also includes one of the best Easter eggs of the season—a character who may be coming in season 2—with Foggy’s reference to Matt taking Spanish “to snuggle up to what’s-her-name, the Greek girl” (an obvious reference to Elektra Natchios).  They also talk about becoming big lawyers and having their own firm—Matt suggests “Nelson and Murdock.”  The third flashback shows Matt and Foggy’s decision to go into practice themselves, following a case in which they are interns and their firm (Landman and Zack) protects the interests of Roxxon Oil Corporation against a man who suffered serious health problems due to Roxxon’s unsafe practices.  Matt is angry that they aren’t standing up for the “little guy,” and convinces Foggy that if they are going to make a difference and help people, they need to do it on their own.  Though he is initially reluctant, Foggy agrees to join Matt in leaving Landman and Zack and opening their own practice because he trusts Matt.

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Given how close the two of them were, Matt’s failure to tell Foggy about his abilities or his vigilantism hurts Foggy’s trust in him profoundly.  He cannot reconcile Matt running around in a mask with their legal profession.  He is afraid of the consequences to himself or Karen if Matt were ever caught.  He cannot believe that Matt would hide such important things from him when he thought the two of them were so close they could share anything.  Matt defends himself by claiming that he hid his activities to protect Foggy from the consequences—an argument Foggy scoffs at.  Matt never even told his dad about his abilities; the only people he ever told were Stick (who already knew) and Claire (because he didn’t have much choice after she pulled him out of the dumpster and saw his face).  However, in the flashbacks it is clear that Matt came close to telling Foggy on several occasions—and never outright lied to him.  When they first met and Foggy said, “You’re blind,” Matt’s answer was more of a deflection:  “Yeah, so they tell me.”  While talking the night before graduation, Matt nearly divulges that the reason he can get vertigo worse than others is because his senses are heightened—but he stops himself just in time.  When they are talking about leaving Landman and Zack, Matt looks close to spilling that he could hear the man’s heartbeat and knew that he was telling the truth.  However, every time Matt is close to telling, he holds up.  My guess is that at some point he felt comfortable enough to tell Foggy, but by that point he was so used to the lie that he didn’t feel the need to tell him.  That it came out in this way—and that Foggy no longer trusts anything Matt says—affects him immensely.

I really liked the way that they handled Matt explaining his abilities to Foggy.  The audience didn’t need to hear him explain it again, so the explanation happens off-camera, and we just hear Foggy’s disbelief.  Matt demonstrates his powers with another list of ridiculously impossible true statements that he knows based on his abilities.  And when Matt says he can hear Foggy’s heartbeat and that it helps with knowing if someone is lying, it drives Foggy away even more because he feels violated:  Matt had always been able to tell when he was lying, and just played along with it.  In the end, Nelson and Murdock is done—both as a friendship and as a law firm partnership.  And Matt is left all but devastated by the loss, though he really doesn’t make any big show of emotion when Foggy leaves his apartment.

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The theme of fissures in the team also carried through with Fisk’s plot in this episode.  We first see Fisk going to visit Madame Gao alone.  The two of them sit on a bench while Gao tells him a story from her village of a snake that was trampled while trying to eat an elephant.  This is a metaphor for Fisk’s conflict with the other members of the group and within himself between being a savior and an oppressor.  She is concerned because Fisk pushed Nobu into a conflict with the vigilante, setting him up to be killed.  If Nobu’s clan discovers Fisk’s role in his death, they will most likely retaliate.  Simultaneously, she is concerned that he will turn on her next.  Fisk assures her that he respects her.  However, her second concern is even more pressing:  Fisk has been torn by his relationship with Vanessa.  He is no longer the man he was when they first met, and it concerns her.  She tells him that he needs to choose between who he used to be and who Vanessa is making him, “or others shall choose for you.”  This evidently spooks him, because in his next scene he is again trying to convince Owlsley that he is not going to turn on him next, and that things are going well.  He asks Owlsley to talk to Gao and reassure her, which Owlsley reluctantly agrees to do.  Owlsley is also concerned by the changes in Fisk’s personality since he met Vanessa—Fisk rebuts him with a mention of his son, Lee, who is evidence that Owlsley must at some point have loved a woman.  The parallel between Matt’s struggle with Foggy and Fisk’s struggle with (what’s left of) his coconspirators is interesting.  Matt and Foggy have a major break right away; Fisk’s coconspirators do not overtly sever ties with him, but that doesn’t mean that the issue has been resolved.

Fisk faces a major loss at a fundraiser when someone poisons the champagne.  Vanessa takes a drink, right before people all around them start dropping to the floor and foaming at the mouth.  Fisk returns to her just in time to catch her, and immediately whisks her away.  In “Speak of the Devil” (1x09), Matt told Father Lantom that Fisk has someone he cares about and who cares about him and would mourn him if he were gone.  However, I don’t think their relationship was quite clear to the audience until right now, when we saw Fisk’s reaction to Vanessa’s poisoning.  He is completely beside himself with fear.  As I’ve said in previous reviews, I do not think this is a character depth we’ve seen from any other Marvel villains.  The closest might be Ivan Vanko mourning his father in Iron Man 2, but his relationship with his father wasn’t nearly as well established as Fisk’s relationship with Vanessa.

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The final plot in the episode was Ben’s struggle to cope with Doris’ Alzheimer’s.  It leads him to take time off from the newspaper and hand all of his material over to Karen to continue the story.  However, Karen tricks him into joining her in visiting a nursing home in Upstate New York, where they meet Fisk’s mother, who tells them about how Fisk had killed his father.  This contradicts the story Fisk has been telling in the press, of a dead mother and father who abandoned them.  Will this be the key to Karen, Ben, Foggy, and Matt’s efforts to discredit Fisk and stop his plans?  We will find out soon!

I really enjoyed this episode.  All of the character development was incredible, particularly how Foggy’s character evolves after finding out Matt’s secret.  I also liked seeing and hearing about Matt’s actual first night in the mask:  taking out a father who was sexually abusing his daughter.  That story personalized his vigilantism in a very satisfying way.

What was your favorite part of this episode?  How well do you think that Daredevil developed all of its characters?

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