Monday, June 22, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 11, "The Path of the Righteous" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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There’s an old saying that the night is darkest just before the dawn.  That certainly holds true with the final few episodes of Daredevil season 1.  “The Path of the Righteous” (1x11) is—if possible—even more tragic and isolating for the protagonist and antagonist than the previous episode, “Nelson v. Murdock” (1x10), which saw Foggy and Matt go through a serious split and cracks begin to form in Fisk’s tenuous confederacy.  By the end of the episode, it looks like the season is going to end with both Matt and Fisk left completely alone.

The episode picks up right after “Nelson v. Murdock” left off, with Fisk, Wesley, and Owlsley rushing into Metro-General Hospital and causing a huge commotion.  Fisk carries Vanessa in his arms and sets her down on the gurney that is quickly rolled over to him.  Evidently at this point she has been unconscious for 20 minutes.  The staff immediately starts rolling her into the Emergency Room.  Fisk demands to go in with her, but one of the nurses blocks him.  “Do you know who I am?” he demands.  “It doesn’t matter” comes the curt reply.  This is the first obstacle Fisk has faced in the series which he could not solve either with money or with terror.  This is the first time we’ve seen him helpless.  Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as Fisk has been one of the highlights of the series, and he really shines in this episode.  When he was first cast I didn’t think I’d be able to see Fisk in him; I thought he would always be Detective Goren.  Now, however, I can’t think of him apart from Wilson Fisk!

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Incredibly, Fisk spends the entire rest of the episode either in the hall just outside Vanessa’s recovery room or inside her room.  He attempts to figure out who was responsible for the poisoning, and immediately suspects Madame Gao’s words from the last episode about “fate” deciding which part of him would win out as being a hint that she might target Vanessa—or himself—to force him to choose.  To allay those fears, Wesley instructs Owlsley to talk to Gao and find out if she had anything to do with the poisoning (which she of course denies).  Fisk next instructs Wesley to make arrangements to get Vanessa out of the country and away from him for her own safety, suspecting that her proximity to himself was the cause for her poisoning.  The bulk of Fisk’s remaining screen time comes as he is sitting by Vanessa’s bed and talking about faith—or rather about his lack of faith.  He confesses that he cannot pray; his parents were never religious, and though he has tried to mimic prayer and faith in the past, he recognizes such mimicry as being false.  So instead of praying for her, “All I can do is make you a promise, one that not even God—if there is such a thing—can prevent me from keeping:  the people who did this to you, they will suffer… they will suffer.”  This whole scene seems so appropriate for this character—and the delivery is absolutely terrifying, especially since we know exactly what he is capable of!

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The majority of the “villain time” in the episode is devoted to Wesley (which probably should have been a warning; the only other non-Fisk-centric villain episodes have ended with the villain in question dying in creative fashion!).  While Fisk is indisposed due to his worry about Vanessa, Wesley takes a leading role in giving out instructions to Owlsley, working to find out who was responsible for the attempt on Fisk’s life, calling in the doctors and specialists to tend to Vanessa, and seeing to Fisk’s security when he seems uninterested in it himself.  The devotion he shows to Fisk is actually touching; up until this point we’ve only seen a few bits and pieces to show him as more than Fisk’s assistant—and those have involved him threatening people as often as not.  Wesley really comes across as someone who cares about Fisk as more than just a boss but as a friend.  When Fisk asks Wesley to call his mother, Wesley does so and finds out that Karen and Ben had gone to see her.  Not wanting to see Fisk upset by a further blow on top of Vanessa, Wesley takes a handgun and keys from Francis (their security chief) to track down Karen and bully her into backing off of the investigation, though he refuses to take a bodyguard along, ordering that instead they keep as many men around Fisk as possible.

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Karen has an interesting story arc in this episode also, perhaps the biggest one she has gotten in the season.  We first see Karen visiting Matt at his apartment trying to find out what’s going on since she can’t get a hold of Foggy.  Matt deflects her questions, but it is obvious that he is still emotionally bruised from his bout with Foggy is “Nelson v. Murdock.”  She tells him about her fieldtrip with Ben and her discovery that Fisk’s mother is alive and Fisk killed his father.  Matt is immediately worried for her (foreshadowing) and warns her to be careful before telling her to let Foggy know what she found.  Before leaving, Karen gives Matt a balloon that she brought—the shot of Matt sitting dejectedly on the arm of his chair and holding a balloon is quite comical—or at least it is to me.  Karen goes from Matt’s apartment to meet Ben by the river, and he is about ready to give up on the story—after all, after the poisoning at the fundraiser, it’s possible that Fisk’s enemies (or associates who don’t like his new public persona) are trying to finish him off.  Karen tells him that they need to keep going with the story to make sure that Fisk doesn’t win.  Karen’s next appearance is that night with Foggy, who’s been trying various coping mechanisms to get over his split with Matt—first sleeping with his ex-girlfriend Marci (the Landman and Zack associate), and then working his way through a bottle at Josie’s Bar.  Karen presses him to tell her what happened between him and Matt and why things seem to be falling apart, but he refuses to tell her.  I really like this for her character.  At this point she’s the cheerleader; she’s trying to bring the group back together, but she is failing.  Matt and Foggy are not speaking to each other just as much at the end of the episode as they were at the beginning.  This feels natural:  it feels like this is the way the situation would go in real life, as opposed to a movie where they would need to get back together at this point due to time constraints.  Because there are still 2 episodes left, they can afford to let the good guys drift apart a while longer, and while they drift apart Karen is torn up because it feels as though her world—her motivator since she left Union Allied—is falling apart.  I think this really drove her actions with Wesley.

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When Wesley abducted her, I was expecting him to kill her.  Instead, he offers to let her live as long as she tells Ben (and Matt and Foggy) that she was wrong about Fisk and that he is actually a good man.  Wesley tells her that Fisk is a good man who loves New York City—and Hell’s Kitchen in particular—on a deep level.  He wants her to “spread the Gospel” that Fisk is the savior who will save the city.  And in exchange, he won’t kill Ben, Foggy, Matt, Karen’s family and friends, and finally Karen herself.  However, his phone rings just at that moment, Karen grabs the gun off the table, and she empties the magazine into him.  We find out quickly that Fisk was the one calling because he was concerned about Wesley.  Ironically, his care for Wesley distracted him and got him killed.  Karen is terrified by what she did and runs away, taking the gun with her and wiping away any possible fingerprints.  If she thought her world was falling apart before that, it disintegrated when she pulled the trigger.  I like Deborah Ann Woll’s performance in this episode; she makes me believe that she is confused and terrified by what is happening.

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The only other thing to talk about is Matt’s story in this episode.  After Karen leaves, Claire comes over to check on his cuts and scold him for opening them up again.  She is worried that if he doesn’t make some changes or slow down, he’s going to get himself killed.  She tells him that he needs to look into body armor or something, to which he agrees.  Then she tells him she’s leaving the city for a while, which upsets him because he still has some feelings for her.  She acknowledges that she had feelings for him also, but that she can’t be with him while he is still a vigilante, and he can’t stop (this sounds like Rachel from The Dark Knight).  Further, she tells him that she thinks he’s “the man this city created.”  In the end she says that she will always be there to patch him up, but that’s it.  Just before leaving she comments that he is on the same path as the biblical martyrs, all of whom died bloody and alone.

Evidently this had an effect on him, because from there he went over to the church, where Father Lantom came in to talk to him.  I love all of their conversations, and the subtle hints the Father gives to nudge Matt in the right direction.  In the season, Father Lantom is actually the only person to guess that Matt is the vigilante without actually seeing him in his suit without the mask.  Matt asks him if he believes that Matt was made this way for a purpose, which the Father confirms.  Then Matt demands to know why God would have put the devil in him.  The Father’s response is awesome:  Nothing drives people to the church faster than feeling the devil at their heels.  This is what drives Matt to embrace the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” moniker and work it into his suit design.  I find all of the religious imagery in this series to be absolutely fascinating—and appropriate for a character whose name and costume are inspired by the Devil.  In contrast to Matt’s devout Catholicism and multiple conversations with Father Lantom, Fisk is on his own and unable to pray, yet both are profoundly affected by religious imagery and metaphors.

We get a chance to see his meditation healing at work (to some degree) right before he suits up and goes out to find out about Fisk’s armored suits.  He finds Turk Barrett and “persuades” him to point him towards Melvin Potter, Fisk’s armor-maker.  Matt finds Potter and looks around his workshop.  When Potter returns, the two of them fight until Matt discovers that Potter is being forced to work for Fisk—if he doesn’t, Fisk will hurt Betsy (who is Melvin Potter’s therapist and later wife in the comics).  Matt promises that if Potter helps him, he will make sure that Fisk can’t hurt anyone again.  Matt asks him to make him “a symbol.”  For as much as I like this explanation for Matt’s stylized suit, I can’t help but think of Batman.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; the two characters have a ton of similarities (there’s even an argument that Daredevil has more right to the “Batman” name than Batman himself).  However, I do think they need to avoid turning Daredevil into a Batman clone.

In the end, this episode does a very good job of setting up the conflicts in the final two episodes.  It also gives us more character development for some of the minor characters, particularly with Karen.  Long story short, it really makes me want to keep watching and see how Fisk will react when he discovers that Wesley is dead.

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