Monday, June 8, 2015

Daredevil Season 1, Episode 9, "Speak of the Devil" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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The episode “Speak of the Devil” (Daredevil 1x09) gives us some of our most intense fight scenes yet as well as offering some major hints at the bigger picture with Daredevil and The Defenders.  It also pushes the season forward by showing us one of the first “innocent” deaths in the series, increasing the stakes for Matt and his team.  Matt’s secret is also placed in serious jeopardy by the cliffhanger ending.  What’s going to happen???

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The episode begins in media res with Matt in the middle of a battle against a red-clad ninja, and he is not doing well.  The ninja is using a kusarigama (a knife attached to a long chain) to cut Matt to pieces without letting Matt get anywhere near him.  Has Matt finally met his match?  I really like this opening because it sucks the viewer in and leaves you desperate to know how Matt got into this position and how he is going to get out of it.

After the opening credits, the episode flashes back to Matt sitting in front of the church waiting for Father Lantom to arrive.  While drinking espresso together in the church fellowship hall (I guess mine isn’t the only church with an espresso machine!), Matt asks him if he believes in the devil.  Father Lantom answers by telling him a story about a priest he once knew in Africa who cared for everyone regardless of faith or politics, but who was butchered by an evil rebel leader.  I found his answer to be fascinating in the way it personalizes evil for Father Lantom—and that’s what this whole episode is about:  personalizing the face of evil for Matt.

In the next scene, Matt, Foggy, Karen, and Ben are all talking about their case with Wilson Fisk, and specifically where to go from here now that Fisk has emerged from the shadows and gone public.  Ben wants to drop the entire thing because they’ve lost their advantage now that Fisk has come out into the open and been accepted by the public.  However, the rest object based on all the crimes and conspiracy of which they suspect him.  Ben shows them all of the information that the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” had given him in the previous episode, “Shadows in the Glass” (1x08), which connects Fisk financially to Confederated Global, which has been involved with Mrs. Cardenas’ tenement case.  However, this is not enough for them to take on Fisk yet, so Foggy asks why the “Devil” can’t just take out Fisk himself:  Ben thinks the “Devil” knows that if he kills Fisk, he can’t come back from it.  This is a terrifying thought for Matt, whose Catholicism is very important to him.  At the beginning of the series it is clear that he has not been attending church regularly and has not been to confession in a while, but starting in this episode Matt begins to visit the church far more often and ask far more probing questions of Father Lantom.  As a good Catholic, he knows that his soul is lost if he commits murder, but he feels trapped by the situation:  he can’t just sit back and do nothing while Fisk destroys lives.  What is Matt going to do to save his city?

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Their initial efforts focus on tying Fisk to the tenement case.  However, the previous landlord, Mr. Tully, is out of the country and was the owner of record when the situation first developed.  Now that Fisk is the legal owner, none of the previous events can be tied to him without Tully’s cooperation—and he is completely unavailable.  Mrs. Cardenas brings them even more bad news:  the owners doubled the buy-out offer, and many of her neighbors are considering taking it.  The others urge her to persuade them to stay, while Matt is doubtful that they will succeed.  He thinks that Fisk is going to get what he wants, one way or another, and nothing they do is going to change that.  I think this is the point when he realizes that he is unlikely to solve the problem through legal means.  And that’s why he decided to visit Vanessa’s art gallery to get information about Fisk.  At the gallery, Matt notices a sizeable security presence, but enters anyways and tries to ingratiate himself by poking fun at his handicap to put Vanessa at ease.  However, when he presses her for information about the “man in her life” (Fisk), the man himself arrives, giving the two of them their first in-person confrontation of the series.  Before Matt leaves, he and Fisk touch briefly on the tenement case, which Fisk asserts will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction soon (ominous).  They had already talked once over the radio, and their second in-person confrontation comes at the end of the episode, but I think it is interesting how this meeting paints Fisk in a totally different light than any of his other interactions with Matt.  He cares for Vanessa and she cares for him.  That was not the “picture of the devil” that Matt was expecting to get at all.

Fisk’s declaration that the tenement case would be resolved needs to be understood in its proper context.  Apparently Nobu’s organization really wants the block with that building for their purposes.  However, now that Fisk has gone public, he cannot afford the negative publicity which could be associated with any efforts to remove the tenants by force.  As such, he doubles the buy-out offer as a first attempt, and when that fails, he makes a request to Nobu to bring in an assassin with the skills to match Matt to take him out, simultaneously resolving the tenement situation.  At the time it’s easy to pass it off as a simple request; after the fact, it’s clear that Fisk was trying to manipulate Nobu into a confrontation with Matt, hoping to remove Nobu from the equation along with the masked vigilante.

Nobu and Fisk’s plan to draw Matt out involves a terrible crime that Matt can’t help investigating:  they have Mrs. Cardenas killed by a druggie.  The scene when Matt, Foggy, and Karen learned of her death was easily the saddest scene of the episode, though I don’t think it matches the rest of the season.  Foggy and Karen are particularly visible in their mourning, as they were the ones working the most closely with her.  Matt, however, remains stoic on the outside, though the set of his jaw and his white-knuckled grip on his cane betray the anger he feels.  That night the three of them go to Josie’s Bar for an impromptu “wake,” and Matt reveals his belief that the killing was not an accident, but was intentional as a way to clear out the tenement building by getting rid of the most vocal opponent.  At that moment, they hear Fisk on the news discussing the tragedy and calling is “a symptom of a disease infecting the city”—a disease which includes bombings and masked psychopaths (meaning Matt himself).  Matt immediately returns to his apartment, pulls out his suit, and goes on a rampage, fighting his way through at least three drug dealers to locate the druggie who killed Mrs. Cardenas.  In the process, Matt discovers a brand of heroin which bears a snake-like symbol—the symbol of the “Steel Serpent,” an Iron Fist villain.

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The druggie gives Matt the location of the warehouse where he was hired to kill Mrs. Cardenas, which Matt visits.  While there he finds a set of maps detailing some of Fisk’s plans for Hell’s Kitchen which he examines with his gloveless hand.  I’m not sure if they are implying that he can “read” them by touch—an ability he has in the comics—or not, but it is entirely possible.  While he is examining the maps, however, he hears a heartbeat in the warehouse and turns to confront it.  The heartbeat belongs to the assassin Nobu mentioned—Nobu himself.  Naturally, Nobu is wearing his ceremonial garb, a red ninja suit, in order to finish off a martial artist—Matt—who has been trained in the same ways that he has.  From their conversation it is clear that Nobu is a member of the Hand, a group of ninjas from the comics who clashed on multiple occasions with the Chaste, the ninja clan to which Stick belonged.  Nobu shows honor to Matt, who does not return the favor, but instead acts kind of cockily toward him.  When they fight, it begins with them evenly matched.  However, before long Nobu gains the upper hand against Matt by using his kusarigama.  He eventually gets it lodged in Matt’s stomach under the ribcage and uses it to drag him across the floor.  Matt removes the knife from his gut when Nobu slips and gets covered in flammable liquid.  Desperately, Matt throws his last stick at an exposed incandescent light, shattering it and showering Nobu with sparks, causing his clothing to catch fire.  Nobu tries to take him out, but fails before succumbing to the smoke.  This fight was incredibly intense, though Matt was at a complete disadvantage for most of it.  It’s not unexpected that Matt would struggle against Nobu, considering that Nobu was trained in the same martial arts as Matt, and for longer.  That training, coupled with his kusarigama, gave him a distinct advantage over Matt.  Perhaps this fight will be the catalyst that encourages Matt to work a kusarigama into his arsenal for future battles.  We’ve seen his sticks; now he needs to start modifying them and improving them to replicate his specialized weapons from the comics.

Almost immediately after the battle, Fisk, Wesley, and Francis walk in to finish him off.  Fisk tells him that he has become predictable:  Matt has shown a weakness for women and children, which Fisk assumed would extend to the elderly as well.  Weak, upset, and angry, Matt says he’s going to kill Fisk, and attacks wildly.  However, their fight is brutal and short.  Matt, wearied by the long night and the beating he took from Nobu, does not put up much of a fight and is forced to jump out a window to escape from Fisk’s fury.  Considering how long the series was building up to this confrontation—especially over the last couple episodes—it’s a little disappointing that Fisk was able to handle Matt so easily.  However, Matt is one of the most human heroes we’ve seen in the MCU; he has to have his limits.  And losing ridiculous quantities of blood is going to make him weak.

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The episode ends with a drunken Foggy standing outside Matt’s door, hearing a crash in his apartment, and letting himself in through the roof access to find him.  Foggy watches Matt (in his suit) collapse to the floor, and starts calling 911 before recognizing Matt’s chin and pushing back his mask to reveal his identity.  The last line of the episode is Foggy’s disbelieving “…Matt?”

This season just keeps getting better.  In this episode we get an awesome fight scene interspersed with some huge character development.  We get our first hinting at the role the Hand will play in the series.  We see Matt’s first physical confrontation with Fisk.  We see Matt pushed to his limits and desperately trying to survive.  And at the end Matt’s dual identity is starting to unravel as his best friend discovers his double life, setting up the next episode excellently.

What was your favorite part of “Speak of the Devil”?  How do you like the depiction of Matt’s Catholicism in this series?  Do you want to see Father Lantom return for season 2 (and possibly explore his connections with the broader Marvel universe, such as the Runaways)?

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