Monday, May 9, 2016

Daredevil Season 2, Episode 8, "Guilty as Sin" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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We’re over halfway through season 2 of Daredevil, and we now know that we will get a follow-up series in the form of The Punisher (though little more is known than that).  Conveniently, this episode sees the conclusion of the “Trial of the Punisher” arc in Daredevil, which segues next episode into a Punisher which is vastly more intense than we got in the origin arc.  Oh, and this episode also gives us a ton more information on Elektra, the Hand, Stick, and “the war.”

The episode picks up where the last episode ends, with Daredevil and Elektra standing at the edge of a hole that is about 40 stories deep.  However, they suddenly come under attack from a group of ninjas—and Daredevil can’t hear them at all.  Evidently these Hand ninjas have trained to slow their heartbeat to the point where it’s as though they have none, and learned to wear noise-dampening clothing that will not make a sound when it moves.  Daredevil is able to fight them, however, when he focuses on the sound of their weapons.  The two of them hold their own against the ninjas, but Matt refuses to kill, and distracts Elektra so that she gets grievously injured.  At this moment Stick suddenly appears and kills the final ninjas to get them out.  Stick and his driver bring them back to Matt’s apartment, pursued by the Hand, and Stick somehow creates an anti-toxin for the poison on the ninjas’ weapons from materials available in Matt’s apartment.

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When Elektra is out of the woods, Stick explains that Elektra works for him (the Chaste) and that she was there as part of his “war.”  The “war” is centuries old and started in Japan when a warlord discovered the secret of immortality.  His group became the “Hand,” which created its own enemy, the “Chaste” when they attacked a village and allowed a kid to survive the attack.  The Hand has been trying for centuries to find and activate a “Black Sky,” but the Chaste has not allowed them.  Stick’s appearance here also leads to the revelation that Elektra has been working for him all along and was even assigned to approach him and try to turn him back toward Stick when she first met him.  This is definitely an interesting twist, but I’m not sure how I really feel about it.  It definitely removes a lot of the luster from the Matt/Elektra romance.  It also makes her character a little less dynamic prior to this episode.  At the same time, they do take this in an interesting and unique direction as Elektra’s character reacts to her renewed association with Matt.

We actually see this in this episode as Elektra decides to leave Stick and join Matt in trying to stop the Hand Matt’s way.  Matt thinks that she can be better than who she is (a killer).  She even seems to want to become a better person.  Stick leaves, but the Hand knows where Matt’s apartment is and sends a ninja to kill them.  Elektra is still weak from her brush with death, leaving Matt to do most of the fighting.  Matt succeeds in incapacitating the ninja but hesitates when he sees that it’s just a kid.  Elektra, however, does not hesitate to slit the kid’s throat.  And when Matt gets upset as what she did, she is simply surprised that he would be so upset about it.  The idea of heroes and killing is something that’s been around for quite a while.  Some people assume that a hero cannot be someone who kills; others see it as an acceptable method for ensuring peace.  Elektra and Matt really do embody this dichotomy in Daredevil season 2:  Elektra kills without hesitation; Matt will never kill.

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The rest of the episode focuses on the Trial of the Punisher and its conclusion.  The trial element begins with Frank’s commanding officer (Col. Schoonover) testifying to Frank’s character:  he is a hero and someone who would “gladly give his life to keep others safe.”  Schoonover also tells the story of Frank’s Navy Cross, which came for bravery under fire in getting his entire squad out of an ambush despite the commanding officer’s mistakes.  This certainly generates sympathy for Frank among the jurors.

Foggy also cross-examines a witness who explains the science behind Frank’s head injury:  he claims that Frank suffers from “Sympathetic Storming” which causes him to relive the trauma of losing his family over and over again.  It’s definitely an interesting concept, but one which nearly backfires as a kid in court has an outburst accusing Frank of murder.  At this point the only way they can really generate sympathy for him and possibly save him from a worse fate is for him to take the stand and testify.

Matt agrees to examine Frank and walk through his story.  However, something is wrong the next day when Frank takes the stand.  Instead of walking through everything that happened the way they had planned, Frank simply refuses to speak.  Matt turns the examination around and uses Frank’s testimony as an opportunity to deliver an impassioned defense of vigilantism.  He claims that the city actually needs vigilantes like the Punisher because the system itself is not working as well as it could.  This is something that I was really expecting to see in this arc:  Daredevil must defend a vigilante in court and winds up defending vigilantism as a concept.  Matt’s defense is very interesting, but I did wonder if it was particularly necessary at this moment.  Considering that they wound up losing the case, I kind of wish that Matt had saved his defense of vigilantism for a case that they would have won.

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The trial concludes with Frank making a wild outburst and screaming that he was proud of what he had don’t and that he would do it all again in an instant.  At this point the trial is pretty much over, with Frank having sabotaged his whole case.  However, he quickly reveals that to have been part of a plan.  He is taken to prison.  And who does he meet with as soon as he arrives at the prison?  None other than Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin, of course!

Yet again, the Punisher half of the episode is hugely interesting.  However, Elektra’s part of the episode doesn’t quite live up to the expectations.  I’m not a huge fan of turning her into little more than a weapon trained and pointed by Stick.  At the same time, her story is still interesting for how it focuses on Matt’s moral code and the ideological divide between his refusal to kill and Stick’s and Elektra’s willingness to do anything that’s necessary.  I guess I can see both sides on Elektra’s character.  On the one hand she doesn’t particularly have her own agency in this series as all of her “decisions” are made for her by Stick.  On the other hand, in this way she serves as something of a foil for Matt, who stuck to his principles in refusing to kill criminals.  I do think that her efforts to redeem herself through the rest of the season are the most interesting element of her story, and something which makes me really curious to see what will happen with her character moving forward.

What did you think of this Daredevil episode?  Do you like what they did with Elektra?  Were you expecting to see Wilson Fisk this season?  Let me know in the comments!

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