“You saw me struggling…and you chose to hide the one thing that could have changed everything for me.”
This review covers ‘Daredevil’ Season 3, Episodes 5-9:
- “The Perfect Game”
- “The Devil You Know”
It should come as no surprise that when a story expands into double digit hours, it’s inevitable to hit a slow point in the narrative. More prevalent in network shows and their 20+ episode seasons, it’s even present in the shorter Netflix series. This slow period doesn’t mean smart storytelling is being overlooked, rather the series flow can take a hit. Sometimes, like in Jessica Jones or Season One of Daredevil, the rough patch lasts an episode or less. Other times—we’re looking at you, Luke Cage Season One)—the show never regains its momentum. Much like last season, Daredevil writers have created a multitude of character story arcs that the audience has a vested interest in seeing to completion and, while the action slows for a beat or two (in part to allow the audience to catch its breath), it picks back up with an even greater speed as we approach the back third and what may be the final confrontation between Wilson Fisk and the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
As television series go, there’s no denying that Wilson Fisk is a top-tier antagonist. One of the more unique episodes back in Season One was “Shadows in the Glass” where Wilson Fisk’s harsh childhood was the primary focus. Though it’s no excuse for his actions, Fisk’s less than ideal upbringing gave viewers an eye into why the big, powerful man often came across as an awkward teen, unsure in his speech and unable to keep his fingers still. The introduction of special agent Poindexter (Dex), while not nearly the mastermind that Fisk is, brought forth another antagonist for Matt to battle. Executing the two Albanian hit squad members may have been bad but it wasn’t until Dex is shown stalking his ‘girl’ Julie where the first major red flag that of his personality appears. “The Perfect Game” offers a glimpse into the tragedy of Dex’s behavioral imbalances. He is always on the brink of falling into the madness of his own mind and his need to have an anchor, someone to act as his “North Star” is paramount, not only for Dex’s mental health but for the safety of those around him. Whereas he understands his limitations, so does Fisk and the calculating nature of the Kingpin is once again on display when he pre-emptively eliminates Julie, the one person that could help Dex return to normalcy. With her out of the picture, Fisk sets himself up to be the guiding light for Dex and will no doubt hasten his journey into darkness.
As darkness goes, Matt continues to find himself buried in his own personal doubts. After Fisk frames him as an accomplice in his own illegal activities, Matt feels more alone than ever. When Dex—dressed as Daredevil—attacks the Bulletin and both Foggy and Karen fall into his crosshairs, not to mention Matt getting his ass handed to him by the imposter, his resolve to go about things sans help is only strengthened. But it’s the biggest revelation of the series to date that threatens to be the killer blow when he hears Sister Maggie, in a moment of prayer, refer to Matt as her son. Not only does Sister Maggie fall under Matt’s scrutiny but Matt also blames Father Lantham for his part in the lie. It’s a betrayal that creates a second vision in Matt’s psyche; that of his father, Jack. It’s through these conversations with both the Jack and Fisk constructs that we realize the anger, doubt, fear, and near hopelessness of Matt’s mind. He believes he is a man on an island; unable to trust those he loves and, even if he can, unable to keep them from harm. That helplessness and rage resolve Matt to commit the ultimate sin; to permanently eliminate Wilson Fisk the only way possible. Though killing Fisk may be the lone way to keep the city free of his apparently limitless reach, Matt must be careful that he himself not become the monster.
And as far as that monster goes, Wilson Fisk’s quiet demeanor and blank, emotional visage hide the monstrous thing that resides within. But it’s not Fisk’s willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done that makes him so terrifying. It’s his ability to plan months in advance, playing the puppet master from a distance so great that even intelligent agents like Nadeem don’t realize they are being played until it’s too late. He does the same thing with the criminal underground—though admittedly by making an example of Starr, an underworld veteran. His brilliance and patience at the long game (manipulating Nadeem’s familial situation more than a year in advance?!) is such a unique trait few villains have shown. But he is not a perfect man, having a weak spot for the few people he deems worthy of his trust.
James Wesley was one of those people and when Karen, in an attempt to trigger Fisk into a rash action that would have undoubtedly led to her unpleasantly violent death, taunts Fisk by admitting what she did to Wesley, his stoic demeanor trembles and cracks before shattering in a primal scream of rage. It’s only the FBI’s timely interference (at Foggy’s behest) that saves her. Yet, considering what he knows about her involvement in Wesley’s death, how much longer will Karen be safe?
On the Karen front, it’s becoming clear that her emotional spiral seems to be on a parallel route to Matt’s own. No, she’s not seeing visions of Fisk vocalizing her doubts but she’s becoming somewhat more erratic in her behavior, recklessly confronting Felix Manning, Fisk’s dangerous and vile fixer that “makes [problems] disappear,” and playing dirty with Jasper Evans to get him to come clean on Fisk staging the shanking. Karen is focused so much on the end goal that she’s blind to the real danger. It’s not until the faux-Daredevil attacks the Bulletin that she truly understands the collateral damage that can be caused by blindly charging in.
This terrifying wakeup call pushes her to reach back out to her family. Similar to her rejection of Matt when he asks for her help due to his actions, Karen is rebuffed coolly by her father for her own past mistake. It comes as no surprise then that she finds herself in the welcoming arms of Sister Maggie. Whereas the good Sister has seemingly lost her own son, she is confronted with a similar soul in Karen, one she won’t fail and promises to help. Unfortunately for them, the FBI and, by proxy Fisk, know exactly where Karen is hiding and it’s only a matter of time before Fisk sends his new attack dog to eliminate the threat.
Though the middle portion of the season really gets going and every character has his or her own storyline, from Foggy continuing to make a name for himself as an opposition to Fisk and Ray’s unfortunate discovery of just how far out of his depths he is with Fisk, the intertwining of fractured personas of Fisk, Dex, Karen, and Matt is the primary driver. Whereas we’ve seen much of what has shaped the three men in this quartet, we’ve only had the barest whispers of Karen’s own demons. That will change as the last third of the season kicks off with the episode “Karen”. It stands to reason that we will finally get the insight we’ve been missing into this fierce, determined woman and her still raw scars from the past.
- It’s one thing for someone like Fisk to get dirt on one, even two federal agents. That was my assumption when Hattley guns down Winn and tells Ray “I’m not your boss anymore. Wilson Fisk is.” But when he enters the room to see nearly a dozen agents at Fisk’s beck and call, it solidifies the Kingpin as the most dangerous threat to the city since the Incident. Can a man that powerful truly be stopped by tossing him into a jail cell?
- Though there were a few handsome action scenes through these five episodes, none can hold a candle to the masterful attack on the To see Dex’s cold, killer precision was something to behold but it was his one-on-one with Matt that has to be the most memorable thing this season has done so far. Though Matt gets the upper hand, Dex smartly realizes that he needs to turn the tables and, like a masterful Street Fighter Ryu player, he controls the distance, using his advantage at projectiles to whittle Matt down until he can deliver the knockout blow. His convincing victory adds even more doubts to Matt’s already full plate of personal misgivings about himself. The best part is that these two will meet again though it’ll be hard-pressed to top their first violence-laden tête-à-tête.
- As a longtime comic book fan, though Daredevil was never a must-read for me, I knew Sister Maggie’s secret. Still, that did not lessen the emotional impact of Matt discovering the truth. It only gets worse for Matt when he confronts Father Lantham after the fact. “We’ve talked so much about truth—you and I. Of my truth. Of God’s truth. Now it seems like all of those conversations were just a goddamned lie. Shame on you.” If Matt didn’t feel alone before, he sure as hell does now.
- The constant praise of Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance sometimes feels like overkill but every time it seems as if he can’t get better, he does. His one-on-one with Karen is a marvelous portrayal of that core of anger and rage inside of Fisk. Watching the agony on his face as he learns the truth behind Wesley’s face is so genuine that it almost makes me feel for him, despite the monster we know him to be. Such sympathy, even for such a devil as Fisk, is a testament to D’Onofrio’s outstanding performance. It’ll be a crime if D’Onofrio is once again snubbed for an Emmy nomination.