Daredevil, Season 1: Episodes 1 to 6
Created by Drew Goddard
Premiered April 10th, 2015 on Netflix
With the immense commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel’s foray into original television programming was an inevitability. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its spin-off, Agent Carter, have built a respectable small-screen re-creation of the Marvel line, building off minor characters and tying storylines into the bigger films. Daredevil, however, is something else altogether. Though it, too, is meant to take part in the same universe as the films and current live-action series, Daredevil‘s tone and atmosphere more closely resemble Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Comparisons to those films since they were first released have been inescapable for all superhero/comic book adaptations, but rather than it being used here to describe Daredevil as a knock-off or protege, it’s mainly one step towards attempting to explain what Daredevil is, since Drew Goddard’s adaptation of the famous Marvel superhero is both grittier and, to just get the pun out of the way, daring than any other series of its kind. Even The CW’s Arrow, which has reached genuine peaks of fascinating brilliance and aesthetic, didn’t come out this strong. Daredevil is not only the best debut for a live-action comic book series. It might also finally be that series that wins over the viewers who are naturally against these kinds of stories, whatever their reasons may be.
Daredevil stars Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who carries out vigilante justice at night. That’s the simplest way to describe the Daredevil story, and it’s really all one needs to jump off from. Viewers will probably know many of the things they’re getting into when starting a comic book series: sidekicks (Elden Henson plays Murdock’s law firm partner, Foggy Nelson), allies (Deborah Ann Woll plays Karen Page, the firm’s first client and hired employee; Rosario Dawson guests as Claire Temple, the one central character who knows Daredevil’s identity) and villains (Vincent D’Onofrio plays Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, a man bent on improving his city in his own twisted way). This cast of characters, even for viewers unfamiliar with the written source material or the most recent film adaptation, starring Ben Affleck, is immediately lived-in and enjoyable to be around. Cox is eerily perfect in the role of Murdock, exuding charm and empathy in meaningful ways. Henson, Woll and Dawson all bounce off the central performance incredibly well in their own different ways. Foggy is the comic relief that has the heart of a lion, showing it only when the time is right–usually around Karen. Woll, easily the most striking presence on HBO’s recent True Blood, makes Karen just as captivating in her short bursts of stories, which have the benefit of not being limited to the law firm business. In these early episodes, Karen’s story gets her tangled up in corporate conspiracy and media exposure, giving her just as much screen time as her partner-bosses. Finally, Fisk is brought to life with a deliberate discomfort that D’Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) nails in all of his scenes. Fisk, whose enemies and allies alike are often too nervous to mention by name, is also a villain who isn’t simply a villain. Though it’s common for comic book antagonists to have a warped vision of justice, Fisk is also displayed as entirely human: he loves, he lets his flaws get the better of him, he takes emotional and physical risks. He clearly is a villain as far as the story goes, but the early work that’s put into his character makes him one of the more interesting characters in the series.
What viewers might not be expecting when sitting down to watch this is just how dark, for lack of a better term, the series is. More violent–by far–than its film counterparts, it’s almost surprising how much leeway was given to this team to take the brutal nature of the Daredevil story (which shares tonal similarities to The Punisher, which is now number one on my wish list for Drew Goddard to helm) and be unflinchingly faithful to it. The camera doesn’t shy away from anything, and the weak of stomach might actually have problems with certain scenes. That said, like with Steven S. DeKnight’s Spartacus (DeKnight is executive producer and both writes and directs in the second half of the season), Daredevil‘s violence isn’t just happenstance; it serves a purpose in communicating the severity of the things Murdock has to deal with day-to-day. The hard-hitting nature of the visuals also allows for the series’ actions sequences to pop like no other. People (including myself) have been praising Arrow for its impressive action and choreography, which brings comic book aesthetics onto the screen in absolutely wonderful ways. Daredevil‘s action might even be better, with a (seemingly) one-shot hall sequence in its second episode being one of those “is this really happening?” moments. Each director (Goddard directs the first two) brings something personal to story, but all of them have a grip on how to shoot Daredevil in action. The stunt work for the character himself is sometimes laughably good, and when you’re not sitting there is utter tension, you’re audibly cheering as he twists and turns through the air with grace and precision.
Ultimately, though, the first half of this season is worth watching, because it’s just a good story. Not one, great cohesive story that will immediately wow every viewer–but it’s perfectly fine at what it does, which is so small task. There is the character’s backstory, with the history of his blinding as a child and his relationship with his boxer father. There’s the establishing of the status quo–where the home base is, who these people are at their cores, where there might be potential conflict. And there’s the populating of the world as a whole, Daredevil giving Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan character of its own. The city looks and feels consistently real with the added benefit of us seeing the place through the “eyes” of Murdock. Each fixture, piece of debris and gust of wind has a story to tell Murdock. And each of these episodes has just as much to tell viewers. The bottom line, though, seems to be clear: Daredevil is a must-watch series for anyone remotely interested and deserves strong consideration from just about everyone else.
– Sean Colletti