Daredevil: A Review of Season 1

I’ve said on here before that I’m a casual fan of superhero stuff at best. I never grew up reading comic books and my first introduction to anything superhero related was the very cheesy cartoon Superfriends. That being said, I’m very glad that I watched Daredevil.

Many people compare Daredevil to Batman and Spider-man. I’ll admit that the parallels are definitely there. Like Spider-man, Daredevil has a sort of supersensory powers and fights in just one district of New York City. And like the many Batman films, Daredevil grew into becoming his own superhero with the help of a mentor and has a day job. Granted, he’s not a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, but he wants to do the right thing.

I want to actually talk about how well the villains are written in this series. Like Batman, Daredevil has a very large Rogues Gallery and in the first season, you see them all working together as an organized crime syndicate. It starts with the Russian brothers, Vladimir and Anatoly. They prove to be more than just some Russian stereotypes.

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They’re the first major villains for Matt to deal with and they don’t disappoint. Although the first encounter was kept off-screen, they were able to beat up Matt so hard that he ended up in a dumpster. They’re also the most sympathetic villains aside from Wesley and Fisk because they wanted a better life for themselves and they have a loyalty to each other that a lot of villain duos don’t have. Anatoly’s death was brutal but the gore was kept off-screen.

It was in the early episodes that we were also introduced to Karen Page.

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Karen started out as a damsel in distress who’s way in over her head. I liked that she actually saved herself half the time that she got into trouble and was able to defend herself every time, even with somebody saving her. Her worst flaw is her naivete. She has this unrealistic view of what justice is and she gets tunnel-visioned about what she wants to the point of putting herself and others in danger. I’m all for being idealistic, but the implications of Karen’s dark and troubled past imply that her idealism came from a really dark place, which is a very dangerous place for idealism to come from. She’s ship-teased with both Foggy and Matt, but given that Foggy is now semi-involved with his old girlfriend, Marci, and Matt doesn’t exactly have anything with Claire, it’ll be interesting to see if the show will tease Karen and Matt in the second season.

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Claire wasn’t as major a character as the hype would lead you to believe. She plays a prominent role in the earlier episodes, but breaks things off with Matt when he seems to take things too far for her. Her flickers of romance with Matt were genuine and sweet, but ultimately, it ended because of the usual “It’s not you, it’s my enemies” trope.

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Wesley James turned out to be the most surprising character on the show for me. He started out as a ruthless right-hand man, but it’s shown that he genuinely cares for Fisk, like a brother or a best friend, and was the only one in Fisk’s crime syndicate that supported Fisk’s growing relationship with Vanessa. He is willing to protect Fisk at all costs and makes sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible. His death came as a shock because he ranked up so high on the villain totem pole that I thought for sure he’d live to see the next season.

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Vanessa was also an interesting character to watch because villain girlfriends don’t usually get that much development. In fact, the last villain girlfriend I remember off the top of my head who had as much development as Vanessa is Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series. Vanessa, however, has all her sanity intact. She’s a woman who’s attracted to powerful men like Fisk, but her love for Fisk is genuine and sweet. It’s shown that her relationship with him actually improves Fisk psychologically, but I’ll get more into that when I talk about the man in question. As much as I love Ayelet Zurer’s acting, I couldn’t help but imagine Stephanie Romanov playing Vanessa in a similar manner. But maybe that’s just the Whedonite in me.

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I loved Ben Urich’s determination and wisdom throughout the season. It was sad to see that his wife had Alzheimer’s and that he couldn’t really take care of her. He also symbolized the journalists of old, who were there to witness history in the making, enduring in spite of the technology and the seemingly growing disinterest in “real news.” I honestly wish that he didn’t get killed off.

Side note, btw: I’m docking points for having Mrs. Cardenas die just to bring Daredevil out into the open. Women getting killed to provoke men into action is a trope I’m not a huge fan of.

Moving on to Matt’s mentors.

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Stick is a mercenary and I don’t have that much love for him. Little Mattie needed somebody with him growing up and Stick dropped the ball by leaving Matt on the premise that he wanted Matt to be a soldier and not a son. Say what you want about the Ninja Turtles, but at least Master Splinter raised the turtles as his own sons and never abandoned them.

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Fr. Lantom, on the other hand, was a more reasonable ally. I want to personally thank the writing team for creating a great portrayal of a Catholic priest. He is neither corrupt nor shown as a living saint, but just an ordinary man with Catholic perspectives. His perspectives on the Devil are, in my opinion, in line with what I learned about the nature of sin and spiritual warfare. The last time I saw a priest portrayed this realistically was Fr. Jack Landry from 2009’s V.

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At first I thought that Foggy Nelson would be this dudebro character, the slacker stereotype who makes the main character look awesome by comparison. Later episodes develop Foggy to act as Matt’s moral conscience whenever Claire wasn’t in the role. I think having Foggy in on the secret was a smart thing because Matt needed to be held accountable in case he took things too far. Foggy may not be a future sidekick, but he helps Matt out when it matters the most. He’s actually got ideals underneath his desire for money, so much so that he was able to persuade his ex-girlfriend to contribute to the cause at the risk of betraying the well-paying law firm she works for.

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Nobu didn’t contribute much to the series aside from possibly bringing in the ninja order called the Hand. He’s strictly business to the point of being borderline volatile. I will give him credit for being the only villain so far to have almost defeated Matt through usage of some pretty sweet weapons. Go ninja, go ninja go!

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Madame Gao, on the other hand, is a force of nature, like a tidal wave. She starts out being a meek and quiet, if not very self-assured woman who happens to be head of a drug ring. It’s implied that her drug ring was more of a cult and that Madame Gao may not be as human as she appears to be. I hope to see her again in the second season.

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Leland Owlsey was supposedly based off of a major villain in the comics, but in the series, he’s seen as the financial manager who keeps his eyes on the big picture. I pretty much called it that he was behind Vanessa’s attempted murder because of his unusual behavior and he proceeded to make things worse for Fisk towards the end of the series. I understand making sure that Fisk keeps on task, but as stated before, Vanessa was actually helping Fisk in accomplishing his goals.

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I love complicated villains. I also love to hate Fisk. He actually garners sympathy at times, but his brutality and ambitions remind me of what separates him from Daredevil. Fisk is shown to be psychologically damaged. Like many a villain, he grew up with an abusive father and a mother who was weak-willed. Killing his father at a young age was a serious shocker and it’s shown in “Shadows in the Glass” that Fisk is still haunted by it. He wants complete control over his life and his ideals to make the city better fall to the wayside when things spiral downward for him. It really stinks that in spite of everything that happened, he’s still going to get the girl, but I love Fisk and Vanessa together too much to really hate it.

MARVEL'S DAREDEVIL

Matt Murdock aka Daredevil has finally come into his own. Matt is shown to have ideals, but he’s more realistic in what has to get done. I don’t like how brutal he can be when interrogating mooks at times. Some of the violence he’s done seems excessive and unnecessary. However, Matt makes up for his pugilism by having his own moral code. He won’t stoop to killing anyone, he’s willing to work with anyone who can help (see his short alliance with Vladimir), and he embraces the idea of being feared, of being the one to keep people on the path of the righteous. Even though he dresses like and takes on the name of “Daredevil,” his story arc also reminds me of Angel. 

But unlike Angel, the series of Daredevil flows a lot more smoothly. There aren’t any filler episodes or soap opera plot lines that take away from the action and character development. There’s room to breathe in scenes here and there, but I can’t think of a scene that feels dragged out. I also like the action sequences and how some scenes were kept off-screen while others were shot atypical from your usual action shot. Yes, the show is dark and gritty, but it doesn’t have the cynicism of shows that have a similar tone. Nor does it reek of nihilism or even anti-nihilism the way that Angel does. Best of all, the angst in this show is not done for the sake of looking cool or adding drama. It’s all justified and the characters open the lines of communication in a realistic manner.

I would recommend the show to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as casual fans like myself. I don’t recommend anyone who has kids to share the show with anyone under the age of 13, but given that some of my second graders play M-rated games, your mileage may vary. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t wait for the second season!

 

 All screencaps are copyright to Marvel Entertainment and Netflix and are used for editorial purposes only.

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