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Thoughts on Daredevil

Seeing as I am an MCU completist, I'd always intended to watch Daredevil eventually. But I hadn't gotten around to it for two main reasons: the graphic violence and T's interest in the show, which existed but was low-priority enough that I could never convince him to sit down and start watching. But a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that the release of Jessica Jones is coming up, and I wanted to watch Daredevil first. So I bumped it up the queue. After checking in with T, who decided to pass for now, I watched the series over the space of a little over a week. Although I was actively unhappy about some of their choices, overall I enjoyed it and look forward to seeing a second season.

All I really knew about Matt Murdock going in is that he's a blind lawyer who fights crime and is associated with Elektra. Never read any of the comics, haven't seen the Ben Affleck movie. So I hadn't realized that Daredevil is basically the Marvel Batman: tragic family backstory, strongly-developed sense of vengeance, attachment to a city that he fights for by both above-board and vigilante methods, fake gravelly voice, dramatic costume choices. Another parallel I saw was his determination to isolate himself from the people who should be his allies. When Stick came to visit and started feeding Matt the usual lines about how he needs to be a lone wolf, how relationships are a danger and a distraction, I was so annoyed that I was compelled to roll my eyes via Twitter. Matt doesn't take his isolation as far as Stick would presumably have liked, but he does hide his secret identity and abilities from the people he cares about, presumably so they won't get hurt, but it's so clear that they're all getting hurt anyway, so why not try honesty?

This leads one of my major complaints about the show: Matt and Foggy's choice not to tell Karen about Matt's other identity. They should both know better, given how Foggy reacted to learning the truth. Karen is not stupid, and I think she's quite likely to figure it out on her own. I have to imagine that she'd take it better if she were told, and the sooner the better. Karen approves of Daredevil's actions, for the most part -- she's not likely to be as judgemental as Foggy was regardless -- but I'm sure she wouldn't be happy about having been lied to, especially since she spent so much time fangirling Daredevil in front of Matt.

I recently read a great article about how women in superhero shows aren't allowed to show anger, and one of the counter-examples was Foggy's reaction to learning about Matt's double life. Foggy's fury was handled just right, although I felt like it was as much about the years of Matt letting Foggy think that he needed Foggy's help: the idea that Foggy was a dupe, that Matt used Foggy as a prop to hide his special abilities from the world. I don't doubt that Foggy did help Matt, but I can still understand why Foggy would feel retroactively used, and useless. Anyway, the author of the article went on to say that they hoped Karen was allowed anger if and when she finds out that Matt is Daredevil. To a certain extent, I agree, but for her to have the same level of reaction would be out of character. Karen is not Foggy, she doesn't have as many years of lies to get over, she comes from a place of admiring the masked man, and she clearly has secrets of her own. (And I really hope we find out what some of those secrets are.)

The other choice that made me angry was the death of Ben Urich. Killing Ben didn't contribute significantly to the plot, and it didn't change the other characters' motivations in any real way, so why waste him like that? Ben was a great character, with a potentially rich backstory, and he would have made a strong connector to the other three Netflix series. I understand that there were rights issues -- Urich is primarily a Spider-Man character, and when I complained about this on Tumblr, a commenter informed me that Marvel only negotiated the rights to use him in one season. Apparently, at the time they re-secured all the Spider-Man IP, Daredevil hadn't yet aired but was already filmed, so it was too late to change it. On one level that explains the decision, but I still cry foul. Why take back a strong canon character with ties to multiple Marvel properties for only one season? And even if one season was really all they could get, there are ways to write a character off-stage without brutally murdering them. Not to mention that it exacerbates Marvel's problem with killing off men of color, especially on the TV side -- and Ben was almost the only sympathetic man of color in the entire show (Foggy and Matt's honest cop friend being the sole exception I can think of).

My biggest concern going in, the graphic violence, was definitely a thing, and there was more than one scene I watched through my fingers (Fisk decapitating Anatoly with a car door was probably the worst of it). But although it showed more blood than I would have preferred -- and at times I got a vibe of giddiness at not having to work within PG-13/TV-14 content restrictions -- it rarely felt gratuitous or out of place. Wilson Fisk's brutality teaches us some important things about his character; Matt's choices to solve so many of Hell's Kitchen's problems with violence often have physical and long-term consequences for himself and others; Karen shooting James Wesley is perhaps one of the most shocking things I've ever seen on a TV screen, and I mean that in the very best way. So I appreciate the attitude toward using violence in a way that means something, making it more real and visceral, rather than the cartoonish feel we sometimes get in the movies and broadcast shows. I could have done with less torture, though, and particularly with fewer scenes of torture as an effective tool for gathering reliable information. That's a dangerous meme with real-world consequences, and I'm never happy to see it in my media.

Getting back to Fisk, there was a lot of buzz about Fisk as a compelling villain, and I entirely agree. Showing us his backstory -- the ways in which his father brutalized him were some of the hardest parts of the show for me to watch -- and getting us to invest in his relationship with Vanessa were a genius way of helping us understand Fisk and what drives his need for power, respect, and control without ever asking us to sympathize with or approve of him. Like Loki, but with even less woobification potential. (I'm on record with my objections to woobified Loki, but I see where it comes from, to an extent.) Connecting the painting, the white plaster wall of his childhood home, and the wall of his prison cell was a masterful bit of visual storytelling. I'm glad he survived and seems likely to continue as the main antagonist.

I find myself curious about Vanessa. Given how key she is to Fisk and his motivations, we learn remarkably little about her. What kind of woman ties herself to a monster, especialy when she seems aware of who and what he truly is? Will she become a supervillain in her own right? (Please say yes.) Another female antagonist that I'm hoping to see more of is Madame Gao. She is fantastic in every appearance, and I loved learning how much control she has taken of the situation. Of all Fisk's partners, she was the only one to survive, because she knew when to cut her losses and skip town. Her conversations with Fisk in his home and then later in the Park were some of the high points of the series for me. I hope she's back, if not in the second season of show than in one of the others.

Really all the female characters in this show are great. Claire hits my competence kink really hard (as does Gao, to a certain extent -- okay, you know what, really all of the women in this show are super-competent, in their own ways, although Karen is maybe a little more fallable), and I was glad that she stood her ground on not getting involved with Matt. My understanding is that she will be the primary character connecting all the Netflix Originals, and I am very pleased by this. And of course there is Karen. Karen is so fantastic. I adore her resiliency, her dedication to investigating what's going on with (company name) and her refusal to back down in the face of pretty much any threat. (I also ship her with Foggy like it's going out of style, and I kind of hope they aren't tipping us toward a Karen/Matt relationship instead.)

Short version: good show with some caveats, worth watching if you can stomach the violence, and some really stunning "OMG did they really just do that???" moments. And now I am very ready for Jessica Jones (if you haven't watched the trailer you should really watch the trailer, although with a heavy warning for abuse and consent issues -- I hope the show handles that aspect well). T is actually interested in that one (mostly because he's impressed with Krysten Ritter as an actress), so keep your fingers crossed that I get watch it in a timely manner.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/720064.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.

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