Daredevil is Not Bulletproof

This post covers Daredevil Season 2: Episode 1 (“Bang!”) and Episode 2 (“Dogs to a Gun Fight”) and is extremely spoilery for those episodes. Find more Daredevil coverage here.

THE STORY SO FAR: Remember this guy? Matt Murdock is trying to save everybody—by day a lawyer who helps the impoverished, vulnerable people of Hell’s Kitchen, and by night a costumed vigilante who does exactly the same thing, only with more punching. Also, he’s blind, but his other senses are so acute that he’s not really blind. Except he’s still totally blind.

In Season 1 of Netflix’s Daredevil, Matt saved his part of the city from the murderous, violent property developer and mobster Wilson Fisk. The trouble with cities is, they don’t stay saved.

 

EPISODE 1: BANG

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The fight scenes and action sequences of Daredevil already have a kind of legendary status, for their intensity and meaningful choreography. This first episode of Season 2 is bookmarked by two scenes devoted to the fear factor of the faceless vigilante.

Daredevil’s opening scene presents the case for Daredevil’s existence, showing the good work he is capable of doing: a gang of armed robbers fleeing their crime cause havoc and panic in the streets, and are picked off one by one by the vigilante who remains unseen, just out of range of the camera lens.

He beats them with extreme violence, but does not kill them, leaving them instead for the cops to clean up and arrest.

When we do finally get a clear camera shot of Daredevil in his brand new red leather suit (which was rolled out at the end of his narrative arc last season), he is mostly in shadow. I don’t think this is about embarrassment about the costume so much as the question of anonymity, a theme that resonates throughout the episode as a second anonymous assailant starts makes an impact on Hell’s Kitchen.

Speaking of anonymity, Matt’s best friend and partner, Foggy Nelson, now knows all his secrets. There’s a lovely scene that sums up where they are now, in which they walk down the street arm-in-arm (Foggy knowingly contributing to the illusion that Matt is a helpless blind man) and discuss their feelings. Foggy remains deeply uncomfortable with the whole vigilante thing, largely because he has a front row seat while his friend allows himself to be swallowed up by it, and he’s worried for Matt’s life.

Daredevil is not bulletproof. This is also a theme.

Matt is the quintessential martyr: he puts everyone’s needs before his own (except maybe Foggy’s emotional needs). There are plenty of superheroes who feel the responsibility of not taking time off because lives might be lost, but Matt’s case is weirdly specific: he only feels this crushing sense of responsibility for Hell’s Kitchen, and its residents. Any tragic deaths that occur outside the 10 and/or 25 blocks that comprise this neighbourhood are not on his conscience.

Incidentally, the fictional version of Hell’s Kitchen that has been around in the comics for decades does not often acknowledge that the neighbourhood has become rather gentrified since the 90s, nor does it acknowledge that “Hell’s Kitchen” involves the Times Square theatre district. I totally want to see some Daredevil stories that focus on behind the scenes drama at Broadway shows.

Actually, the small range of Daredevil’s geographic guilt range feels more manageable and healthy than Batman or Superman’s more widespread responsibilities. It’s still a lot for one man to take on solo—there’s a reason that ER doctors work in shifts. Daredevil needs some super friends so he can take the occasional night off and be Foggy’s wingman and maybe let his bruises heal! (Cough, the Fearless Defenders can’t come soon enough.)

Foggy now knows Matt’s secret identity but Karen, their office manager and the third arm of their best friend trio, does not. After years of shouting at the screen for Arrow and the Flash, I’m glad that Matt isn’t offering any actual excuses for leaving this vital information out. If you want to keep superhero secrets, that’s fine, but don’t try to justify it with a weak claim like ‘it’s for her own safety’ when the character in question is constantly in danger on the show anyway, and ignorance does not in fact preserve them from being caught in the crossfire. (See: Laurel Lance, Detective Lance, Thea Queen, Iris West, Cat Grant, etc. Etc. Etc.)

Karen Page is in plenty of danger from her closeness to avocados-at-law Foggy and Matt, leaving aside the whole Daredevil connection. For a start, I’m pretty sure she’s still working for no salary, and when she tries to address the ‘our legal practice is broke’ issue with the partners, Matt dismisses her concerns with a frustrating brush off.

Here is what he does not ask: is Karen able to pay her own rent? Has she eaten anything other than ramen noodles lately? Is she in crippling debt? She looks sad and stressed. Is there anything you could do to make your employee less sad and stressed, Matt? (Other than taking her out to play pool and drink beer.)

It’s all very well for Matt Murdock to sacrifice comfort and security in the name of ‘doing the right thing’ but it’s pretty crappy to ignore the red flags being sent up by the one person in the office who handles the accounting software.

By day and by night, Matt martyrs himself to help the helpless, and it never occurs to him that others might struggle to make the same sacrifice. Honestly, it’s a good thing he’s pretty.

I like that a great deal of this episode is dedicated to Karen’s competence and strength: it’s entirely down to her that Nelson and Murdock are managing to help so many clients (even if those clients do mostly pay in pie and bananas), and her resilience at handling even the toughest customers comes across clearly.

The power balance between Karen, Matt and Foggy isn’t as out of whack as it could be, and that’s because she is keeping a secret of her own—she shot one of the major players in Wilson Fisk’s empire last season, while he was unarmed (admittedly he goaded her into it) and has never told anyone.

Back to the plot! Various groups representing the last pockets of organised crime in Hell’s Kitchen (the Irish, the Mexicans and the biker gangs, because the other vilified minorities were wiped out of the area in Season 1) have been attacked by either an army or one really terrifying dude with a lot of guns and armour-piercing bullets. While Foggy and Matt investigate on their own, Karen demonstrates her own badassness (badassity?) by getting their only witness, Grotto (a survivor of the massacre of an Irish gang) into hospital under a fake name, pretending to be his wife, and then helping him escape when THE FREAKING TERMINATOR tracks them down in the hospital.

Okay, it’s probably not the Terminator. I have a pretty good idea who it is. But we’re not there yet.

The scene in which Karen and Grotto flee the hospital treats the gun-happy vigilante in the same way as Daredevil in the opening sequence: we don’t get to see him as a character, but as a cause and effect. We see his hands, his feet, his back, his murder victims (because unlike Daredevil, this fellow is all about the killing).

Finally, he and Daredevil have an altercation on a rooftop, which ends when New Guy reminds us that one of the key themes of this episode is that Matt Murdock is not bulletproof, and neither is Daredevil. He does this by shooting him in the head, and leaving him where he falls.

It would be pretty audacious if they killed Matt off in this episode, and then kept the series going without him. But I suspect even Netflix isn’t going to take that kind of creative risk. Not until at least Season 3!

 

EPISODE 2: DOGS TO A GUNFIGHT

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Daylight comes to Hell’s Kitchen, and the streets fill with worried onlookers swapping gossip about what went down the night before. Foggy figures out that Matt was in the middle of it all, and goes hunting for him across the rooftops—which is a lot more difficult when you’re not a super athletic superhero.

Here’s where it’s a good thing that someone knows Matt’s secret—unconscious from being shot in the head, he could easily have died without Foggy’s rescue. (Thanks to his amazing body armour and tight helmet, he survived the bullet—but his head is scrambled.)

Foggy is furious that Matt isn’t willing to lie down and rest while obviously suffering a concussion, because he still hasn’t come to terms with the extreme nature of his best friend’s martyr complex.

While Foggy goes off to deal with the legal implications of Grotto and Karen’s survival, Matt discovers that he is actually more badly hurt than he realised—and because it’s his head that was damaged, he can’t shake it off like he normally does with flesh wounds. His super-senses are screwy and unreliable, and in one powerful, disorienting sequence, he actually loses his hearing, which is devastating to him because it leaves him traditionally blind instead of his usual status of “blind with super-benefits”.

It occurred to me at this point that if Foggy had a way to physically remove Matt’s super-hearing for short periods to keep him from killing himself on rooftops, he would probably use it far too often.

If “Bang” was the episode that emphasised Karen’s strength, then “Dogs to a Gunfight” is the one that shows Foggy’s true colours—he’s used to playing the jokey buffoon to Matt Murdock’s straight man, but when the District Attorney bullies her way into the police station and attempts to swipe Grotto away from Nelson and Murdock, Foggy goes to bat for his client, facing the DA down with impressive professional bravery.

Hanging around the police station with the DA and her people puts Foggy and Karen in the right place to find out more about this mysterious one man army and his habit of pursuing and murdering those he perceives to be guilty of extreme criminal activity: otherwise known as the Punisher.

We get a scene that shows not only the Punisher’s real person face (look, he’s not actually a killer robot!) but also how the Punisher draws his personal moral line between criminals he tolerates, and criminals he condemns to death. When shopping for dodgy police radio equipment and other weapons, he doesn’t care about the kind of petty larceny that the pawnbroker supports, and is going to pay for his (illegal) goods and go… until the pawnbroker lets slip that he is totally up for providing underage prostitutes/sex slaves for his customers.

And then the Punisher punishes.

There has been a lot of speculation about how it will work, to have a major character like the Punisher launched in Daredevil, and whether his storyline will eclipse the regular cast. So far, it’s pretty clear that his presence in the story is that of a mirror to hold up against Daredevil’s own activities.

Sure, their MO is completely different, but at heart they are both vigilantes who are dispensing their own personal justice without having to justify themselves to the police or legal system. Last season, this was excused to some extent by the extreme corruption to be found in the Hell’s Kitchen police precinct, but in the wake of the Wilson Fisk cleanout, that’s apparently no longer the case.

Is the Punisher’s narrative role to make Daredevil less appealing as a hero? That’s a clever double whammy for an antagonist—assuming that the Punisher is here 100% as an antagonist, rather than becoming Vigilante Bros with Matt. I guess we’ll find out as the series goes on.

I’m not sure how credible it is to present the Punisher as a Daredevil copycat, but Karen (who was Daredevil’s biggest cheerleader last season) is an example of someone has had her own world view shattered by his existence—she’s starting to believe that the people of Hell’s Kitchen brought Punisher on themselves, by endorsing Daredevil’s vigilantism.

In a quiet scene together, Karen’s tactful concern for Matt’s tendency to be bruised, bloodied and battered on a regular basis hints that she might be aware of his secret—until she confesses her change of heart about vigilantes as heroes. Matt is shocked that she equates the Punisher’s violent actions to those of Daredevil—doesn’t it make a difference that Daredevil doesn’t kill, or use a gun?

The clever thing about this scene is that nearly everything that comes out of Karen’s mouth comes from her guilt complex—she’s barely aware of the effect her feelings have on Matt, because she’s so wrapped up in processing the murder she committed in Season 1. It’s almost like she thinks she’s the protagonist in her own show!

Still, she gives him something to think about, and another reason to not tell her the truth about who he is.

Seriously, guys, get over yourselves, it’s time to tell Karen. You need someone with good management skills keeping Daredevil on the straight and narrow.

There’s also a fascinating two-hander scene between Matt and his costume guy, who is pleased that his helmet prevented Daredevil from shot in the head, but hesitant to make a new one because his wife wants him to stop his illegal jobs. Is that because the Punisher is out there killing criminals, or a separate issue? Either way, it contributes to the question of which criminal behaviour is “justifiable,” which is much on Matt’s mind right now.

The District Attorney convinces Grotto to wear a wire and help them catch one of the few outstanding drugs suppliers in Hell’s Kitchen who hasn’t been executed by the Punisher. In return, he’ll get full witness protection.

Foggy and Karen don’t realise until it’s too late, that the DA lied to them—they are using Grotto as bait to catch the Punisher.

That… seems like a terrible idea, and not just to Grotto and his lawyers. Still, Foggy spent a whole morning yelling at Matt about how he should leave the Punisher to the police, so I guess we need to see how they can handle the situation, right?

Yeah, they can’t handle it.

A note on Punisher’s moral line: it’s been implied strongly that so far, he has only killed bad guys—there are concerns that it’s only a matter of time before someone (innocent) gets caught in the crossfire, but it hasn’t happened yet. Still, if he had taken the shot he was about to take in “Bang!” when Karen was in the car with Grotto (he only didn’t shoot because Daredevil interrupted him), it’s hard to imagine he could have prevented her (or anyone else on that street) being hurt in the resulting accident.

The danger for the Punisher in this police-created scenario is less that he might be killed in the shootout, and more that he is unlikely to get out of the situation without becoming a cop-killer and losing his self-defined moral high ground. I wonder if that possibility was factored into the DA’s plan?

Just as it looks like the episode might resolve itself without Matt Murdock’s Daredevil at all, he abandons his sick day to beat down on his new nemesis—while the police shoot at them both from a distance. It’s a good fight scene, but it becomes rapidly evident to the Punisher as well as the viewers that Daredevil does not have his full faculties. He loses his hearing again, at least once, and his blindness becomes pretty obvious. Also, his helmet has a big crack in it.

Will the Punisher be a gentleman about this, or take advantage of Matt’s concussion and disability to end him once and for all? Where does Daredevil stand in relation to the Punisher’s somewhat wobbly moral line of ‘criminal’ or ‘innocent’?

When the dust clears, both vigilantes are missing, and there’s a large streak of blood on the concrete.

Seriously, if Karen doesn’t figure out from Foggy’s reaction to this that he is deeply invested in the well-being of Daredevil, then she really isn’t paying attention…

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Guys. Tell Karen already. She has your back. But she needs more information.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a Marvel Comics tragic, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. You can hear her novelette “Fake Geek Girl” at the Sheep Might Fly podcast, and she writes comics reviews on her own blog. You can find TansyRR on Twitter and Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, and listen to her on Galactic Suburbia or the Verity! Doctor Who podcast.

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