Daredevil + Punisher = Vigilante Bros

This post covers Daredevil Season 2: Episode 3 (“New York’s Finest”) and Episode 4 (“Penny and Dime”) and is extremely spoilery for those episodes. Find more Daredevil episode recaps here.

THE STORY SO FAR: Matt Murdock already had enough on his plate protecting the citizens of Hell’s Kitchen from run-of-the-mill bad guys when a gun-toting vigilante showed up, this one considerably more morally grey than Daredevil: the Punisher, who’s been systematically taking out the higher-ups of various organized crime rings. The Punisher got the drop on Murdock in their first fight, essentially giving him a concussion and messing with his super-senses. Round 2 didn’t go so well either…

 

Episode 3: New York’s Finest

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Our three heroes each spend the night in separate tense scenarios, with only one thing in common: no one’s getting any sleep. Karen lays into the DA over the treatment of Grotto; Foggy finds an old friend in the ER while searching for a wounded Matt, and as for Matt himself…

Oh, that’s what the publicity image with all those chains was referring to!

Matt wakes up on a rooftop, chained to a wall by the Punisher, who drinks a cup of tea at him and demands that they debate their differing philosophies on justice. The two of them spend most of this episode arguing as to whether the scum of the city deserve to be executed, or allowed the potential for redemption.

The Punisher (or as we are now allowed to call him, Frank, thanks to a charming interlude with an elderly Vietnam vet) enjoys the chance to tear into Daredevil for being soft. He teases him with nicknames, such as “Red” and “Doc” (because of Daredevil’s attempts to psychoanalyse him). He’s completely certain in his own moral choices, and will not be swayed by anything Matt has to say.

Matt, on the other hand, is all sway. He’s already afraid that he is, as the Punisher himself mocks him for, “only one bad day away from being me.” He clings to his accusations that the Punisher is crazy, damaged, just plain wrong, all of which could easily be (and have been) applied to Daredevil.

He still holds to his own determined conviction not to shoot, not to kill, and the Punisher wants to test him on that. He brings in Grotto (not aware of the extra irony that Matt’s day job is being this man’s defense attorney), lists his crimes, and puts a gun into Daredevil’s hand. There are three options here: Frank will kill Grotto, or Frank will convince Matt to kill Grotto, or Matt will kill Frank to stop him killing Grotto.

Frank is delighted with the situation he has set up, and it’s pretty obvious that at least part of him is hoping for death-by-Daredevil.

Matt takes option D, shooting his own chains and tackling Frank to the ground, but it turns out to be option A after all, because Grotto gets a bullet in the stomach.

Foggy, meanwhile, is searching the local ER for Matt, and finds nurse Claire AKA Night Nurse AKA Rosario Dawson is Perfect, last seen ditching a shift to help a comatose Luke Cage in Jessica Jones. We learn that Claire has been punished for this with eternal bad shifts ever since—and she’s not all that keen to help Foggy check the system for any sign of a bleeding Matt Murdock.

Or as they both keep referring to him: their mutual friend.

The ER is overrun with damaged gang members (not actually damaged by the Punisher, who doesn’t leave wounded, but from the escalations of their current street warfare, probably due to Punisher-related stress). Two thugs from rival gangs come face to face and almost tear the place down trying to kill each other, but Foggy lets his mouth run away with him and talks them both into letting their weapons go.

Hmm. Foggy gets so mad at Matt’s nighttime hobby, but this is the third time this season we’ve seen him do something almost suicidally crazy—he also blagged his way into a biker gang’s home base searching for information, and most recently ran into a hail of bullets after he saw Matt fall through the roof.

Does Foggy also have a problem with recklessness? Is this him acting out because he can’t control Matt’s terrible life choices? Keep your head down, Foggy!

Anyway, Claire is so impressed by his commitment to talking his way out of trouble that she does indeed consult the computers to check for Matt’s name in all nearby ERs, only to report that wherever he is, it’s not a hospital bed.

Karen goes into a righteous fury over District Attorney Samantha Reyes’s behaviour, and is worried that Reyes threatened to blame Nelson & Murdock for the disastrous results of the Catch Punisher operation. Being Karen, she fights back the best way she knows how—through rigorous research and paperwork.

She hunts down Assistant District Attorney Blake Tower in his office, and lists all the people who Reyes has mysteriously fired or forced to take the blame for stuff-ups throughout her career. None of which seems to be a surprise to Tower, but he is reluctantly convinced to help Karen protect herself by sharing the very substantial Punisher file.

Does anyone else suspect that Blake Tower is secretly writing Punisher fanfic in his spare time?

Karen spends the rest of the night absorbing everything she needs to know about the Punisher’s victims. Matt, you need to pay this woman overtime. Also, pay her.

Frank, still trying to push Matt into killing someone (and not aware just how many control issues are at play in this scenario), takes the opportunity of Grotto’s distractingly bloody death to shoot a rocket launcher at the nearby Dogs of Hell hangout, getting their attention.

Matt, stuck in a building with an angry mob of bikers coming to kill anyone they find, beats Frank unconscious, stashes his body in an elevator, and goes to kick some butt. I have a real problem with heroes who claim moral high ground for never killing, but have no qualms at repeatedly bashing people unconscious. Head trauma is no joke!

The final sequence, in which Matt indulges in a bloody and violent Sons of Anarchy crossover (not really, but wouldn’t that be awesome?) while making his way slowly down several stairwells, is beautifully choreographed and, like the infamous ‘corridor fight’ scene of Season 1, fools the eye into thinking it’s a single camera shot. The cuts are hidden behind the occasional body flip!

It’s worth noting that Matt Murdock never makes an appearance in this episode; he remains masked the entire time. When he asks why Frank did not unmask him, the Punisher replies “I don’t give a shit who you are.”

 

Episode 4: Penny and Dime

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You wouldn’t think that after the Punisher’s latest sweep, there were many members of organised crime left in Hell’s Kitchen. But there’s still enough Irishmen in town to hold a half decent wake for their fallen brothers—though none of them turn up to the very private service that Nelson and Murdock hold for poor old Grotto.

Matt at least admits to his favourite priest, Father Lantom, that he has a guilt problem. Father Lantom is singularly unhelpful, as he feels guilt can be a positive thing. All things in moderation, Father! Matt is snorting guilt like it’s a discount designer drug, and he definitely doesn’t know how to slow down.

At the better attended Irish funeral, we learn that one of their fallen boys has a very angry dad: enter Tony Curran (AKA Vincent Van Gogh from Doctor Who) as Finn, who has just flown in from the mother country to get some revenge.

As in Season 1, Daredevil is definitely not shy about using racial stereotypes for its interchangeable organised crime gangs.

Up until now, we’ve only seen the Punisher as an unstoppable force; this is the episode where we get to see all his squishy vulnerable parts. While Karen’s obsessive research leads her to explore the perfectly preserved suburban home of Frank Castle’s dead family, Frank himself is cornered by the Irish while sitting pensively at a local carousel.

He is overwhelmed, captured, chained up and tortured by Finn, who saves us the trouble of wondering whose side we should be on by threatening a dog that Frank quite likes. (Never mind using power tools on your fellow humans, but threatening an animal will turn an audience against you quick smart!)

Daredevil doesn’t even know about the dog, but he’s also decided that he’s now on Team Frank. He breaks into the gang’s stronghold just as the Punisher starts breaking himself out, and they meet in the middle with a gorgeous piece of fight choreography based around the premise that Daredevil is determined not to let Frank kill anyone on their way out, no matter how hard he tries.

He didn’t get there early enough to save Finn from being power drilled in the face, but you win some, you lose some.

Finally, our Vigilante Bros collapse in exhaustion at a nearby graveyard, for added atmosphere as Frank shares his tragic backstory.

We talk a lot about the action and violence of Daredevil when trying to convince other people to watch it, but as a show its greatest creative strength comes in the quiet scenes, and time that is provided to allow the actors to do their best work with some very good personal speeches. Jon Bernthal is devastating as Frank Castle, narrating the last day he spent with his family alive, when he returned home from military service, and how he reacted to the death of his daughter.

It’s wrenching stuff, to the point that I was pretty sure we were going to see Matt himself sobbing helplessly at any moment.

Crucially, because this isn’t actually the Punisher’s show (though this episode appears to have mixed feelings about that), we don’t hear all the details of his family’s death. We don’t need to. This is a story about loss, not logic, and if we only get this slice of the inner life of Frank Castle, it would be enough.

Sgt Brett Mahoney (Royce Johnson) also gets some great material to work with, on a smaller scale—after turning up in the occasional brief scene during Season 1 to humanise the minority of non-corrupt cops in Hell’s Kitchen and provide a few punchlines about Foggy’s relationship with his mother, Brett has become the voice for the police who are struggling to bring order to a community that has lost faith in them. They’re not only trying to restore their reputation after the previous corruption was exposed, but having to justify themselves as a viable alternative to the glorified vigilantes such as Daredevil and even Punisher.

Here, with Frank Castle bleeding and broken and unable to make a run for it, Matt makes a choice to give Brett the credit for the collar. Daredevil can still do his job with bad press surrounding him; the police of Hell’s Kitchen cannot.

It’s a thoughtful compromise that won’t make the moral questions raised by the Punisher (and Karen, and Foggy, and Brett) go away, but it’s definitely one of the better choices we’ve seen Matt make lately.

I’m assuming this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Punisher in this season of Daredevil, but it’s a good moment to stop and breathe between episodes. If you’re mainlining it in true Netflix style, take the time to rehydrate and order some food!

There’s a sweet epilogue to the episode, with Matt and Karen and Foggy back in Josie’s bar, their spiritual home. There’s a weight off Matt’s shoulders for once, and Karen’s quiet flirtation is stepping up just enough for him to consider doing something about it.

More to the point, Foggy totally ships them! I didn’t see that coming at all, given that last season presented a fairly equal push-pull-I-like-you-too vibe between all three characters, and only last episode, Foggy was nostalgically musing that he thought Claire and Matt would have been a good match.

To be honest, I was expecting at least a little spark of jealousy. Good for you, Foggy, wanting everyone to be happy!

So Karen walks Matt to his door in the rain and they kiss and it’s adorable and he’s classy enough to ask her to dinner the next night, and she goes off in a taxi… and for a moment, going up to his apartment alone, yes, we see what happy Matt Murdock looks like—relaxed and hopeful and life not sucking for him.

The whole time we were watching this, my partner and I were muttering ‘oh noooooo’ because we know a trap when we see one. It was almost a relief when a knife was flung at his head and it turns out that there’s an international assassin on his couch.

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You guys, it’s Elektra!

AND

Matt knows who she is.

I’m pretty excited about this development, because we get so overwhelmed with origin stories in superhero narratives, it’s quite nice to come in with some of the story already established, and characters who have a history with each other.

Having said that, I assume we have to brace ourselves for flashbacks next episode.

Flashbacks and angst.

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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