Last night I finished watching the first season of Daredevil on Netflix. The show is quite remarkable, and this is a fantastic rendition of the character.
Daredevil is rated TV-MA, and it certainly earns this designation. The show deals with significant issues like drugs, human trafficking, and organized crime. It is violent, and fights have a brutal impact on both the protagonist and his adversaries. Language is “salty,” but not gratuitous.
Yet, despite the content, Daredevil is a grounded show. The violence may be brutal and the subject matter dark, but it never descends to the realm of cartoonish. It takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is the most “real” Marvel property yet. Daredevil is fragile in a way that the other MCU characters, even unpowered ones like Hawkeye and Black Widow, are not.
The main characters are well-rounded, and their motivations are both understandable and believable in the context of the story. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, in particular, is the most compelling performance I’ve seen in a TV show for a long time. Fisk is a villain you know is truly human. Actually “villain” might not even properly describe his role, as the character doesn’t see himself in that light. He is an antagonist, and certainly a psychopath, but he does what he does out of love. It’s a love which is often twisted, but it’s still recognizable. He values friendship, adores his only living relation1, and pursues a relationship with a woman with genuine respect and devotion. This profession, and actual presence, of love makes Fisk all the more frightening. Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock is equally compelling, but he looms less large in the storyline. Murdock is bright, compassionate, and values his friends. In fact, he seems ordinary compared to Fisk which gives the majority of his scenes less tension. Murdock’s character really shines when he is walking the line between his daytime and nighttime lives, the scenes in the Confessional are his high points.
The dynamic between protagonist and antagonist is the best I’ve ever seen in a TV show. Fisk wants to destroy the city because he loves it and wants to build it into something better. He says he takes no pleasure in violence, and you do get the sense this is true, though his willingness to use violence makes him all the more terrible. In contrast Murdock confesses to frequently enjoying violence. While he desires to save the city, he expresses the feeling he actually hates it. It is a role reversal both stunning and compelling.
The moral quandary explored in Daredevil, what lines can be crossed to bring down evil without becoming evil, is nicely explored throughout the story arc. Matt Murdock is a Roman Catholic with some level of conviction, this leads him to a significant internal struggle, even an aforementioned visit or two to Confession. These scenes are treated with gravitas, and the actor who plays Murdock’s priest does an amazing job portraying a world-weary believer. The counsel given to Murdock never feels contrived or pre-packaged, and possesses significant depth.
Daredevil is not “family fare,” nor does it pretend to be. It deals with darkness – emotional, physical, spiritual, and social – and does it well. I’d feel comfortable watching this story arc with my teenagers, as there’s some great launching points for discussion. I’m looking forward to season 2.
- I’m attempting to avoid spoilers. ↩