Airtime: Friday, March 18th on Netflix
Episode: Season 2, Episode 09-13 (S02E09-13)
Tweetable Takeaway: .@Daredevil finally tackles the vulnerability of a superpowered world Tweet
I was trying to figure out what on earth I could talk about for the last five episodes of DAREDEVIL since I covered so much of my love affair with this show already. These five rightly conclude the various arcs of the season so everything that tickled me to this point is still here. What I landed on was praising all my ladies and talking a bit about how well this fits into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because, oh man, it finally does and it makes me grin just thinking about it.
It would be redundant to go on another rave about why I adore Frank Castle but everything fabulous about him continues through the end of the series. Frank’s time in prison, guys. Y’all gonna have to call the Coast Guard to save me from this storm. Anyway, since I finally have the space, I’ll talk about Karen. Last season when Karen wouldn’t let things go it was personal. She had a stake in whether Fisk and co. were brought down. This time, her dogged determination to get to the truth is much more a demonstration of her character. Karen’s sense of justice is just as strong as Matt’s but she’s also far more willing to bend the established rules. Karen is capable of empathizing with other points of view where Matt just holds people to his strict code and that’s that. Karen is compassionate but not a pushover. She’s actually murdered people and yet she’s still a deeply sympathetic character. She’s such a good researcher she does more work on the Castle case than even Matt. Karen is single-handedly responsible for basically everything about Frank’s case, from Nelson and Murdock taking it to finding out the details about his family’s death. She is the driver. I also love the hints at bad things in her past that we keep getting. You don’t have to know what happened to see how it affects her and how she struggles with atonement. By the end of this arc I was also completely into the feelings Karen seemed to have for Frank because it was less crush and more obstinate refusal to label him a monster when she had evidence of his humanity. The combination of Karen and Frank, together and separate, is what finally sold me on this show about fifty times over.
If you want to sit here for hours I could rant and ramble about how much I adore the sci-fi underpinning of the MCU. (If you do actually want to, I wrote a bit about this during the Agents of SHIELD hiatus.) The Hand, the Chaste, zombie ninjas, Black Sky—this is some straight up mystical magic fluff. The implication is that there’s some sort of weird chemistry component which I’d be way down for. I will gladly accept “magic” if it’s a disease or an alien or quantum physics. Just frame it properly and I’m good. Since it’s not that important right now and since the season was solid on every single other front, I give it a pass. In the words of Thor “your ancestors called it magic and you call it science. Well, I come from a place where they’re one and the same thing.” In the words of someone I love infinitely more:
I know actual magic exists in Marvel comics but yeah, no. They’re gonna have to shift that just a little bit or it will unravel the fabric of this entire universe. I trust they will, but it feels a little bit like they’re poking me to see if they can goad me into snarling. Doctor Strange should be interesting on that front too.
There are three things I knew about Elektra before this: she wears lots of red, she uses those sai thingies, and she dies. That’s fairly typical of a comic book lady from like pre-2000s. If you want your brain to hurt, wiki-dive literally any comic character but particularly any of the women. (Suggest you start in the deep end with Quake, whose MCU version is a massive improvement.) Elektra is even on the original Women In Refrigerators list. Yes we all agree that female characters getting killed off explicitly to manipulate male protagonists’ emotions is tired, and lame, and offensive. But that cannot mean that women should be bulletproof. They have to be just as vulnerable as the male characters but by the same token they have to be just as well-developed.
The problem is Elektra almost had to die in this. If not from the beginning, it was clearly going to happen after the Hell’s Kitchen-bound protagonist said he would run away with her into the sunset. So how to do it without pouring on the manpain? The key word and my new favorite thing to hammer into oblivion: agency. You can have ladies do anything and everything they want as long as they are the ones in control of their fate. Not narrative whim. Not another character’s emotions. Their actions and decisions must stem from themselves. Elektra spends a good ten minutes beasting against zombie ninjas before she takes a sai to the chest not in a deliberate, passive self-sacrifice but while actively defending Matt. It neither undermines her fighting prowess nor casts her as a martyr on the altar of masculinity. Just her collaboration with Matt is itself a redemptive act, rejecting the role of monster being forced on her by others with Matt telling her that “no one gets to tell you what you are.” In fact, she rejects power and glory by saving Stick and teaming up with Matt. And all of it is framed as Elektra’s explicit reclaiming of her own identity. Elektra is a self-contained entity independent of her relationship with Matt, and as such her decision to fight by his side rather than be a demon god plays as redeeming even though we haven’t known her that long. Anyway, the Hand plopped her in the demon jar of sci-fi blood so we’re cool here. She wouldn’t even be the first resurrection in this universe.
Bear with me for a minute while I take you through one of my favorite things. This will actually require many rewatches, some real world research, and a little math to figure out properly but technically this season of Daredevil appears to take place from late summer through Christmas of 2015. The strange thing is it also seems to only take like four weeks at most to go from Punisher massacring gangs to the ninja showdown. I’ll get back to you! Also, (and tangential, yes), if you take the Agents of SHIELD season 2 finale air date (which may or may not be an accurate time scale, I haven’t charted that yet) and add all the hours Simmons was missing then that puts the start of the third season in late November. So the back quarter-ish of this season of Daredevil would overlap with the entire first half of Agents of SHIELD’s third season. Figuring out where and when everything fits together is the pet project I use to occupy my manic brain. Please pardon me.
The following is a random collection of things I absolutely adored but that didn’t really fit anywhere else in my reviews. I loved that Fisk played into this season, manipulating everything in his prison microcosm. He’s not just a forgotten adversary but is very much still operating outside of the sphere of our story. I am absolutely tickled that Foggy is going to work with Hogarth from Jessica Jones because it makes the MCU’s NYC law firm ecosystem feel coherent. (I don’t think I’ve ever ranted at you guys here about cult television and cultish storytelling but it’s all about providing fragments that suggest a much larger whole. The MCU is killer at this especially in its television series. Again, if you’d like more, I’ve gone into this elsewhere.) Claire is rock solid in this entire season. Rather than being tied up in kissing Matt Murdock she is in total control of her emergency room, refuses to compromise her professional ethics for political purposes, and tries to smack some sense into Matt’s thick skull. I loved just how annoyed she got with him when he was guilting himself over “not doing more” and insisting he needed to isolate himself. Her speech about how stupid it is for him to withdraw from everything he’s trying to protect was spot on what this show is really about: how to keep your humanity even as you proclaim yourself a hero above the law. Claire, like Fisk and Hogarth, wasn’t as much at the forefront of the story this time, but her continued presence in the background doing her own thing helped solidify the illusion of the universe.
One last thing before I leave you: the whole voiceover of Karen’s piece on heroism is essentially the thesis statement of Marvel’s Netflix series. When you are confronted with superheros in your universe there is nothing that will make you feel more insignificant. If extraterrestrial armies are wreaking havoc on Earth, being a normal human is suddenly the most powerless thing in the universe. The scale of terror and trauma is so galactic that everyday people become irrelevant. The entire function of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, etc. is to examine how regular people would even deal with living in a world like that. Sure Jessica and Matt have powers, but they also live tiny lives. They’re not SHIELD agents or billionaires with metal suits. They’re a PI and a lawyer. They’re friends with junkies and bartenders. Karen’s piece reinstills the heroism of mundane everyday surviving in a world where being mundane casts you as collateral damage. That was always the point of this exercise, and it’s perfectly articulated in that monologue. “You must be a hero. We all are.”