Daredevil S:01 E:02

The pilot episode won me over, but I’ve been won over before. Plenty of shows start out with intriguing hooks and then completely fail to pay off on it, decaying before our very eyes. Can Daredevil keep up momentum from one episode to another? Can they find new ways to tell stories and show comic book action? There’s a lot of reasons to fear Hollywood screwing up something good. But that’s not gonna stop the man without fear.

Episode Title: Cut Man
Original Airdate: 4/10/2015

No, Daredevil is not taking on the Robot Masters. The title refers to the guy who handles quickie first aid between rounds in a boxing match, just enough patch-up work to keep the fighters going. This ties neatly into the two parallel stories being told… of Matt Murdoc’s first major setback, and his father’s attempt to break free from taking dives during boxing matches.

Smartly, the present-day storyline is set up by the villains doing something quite clever; banking on Daredevil’s propensity for saving the weak and helpless by kidnapping a small boy and using him as bait for a trap. It’s a standard villain ploy, but to be using it immediately after the hero’s arrival on the scene shows how seriously they’re taking this new threat. This leaves poor Matt mauled and left out in a dumpster, where off-duty nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) finds him.

Rosario’s a welcome addition to the cast. She’s immediately suspicious of Daredevil, guarding her own secrets closely as he guards his. She participates in his latest nocturnal vigilante shenanigans, but with reservations. The two have no reason to fully trust each other, but are willing to take it on faith that they’re each in good hands. Seeing adult characters written as adults and not bickering children is a nice touch; Claire’s got plenty going on that we haven’t seen yet and doesn’t exist solely as a plot device to keep Matt patched up and fighting.

Major kudos have to be given to Foggy and Karen as well, for a minor subplot where Foggy treats Karen to a night on the town. At first I worried this was going to become some tiresome love triangle, with Foggy grumbling about being in the friend zone after his clumsy passes at Karen fail… but Foggy has more depth than that. Sure, he jokes about dating her, but the real reason he gets her out of the office is to dig in deep and understand Karen’s problems better. The two have great chemistry as friends and allies and it shines through, all while giving Karen an issue to deal with which is NOT simply “Do I love the male protagonist or not?” as is the case in so many standard Hollywood tales. Like Claire, there’s depth here worth exploring.

The ongoing theme of fear is quite fascinating. I always figured “The man with no fear!” plus the “Daredevil” name was all about, y’know, jumping off rooftops and doing circus-acty stuff. But the writers here have another interpretation: Standing against those who use fear as a weapon against you, to make you cower in submission. Daredevil refuses to be afraid of the criminals he fights, or to let their threats get to him. Even Foggy explains to Karen that he’s hopeful about his city and not afraid of its people; he’s not willing to hide in the dark and be paralyzed by fear. It’s a strong theme, and certainly better than the surface-level idea of a dude who’s totally an acrobat.

Finally… the last ten minutes of the episode are devoted to one of the greatest hand-to-hand fights I’ve seen in some time. No choppy editing. No shaky camera. Just one continuous shot, capturing the entire fight, without obvious tricks. I haven’t seen martial arts this good since Bruce Lee’s days, or that staircase brawl from The Protector. Too often in soft-violent PG-13 movies they rely on disorienting visuals to make a fight feel more brutal than it actually is… Daredevil is just effin’ brutal and is crafted by masters of stuntwork. Period.

The hard realism of Daredevil plus skilled writing and acting really put this head and shoulders above most comic book adaptation efforts I’ve seen to date. There’s still a chance of falling short of the finish line… but if they can keep this momentum going, I’m not afraid at all.

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