Daredevil’s strongest aspect isn’t its brutal, well choreographed combat. It’s not the quippy and fun dialogue of the supporting cast. It’s sure as heck not the lead protagonist. It’s the villain… Wilson Fisk, more of an anti-villain than a villain, a hero of his own story. Today, his story gets explored fully, and we learn what makes him tick.
Episode Title: Shadows in the Glass
Original Airdate: 4/10/2015
Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as Fisk is simply excellent, and the character itself is spectacularly well written. He’s brutal and violent, but like the best villains, he also makes some valid points and is heroic in his own right. He’s seen the unpleasantness of the city first hand, and is willing to dive in and work to make it a better place… even if his methods are just as brutal as the brutality he’s fighting.
It boils down in part to his father, who we see in flashbacks. He’s a standard towering figure of toxic masculinity, charming but harsh, mock-supportive but ultimately domineering. He requires triumphant vindication at all times and cannot allow anyone to question his righteousness… not enemies, not family, nobody. And while Fisk uses his methods as an adult, he also recognizes the cruelty of it all and tries very hard not to be the monster his father was. The contrast between them and the story of how one influenced the other is mesmerizing…
…which means it’s a bit of a shame that Matt’s storyline just isn’t as captivating. He has very little to do in this episode, which is fine, but also he’s saddled with the daylight-hours investigative subplot with Karen, Foggy, and Ben. On the bright side, bringing Matt into that plot means it might actually start GOING somewhere as they share information and uncover new links… but we’re eight episodes in and only now are the courtroom efforts towards Fisk’s inevitable takedown actually starting to accelerate. Hopefully it’ll liven up after multiple episodes of pointless flailing around at a mystery we solved ages ago.
This is actually an ongoing problem in most good-vs-evil flavored works recently. Writers are good at lavishing attention onto antagonists, but tend to give protagonists the short end of the stick. Basic assumption is that the audience will cheer for the good guys because hey, good guys, the ones with the marketable action figures… but you can’t lazily rely on that assumption. Unless Daredevil gets the same detail work that Fisk does, he’s going to be in a bad spot when the season wraps up Fisk’s storyline and moves on.
Daredevil has some work to do to make the hero catch up to the villain in terms of sheer story depth. The supporting cast also has some work to do to catch up. But at its brightest (and thus darkest) moments, the series has been absolutely brilliant. Moving into the second half of the season, we’ll have to see if they can pull both competitors up to the finish line at the same time.