Originality in story structure is hard to come by these days, most especially in the superhero genre. Origin stories have been done over and over again, to the point that, for most beloved comic book characters, they become unbearably superfluous. Even when it comes to Daredevil’s story, we’ve seen it before: a boxer’s son is in an accident where chemical waste gets into his eyes. In the absence of his sight, his other senses kick up and he gets a radar sense. Then his dad is killed because of the politics behind boxing, and he vows justice Batman style.
Where Netflix’s Daredevil has succeeded, however, it has done so largely by breaking from superhero genre tropes. That’s what it did with the origin story. Instead of telling the tale of Daredevil’s origin in a traditional, linear fashion, it’s woven throughout.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in “Stick”: Daredevil’s old master (whom we never saw in the 2003 film) comes back to solicit his help. In a blend of terrific action sequences and nostalgic flashbacks, the episode establishes quite well the relationship between Matt and Stick. Perhaps the most impressive thing in the episode is how well it does this in such little time. Part of that is that the gruff and violent old master is played brilliantly by Scott Glenn. But it’s also just a matter of the character itself – he stands out.
We’re used to wise and restrained teachers, even if their methods are harsh and cruel. Take Ra’s al Ghul as an example: as played by Liam Neeson in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Ra’s is a vindictive and cruel man, but he’s also a man who speaks of justice, who speaks of vengeance in a way that seems wise. Stick is none of those things. He uses crass language. He insults his student constantly. And he never, ever wants you to think he’s a hero, or anything virtuous for that matter.
That’s what the episode has going for it. The character development between these two is stellar, and Glenn sells the character in a way that is relatively rare for a one episode appearance. He forms the darker side of Murdock’s philosophy that is constantly competing with the Christian ethic he derives from his faith. It makes the episode particularly relevant to Matt’s overall character development, and helps us understand him better, and makes his conflict far more real.
But aside from the fantastic interaction between Charlie Cox and Scott Glenn, the episode is one of the more predictable ones in the series. While Stick is an extremely unorthodox mentor, and one whose influence is particularly bad for our masked vigilante, the plot of the episode as a whole is a really familiar one. A guy from the protagonist’s past shows up, asks for his help in one last hurrah, and by helping said guy out, the protagonist is unwillingly or unwittingly drawn into something that conflicts with his new moral code. That story structure has been used in media as wide and diverse as Chuck, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and even The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s such a cliche, in fact, that there’s even an AMC blog post treating it as a subgenre.
To be fair, we also have Karen and Ben’s investigation carrying over from the last episode. That doesn’t follow such an established cliche, but that doesn’t necessarily add to the episode. The investigation is a key part of the story, but like happens so many times in comic-based shows, the separate stories are more separate stories than subplots of the same story, and the audience’s attention is divided as a result. This isn’t as blaringly obvious a problem as it is in the disastrous third season of Arrow, but it doesn’t add much to the show either.
None of this is to say that this is an off-day for the show. It’s still much better than most of what’s on TV, and the episode is incredibly entertaining, not to mention some pretty great quotes; it’s well-written in that regard. But it’s certainly filled with more cliches than most of the episodes in the series, and ends up being a bit weaker than it otherwise could have been, particularly in showing the other side of Matt’s moral dilemmas.