Review by Logan
Righteousness. Evil. Justice. Corruption. These are polarities, the very sort of ideas that fuel men of passion like Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk. They also fuel men like Ben Urich, whose quest to unveil the truth about Wilson Fisk is given a substantial increase in screen time in the twelfth episode of Daredevil. But for all the show’s development on questions of morality, the thing that left most an impression on me this time around was how these polarities relate to the show’s dark tone.
An element of Daredevil that I haven’t explored much since my first review or two is the graphic nature of the show’s violence. I’ve avoided talking about it since then because, to be quite honest, the show’s other themes – how to distinguish righteous rage from wrathful vengeance, seeing a vigilante through a Theistic lens – all of those things are more important than how much blood splatters in front of the camera. But in this episode, I’m reminded of how relevant that aspect of the show is here, and not just for its contribution to the show’s dark tone. Instead, I believe that the way Daredevil does violence, especially from the perspective of cinematography is intentionally jarring.
I don’t mean that it’s violent just for shock value. But something was abundantly clear to me as I was watching “The Ones We Leave Behind” – throughout the course of the season, the show has shifted away from a bloody crime show and more toward a dark-toned drama. It’s a show about people, and the last few episodes have exhibited a tight focus on the people of the story. Screen time is taken away from the man in the mask to explore Matt’s friendship with Foggy, Wilson’s relationship with Vanessa, and the radical commitment to truth and justice that unites Karen and Ben. So we’re left feeling for Matt and Foggy, wishing they would reconcile–
And that’s when heads start getting bashed in.
The violence of the show is jarring because it is placed so that it takes you off guard–that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it’s not meant to be stylized, romanticized, or glorified. It’s dark, it’s gruesome, and it makes your stomach churn that much more when Wilson Fisk gives a speech about doing what’s best for the city. In a very real sense, the blunt and unadulterated bloodiness of Daredevil gives us a more honest and straightforward look at what sin really looks like. We want the sanitized version where we don’t see anyone really die and we don’t really see that much blood and we can say, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” but really, it was.
Which takes me back to how this all relates to the show’s villain – Wilson Fisk. Fisk makes a speech late in this episode that, despite myself, I almost find compassion for. “But you brought my mother into this,” he says angrily. “My mother!” We know some things about The Kingpin that would tend to make us sympathetic. He had a childhood more horrible than most of us can imagine, and in a way, his vision for the city is just an extreme version of an “end justifies the means” approach. Add on to that the fact that his enemies have harassed his mentally unstable mother, and, well, we can have some compassion for him. But not enough to justify his actions. And yet, as he stands there, shouting and justifying what he’s about to do, I have to wonder.
Is that what I sound like?
Then, on the other hand, there’s the passion of Ben Urich, whose drive for the truth leads him to push past any and all barriers. There’s Karen, who hardly cares anymore if she even dies, just so long as the truth gets out and the city is saved. The courage of these two characters, in this episode alone, rivals that of our masked hero. It’s very telling that while Fisk wears body armor behind armed guards, these men and woman constantly stick their necks out with no safety net. I wish I was more like them.
One of the most significant things about this episode, however, is that Vanessa wakes up. The first time I watched Daredevil I was critical of the show spending so much time on Wilson and Vanessa’s relationship. I found it irritating and distracting, because I was really more interested in Matt. But watching this again, I find Wilson Fisk, a blood-thirsty villain who also happens to be a loving man and a devoted son, a very intriguing and disturbing character. The disconnect between the care for his loved ones and his disdain for the lives of everyone else is amazing – and yet so is our disconnect in our own lives.
Granted, these are not lessons that are automatically gained for every viewer. They may not even be lessons that are necessarily intended by the original writers. But the fact that the show can conjure such questions of morality is, to me, a testament to its value as a drama, and why it feels more like a serious story worth your time and less like a turn-your-brain-off comic adaptation.