Daredevil is the first of Marvel's shows coming to Netflix, and the entire season went live in the wee hours of this morning.
We'll ultimately be discussing this first season in three-episode chunks, but for today, we thought taking a look at the first episode would be a good way to get things started.
Luckily, the show itself starts quickly. Origin stories can be interminable, but we get most of it out of the way in the first few minutes. Matt Murdock saves an old man during what looks like a car accident, suffering chemical burns in his eyes that blind him but give him as-yet-undefined super powers. We see him in his all-black Daredevil gear soon afterward, kicking butt and saving women from what looks like the second season of The Wire.
There is nothing special in the action scenes in terms of direction or acting yet, which is kind of a bummer. This is a much grimmer world than what we're used to from Marvel properties, and life is pretty cheap in Hell's Kitchen. In fact, the closing montage seems to suggest that the limited amount of vigilante work we see in the episode may have made things worse.
Things are being escalated, and people are losing their lives. Daredevil himself also takes a heavy beating during each of his somewhat extended fight scenes, which suggests that he's not that good at the whole crime-fighting thing quite yet.
Susana: Oh yeah, the novice vigilante who gets the snot beaten out of him is a trope I'm fond of.
While mainstream superhero comics have been doing this for years, superhero film hasn't really reached the point yet where the settings are so established that their basic tenets — such as "taking the law into your own hands is an effective method of reducing crime" — can be called into question. I'm not sure if Daredevil is going to really examine that, or just briefly lampshade it, but I'm very curious to find out.
There are no jokes when it comes to finding an apartment in New York
I loved that ending montage, and the extent to which it took away the hero's victory. Ending the very first episode of a show by drilling down on all the ways that Daredevil's actions have been not just ineffective, but a direct cause of more innocent people getting hurt, is a bold move.
Agents of SHIELD promised that it was going to focus on realistic stories about the little people of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in practice its first season was much more about technologically advanced super-spies with no governmental oversight making people disappear. Daredevil is not playing around.
Ben: Phil talks in his rundown of the Daredevil comics about how the character is a study of opposites, and we see both sides of him during the first episode. He's a lawyer who wants to help people by day, and a guy in a black mask beating the shit out of people with his bare hands by night.
This isn't Thor throwing a hammer that bloodlessly hits people; this is street-level crime where characters are stabbed, choked and shot. They die ugly, brutal deaths.
Which makes sense: This is what happens when a city is all but leveled and the big-name superheroes move on. You don't see Captain America out there helping people rebuild.
Daredevil is the more violent hero in the trenches trying to make things better, but he's so clearly outclassed by the Kingpin's resources that the first episode ends on such a down note. The fact they use the Avengers as a jumping-off point is very cool, but is the tone right?
New York was almost leveled during the Chitauri invasion. I'm not sure joking about property values is the right way to address it. Susana, you live in New York; what would the property values be like after an alien invasion?
Susana: There are no jokes when it comes to finding an apartment in New York.
New York City's real estate value over time has been a huge influence on Daredevil. Marvel and DC's gritty "city gone bad" comics, with noir settings rife with graft, poverty and organized crime, seem farcical. The Manhattan of the '80s, however, was not far off those marks. And as far as city-wide disasters go, the actual Hell's Kitchen's fire station, which specializes in skyscraper fires, lost more firefighters than any other in the city during the September 11th attacks.
This show has got some serious violence in it
Considering that Ground Zero is still mostly a gaping hole in the ground today, it's not difficult for this New Yorker to imagine that Hell's Kitchen's tenements might have a hard time turning things around. Though the episode is vague, I imagine a Chitauri Leviathan could do a lot of damage falling out of the sky, and it's a quick flight from the canonical location of Stark Tower to the neighborhood.
I'll only add one more thing that I'm not sure is appreciated by non-New Yorkers. After years of seeing penniless television characters living in palatial New York apartments, I really appreciated that the show took a moment to explain how Matt Murdock can afford his.
I was less of a fan of how the show used its main character's blindness as an excuse to show some sideboob. I agree that Karen is fairly well damseled in our inaugural episode, and while that definitely improves for her later on in the season, my internal jury is still out on the show's use of the endangered woman to enhance the heroism or emotional punch of Daredevil's actions (a major theme of some of the character's most iconic stories). At least until I can watch the rest of it.
Ben: It doesn't help that the episode ends with, "Oh, you helped me; I'll be your secretary!"
Susana: To be fair, she does need a job!
Ben: But we also don't know how that character is going to change and evolve, or if that's it for her story arc. This first episode is a bit basic when it comes to setting up the world of Daredevil, but it does what it needs to do: It's tied firmly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has a hero who doesn't quite understand what he's getting into, and the few hints about the Kingpin do a great job of making the character feel scary and capable.
There's also plenty of room for the character to grow and get better. I mean, do we even know what his powers are, outside of "can fight good" and "heartbeat = lie detector"?
Susana: I actually really appreciated the first episode's refusal to spend much time on exposition. Comics aren't as popular as they used to be, but we're living in a media environment where everybody's seen at least four Batman movies.
The idea of a dark-clad man who takes the law into his own fists is well established, and I like that where every other superhero introduction has to start with an origin story, Daredevil doesn't feel the need to hold the viewer's hand. A Netflix series seems like the perfect medium for such a thing as well: If the viewer wants to know more, they just press play. Nobody has to wait a week for the next episode.
But before everybody finishes reading this and dives in for more of the series, I feel like we should leave a warning: Daredevil's not for kids. Don't be fooled by how it's tied into The Avengers; this show has got some serious violence in it, shading occasionally into the gruesome. It's still on the PG-13 scale, but closer to The Dark Knight than Jurassic Park, if you know what I mean. Definitely a case where moving the violence out of the shot makes it somehow worse.
Ben: So after the first episode, what's the verdict? Are we watching more? Personally, my plan is to binge over the weekend, even if I am annoyed that Netflix basically stole the opening visuals of Hannibal.
Susana: Oh, I'm absolutely hungry for more. Since this is just about the first episode, I won't mention them specifically, but there are some yet-to-be-introduced characters that I'm fascinated by. I can't wait to see where the rest of the season takes them. We'll be back next week discussing where the show goes.