Since the third season of Daredevil debuted earlier this month, fans and critics alike have been rejoicing in showrunner Erik Oleson’s vision for Matt Murdock’s world. From the nearly-11-minute, prison-set hallway fight scene to Bullseye’s origin story to the return of Wilson Fisk, the general consensus is that the latest chapter of the Hell’s Kitchen saga gets it right after a minor slump.
But there’s one aspect of the show that isn’t receiving as much as attention as it should, and one I didn’t anticipate loving so much: FBI Special Agent Ray Nadeem.
More than Daredevil, more than Karen Page, more than Foggy Nelson, Ray Nadeem, a new character played by actor Jay Ali, is the real hero of season three.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Daredevil season three.]
When we first meet Ray, he’s celebrating his son Sammy’s birthday at a family party. His wife Seema mentions that her credit cards have all been declined — turns out the Nadeems are in debt because his brother’s wife has cancer and their insurance stopped paying for treatments. Ray and Seema stepped up and helped cover their sister-in-law’s medical treatments.
Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of financial pressure they are now under, Ray asks for a promotion. He’s denied. Then he’s asked to visit Wilson Fisk in prison, who has proposed giving up vital information on the city’s biggest criminals. When Ray strikes a shady deal with Fisk in exchange for Vanessa’s safety, he becomes a celebrity of sorts within the FBI, as the one agent who’s able to earn Fisk’s trust. Ray finally earns that promotion, and his much sought-after pay raise. And at this point, Ray truly believes he’s doing the right thing, that by bending to Fisk’s wishes in the agreement, he’s saving lives in the process, making Hell’s Kitchen a safer place.
Of course, as we learn later in the season, Fisk infiltrated the FBI and manipulated several of its agents and leaders. This makes everything Ray has accomplished null and void. It was all part of Fisk’s plan to use the government agency not only get out of prison, but to weed out his criminal competition, from the very beginning. When Ray finds this out, he’s forced to do Fisk’s bidding as well, at the risk of his family’s safety. And though Ray does terrible things, and allows terrible things to happen under the guise of the FBI, we know he’s struggling with it, trying his best to undermine Fisk’s plans to keep his family safe. And by the end of the season, we learn that he does.
In episode 12, titled “One Last Shot,” there’s a scene in which Ray is on the phone with his son, Sammy, explaining to him why he’s in trouble, and that the bad things he might hear on the news, or from other people aren’t true.
“No, I didn’t do them,” he says. “But I didn’t stop them from happening, either. And that’s just as bad.” As Ray is talking, Matt Murdock is listening in from a distance, shaking his head, realizing that Ray isn’t a bad guy, he just made the choices he felt he needed to make to protect his family; just like Matt’s own father did for him when he was a kid.
Ray goes on to say, “I was trying to keep you and your mom safe. I don’t care what people say about me. All I care about is what you say about me. And that you get to live the life that you want.” At this moment, we realize that Ray is the key to Matt’s coming to terms with his own father’s death, and the impetus for forgiving his mother for abandoning him as a baby.
This season explores a lot of complex themes, such as good and evil, the loss of faith, and the concept of sacrificing the few for the good of the many. But perhaps the most important one, and the one that Ray embodies the most, is this: Sometimes, when it comes to the choices we make as parents, there is no black and white, there is no good and evil. There is only gray when it comes to the safety of our children.
Despite the choices he made, Ray Nadeem, like Matt Murdock, redeemed himself, once again finding his moral compass. But unlike Matt, he had more to lose. And eventually, he lost everything, including his life, taken with a single gunshot by Dex. The whole season, all Ray wanted to be was a hero to his son.
And in the end, he was the biggest hero of them all.
Charlie Moss is a freelance writer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Slate, Vice, Paste and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @chachimoss.