Contributing Editors Tara Bennett and Mike Avila are doing detailed recaps of each of Daredevil Season 2's 13 episodes. Mike is the lifelong Daredevil aficionado and expert, while Tara is the television junkie. From those perspectives, we’ll publish our reviews every two days.
Episode 3, “New York’s Finest,” finds a closer examination of the somewhat thin line separating vigilante justice and cold-blooded murder.
The episode begins with a flashback/hallucination of some sort involving a young Matt Murdock, a gentle nun and all sorts of Catholic imagery. Back in the present day, Matt awakens to find himself chained on a rooftop in The Kitchen, captured by The Punisher. Instead of another battle royal, we get to see the two vigilantes spar verbally, each putting their own version of justice up for comparison.
Frank Castle puts Matt up to the ultimate test – does he believe in redemption enough to kill the man who doubts its existence?
Foggy and Karen, meanwhile, are trying to keep Nelson & Murdock from being the scapegoats for the botched sting operation; DA Reyes threatens to blame them for the whole thing going sideways. However, Karen learns about some skeletons in the district attorney’s closet that could help their case.
Foggy can’t locate Matt and turns to another person who knows about the "Devil of Hell’s Kitchen" for help. Oh, and we get another epic, single-take fight sequence.
Mike: Matt's hallucination was an impressive and striking way to begin the episode. I’m not quite sure what to make of that scene with a young Matt Murdock and the nun, but it was a well-orchestrated scene. The blood being wrung out of that towel seemed to point out that Matt, as Daredevil, has blood on his hands too, even if he thinks his style of vigilantism is the way to go.
Tara: As a lapsed Catholic with 13 years of Catholic schooling under my belt, I feel Matt's DNA-ingrained guilt and heavy thoughts. The opening certainly hit all my buttons with the dogma symbolism. Yes, it's a little heavy-handed but with this religion, that's the only way it rolls. More importantly, Matt's thoughts are important for us to understand, in that while Matt is externally confident in his calling, there's a place deep inside that knows his religious mentors would not approve.
Mike: How about the panic in Matt’s voice when he comes to and realizes he’s chained up on that roof? A few times on this show, Daredevil comes perilously close to being too much of a ‘superhero’ with his incredible fighting skills and stamina. Charlie Cox did a nice job reminding us that despite his heightened senses and ninja abilities, Matt Murdock is still just a man. And even a Man Without Fear can panic, even if it’s just for a moment.
Tara: Overall, I enjoyed the two-man play that was essentially the bulk of Matt and The Punisher on the roof. Jon Bernthal not giving Matt and his dime-store psychology an inch worked extremely well, showing that it's going to take a lot to impact this guy physically and mentally. Towards the end of their Tête à Tete, Matt seemed to be poking at some sore spots, but more importantly, the soldier's passionate counter to Matt's "moral" choices really made our "hero" have to think about his own actions. And it was incredibly interesting to ponder that Matt's "You're unhinged" argument was perhaps far too simplistic to have legs.
Mike: Jon Bernthal really sells it. I know I’ve talked him up a lot in our first two recaps, but this episode underscores why he was born to play this role. The rooftop exchange between these two is as tense and vicious as their first two fistfights.
The writing in this episode is simply outstanding. What I loved about it is that it’s not a one-sided debate. Both men score points for their point of view. The Punisher has always been the counter-point to Daredevil’s standard for caped crusading. He asks a perfectly acceptable question: What’s the point of beating up the bad guys and throwing them in jail, if they’re just going to be out again in a month?How much good does that really accomplish?
“I think you’re a half measure,” Castle says. “I think you’re a man who can’t finish the job. I think that you’re a coward.”
And then Castle measures him up for another verbal haymaker. “One thing you just can’t see. You’re just one bad day away from being me.”
In this heavyweight boxing match of warring philosophies, Daredevil staggers The Punisher by questioning his sanity. I’ve watched this episode three times already and I’m still finding nuances to geek out over. Whenever anyone asks me why Bernthal is the Punisher comic book fans have been waiting for, this is all the proof you need. This episode encapsulates what The Punisher is all about, and why his Yin is perfect for Daredevil’s Yang. And yes, I know that reads a little weird.
Tara: My other favorite sequence from this episode was seeing Claire and Foggy meet at the hospital and discuss their mutually concerning friend. Getting to see these two people, who clearly care a lot about Matt, share war stories about him and a joint exasperation and fear about his current evening predilections was necessary storytelling that hit all the right notes. Neither Foggy nor Claire have someone to vent to about Matt, outside of Matt, who is less than receptive to their warnings or requests for him to back the hell down. Rosario and Henson completely sold on their weary faces how much of a burden being Matt's friend is, and they now at the very least have another soul who understands their mutual stress. Plus, Foggy yet again kicked some verbal ass by talking down the live-wire gang members ready to murder one another in the E.R. Foggy is certainly living up to being the mouthy equal of Matt's fists as the season progresses. It certainly makes him a lot more vital to the storyline, and the dude that is actually being the practicing lawyer in their law firm.
Mike: I thought the characterization in this episode was just fantastic, too. Courtroom Foggy loquaciously schooling both thugs into not carving each other up is a great moment for Foggy, and Claire’s reaction at the end is perfect.
Karen, too, gets her big moment when she uncovers some not-so-nice details about how District Attorney Reyes covers up her mistakes. She quite cleverly gets ADA Tower to sneak her the Punisher case files by appealing to his own personal survival instincts. And considering how one-note DA Reyes is turning out to be, I like that Blake Tower shows some small signs of decency, here.
One last thing. I guess the single-take fight sequence is now officially ‘a thing’ for Daredevil. If so, I’m OK with that. Director Marc Jobst and DP Martin Ahlgren staged a very creative ballet of badassery for DD to dance through. The added touch of Matt really only having one free fist – due to having a handgun duct-taped to his right hand by The Punisher – made it even more creative.
Did I mention he was also swinging a chain? And walking down several flights of stairs?
I imagine next season’s Steadicam Special will have Daredevil taking down a battalion of bad guys getting on and off the subway train as they head from 42nd Street to the Hudson Yards station on 11th Avenue.
Tara: My biggest problem starts right from where you left off, Mike. Riffing on what you said earlier, I completely agree with your assessment that the writers are taking DD to the superhero realm way too much. For me, it's why the fight scenes to date, while technically impressive, are also of a length and intensity that seem better suited to the new Batman vs. Superman movie. And I don't mean that in a good way. Matt's a mortal dude! He's not Thor or even Luke Cage, to bring the comparison back to the streets. And Matt's also supposedly a slightly broken, blind guy now, yet he can perform that hallway/stairway fight with such precision and success, despite one hand taped and his supposed equilibrium and hearing injuries? I call shenanigans. Frankly, I'm not feeling any stakes to these fights. I'm seeing plenty of choreography and cool framing, but I don't for a second ever feel like the flurry of fists and counter-twists are anything but a visual ballet. When you load the open of the season with this blistering level of fight staging, where do you go with it? I'm already feeling fatigue. I also get a lot of the audience wants to see the comic pages leap onto the screen, but that doesn't make a realistic or well-paced TV narrative. I'd much rather have the early episodes cut back on the super-fighting and explore Matt's physical problems, have them make more of a tangible impact, and build back to the incredible fight sequences so it doesn't mentally make me check out, as I find myself doing at this point.
Mike: There’s not much fault I can find in this episode. One quibble: Matt’s passionate defense of all human life, even scumbag criminals, is quite profound. Except, it’s hard to take it very seriously when, a few minutes later, he’s wrapping a chain around the neck of one of the Dogs Of Hell and pulling him off a stairwell and down 10 feet onto the concrete. He didn’t kill him, but that damn sure is going to leave a mark.
It’s not just that scene. Throughout the series, Daredevil has handed down some incredible punishment on his opponents. The writers need to be careful to maintain some consistency – or maybe this is all part of examining Daredevil’s vigilante style?
Tara: I hope so, because I, too, was watching that mega-melee thinking, "How the hell is all this carnage any better than what The Punisher is unloading?" At least what The Punisher is dishing out is quick and to the point. Matt is ensuring all of his victims live perhaps forever shattered lives of paralysis or, at the least, are tied eto colostomy bags for life. Where's the heroism in that?
Mike: I was also glad to see Grotto go. As much as I thought he was misused the first two episodes – no one actually gave a damn or felt any sympathy for him, right? At least his finish served a purpose. When Castle tapes the gun to DD’s hand and tries to force him into going against his ‘no kill’ code, there was real tension there. I really had no idea what Matt would do, especially after hearing Grotto admit to killing that witness.
Also, as much as I liked her scene with ADA Tower, I had a hard time buying the moment early on in which Karen lambastes the Reyes over the botched sting. Would an NYC District Attorney really take that from any lawyer, let alone the receptionist at a tiny law practice? And Foggy looks gutless for not saying a word. It just seems to me that the writers really don’t have a firm grasp yet on who the character of Karen Page is right now. I like Deborah Ann Woll, so I hope they figure it out soon.
THE COMIC BOOK CORNER:
Mike: Not too many direct Easter eggs in this episode, but we got another nice ‘connect the dots’ moment, courtesy of Nurse Claire Temple. She’s talking about Luke Cage (and through association, Jessica Jones) when she mentions to Foggy that helping a big guy, “stronger than our friend,” got her bumped to the night shift. Claire is clearly the go-to girl in the MNU (Marvel Netflix Universe) for subtle story nods. Rosario Dawson kills every scene she’s in. I’m almost tempted to say it’s best to keep her as a ‘floater,’ who just moves from one Marvel series to another to steal scenes, but I think I need more of a Claire fix than that.
Oh, and the old man on the rooftop being a Vietnam Vet could be a tip of the cap to The Punisher’s original comic book origins. Frank Castle was originally a Vietnam veteran – and a Marine, like the old guy -- but to keep his relative age somewhat believable, he’s been ret-conned to having served more recent tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Tara: I obviously liked this one less than Mike, but it only lowered in my estimation based on the last act fight-a-rama. For me, the show excels when it dives into the character moments, and the rooftop conversation earned my attention. Weirdly, I'm feeling the absence of a central procedural element to this season right now. A case, or cases, outside of The Punisher would create some diversity to the storytelling that I'm missing right now.
Mike: This is the standout episode of the season thus far, and one of the single strongest hours in Marvel TV history. All you need to know about how good this episode is, is that I almost forgot to talk about the 3-minute + single-shot fight scene that climaxed the episode. That’s how good the morality play between The Punisher and Daredevil on the roof was. Great credit to writer Mark Verheiden for an intelligent teleplay about crime, punishment and how justice somehow fits in between.
The clues that Karen is uncovering about Frank Castle’s past are intriguing, and look to reveal more about his anti-crime campaign. He hinted at it while talking to Daredevil and the case files seem to indicate he’s not just blindly taking out bad guys. Why is he targeting his victims? And what’s with the bullet hole in that skull on the x-ray?
So far, it seems Frank Castle is the big story arc. But is it just about his quest for vengeance? Is there another thread involving The Punisher that is going to be revealed? I’m parked on the couch ready to find out!
What did you think of “New York’s Finest"? Was it the best of the run so far, or too many fists?