"Semper Fidelis” is the seventh episode of this sophomore season, and its centerpiece is the Trial of Frank Castle. Also, Matt Murdock is losing control over his life, as his nighttime crusade as the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’ threatens the most important case of his legal career and his relationships with Foggy and Karen.
Elektra continues to recruit Matt to help with her crusade against the group she believes to be the Yakuza. They track down the man who encrypted the notebook they took from Roxxon. Their findings lead them to a stunning discovery in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen.
Meanwhile, Foggy takes command of Castle’s legal case, but the defendant refuses to play along with the preferred defense strategy.
"Semper Fidelis," the title of this episode, means always faithful.
It’s the motto of the U.S.. Marine Corps. It applies to Frank Castle, a Marine in this iteration of the character. But it also refers to Matt Murdock, a man of devout faith who finds himself at a personal crossroads.
His pursuit of justice as the vigilante Daredevil has always been at odds with his work as an attorney. But thanks to the reappearance of his ex-girlfriend Elektra and her inescapable hold over him, Matt is slowly seeing his grasp on the precarious balance of his dual life slip away.
The trouble begins when he shows up late, after another late night of ninja fisticuffs with Elektra, to court on the first day of the Trial of the Century. His absence forces Foggy to ad lib an opening statement. After a rough start, he provides a compelling argument to the jury about why there is more to the Punisher than just a pile of dead bodies.
After Matt finally makes it to the courtroom, Foggy chews him out for arriving late. Karen says a key witness could be the medical examiner who falsified the records of Castle and his family. Matt, eager to make it up to his friends, says he will handle the cross-examination.
They need a pocketful of miracles to win this case, because Castle put his defense behind the 8-ball right from the start by refusing to endorse an insanity-by-way-of-PTSD defense strategy. Castle says doing so is an insult to the soldiers who really suffer from PTSD. While it seems like he’s committing legal suicide, you have to admire Castle’s principled stand. Karen certainly does.
During a dinner date/strategy session, she and Matt debate the justness of the Punisher’s actions. Matt strongly denounces his methods, saying that Castle belongs behind bars. Karen is much more sympathetic – perhaps because she knows firsthand what it’s like to kill someone who possibly deserved it. Their conversation quickly gets heated, and you can tell that both are talking as much about themselves and their internal conflicts, as they are about Frank Castle. Matt suggests they call it a night, but it feels like their burgeoning romance has hit a real roadblock.
After Karen leaves, we learn Elektra has been in his apartment for quite some time. After a few snide remarks, Matt jumps all over her and he makes a few grand statements about how important his life as Matt Murdock, Attorney at Law, is to him. How much Karen means to him. But it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself as much as Ms. Natchios.
The next day, Matt actually makes it to court on time. Foggy and Matt are aiming for a mistrial by proving the DA’s corruption, but their plan is shot to hell when the medical examiner admits on the stand he doctored the reports. He tells the judge that a woman wearing a mask threatened him the previous night to tell the truth about what he did. Because of that, the judge orders the jury to disregard his entire testimony.
Later, Matt reveals to Foggy that it was Elektra who must have threatened the M.E.. Foggy excoriates Matt for undermining a case that he pushed for the firm to take in the first place. Matt tries to defend himself, saying he’s working with Elektra to try and track down the Yakuza. Foggy doesn’t want to hear any of it, and it’s hard not to side with him. He’s been carrying Nelson & Murdock like a backpack for quite some time, and by now, he’s tired of hearing Matt’s excuses.
“Stop acting like things just happen to you!” Foggy shouts. He orders Matt to stay away from the case, and Matt is left to wonder if their friendship can ever come back from this.
It’s interactions like these that echo the best story arcs from the Daredevil comics. We get true insight into complicated characters who are incredibly realistic, even though they occupy a universe where people dress in costumes to fight crime.
This episode in fact, may have the series’ strongest writing to date. Thanks to writers Luke Kalteux, Whit Anderson and Sneha Koorse, the most intense moments in this episode didn’t involve a single punch, kick or baton. There is one particular scene in which Matt and Elektra compare scars and share war stories, two lost warriors, bonding over wounds. It’s oddly touching.
But by the end of the episode, a raging Daredevil nearly throttles Elektra for interfering with his court case. As usual, she hits the mark with a carefully placed zinger.
“I’m only following your rules. If you don’t get what you want by day, take it by force at night,” she tells him. He can’t really argue the point, because that basic hypocrisy is at the core of Matt’s identity crisis.
The character examination in this episode is so compelling, it’s almost an afterthought what they discover at the end. The Yakuza (or who Matt and Elektra believe is the Yakuza) is building a massive hole at a Hell’s Kitchen construction site once owned by Wilson Fisk. For what purpose, we don’t know...yet.
For a show that prides itself on its sharp writing, some of the story turns sometimes seem lazy.
First of all, the Castle trial was treated as a sidebar element when it could and should have been the main event. When you have someone as watchable as Jon Bernthal on the cast list, you need to find more use for him than two glorified cameos.
Also, the Castle trial date was set in ridiculously rapid fashion. I can forgive that for the sake of the timeline of a 13-episode TV season.
But what’s impossible to not roll your eyes at is Nelson & Murdock aiming to get Castle life in prison, with a chance at parole. It doesn’t matter if the 37 people he’s accused of killing are all criminals. There is no possible way a NYC DA, even a corrupt one like Reyes, would cut a deal like that. Remember, Frank Castle exists in a reality not unlike our ‘real world.’ Sure, they had ‘the incident’ and there are people with powers around. But at the beginning of the episode, prospective jurors referenced real-life NYC vigilante figures like the Son of Sam and Bernie Goetz. If you’re going to exist in that kind of world, then you need to be mindful of the realities of the legal system of said world.
For once, I was less than floored by the action sequences. Both times DD and Elektra squared off against ninja goons, the editing seemed a beat or two slow. Some of the fights came across as much more choreographed than usual. Also, the Yakuza (or The Hand) really needs to give its guys some time at the range. These guys make Stormtroopers seem like Scout Snipers. They missed at point-blank range several times -- with automatic weapons!
The Comic Book Corner:
Not many direct callbacks to the comics that I noticed, except for one. Frank Castle’s indictment features the number 1986. That’s the year “The Punisher: Limited Series” debuted and turned the up-till-then frequent guest star into a solo comics star.
Oh, and the massive hole in that construction site should very familiar to fans who read the 2010 “Shadowland” storyline that featured a very dark version of Daredevil.
This was a much more interesting episode than it had any right to be, considering that the main event, the Castle trial, was kind of a flop.
But the character moments were so strong that it made up for the plot inconsistencies. The most interesting story going on now isn’t this this shadowy conspiracy Daredevil and Elektra are trying to figure out. It’s the internal battle going on inside Matt Murdock.
Does he want to be the attorney who fights for those ignored and underserved by society, or does he want to take the law into his own hands as Daredevil? Matt’s life is a mess right now as he struggles to find the answer. He’s alienated his best friend, botched his blooming relationship with Karen … oh, and with Elektra around, things won’t get much easier.
For anyone who thinks this show is only as good as its slugfests, this episode provides ample proof that its characters are the real stars.