As one of the Marvel's first Netflix villains, Marvel's Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk has benefited from hours of screen time rather than just the 120-ish minutes allotted to his big-screen counterparts. This resulted in a more complex take on the iconic Kingpin than most of his villainous predecessors received, giving Matt Murdock a nemesis that felt worthy of him and helping bring about the rise of other emotionally complex villains, such as Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture and Black Panther’s Killmonger. Fisk was simultaneously sadistic and sweet, cultured and violent, and always, always compelling to watch.
This idea of the civilized villain is not a new one. The well-dressed crime boss who speaks softly and appreciates the finer things in life but is also an unrepentant, violent megalomanic is the basis for at least half the James Bond movies that exist. What is new about the way Daredevil presents Fisk, however, is that it reinvents this particular comic book villain as an almost desperately romantic figure. This Fisk is a monster, who murders and manipulates others with little remorse. Yet he is also someone who feels things openly and unashamedly, and whose primary drivers are emotional ones.
This shift not only humanizes Fisk to a rather incredible degree – fans will likely find themselves almost hoping for his happiness at various points – it also provides clear, understandable motivations for his darker actions. Daredevil Season 3 may do a terrible job explaining the technicalities behind Fisk’s return to power, but it doesn’t leave us wondering for a second about why he does what he does.
Wilson Fisk loves Vanessa Marianna. Everyone in Daredevil’s world knows this, from FBI agents to the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen himself. Probably random bodega dudes know what’s up. After all, Fisk’s become a man who answers innocuous questions from his guards with paeans about how love is the most glorious of prisons. (He’s probably great fun at parties.)
In short: The most dangerous person in Daredevil’s world is not-so-secretly a big mushball.
His feelings for Vanessa are the driving force behind Season 3. The deal that gets Fisk out of prison is to protect her from criminal prosecution; his plan to reclaim his criminal business happens because he wants an empire to rule over with her. Even his vendetta against Matt Murdock can be traced back to the fact that the lawyer threatened Vanessa in Season 2. As motivations go, it’s 100 percent believable.
Part of the reason for this is actor Vincent D’Onofrio, who commits to the idea of a lonely, broken crime lord with gusto. His Fisk is the sort of man who would move heaven and earth to make sure Vanessa’s omelet is satisfactory, let alone secure her safe return to the U.S. The other is that Daredevil put in the character work back in Season 1 to make this development feel natural. So much of the series’ first season focuses on Fisk’s anxiety and general awkwardness that it’s easy to believe that when he finally found someone who loved him back, that person would instantly become his entire universe.
Marvel's Daredevil is an old-school, masculine superhero property, where the bulk of the story is generally driven by someone’s desire to hit someone else. And that happens, a lot. Don’t get me wrong, the show doesn’t shy away from the fact that, despite possessing several oddly charming qualities, Fisk is a brutal, dangerous man. (See also: his bizarre penchant for murdering people in cars.)
So it’s interesting that Daredevil makes this season’s main narrative – Fisk’s attempt to get out of jail – almost solely about emotion and, specifically, about love. Sure, Fisk is chasing his freedom and working to re-establish his criminal network. But his primary motivation is always Vanessa, and the final culmination of a season’s worth of evil plotting turns out to be his own wedding. These are hardly the stories of supervillain legend, even if Fisk is more than capable of committing monstrous acts to achieve those ends.
Daredevil’s decision to double down on the romantic aspect of Fisk’s character is an interesting reversal of comic book tropes – as usually, it’s the hero who struggles to reunite with his girlfriend only to have her used as leverage against him when his secret comes out. But Fisk’s love for Vanessa doesn’t make him weaker, and she doesn’t ask him to change. His feelings actually make him smarter, more dangerous, and more self-aware. He’s a better villain with her around than without, and that makes Daredevil a better show than it would be otherwise.
The old saying goes that a good villain is nothing more than someone who sees themselves as the hero of their own story, and no MCU antagonist lives up to that description more than Wilson Fisk. He believes he can defeat his nemesis, get the girl, and live happily ever after. Thanks to the nuanced way Daredevil presents his character, viewers might find themselves accidentally hoping he’s right. (Take that, Thanos.)