WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS VIOLENT IMAGES AS WELL AS MINOR SPOILERS
“Guilty as Sin” and “Seven Minutes In Heaven” see the “calm” before the storm disappear as they set up some plot threads that are going to become extremely important to Hell’s Kitchen. Fittingly it ends with the end of an era, namely Elektra’s pointed need for fighting dates with Matt Murdock.
“Guilty as Sin” picks up right where “Semper Fedelis” left off, literally seconds after the final declaration of “Has it it hit bottom?” from Elektra. While some critics might make that into a joke, it becomes a powerful metaphor for the lives of all the characters. Guilty as Sin brings the sins to light as each character one after the other hits bottom and it starts with those closest to it – namely Elektra.
Elektra and Matt do battle before Elektra is wounded – seemingly mortally – by a group of mysterious ninjas in New York City. What ninjas are doing in New York is anyone’s guess and how so many of them are able to move and use bows and arrows is also anyone’s guess. (Ironically this question was semi-answered in the Psychology of Marvel panel at Wondercon in Los Angeles this past weekend. It could easily be attributed, according to writers, to the fact that the Avengers destroying New York turned Hell’s kitchen from the Urban Gentrification of the modern era into the grim-and-gritty ’70s noir powerhouse we know today.)
Matt has more pressing concerns on his mind as the ninjas are defeated and he and Elektra are saved – by his mentor Stick who returns to stab them both and work his magic on Elektra who he declares is poisoned and that no hospital can help her. When he reveals he knows elektra’ Matt’s world is turned upside down. There are wheels within wheels here, none of them good.
STORY TIME WITH MATT’S MENTOR STICK AND FOGGY NELSON
It gets worse with Foggy and Karen invoke Clancy Brown as Frank Castle’s commanding officer. Clancy Brown who’s played quite a few villains in TV series and films, but here he plays a hero and describes a touching story about the lengths that Frank will go to protect those that he is entrusted to do so. Frank is painted as the ideal soldier. When Brown is revealed as the man that Frank saved, the commanding officer who nearly got him killed, Reyes gets a well deserved dose of “Screw You.” It’s beautiful.
Let’s take a moment to talk about bottom and what it means in the case of Hell’s Kitchen. If you consider – perhaps – that the Avengers were what destroyed the common relaxing Hell’s Kitchen that many New Yorkers know today, if their actions and the harm of an alien invasion that could almost have been called by them, then it could almost be assumed that hitting bottom is becoming like them – less people trying to live their occasionally terrible lives and more heroes battling villains.
That’s where “The War” comes in, apparently what Stick trained Matt, and perhaps Elektra for. Like Jeph Leob explaining the Netflix slate of Marvel’s future, Stick outlines what seems to be the plot of the Defenders, and while we’re all here for the idea of Matt, Frank, Elektra, Luke, Jessica, Trish, and the rest of the defenders battling ninjas, I do what to point out that this over reliance on the Hand seems a little problematic. It personally hit me halfway through that for all of it’s artistic vision (and Daredevil and the Netflix shows have been beyond amazing. My personal feelings aside about any other Marvel TV, Netflix has consistently delivered on strong storytelling. I’m a little skeptical of the potential for a war of ninjas. If it’s just the defenders versus ninjas I feel like it would lose a lot of impact for me.
Remember my earlier thread about Roxxon? Yeah. That’s basically what I’m truly hoping for. Roxxon backed ninjas? References to the great Zodiac wheel? Perhaps a HYDRA cameo looking off into the distance as Roxxon gets their butts handed to them with a casually scoffed “amateurs.” Let’s make that happen.
(Then let’s have heroes and villains team up to fight Thanos.)
IN WHICH MARVEL CHANNELS SOME LAW AND ORDER
The horrific realization that Elektra works for Stick, a man who abandoned Matt is Matt’s bottom. Frank and his defense team’s bottom seems to come out of the trial which is going poorly. Foggy’s doing his best but Frank, confronted with the medical reality of what he has become seems to see it almost as a grim sort of open. My one nitpick is that the skull that so chillingly predicts Frank’s future is a little like a literal prediction of Frank’s future and less like an actual X-Ray.
There’s a reasonable explanation for Frank Castle’s point of view that feels like an explanation that Frank both needs and doesn’t need. In the comics, Frank is just an angry man who murders bad guys because Batman, Superman, and not many other heroes on both sides of the proverbial senate of fan culture don’t and aren’t supposed to. Frank’s for every fan who’s been upset and pissed off about how their day went and needed a little vicarious violence that doesn’t extoll them to be a better man. On the other, you have to remember that ours is now a culture where such things are common place, and perhaps where the mental and physical issues of those involved are ignored. Daredevil thankfully doesn’t take a stance on this. It invites the viewers to make up their own mind as we all should.
It’s makes even more of an impact when the victims of Frank Castle who have been left behind speak out and Frank questions if he’s a monster himself. From a personal standpoint? The reason I love this series is that it educates. It offers both sides of the opinions, from the medical to the personal, from the reality to the spiritual. For me it does what art is supposed to do which is offer a product and encourage you to make decisions based on said product. There’s no bias here – or at least there attempts to be none in regards to the sensitive issue of Frank Castle. Viewers can love him or hate him, and writers and actors themselves encourage people to think very carefully about those feelings.
I want to draw attention to the cinematography again, particularly in the above photo. Whenever each character goes up against insurmountable odds they’re short from a downward angle up – and it’s true here too. The characters are hitting their bottom in Guilty as Sin, dragged down and affected by those around them.
Foggy’s sin seems to be a lack of faith in himself and an almost literal “trust” in the devil that is Matt Murdock. The Biblical implications of this are staggering, but this ain’t the Bible it’s a gosh darn arms race. Everybody needs a weapon.
Which is what Matt seems to need as he confesses to Elektra that he missed their lives of angst and nefarious dealings. Gone is his affection for Karen Page, if Elektra’s plan to create a partner is what she was going for she seemingly has it in Matt. Matt is determined to blame Stick for all of their collective sins and Stick seems willing to rise to the occasion as he reveals Elektra and Matt to Karen with a soldier’s bluntness. In a brief hilarious moment Matt Murdock becomes Bella Swan – torn between two people with two opposing sides and viewpoints – and two very different sets of abilities.
THE DILEMMA: THE GOOD GIRL OR THE BAD ONE?
It’s the classic Batman dilemma. Who’s better for Batman? Catwoman who understands his proclivities? Or Vicki Vale who offers him a taste of the normal life that he seems to want everyone else but himself to live?
As Frank’s trial wraps up there’s an analogy that seems fitting that they bring up in the beginning. In episode 4, Frank rescues a fighting dog from the Irish gangs. He adopts it, nurses it back to health, and saves it. When it’s about to be tortured he goes through hell trying to protect it. There are some things that need that protection. Frank has – seemingly – asked himself if he’s the dog or the master. He’s decided to be the master.
“I know what I did and I know what I am, I did it because I liked it I did it because I loved it.” My hat goes off to Jon Bernthal once again for a masterclass in acting. In interviews prior to the premiere he talked about the responsibility of this character and he delivered and then some. For many people the Punisher represents an iconic character who can give them hope – not because he’s a monster but because he’s a man who manages to live by a moral code in unbelievable hellish conditions. War is hell, and for many military members and even police officers the Punisher is a man who manages to keep himself in the face of unimaginable adversity. Mr. Bernthal promised respect and delivered.
He delivered on the emotional aspect as well portraying a character similar in some ways to Jessica Jones who believes that she is a monster. No matter what morality lessons and throwbacks to the ancient Greek myths superheros offer us, there is something fundamentally broken about people who take the law into their own hands no matter what their reasons. If they do it wearing a costume so much the better.
THIS IS NOT A DISNEY STORY
Which takes us back to Elektra and Stick. Elektra declares that she can protect herself and Matt can save her. Stick declares that she needs to be protected and that she’s fundamentally broken. While giving us some intriguing hints, it makes you wonder. Elektra in the comics has a rich and varied history, but for a good chunk of Frank Miller’s run she was a femme fatale, a villainness until she was killed and returned to life. (remember kids, the only person who stays dead in the Marvel Universe is Uncle Ben and even then I just bet they’re waiting for the right story to return him to life.)
After a ninja attack in Matt’s home where Elektra slits the boy’s throat the reality of Matt’s situation becomes clear. As he faces an almost unholy baptism he realizes he’s in way over his head in regards to her, desperate to pull her out of the pit without knowing that she hit bottom long ago.
Meanwhile Frank, has admitted his sins and been reborn, through a similar baptism. Into what however is anyone’s guess as he’s wearing white into the lion’s den of prison where the guards seem almost…subservient? Less like police issue guards and more like palace guards?
As Frank is led into the exercise yard he’s led to the king of the castle – the real kingpin as it were. Let’s all welcome back with a terrified grin Vincent D’onofrio as Wilson Fisk. What a gamechanger and a note to end on!
SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN, OR IS IT SEVEN MINUTES IN SOMEWHERE ELSE?
As we kick off “Seven Minutes in Heaven” we see that Castle’s not the only one who becomes reborn in prison, as Fisk sheds his good man persona and accepts his villainy. White takes on a terrifying significance to the man who Matt Murdock put away. No longer can he pretend that he’s a hero who wants to save the city. It’s incredibly clear that Fisk has become a villain and the longer he spends in jail the more that villainy becomes apparent. It’s a beautiful statement in terms of life itself – everyone can be reborn and become who they are born to be. Cue the Circle of Life from Disney.
Again, Daredevil brilliantly asks you to consider both sides of the issue with Fisk as he did see himself as a hero and prison, no matter how you slice it in America needs in this humble reviewer’s opinion, an overhaul. People who see him inside see a white collar criminal and we’ve populated our prisons with people who are decidedly not white collar criminals. You could ask yourself if you have it in you to pity Fisk. He shortly destroys that pity, but prison is the poisonous ground that allows the flowers of his madness to fester.
One of the things that strikes this reporter personally about Fisk was his backstory, how this was a boy who’s father was a monster made by the system, a boy who made the right decision in trying to save his mother’s life. The moment that his mother however tells him that instead of revealing the man’s monstrosity to the police they’ll bury the body there was a stark realization that this kid never had the slightest chance. In less polite terms, I remember sitting back from my computer and muttering, “This guy is screwed.”
(I could go on about the sensitive nature of that particular subject but that’s something to be saved for a psychological panel. Thankfully Marvel managed to put out the first of many at Wondercon 2016 in Los Angeles this weekend. Stay tuned for our recap!)
Fisk wants out, but Fisk starts to see prison as his world and he operates as he would in the real world. Without delving into the psychological implications of prison on the human mind the Fisk parts of the story take on an almost Mean Girls aspect. Instead of Gretchen Wieners tearing down the social and moral nature of high school however we see that it does come full circle. Wilson Fisk is used to being the chief of the Plastics. He finds an ally in a former investment banker arrested for embezzlement. The two of them hatch a plan born half out of desperation half out of horror. They will rule this prison.
Or at least, Fisk will. To those who he befriends he can be a generous partner. That’s part of the terror of the man and the charm. How many of us know people who are kind to us but a terror to our enemies? That’s the great thing about the MCU. It’s all about where you stand on the matter.
Fisk’s powerplay gets him Frank Castle while Matt recovers from the knowledge that he’s just backed a murderess no matter what the circumstances. Elektra’s actions, appearance, personality, nothing about her can excuse the fact that in Matt’s eyes she murdered a child in cold blood. While justifiable or not, we’re seeing the fortunes of war play out on a smaller scale. Does she feel remorse for the taking of a life? We know Matt does, that is in part what distances him from her. Heroes feel a sense of remorse. From Jessica to Luke to Matt they regret taking lives, they almost regret their trauma and psychosis.
IN WHICH MATT MURDOCK TRIES TO COME TO HIS SENSES.
Matt asks about the boy and it becomes clear that Elektra paid the cleaners to remove the body. No matter what her whims and wishes this is a woman who clearly has another agenda and possibly not the best interests of others at heart. Is she as bad as Fisk? Does referring to the dead child as an “It” when Matt insists that he give his enemy the respect of calling him “He” give you an answer? Their villainy is not the same by far but Elektra is no Natasha Romanoff. She’s a beautiful addition, someone trying to climb her way out of the darkness that is so fundamentally a part of her.
Whereas on the other side of town Wilson Fisk is using his natural twisted sense of empathy to try and recruit Frank Castle to his cause. While I don’t think that sympathy is sincere I’d imagine that he’s drawing on his own sense of what would happen if – say – Vanessa were murdered. For all of his faults if Vanessa Fisk died I bet he’d burn the city to the ground to save her. He’s not a character that inspires a legion of fangirls desperate to save him but Wilson Fisk is probably more human then Loki in that.
If I had to take issue with anything in Daredevil and comic book film and television it’s the reliance on psychosis and it’s lack of treatment, or external influences without discussing the ramifications of them, painting mental health treatment in a negative light. Daredevil is popular, the MCU is popular. Encouraging a character to seek help would perhaps inspire those who watch it to face their own demons. Saying that Castle doesn’t belong in a mental institution is true – he does not – he knows exactly what he’s doing – but down the line I’d like to make a note that someone seeking psychological help in the MCU would be a fantastic beautifully written story line.
It’s just not Frank’s. Frank is well and Fisk decrying mental health is there to try and get him on his side. It’s a sign of Fisk’s insanity, or perhaps his desperation that he went to all that trouble, made Frank Castle a wanted man, so as to get him inside the prison to kill one person – the king of the prison plastics. “I’m offering you something no one else could.” Fisk becomes a general giving orders to Frank and Frank agrees to take it out of a degree of desperation. Frank has officially hit bottom and become the thing he swore to destroy – a criminal.
Meanwhile Matt proves his heroism and won’t drag anyone to his or Elektra’s level. When Foggy appears Matt tells him that he can’t change who he is and that he’s not intending to. He’s shoving away the support structure he needs in order to try and fight this mysterious war. A kind person would say he’s being gentle. A person fed up with Matt’s batman like posturing would say that he’s jumping the gun to the defenders a little too early for all of us.
If there’s one hero who hasn’t hit bottom yet and shines in this episode it’s Karen Page who discovers several links to the Castle case, proving that there is something more to the story then meets the eye. While she’s playing detective Matt is playing detective too and digging into Roxxon and their connection to the Hand. Matt finds an ally in the accountant from episode 6&7 who reveals that his son is being held hostage by Roxxon and the Hand, and Karen finds an ally in the editor of the newspaper that she had previously gone to for help in season one.
While detectives are at work crime goes unabated and Frank Castle follows the orders from his temporary general – Wilson Fisk in heading to the man who it is believed killed his family. The Kingpin of the New York Prison reveals a new name, the man who organized all of it, someone known as the black smith.
We jump to the medical examiner who tells Frank and Karen pointedly about John Doe. He wasn’t an innocent bystander or a criminal. John Doe was a cop, giving new meaning to all of the oppressive shots of Foggy and Karen versus a system that apparently has more fingers in pies then any of us could guess.
We learn the truth about the entire exchange finally when Frank corners the Kingpin. It was no massacre it was a sting, an undercover operation. The blacksmith was the man in charge. With all the pieces put together Frank learns that the system he’d swore to protect has betrayed him and fully in control of himself he moves to leave – only to discover that he’s also been betrayed by the criminal element. Locked in a cell block with all of the doors open, Castle is forced to kill his way out as every single man in there wants him dead.
It’s Frank Castle’s own Hallway scene from Season One. Like Matt he’s on his way to becoming a vigilante, but who honestly knows what side of that it will take? If you look for a moment that illustrates the birth of the punisher this is it. Surrounded by the bodies of criminals, baptized, much like Matt was in the last episode in blood.
Karen gets her own rebirth too, and it’s the strongest out of all of them. While others accept the dark she stands tall and moves to climb out of the midden heap and exist on her own two feet. Karen is the closest thing we’ll get to a real world hero, a real world heroic surrogate. She does no murder, she doesn’t have cool powers, but she trusts her instincts and rises above the baser desires that almost every character in the series seems to succumb to.
WE’VE ALL HIT BOTTOM METAPHORICALLY AND PHYSICALLY
Fisk, seemingly pleased with his own efforts while the world hits bottom around him has assumed command of the prison. Frank has unwittingly become Wilson Fisk’s own fighting dog with no one to bandage his wounds. The character must save himself. Fisk teaches the audience then that he has learned to luxuriate in violence. He orders Castle’s release after beating the crap out of him, seemingly thinking that he’s sent his own dog into the ring.
The petty politics of prison and the release of Frank Castle into the general population of a much bigger one (read, earth) take a side step to the stories of Matt Murdock. He discovers a room full of cages designed by the Hand for some nefarious purpose. Children in cages is a powerful image, one that signifies the horror seemingly to come.
Horror personified by Peter Shinkoda, aka Nobu, who emerges at the end of the episode with a mysterious coffin covered in ancient Japanese writing. Nobu died last season. What’s brought the man back? What will come of Castle’s release? The storm is here for Matt Murdock and his friends and it looks to come to an exciting, incredible conclusion.
Stay tuned for our reviews of 10-13 of Daredevil to see just where that conclusion leads!