“Up next in the ring, Stick vs. Elektra. Place your bets! Morally questionable human vs morally questionable human, who will you choose?”
This why I love Daredevil. It has the Game of Thrones complex: I don’t know who I’m supposed to hate. I don’t know what actions I’m supposed to like. I don’t know who to root for. All I know is that at the start of Daredevil, Season 2 Episode 12 is that I don’t necessarily want Stick dead…but I want Elektra to win.
See the dilemma?
At the start of “Dark at the End of the Tunnel”, we find Elektra and Stick facing off – each fully committed to killing the other. And I’ll be perfectly honest, Stick’s put our characters through enough hell that I’m really just ready to be done with him. Then we got those gosh darn flashbacks, those distressing, crucial, powerful flashbacks, that seem to suggest a level of love and protection for Elektra from Stick that we’ve not seen from any other human than Matt. Once again, I am conflicted. I’m tired of Stick sticking his nose into everything and mucking up our characters’ possible happy ending but I cannot in good conscience justify Elektra ending him after the protection and training he offered her as a child. Except he did just try to kill her at the end of the last episode, so at this point, I was just waiting for Matt to show up and save me from having to pick a side.
He does. Of course. Right in the nick of time.
Of course, he doesn’t notice the ninjas he led straight to them.
Ninja fighting ensues, Stick is captured by The Hand, and Matt and Elektra both vow to find Stick – but for two different reasons. One wants him dead, the other intends to save him. You can guess who wants what.
Desperate to find Stick before his certainly gruesome demise, Matt visits the Law Offices of Nelson and Murdock one last time to do a little research on the underground subway system (doesn’t your law firm keep old braille subway maps in the eventuality that a secret organization kidnaps your blind sensei? No? Hm. You should get on that.). Given the rather absurd nature of his return to the office, it is no surprise when Foggy shows up and the two of them have a genuine heart-to-heart about the future of Nelson and Murdock. While their meeting is contrived, the poignant conversation between Matt and Foggy was both poignant and heart-wrenching, a gut punch in the Nelson Murdock feels. It’s a devastating reality when Foggy expresses his hope Matt will talk him out of leaving but is also relieved that he didn’t. It’s also a devastating to see just how far Matt has pushed away everyone in his “day” life. Their gentle resignation and mutual acknowledgement of a friendship far beyond the point of no return is a rubicon moment between them where we realize that there’s more sand in the Daredevil side of the hourglass than the Matt Murdock side. Even if we reach a world where Daredevil is no longer needed, there will never again be Nelson and Murdock. It’s an amicable departure, but a devastating one none-the-less. They will never stop caring for each other, and the two of them will never exit each other’s life completely, but Matt has entered a tunnel where a light like Foggy’s cannot shine. Perhaps one day, we’ll see Matt turn that hourglass, but for now, he’s all Daredevil.
From the office, Daredevil is off to to save the day as he pummels his way to Stick. In a refreshing take on the fight sequences (which never seem to get old, but have lost some of their unpredictability), Stick whispers in Daredevil’s ears, encouraging him to listen for the breathing of the ninjas instead of their heartbeats. It’s a great trick in the fight itself, as well as in the directing of the episode, adding a much needed flair to the ninja fight sequence.
It’s here that the real drama begins. Daredevil saves the day just in the nick of time, rescuing Stick…just in time for Elektra to pop in to kill him. Who should arrive shortly after? The seemingly immortal Nobu who harbors an astounding truth – Elektra is the Black Sky.
And you know what? I bought it. I really did. I bought the big reveal. I bought the “it” and the identity of the “who”. I bought the reality behind the Hand’s search. Maybe it stems from my frustration regarding the enigmatic and ambiguous nature of the Hand and my previous genuine lack of interest in literally everything involving them. Their “war” wasn’t my war, their “Black Sky” nothing more than a weird, impossible nod to the Monolith or Zero Matter. The revelation that the source of my – and Daredevil’s – indifference was a person I’d grown to enjoy exploring over the course of the season was a blessed relief. It added weight to the revelation and, for the first time since the revelation of the war, I cared about the battle of the Hand and the destruction it was wreaking on Hell’s Kitchen.
What I didn’t buy was the “why”. What exactly makes Elektra so special? Her uncontrollable blood lust and her inherent, ingrained darkness is supposed to be the key to making her one of the most powerful forces on Earth. But here’s the thing: why is Elektra’s ability to kill so unusual in this sort of a world? In a universe of Black Widows, psychopathic demi-gods, and Hydra, why is the revelation that a young girl of 12 can kill a man without a second thought so overwhelmingly exceptional? Am I supposed to be impressed? Is there a bigger picture that we have yet to see?
I bought the revelation because I want to, and because the truth of the Black Sky changes the stakes for our protagonist, but ultimately, there’d better be a damn good reason coming up about why Elektra’s so special.
Not that it really makes a difference at this point. I’m invested. I want to protect her. I want Matthew to protect her. I want her to find the answers she’s looking for which are, incidentally, probably the same ones I am. I want her to stick around a long, long time (though, realistically, I know we’re likely on the road to her demise). That is what this sort of a revelation is meant to do – and something Daredevil has always been very good at. Even the characters we don’t want to like, even those that conflict us morally, we, the audience, want to protect. Tow it along with her decision to rescue Stick instead of killing him and we have a bonafide redemption story. One again, I bought it,. Thank you flashbacks.
As far as the other big reveal of the episode? That one I didn’t buy at all. Really? Castle’s old commander is the Blacksmith? Sure, we’ll go with that. Let’s just make the man who I literally have no interest or investment in at all the big bad baddie of Frank Castle’s life. Not the best development, in my opinion.
The ensuing moments between Frank and Karen, however, may just have been worth it. Because Karen is me. She is us. Karen is me rooting for Elektra despite what she’s done. Karen is me having faith in redemption. And Karen is me worried that there are lines that cannot be uncrossed. Seeing Karen beg for Frank to reconsider killing Schoonover by literally invoking the names of his dead children is heartbreaking.
Frank’s is the redemption story that doesn’t go as planned; his is the parallel to Elektra’s. Perhaps Elecktra’s fortunate because from the source of her anger also stems from the source of great love. Perhaps, despite everything, redemption has always been possible for her. Sure, Stick put her through hell, but ultimately, through him, she found home and hope. Through him, she found Matthew. Frank Castle is not so fortunate. He has lost everything. For him, redemption has never been an option, despite Karen’s hope. While Frank almost seems to hold more humanity on many levels than Elektra, Karen is unable to reach that humanity in the way that Matt is able to reach Elektra’s. Matt and Elektra wade in the darkness together; Elektra knows and acknowledges this. While Karen may have the right to share some of that darkness with Frank, he has never felt that connection with her. She is a light in his dark world – a reminder of everything he can never be. Maybe it’s that that pushes him over the end. Maybe only by accepting the darkness can Frank live beyond it. There’s darkness at the end of the tunnel, but Frank has learned to thrive in that darkness. The light may never be there, but he doesn’t need it to survive.
Elektra, too, may never see the light – but with Matthew at her side, perhaps the darkness doesn’t have to consumer her. As we’ve seen in every waking moment of Matthew Murdock’s life, that darkness doesn’t have to swallow them. Will Frank allow his humanity to pull him from the darkness? I doubt it. But perhaps now that his revenge story is done, he can allow the darkness to shed light in the same way it does for Elektra. I just don’t know if we’ll see it before the end of the series.
It’s a fascinating, golden character parallel and one of my favorite concepts of the whole series, solifidying this episode as one of my favorites of all time. All that was missing was Claire.
Although…if we think about it, I suppose Claire is Matt’s Karen.
Bonus points if you can figure that one out.
- Karen should just literally carry a panic button. At least she has Punisher. But did he have to slam his car into hers? I mean COMMON the girl has enough to go through without insurance claims from a driver that is quite literally presumed dead.
- Also…why did Karen need a therapeutic blanket at the boat?
- Extra bonus points for the flashbacks in this episode. Especially that moment in the Ambassador’s house. Thanks for making my decision to hate you harder, STICK! All this moral ambiguity is giving me a headache. But like…a caffeine headache. You know, one that is only solved by feeding the addiction. GIVE ME MORE.
- Poor Karen. It’d be nice if no one lied to her ever again, please. (Except…I think we can argue that Frank has never lied about who he is…so yeah?)
What were your thoughts on the revelations in this episode? Comment below!