daredevil: devil won

Five Cool Things about Daredevil

1. Being a superhero is morally ambiguous.
2. Bad things that happen to the characters don't just go away.
3. Blindness is portrayed in a thoughtful way.
4. There are no sidekicks, just competent supporting characters who get their own storylines.
5. Gentrification is the ultimate enemy.

1. Being a superhero is morally ambiguous.
In episode one of Daredevil, Matt disrupts a human trafficking ring and exonerates a woman falsely accused of murder. These are both unquestionably good achievements, and they set Matt up to be a classic superhero. But by episode two, things are already more complicated. Matt wants to rescue a boy kidnapped by human traffickers, which is obviously an admirable goal. But if you're not a police officer and you don't have Sherlock-style investigative skills, how do you find a kidnapping victim in a city as big as New York? By torturing a member of the underworld, of course. And after all the relevant information has been extracted? You leave his broken, comatose body in a dumpster, of course. It's hard to unconditionally support Matt when you see him do these things, especially because the violence in the series is so graphic -- as it should be, in my opinion. You can watch movies like Iron Man or the Avengers and think that hand-to-hand combat is really awesome and cool. You can't think that after watching Daredevil. Violence in this series comes with spurting blood and crunching bones -- and with those things come questions about the kind of man who would be comfortable inflicting that kind of damage on others.

This moral ambiguity is heightened by the parallels between Matt and the big bad, Wilson Fisk. Both of them refer to New York as "their" city, and both profess a vague plan to make it a better place. Both view violence as a necessary tool to achieve their aims, and both suffered through childhood trauma. Fisk does terrible things, but he's also a sympathetic character. He's socially awkward, longs for approval, and has flashbacks to his violent childhood. When he finds a woman he loves, we root for things to work out between them. It's easy to forget that he's the kind of man who'll decapitatate another person with a car door. It's equally easy to forget that while Matt is torturing human traffickers and child molestors, Fisk is killing innocent people to get his way. But we're supposed to forget that difference; Fisk illustrates how dangerous it is for one man to believe a good ends can be pursued through corrupt means. By the end of the show, I wasn't rooting for Matt to destroy Fisk; I was crossing my fingers and hoping he could overcome his personal demons.

2. Bad stuff doesn't go away.
In a lot of shows, the characters endure extremely traumatizing events that disappear after an episode or two. In ths series, what happens to the characters in episode one still matters in episode thirteen. This is probably one advantage "binge watch" shows have over standard network television. Most network shows depend on being able to pull in new viewers with each episode, which means that every episode has to be comprehensible to someone who hasn't seen the rest of the series. For Netflix, this isn't the case: every new viewer starts with episode one, adn anyone who forgets something can just go back and rewatch whatever they need to see. That means there's no pointless exposition, and it also creates strong continuity between episodes. Karen's still traumatized by what happened to her in episode one, and her feelings of powerlessness fuel her determination to start her own investigation. When Elena Cardenas is murdered, the characters keep grieving for her through the end of the series. The lingering what-if at the end of season 1 is Karen's mental state, which is still suffering from something she had to do two or three episodes back. I think this emotional continuity is what makes the characters' interior worlds so compelling.

3. Blindness is portrayed in a thoughtful way.
Matt obviously possesses a lot of non-superhuman methods of navigating the world. He reads Braille, has a screen reader, and uses a refreshable Braille display and a talking alarm clock. When he walks through his church, he counts the pews; when he walks into his office, he checks the location of the doorframe with both hands. These are mostly peripheral details. The show doesn't make a big deal out of how Matt functions in his daily life, and I don't think it should. Matt's ability to navigate the world -- even without his super senses -- is unremarkable and unquestioned, just as it is for sighted characters.

The show really shines in depicting other characters' attitudes toward Matt's so-called disability. (Matt states uprfront that he doesn't think of blindness as a disability, so I'm not calling it one either.) Karen immediately wants to know if Matt was born blind, and she's obviously intrigued by his blindness. Her behavior mirrors the audience's interests: we want to know those things too. Yet, from Matt's perspective, you can see how everyone else's fascination with the mundane facts of his life might get old. The confrontation in Nelson v. Murdock is even more telling. Foggy, his best friend, admits to pitying Matt. Upon discovering Matt's secret identity, he even questions whether Matt is actually blind. Matt isn't disabled in the way Foggy thought he was, and the only conclusion he can reach is the whole "disability" is a lie. He also seems to have fallen for a very common misconception about blindness, that blind people "see" only blackness. Certainly Foggy has a lot of legitimate reasons to be angry with Matt, but his sense of betrayal is magnified by his misconceptions about blindness and disability. I think it's terribly important for the audience to see these misconceptions coming from the most sympathetic character on the show. If an antagonist has those misconceptions, it's easy for us to write them off as something that a "bad" person -- a person who is obviously different from us -- would think. When they come from Foggy, our everyman character, it's a lot harder for us to deny that we share some of those misconceptions too.

4. There are no sidekicks, just competent people who get their own cool stuff to do.
Matt is obviously the main character, while his best friend/business partner Foggy and legal secretary Karen play supporting roles. In a lot of shows, the best friend role provides good-natured comic relief and a bumbling foil to make the hero look good. Foggy does the former but not the latter. The writers don't just tell you that he's an Ivy League-educated attorney who was offered a job at a major firm; they show you what a good lawyer he is. And, even though he's not exactly buff, he still manages to take down some bad guys with a baseball bat -- and he doesn't seem overly panicked by the situation, so he comes off as a guy who would know how to handle himself in a fight.

In the first episode of the series, Karen is introduced as a classic damsel in distress. With Matt's help, she exposes the corrupt corporation that was out to get her and ends up working at Nelson & Murdock. In another show, Karen would have been relegated to supporting the boys; in this one, she launches her own investigation with the help of a journalist. Although Foggy eventually finds out, this storyline remains primarily Karen's. Then, when her investigation gets her kidnapped, she finds her own way out of the situation -- even though it comes at a heavy cost.

5. Gentrification is the ultimate enemy.
Evil kingpin Wilson Fisk has a plan to make "his" city a better place to live. That plan is to gain control of large city blocks and sell them to developers -- and sure, the city will look great, but working class people will be displaced from their rent-controlled apartments along the way. Nelson & Murdock's first paying clients is a tenant in one such building. After refusing a small payout to move, the residents are harassed, drug addicts move in, and utilities are cut off by a series of never-ending "repairs." This is based on a true story from Hell's Kitchen in the 1980s. I really like that the ideological enemy of this show is something that Hell's Kitchen faces specifically, that New York is facing as a whole, and that reflects America's broader issue with growing income inequality.
How do you cope with the violence and the gore and the torture though? I can rationalize it all I want for some greater purpose or for the sake of achieving psychological or ethical ambivalence - but I can't watch it. Too many reports of actual torture in my professional background, I guess, to want this in my entertainment space.
I just really, really like the ethical questions it makes me ponder, I guess. I feel more uncomfortable watching unrealistic violence than I do graphic violence. If we're going to include violence in our entertainment, I think we have a responsibility to make it look like violence really looks like -- which is not something that's fun or cool or free of consequences.
Haven't read all of it because I intend to watch the show at some point and I'd like to know the less posible, but what's out of the cut made me really intrigued. Definitely went up some spots on my to-watch list :)
It's really interesting and a little disquieting. The first couple episodes are a little slow, but once the main arc starts to unfold, it's riveting.
I still haven't gotten past the 4th episode - not because I don't love it (which I totally do), but because I really want to take my time with it. It's such an amazingly thoughtful show & I want to give it 100% of my attention. It's seriously one of the best comic book adaptations I've ever seen on any screen.
You are much more self-disciplined than I am! I devoured it over the course of a week, and now I'm rewatching. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you're finished.
Yes to all of these things. I really was blown away by the quality of the show. And added bonus, while it was violent as hell (necessarily I think with the source material), there were NO NOT EVEN A SINGLE ONE unnecessary sex/rape scenes. Which honestly, may be a first for me with Netflix, so I was rather thrilled about that. Not that I'm opposed to sex scenes in general, but Marco Polo lost me about 3 eps in after something like the 12 orgy scene... in 3 eps LOL.
That's a good point about the sex scenes. I'm with you - I don't mind them, but so often they exist for the sole purpose of objectifying women (Game of Thrones, for example). I also really liked that neither Karen nor Claire wear overtly sexy clothing. They're both beautiful, and Karen's clothes are exquisitely tailored, but there's no random cleavage. Marci is the only one who really shows off her body, and I think that fits her character.
I think 4 is a big part of why I really enjoy the show. I like how the side characters are fully realized with their own desires and motivations, and I especially like how it treats the ladies. I remember after the first episode kind of groaning when I saw Karen was working for them now. I thought 'great, now the damsel is the love interest and maybe there will be a triangle and probably she'll get kidnapped or otherwise put in peril'.

And some of that is /sort of/ true, but mostly we get a smart, capable woman (who sometimes makes dumb decisions) with her own motivations and thoughts and desires, and it's pretty great to watch.

I wish for a scene in which Daredevil's awesome ladies get to actually interact.
You're totally right about Karen's role. Yes, she works for them. Yes, Foggy likes her and she (sort of) likes Matt, but those story lines don't bother me when a female character has other things to do. When she got kidnapped, I was expecting that Foggy and Matt would overcome their disagreement to save her, so I was especially pleased that she rescued herself.

And yeah, I wish the women could interact more too. It takes fan fic to put Karen and Marci in the same room together, and even then, it's hard to get a Bechdel pass.
You are a lot more self-disciplined than me! I binge watched, and now I'm in the middle of a slower re-watch. The show is definitely nuanced enough to hold up to a second viewing!
Oooh-- thank you for this. Daredevil has been on my list to watch, but I haven't quite gotten to it yet. (I did by the way finally watch Brooklyn 99 because of your recommendations and loved it! Thank you!) Did you ever watch Arrow? I started that show but really struggled to get into it, because I didn't care for Oliver Queen at all. Too much of the savior complex-- he's the only one who can save "his" city and his judgment is superior to everyone else's. Granted, I only watched maybe 5 episodes, so perhaps it got better. But it made me leery of superhero shows for a bit. At least ones centered around one male lead.
I hope you like Daredevil! I wasn't sure how you would feel about the graphic violence, but I actually prefer seeing what violence actually looks like. You can't really watch Daredevil and feel that what he does is uncomplicated unheroism.

I haven't watched Arrow. The first episode didn't really grab me, and I'm like you - I'm not sure I need another white male superhero in my life. Daredevil obviously has one of those, but at least it also tackles issues of disability as well. The main character does do some of the things that bothered you in Arrow, like calling it "his" city and putting his judgment above other people's. The difference is, in Daredevil, those are considered problematic behaviors and the show devotes a lot of attention to exploring them.