I love Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, both as fun, pulpy superhero shows and as often transcendent action-packed dramas; I feel the same way about a number of other comic book stories on TV as well. What Netflix and Marvel are doing together, however, is some of the best television in years and the fact that it takes place in a comics-inspired universe just makes it that much better. “New York’s Finest” is the strongest episode yet of Season 2 and I was ready to award it top marks even before we got to that final fight.
Though not a full-fledged bottle episode as we cut to various characters and locations throughout the night, it still had that feel with both Matt and Frank, and Foggy and Claire, mostly locked into a central location where their respective conflicts unfold. For our hero and villain, this continues their arc as they examine what makes them similar and different in their missions and methodologies. Matt may have balked at the comparison last episode when Karen submitted it to him, and he certainly tries to deny the resemblance as he struggles against his chains on the rooftop, but it’s becoming harder to deny. The writers really get into the meat of this season’s central themes: that while many cheer Daredevil’s vigilante antics, it’s also pissed off a lot of people. But what’s worse for Matt and the city, is that it’s also inspired people to take justice into their own hands and not all who heed the call share his moral code.
While we’re ultimately going to view the Punisher’s actions as extreme and horrific, the shades of gray he presents make him a compelling villain (or more correctly, anti-hero). He’s not seeking recognition or revenge (well, that bit is questionable), he’s simply attempting to do the same thing Matt is, only he has a more permanent solution to the criminal problem in the city. Unlike Daredevil, he’s subverting justice and becoming judge, jury, and a quite literal executioner as he decides who lives and dies. And while he claims it’s only the guilty that he’ll pull the trigger on, he comes awfully close to killing a fellow Marine tonight just so his plan isn’t interrupted. It’s in those moments that we realize Matt is right when he says Frank is unhinged. It’s not that there isn’t a certain logic to his philosophy, it’s that he’s removed himself so much from humanity that he can’t truly weigh the consequences of his actions. That’s what makes Matt, for all his self-flaggelation and second-guessing, the hero. His conviction to following the righteous path and giving everyone a choice is not an easy one to have. He struggles with it every day. But what’s right is never easy, and while Frank tries to make the case that he too struggles with his choices, it’s clear that to him (and people like him both in the show and real world), pulling a trigger is hardly a taxing decision. It gets to the bottom of a very real issue in America, that it’s become all too simple to channel your feelings through the barrel of a gun thanks to how far removed the twitch of a finger is to the destruction of someone’s life. Bernthal recently said in an interview that he hopes his role will make people rethink the role of guns in our society, and just as Jessica Jones shone a spotlight on the topic of rape and the abuse of women, it looks as if this season of Daredevil will heavily deal with the ramifications of violence, guns, and vigilante justice in our society.
This all comes to a head as Frank tries to teach Matt a lesson, strapping a gun to his hand with one in the chamber and making him chose between killing Frank or letting the Punisher kill Grotto. Matt picks a third option and fires a strategically placed shot at his chains, breaking free and knocking out Punisher, but not before Frank can mortally wound Grotto and unleash the Dogs Of Hell into the building. What follows is the sequel to last season’s lauded hallway fight and while it lacks the well-established mood and emotional resonance of the the sequence from “Cut Man”, it’s still one hell of an accomplishment as director Marc Jobst, stunt coordinator Philip Silvera, and stuntman Chris Brewster up the physical ante of the previous fight. The single tracking shot moving along the hallway Daredevil is continually plunging into darkness while taking on foes, before heading down a stairwell, is one hell of a technical challenge and the gamble pays off. While Matt doesn’t take the beating of last year’s fight, we do get the inverse as the coda to the one-shot fight is a second battle starting with Daredevil bathed in red light on top of the stairs, before coming down to the lobby and taking on another slew of bikers, all much larger and with more fight than the previous batch. This time around, Matt is in top form, struggling here and there, but ultimately triumphing as his skills and confidence have vastly improved in the intervening time (but not quickly enough to prevent Frank from escaping). As Daredevil looks off in disappointment we cut to Karen as she comes across the Punisher’s skull x-ray, referencing his past and future logo and revealing F. Castle once took a bullet to the head.
5 Fluorescent Lightbulb Replacements Out of 5. One of the best episodes of the series so far with the story finally coming into its own and the powerful cast in full display. Plus, what a climax.
Foggy has been on fire this season. Last year he was often reduced to comic relief, but he’s really come into his own since then as this marks two episodes in a row where he’s disengaged a conflict thanks to his silver-tongue.
Having Rosario Dawson be the connective tissue of the Netflix shows is an incredibly smart move on Marvel’s part. She is always a welcome presence on this series and I do hope she’ll be back this season.
Continuity Error Watch: When Frank is about to shoot Grotto and Matt struggles one more time against his chains, his gun-hand is gone.
Glad the cast features more POCs this season but given Marvel/Netflix’s terrible track record of killing a black character each season, I fear Assistant DA Blake Tower isn’t long for this world.
My hopes for a running gag where Matt continually stops Punisher from sniping Grotto have come to an end this episode as do my hopes of another gag where every episode this season Matt and Frank take turns kidnapping each other.
I know it would be highly impractical to enter every fight this way, but gun-and-chain-hands Daredevil is scary enough to give Batman knightmares.