When The Avengers was first announced after Iron Man’s opening weekend, people were immediately dubious. I remember the biggest confusion centering around the wildly different tones. “How can the semi-realistic Iron Man be set in the same world as Thor?” And to be honest, I’ve had similar doubts about Marvel’s four Defenders series. Daredevil, AKA Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage are all of similar tones, but Iron Fist is set in a magical kung fu city in Tibet. How will that mesh with Daredevil’s gritty tone? How could the two heroes even intersect?
The Ones We Leave Behind give us our connection to K’un L’un. The elusive Madame Gao is directly connected to Steel Serpent, an old-school Iron Fist villain. Even as the season moves toward its ultimate conclusion, Daredevil is packing in a trove of great world building, as well as some of the best action scenes seen on the show to date.
Matt is done brooding; Daredevil is a man on a mission, with a defined villain, goal and objective. The rooftop building chase is one of Daredevil’s most exciting action sequences (even if it’s pretty clear when the stunt double steps in). Daredevil’s confrontation with secret ninja Madame Gao is the sort of pulpy fun that feels lifted straight from a comic book. But Matt couldn’t end the episode without being a little broody, and it feels perfectly valid and justified. Matt’s fixation on Wilson Fisk has been all-consuming, but as I said in my review of Episode 9, Wilson Fisk is a bad guy, but nowhere near the worst criminal of Hell’s Kitchen. As Matt weeps into Karen’s arms, horrified at the Chinese slaves right under his nose, I hope he realizes that there are lots more vile people in the world that need his attention.
But nothing beats Daredevil firing a gun into the ceiling to put out a fire and ordering a thug to save the blind Chinese slaves (and it’s even better that the thug immediately agrees). As mentioned in my review of Episode 10, I’m excited to see Daredevil not just beat the shit out of cronies, but actually save people and make their lives better. It’s my favorite Daredevil moment of the season, outshining even the hallway fight from Episode 2.
Fisk, unlike Matt, has no defined enemy and it’s killing him. As Fisk transitions into public life, pressure is coming in on all sides and he doesn’t know who to lash back at. Vanessa is poisoned, Wesley is dead, and now Fisk’s mother is getting unannounced visitors. Finally, he takes his violence out on Ben, even though someone finding Fisk’s mother would be inevitable now that he’s a front-page story.
Oh, Ben Urich. I wish I cared more that Urich is dead, but I really hate this interpretation of the character. Vondie Curtis-Hall does a great job of capturing the hard-nosed cynicism of Urich, but his stuff always felt like a pastiche of old-world sentimentality. The Huffington Post is ten years old this year, Politico eight. Why is Ben still talking about the internet like it’s nothing but blogs? It felt old when The Wire did it in 2008, and it feels positively ancient today. I’m guessing Gawker doesn’t exist in the MCU, because I’m pretty sure ”Did Twelve-Year-Old Wilson Fisk Murder His Father?” would get run there in a heartbeat.
Plus, Urich’s a hack. What little we’ve seen of his writing has been godawful. Even if Ellison is in Fisk’s pocket, I kind of side with him on this one.
Foggy is finally off the bender, but he’s not done with Marci quite yet, using the blonde man-eater to get insider info on Fisk. It’s a nice trade, since apparently Foggy is pretty good in the sack. I like that Foggy gets his one episode to wallow, but immediately turns around and gets back to work. It’s happening slowly, but the noose is ever tightening around Fisk’s neck.
Karen, unfortunately, is oddly sidelined in this episode. Even though she literally just killed a man, the episode sidelines that plotline after the first scene. Instead, she’s either caught up in the Matt/Foggy war or her paranoia is pushing Ben to publish the story. I don’t care what her backstory is, it seems unconscionable that Karen wouldn’t tell her social circle (lawyers and reporters) about her fatal encounter with Wesley. I do like that even when she dreams, Karen is able to create an uncannily accurate impression of Fisk. I can imagine Karen watching Fisk’s speeches over and over again, enough times that her subconscious is able to vividly adopt Fisk’s voice.
The Ones We Leave Behind is the best episode of Daredevil’s second half, and definitely the best since Episode 6. Thus far, it feels like the grittiness of Daredevil has been a mission statement, seeking to stand as the exact opposite of the more lighthearted MCU. But this episode is the perfect blend of urban grit and pulp adventure. Once Wilson Fisk is defeated, I hope The Defenders and Daredevil season two let the Man Without Fear face opponents that aren’t afraid to get weird, supernatural or over-the-top.
4.5 Zuppas out of 5. They might have real Zuppa in Italy, but they don’t bring it to you right before bed.
Welsh director Euros Lyn creates some absolutely gorgeous shots in this episode. Standout shots include: the henchmen walking into the darkness, with Matt walking out; Fisk looming behind Urich; the top-down shot of Fisk and Leland’s parked cars; and my favorite, Leland and Gao meeting in the bright shadow of the Empire State Building. Even facing the night sky, New York City is the most gorgeous city on the planet.
Even though Fisk has literally murdered people, I’ve never liked him less than when he tells his mother that she has to live with Italy. Moving to a foreign country does wonders for your Alzheimer’s, Wilson.
Brett should really not have been able to sneak up on Daredevil. I know the show tried to hand wave that away as “I have to focus” a few episodes ago, but Daredevil’s only real superpower is his total awareness of the environment. Nobu literally had to stop his heart to sneak up on Daredevil.
I love that Leland and Gao poisoned the benefit party because they don’t like his new girlfriend. That’s straight comic book silliness, in the best possible way.