As the penultimate episode of Daredevil, I had certain expectations going into The Dark at the End of the Tunnel. Take a look at some of the best second-to-last episodes of any series and you’ll notice a pattern: a great penultimate episode will answer many of the questions that have been teased all season, everything will begin to come together, and events will be set in motion that bring everything to a head in the finale. Take a look at the 9th episode of any season of Game of Thrones to see some examples (if you need a refresher, those are the ones where your favorite characters die). So, with the previous several episodes setting up all sorts of questions with very little in terms of answers, and the 13th episode mostly reserved for the final showdown between Matt, Elektra, and The Hand, it’s not unreasonable to expect episode 12 to deliver on the promises made by what came before it. And, to its credit, we do get a few answers in this episode. Just…not a lot of them. And the ones we do get feel rushed or unsatisfying.
The episode opens with an extended flashback featuring a young Elektra training with Stick, and it’s revealed that whatever Elektra is, people want her dead. She seems to have some sort of nigh insatiable bloodlust (anyone else getting Dexter‘s ‘Dark Passenger’ vibes?), but Stick believes he can save her. This scene works, mostly because the child actor playing young Ellie does a pretty decent job of conveying the innocence and vulnerability of a child combined with the danger of a killer. So when the scene ends and cuts to present-day Stick and Elektra fighting, there’s an extra layer of complexity to their relationship that reveals itself. Eventually, Daredevil comes to intervene before The Hand shows up and kidnaps Stick, setting up the rest of the episode.
There are essentially two stories that this episode follows, and the uneven editing back and forth between them causes both to suffer. First, there’s the story of Matt and Elektra trying to rescue or kill Stick, respectively, and then there’s Karen finally learning the entire truth about what happened to Frank and his family. We’ll tackle the first one first, since that’s the one that actually deals with the show’s title character.
Daredevil’s hunt for Stick this episode has some excellent moments. As Matt tracks the Hand into the sewers beneath the city (after a tip from Foggy, no less), the show does a great job of portraying how helpless Matt is against the ninjas. Because they mask their heartbeats, Matt can only track them when they draw their weapons–and once they figure that out, he can’t track them at all. While there are some shots where the audience can see a ninja that Matt isn’t aware off, for the most part, we’re just as blind as he is. The result feels like a difficult dungeon crawl through a poorly lit video game–and I say that as a compliment. Portraying Matt’s helplessness in this scene effectively showed how outmatched Daredevil can be in the right circumstances. On the flip side, when Stick gives Matt advice by whispering to him so quietly that only he can hear, it showed how incredibly powerful Daredevil can be.
And then the problems start to happen. Once Daredevil and Elektra find Stick being tortured, it’s revealed that Elektra is Black Sky, which means…um. What exactly does that mean?
For anyone who might have forgotten, we first heard the term “Black Sky” in season one, when The Hand brought a child into New York. Stick referred to the kid as “Black Sky” and murdered him to prevent The Hand from doing whatever they wanted to do with him. This season, we’ve gotten a little more information, with Stick telling Matt that a Black Sky is a super-weapon for The Hand, but we don’t know exactly what it does because they’ve never been able to “activate one”. Now, we learn that Elektra is Black Sky (So is she like that kid, and there are a bunch of Black Skies? Or was that kid a false Black Sky, but she’s the real one?) and that her status somehow makes her the leader of The Hand. Then she and Daredevil talk about destiny and controlling your fate and she decides she isn’t Black Sky anymore and helps him rescue Stick. If that sounds confusing or stupid, it’s because it kind of is. As I said in yesterday’s review, it’s entirely possible that this season just suffers from a little bit of “Iron Man 2 syndrome”, where there’s so much world building that has to be done somewhere that it just winds up shoved into one place. And to be fair to Iron Man 2, that movie becomes much stronger watching it now, after we already know where everything is going. So if that’s the case, then I look forward to re-watching this episode with fresh eyes a few years from now. I just wish we could have gotten some more satisfying answers during this season.
The Frank story, unfortunately, doesn’t fare too much better. The good news is, we get something that’s kind of close to closure with his story-line as he tracks down the Blacksmith and finally gets revenge on the man who set up the drug deal that led to the death of his family. The bad news is, those answers are entirely unsatisfying and seem like an afterthought. While interviewing Colonel Schoonover for her story about Frank, Karen notices a picture of a soldier who had died the previous night in the dock explosion. With that somewhat lazy clue, she puts the pieces together and realizes that Schoonover is actually the Blacksmith. You know, the menacing, impossibly good drug dealer who nobody could track down that’s been built up for the past few episodes? He was like, the first guy Karen decided to interview. Anyway, he makes Karen drive out into the forest and Frank saves her and kills him in a cabin. Hooray?
While neither of these plots are great, it’s made so much worse because the episode is constantly cutting between the two, killing any momentum that the episode might have had.
1.5 Unanswered Questions out of 5. Writing out the actual plot points of this episode makes me realize how lazy and unsatisfying they really are, and now I just feel tired. You ever been tired, Red?
So, what questions do we still not have answers to? The purpose of the giant pit, the details of Black Sky, those creepy kids on The Farm, the dead Hand ninja, Karen’s past, and now what happened to Frank in Kandahar. That last one I’m okay with, they can’t tie up EVERY loose end for that character. But everything else seems like it could have been answered by now.
As violent as this show gets, the scene with Stick getting tortured was still hard for me to watch.
The scene when Matt and Foggy finally say goodbye for what seems like the final time is very sweet, but also very sad.
“She’s impressive. Where did you say you found her again?” “A box of cracker jacks.”
Was anyone surprised that Clancy Brown was playing a bad guy? The dude has been Red Hulk, Lex Luthor, and General Eiling. I’m pretty sure the nicest character he’s ever played is Mr. Krabs.