Saturday, 19 March 2016

Review - 'Daredevil', S02E02 - 'Dogs to a Gunfight'

The first confrontation between Daredevil and the Punisher, which ended the previous episode, did a fantastic job of establishing the fact that these two characters operate on a same level - and, sure, the 'cliffhanger' ending was a bit of an unnecessary flourish (since, of course, there was never any doubt that Matt would survive), but that entire action sequence was still very impressive, overall. The first episode of this season of Daredevil really didn't waste any time in getting straight to the action - and, thankfully, the second episode does an admirable job of maintaining that momentum.

As painful and as tragic as it was for the characters involved, though, I do have to admit that there was still an element of morbid humour to be found in the fact that the second episode of both seasons began in much the same way - with Matt Murdock being found near-death. Or, at least, that was the case for me - I suppose the connection was simply a little too obvious for me to take entirely seriously. It was a deliberate parallel which did, unfortunately, undermine the drama of the moment somewhat. Though, that being said, that whole sequence of Foggy's frantic search, scouring the roof-tops based on his best educated guess that Matt might need help, was still very well done. Also, the lingering anger that Foggy displayed toward Matt, once his concern for his friend had passed, felt very genuine - as well as being an effective reminder of their brief falling out last season.

Now, though, Matt finds himself suffering from the lingering after-effects of his injury. His armoured mask may have been able to stop a bullet, but it couldn't really do much to prevent the trauma that seems to have left him with a concussion. With his head injury interfering with his enhanced sense, Matt finds himself in a uniquely vulnerable position - even momentarily losing his hearing during a particularly tense moment. Much like with the previous season, the show's willingness to commit to details like this is just one of the many things that makes Daredevil so genuinely compelling - and, Charlie Cox's ability to display the right amount of uncertainty and vulnerability, just through body language, is very impressive.

Foggy and Karen, meanwhile, find themselves caught up in some fairly classic legal drama, when their efforts to protect their client, Grotto (McCaleb Burnett), come up against new complications in the form of District Attorney Samantha Reyes (Michelle Hurd) - with Reyes insisting that Grotto will be required to take part in an undercover operation before she will agree to this placement in a witness protection program. This entire arc featured some great moments for Foggy Nelson, as a character, in particular - with Elden Hensen, much as he did during his best moments throughout the first season, once again proving that he has more to offer the series than simple comic-relief.

Karen, meanwhile, is clearly still feeling some sense of lingering guilt over her role in the death of the Kingpin's right-hand man, Wesley, in the previous season - something which seems to be playing on her conscience especially strongly now that there is a man call 'the Punisher' working his way through Hell's Kitchen. The Punisher's efforts in Hell's Kitchen clearly seem to be causing something of an internal moral conflict for Karen - and, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Regarding the Punisher, himself, though - this episode also gives the audience its first proper look at this very dangerous anti-hero. Not only do we get a second tense confrontation between the Punisher and Daredevil at the end of the episode but, earlier, we even have an important scene intended to establish exactly who this man is, for any members of the audience who might be unfamiliar with him. There was a very impressive level of tension in that whole, seemingly fairly mundane, scene of Frank Castle's visit to a pawn-shop. The fact that he was dealing with sleazy pawn-shop owner who not only clearly wasn't above dealing in stolen goods, but even had a swastika tattooed on his neck, created a feeling of tense certainty in exactly how things were going to end. It was clear from the start that this man was going to become a victim of the Punisher's harsh brand of justice - it was really just a matter of revealing how and why. It did feel a bit contrived to have the pawn-shop owner reveal that he also happened to have some child pornography for sale just as the Punisher was about to leave, admittedly. I understand, of course, that this scene was intended to show-case the very rigid code of morality that Frank Castle lives by (and, if the intent was the leave the audience with mixed feelings about this violent vigilante, then the brutal death of someone who deals in child pornography would be the way to do it) - but, I suppose I would have preferred for it to be done in a slightly less manufactured way. Despite my mild disappointment in the way this whole scene was set-up, though, it is difficult to deny that Jon Bernthal of establishing the right level of quiet and imposing menace into his version of Frank Castle.

Once again, though, it was those moments between Daredevil and the Punisher that were the episode's true high-light. For the second time, in as many episodes, we have these two well-known comic-book characters engaged in a tense and brutal physical confrontation - and, once again, the two seemed evenly matched. Having them both caught up in the aftermath of Reyes's planned ambush, and forced to dodge gun-fire while fighting each other, was also a nice touch. And, of course, Matt's lingering head injury is not forgotten in those final moments - leading us to that final moment which sets the scene for the next episode.

With the conflict between Daredevil and the Punisher featuring so heavily in this new season's opening episodes, it seems inevitable that something is going to change between them, fairly soon. Even without knowledge of what is still to come, gleaned from the show's trailers, it is difficult to imagine this momentum being maintained for the entire season. But, it has still been a very tense, and very entertaining, ride so far - and, with the third episode seemingly set-up to force that very change in the dynamic between them, I am definitely looking forward to seeing how things play out.

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