Saturday, 19 March 2016

Review - 'Daredevil', S02E03 - 'New York's Finest'

While the season's first two episodes really boiled down to setting the stage for tense physical confrontations between these two very different Marvel characters, the third makes the very deliberate decision to slow things down. The intent here, obviously, is to take the opportunity to delve right into the extreme ideological differences which separate these two men in their efforts to do what the believe to be right - with Daredevil's Catholic faith and his belief in justice coming up against the Punisher's single-minded willingness to simply kill the people he believes deserve to die. Most interesting, though, is the fact that all of this revolves around what it, essentially, a recreation of what could very well be one of the greatest moments that the two characters have ever shared in the pages of the comic-books.

Regaining consciousness to find himself securely bound, Matt quickly comes to realise that he is entirely at the mercy of the Punisher. Amusingly enough, though, as well as finding himself to be alive and (relatively) unharmed, he also find that he is still wearing his mask - since, as it turns out, the Punisher doesn't actually care who the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' really is. The level of casual contempt that Frank Castle seems to feel toward Daredevil, in fact, quickly goes on to become something of a running theme throughout the episode - adding an odd note of humour to their, otherwise, very tense moments of interaction, as well as feeding directly into the Punisher's true intentions for Matt Murdock. Because, of course, the Punisher isn't simply holding Daredevil prisoner - his true purpose is to test the resolve of a man he clearly feels is too weak to do what needs to be done.

Elsewhere, Foggy and Karen are left reeling in the aftermath of District Attorney Samantha Reyes's (Michelle Hurd) disastrous attempt to lure the Punisher into a trap, using Grotto as bait. With Reyes leaving them with some not-so-subtle threats about laying the blame entirely on their small firm if they don't back off, and Matt seemingly vanished once more, the find themselves effectively powerless. Not only that, but with Grotto taking the opportunity to make a run for it after the Punisher's attack, Karen is left with the lingering guilt of the broken promises she had made.

While Karen seems set on starting up her own investigation of the Punisher, though, Foggy is left to one more try to track down Matt - knowing that he is likely to be in trouble. With his efforts soon taking him to the most logical location, Hell's Kitchen's hospital, Foggy finds himself confronted by first-hand evidence of the Punisher's one-man war - and, it is there that he is also able to meet up with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson).

While neither sub-plot was quite on the same level as what was taking place between the Punisher and Daredevil on that rooftop, this episode, this was still a pretty great episode for both characters. Karen was given the opportunity to be proactive, when her efforts to reach out to Reyes's assistant led to her uncovering some important information about Frank Castle. And Foggy, meanwhile, was once more given the opportunity to display exactly how proficient he has become at talking his way out of touch situations, when he is able to prevent the escalation of violence between gang members who each managed to survive an encounter with the Punisher (and, who each blame the other for the attack). One of the issues that cropped up throughout the first season of Daredevil is that it occasionally felt as though the supporting cast were brushed aside - so, I'm glad to see that this isn't the case so far, this season.

Back to this episode's main plot-line, though - the moments of tense interaction between these two, very different, characters could have easily carried the entire episode on their own. There was some extremely well-written material, here - and, both Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal did a great job of portraying their respective characters point of view. Clearly, these are two characters who are never truly going to see eye-to-eye when it comes to their vigilante activities. It would have been too easy to portray Daredevil's methods as clearly in the right, and to push the Punisher into a straight-forward antagonistic role - so, it was great to see that each was given equal opportunity to express themselves, here. Of course, it all culminates in a rather brutal test of Matt's resolve, as the Punisher's true plan is revealed - and, Matt finds himself forced to decide whether he is willing to take one life to save another.

Of course, things take another sudden turn when Matt is able to escape and, in retaliation, the Punisher opens fire on the nearby clubhouse of the Dogs of Hell bikie gang (the same gang that Foggy had his own run-in with). The idea that the Punisher would be willing to draw the attention of an entire gang of violent criminals simply to put Matt Murdock in a situation where he might have to kill feels pretty extreme, sure - but, it is also feels oddly fitting for a man like Frank Castle. It also leads us directly into a fantastic action sequence - one that is clearly intended to mirror, and improve on, that hall-way sequence that ended the first season's second episode.

Honestly, even without any sort of action sequence, this would have still been a great episode - and, such a drastic shift in tone could have worked to undermine even that had happened so far, if it wasn't handled well enough. Thankfully, though, this sudden shift in tone, ultimately, seems to become almost cathartic for both Matt, and the audience, after what the Punisher had put him through - with the simplicity of watching Daredevil fight his way through a building filled with violent thugs, all without actually killing anyone, feeling like the perfect way to end the argument.

Obviously, I have no idea what role the Punisher is set to play throughout the rest of the season, but this episode does still feel a bit like the end of the season's first mini-arc. Until this point, the Punisher had been deliberately portrayed as very much the antagonist - but, as this episode makes clear, it isn't nearly that simple. It may have been subtle, and these two men are still not likely to ever truly see eye-to-eye, but it still feels like there was a shift in dynamic between them, here - so, now, it feels like it's time for something to change.

With this episode being set up as a possible end point for the season's first arc, the next should feel like a new beginning - so, I'm very interested in seeing what new elements Daredevil is able to add.

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