DareDevil Comes So Close To Being Excellent

But you missed the chance! How could you miss it, it was right there?!

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It opens so nicely, though. Or that is, almost opens. The real opening is a somewhat generic hero-as-child-suffers/gains-powers moment, complete with the old man he saved (even as a child! who knew!). But the real opening, which doesn’t really need the backstory, is Matthew Murdoch making his first confession in ‘too long’. Defying popular conventions for storytelling, defying the push for action in a mainstream - much less Marvel - product, we have an extended monologue, focused almost entirely on the face of Charlie Cox.

There’s a subtlety to it that’s just beautiful, and one that wouldn’t work with a less talented actor. As he describes how his father would ‘snap’, and ‘let the devil out’ on his hapless foe in the ring, there are all sorts of things going on. Fear, admiration, understanding - maybe even the simple fact that he misses his father, who is revealed to be dead even though it is never stated. Most of all, this scene trusts its audience. The show doesn’t do that much, after that.

Then we see what young Matthew has planned - and what the show has planned, so to speak. He foils the attempts of a cliched gang of criminals, who have kidnapped four well dressed (presumably American) young women to sell, presumably into slavery. Which is the way most people seem to understand human trafficing, that is to say, completely backwards. Helpless, they are bullied in an inplausible way before being rescued Batman-style by DareDevil in a simple black outfit.

Already weakness is showing, but there is some saving grace to be found. DareDevil is not Batman or Spiderman, he’s not some beneficent savior. He’s angry, and he does not come across as nice, or even compassionate towards the people he rescues. He is more interested in beating the main thug than seeing them to safety. This is interesting - it is not the simple hero-villian, good-evil dichotomy. Not yet.

The intro sequence commences, and my faith is again tempted (if that’s possible). He’s not a nice man. He helps people, fights criminals, all those - but his motivations are not pure. He’s got the devil in him. It’s interesting.

It was there, no, back a bit. Right at the beginning.

The devil is in the details, so to speak. The monologue that opens (!) the show is powerful because it has details, and it implies even more. Details about a past, about motivation, about passions and character and morality. But most of the content of the show, as it begins to fill in those details for us and even add more that we didn’t ask for - most of that is banal and cliched and boring. The story shines when confronting the difficulty of acting - being able to act - of not being sure of why you do something or if it is right or wrong. So why does it throw away this gem whenever it gets the chance?

Within an episode or two, everything becomes about the struggle between DareDevil (+friends) vs Wilson Fisk, criminal mastermind. Who is, for the show, the characters, and everyone but himself, Vanessa and Wesley, evil and clearly so. No one knows his name, his influence, his motives agenda or even actions - but they know he’s wrong. This is the frame that guides everything else - guides it down into a pit and buries it alive.

We never learn his plan, though it involves taking over real estate in Hells Kitchen by whatever means necessary. It seems to involve murdering the leaders of a number of criminal factions - perhaps Fisk is playing Saints Row 2. Why does DareDevil care? Why does anyone? Their motives and actions cease to be examined once the absolute evil is encountered - all except the personal grievances and drama which now bear the weight of creating tension and interest. Yeah, right.

Let me put it another way - if any action a character takes is only what they ‘must do’ - i.e. ‘I have to stop him’, then the story is boring because the action is mechanical. Any variation only comes from someone failing to do what they ‘must’, which has all the engagement of an automobile engine making a rattling noise when you speed up. “I should’ve know”, or “I should’ve done this” are basically shorthand for “My failure to do the obvious allowed the story to continue for another episode”.

P.S. Why are young, well dressed professionals living in multi-room apartments in Manhattan, spending every night drinking or eating out - how do they get to complain about being broke all the time?

Written on December 14, 2015