DareDevil - Season One
I was having trouble starting this, until I realized that the first step would be to admit that I do in fact like DareDevil quite a bit. Which is disappointing. I had wanted it to be the nail in the coffin, the last bit of proof that Marvel is the mascot for our cultural deterioration, that it’s all vanity, vanity, and there is nothing new under the sun. Which it is, of course, but I still like it. In some ways, I like it quite a lot.
It wouldn’t be fair to be too hard on DareDevil. Compared to most other television, it holds its own. Compared to the slew of DC and Marvel properties, it excels. But fairness is a suspect goal at best, and I’m not interested in being particularly even-handed. Even, or perhaps especially, where DareDevil wields its flaws more elegantly than most, it shows just how fatal those flaws can be.
The core strength of DareDevil, or strengths, rather, are its two central characters - the hero and villain. Matthew Murdoch, played by Charlie Cox, and Wilson Fisk, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Both actors have what can only be called a chemistry with their own characters. The quality of the acting may have something to do with the quality of the writing, which has a kind of grace and subtlety to it, visible from Matt Murdoch’s opening confession to Fisk’s final meditation on the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s interested also to see such a religious influence, particularly one that avoids the ironic distance or ‘balanced’ portrayal most shows seem to go for.
The quality of these two characters leads, unfortunately, to the first problem - the lack of quality of everyone else. ….
Nobody enjoys watching movies with me any more. Or if they do, they are being awfully covert about it. Maybe it would help if I would just keep my mouth shut when the movie is done, but learning is hard and life is short. But it turns out that not watching movies doesn’t help - I’ve come to deeply despise the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’ve only seen… eight of them? Christ. Well, at least I didn’t just binge watch the first season of Daredevil, and actually almost think it was not bad. That would be humiliating.
I’ve put up with plenty of TV shows that are half-baked at best, so I’m not sure why I was so worried about this one. Marvel adaptations in general have a kind of lower threshold for quality that is impressive if not quite respectable. Or to put it more concisely: they are not DC. But part of me cringes a bit when the “Marvel can do no wrong” or “They haven’t messed up yet - maybe next time” or whatever - that thing, as long as that mantra keeps on churning I will feel uncomfortable. Because, while it is nice that a studio can be so consistent, the Marvel properties have always had problems and it looks like those problems are settling in to a nice comfortable middle age. What’s more, they’re spreading.
Expectations are a funny thing. Many trite philosophers in their day have suggested that we can just change our expectations and thus be impervious to the outside world - completely free. I think it was Crow who said it best: “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.” If ever there was a sentiment more in need of a swift burial it was this. Most critics these days seem content with it; “it was great summer blockbuster fun”, or “they achieved everything you can expect from this kind of movie” and so on. The problem is, expectations are where we get any ambition from - particularly our own expectations, and the fact that these can change.
DareDevil starts off, after the inevitable childhood triggering event, in fine form. Charlie Cox delivers a monologue in a church confession that is both mesmerizing and a nice middle finger to those ‘show don’t tell’ ideologues. Half of the strength of the show is revealed in the first ten minutes - Matthew Murdoch; angry, violent, Catholic - conflicted. He’d say it best later in the season: “why did He [God] put the devil in me?” Add to that the grim, slightly nightmarish world of post-Avengers Hell Kitchen, and you have a promising start.
As for the rest, the holes don’t begin to show right away. The supporting cast consists of friendly sidekick “Foggy” Nelson, nebbish client turned co-worker Kate (something?), cliché-ridden reporter “Benny”… (something). They are all well-enough acted to be acceptable, and the chemistry between Foggy and Matt in particular is more than half-decent. Perhaps as stand-alone characters in a procedural kind of show, they’d be fine. The problem’s set in, however, whenever they have to actually do, feel, or think anything - when they are required to act as real people, rather than props to move the plot of build a ‘relatable’ world.
- majority of story is filler, a cul de sac that develops nothing but I guess creates transient emotions
- filler in the very real sense … that there is nothing to say, but we need 13 episodes, soooo…. the TV equivalent of small talk
- much of the movement of the plot can only be attributed to character stupidity… i.e. “I knew this was too easy”
- as series progresses, the atmosphere and subtle touches shrink
- we are constantly told things that never actually appear to be true… they’re broke, always working, … are lawyers?… fisk is evil… or maybe not enough? he has a master plan that will destroy/save everything