Wednesday, March 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Matt Struggles with His Morality as the Punisher Gives Him an Impossible Choice in 'New York's Finest'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.03 "New York's Finest"

Trapped face-to-face with the Punisher, Daredevil wrestles with the morality of vigilante justice. Meanwhile, Foggy and Karen work to save the firm.

Season 2 of Daredevil finally starts to pick up some steam with its main story in "New York's Finest" by putting Daredevil and the Punisher together and talking for the majority of the episode. All of it is still riddled with cliche writing about the morality of vigilantes killing in order to protect the community they serve. But this is also a very necessary episode that highlights the building tension between these two individuals. They've fought twice already - with Daredevil coming up short. And now, it's time for the two to talk and argue about their opposing ideologies. It's a conflict that becomes much more enthralling and entertaining once outside parties enter the mix. And that leads to the season's most successful episode yet.

Matt really struggled with his desire to be a vigilante and doing whatever means necessary in order to protect Hell's Kitchen in the first season. This is a show riddled with death and over-the-top action. But Matt is still proud of the fact that he has never killed someone as Daredevil. That's a line that would push him into being the same type of person he's fighting in the first place. He believes that everyone in this world still has a glimmer of hope and good inside of them. That may make him naive. But he wants to see the good in people. Despite everything that he has done as Daredevil, he still holds onto this value. He sees killing as an action that takes away that opportunity. People can't try to embrace change if someone else decides that they should be dead. That's essentially what the Punisher is doing. He is targeting despicable criminals and killing them before they do anymore harm to the citizens of this world.

The Punisher believes he is fighting for a noble cause. This episode gets lost a little bit in trying to peel back the layers of backstory with this man. It's yet another cautionary tale about a man going to war and returning home as a changed person. That's just a formulaic storytelling beat that really doesn't work well here at all. Matt tries to pry as much information out of his captor as possible. He tries to connect with him with religion and with the work that they are both doing in this city. The Punisher believes he is doing the right thing. Criminals will always be criminals who bring nothing but pain and suffering into this world. He's simply doing the one thing that Daredevil is too afraid to do. He's all in with this venture. He shows no hesitation to kill a person who he has deemed a horrible human being. But Matt still has a love for the law and the need to see people face justice for their crimes. He doesn't want to be the one man deciding the fate of another. He has put on the Daredevil costume in order to make more of a difference in this world than what he can do with his legal career. He has made a difference too. But now, the Punisher has walked in and completely changed the landscape of this community. He has essentially torn it apart. All in the pursuit of his grand noble cause.

Again, this whole back-and-forth is much more compelling to watch when someone else enters that roof where Matt has been chained. When an old man comes up to the rooftop to see who's making the noise, it's a scene filled with tension. Frank is able to turn on the charm and connect with this man based on their military pasts. All the while he is holding the man at gunpoint to act quickly if Matt decides to make a lot of noise. It's a scene that does end well. The man is able to return to the comfort of his apartment unharmed. The same can't be said of the next person brought to the rooftop. Frank is able to find Grotto and forces Matt to choose between killing the criminal or stopping the Punisher from doing it. It's a tense sequence where Matt decides to fight instead of making the choice himself. It still leads to Grotto's death. Matt is still responsible for that. Frank put that decision in his hands. Now, the only thing Matt can do is make sure that Frank faces the justice that he has denied to so many of his victims.

Of course, that proves to be much more difficult in the episode's final sequence. One of the most talked about moments from the first season was the epic one-shot fight sequence in the second episode. And now, the show has decided to do it all over again. At first, it seems like the setup is going to be the same. Matt is facing off with a bunch of thugs - this time, it's more members of the Dogs of Hell - in a darkened hallway. But the action then breaks off and descends upon a staircase. It's very impressive from a technical standpoint. It's bigger and badder than the first season's similar moment. And yet, this moment also suffers from a clear lack of stakes. These thugs are simply in Daredevil's way of safely getting out of this building. The moment in the first season worked so well because Matt was defying the odds and his injuries in order to save a scared young boy being held prisoner. That worked so well and there's no similar moment in this instance. Instead, it's just Daredevil beating up on a bunch of guys for several minutes. Again, it's cool and impressive to look at from a technical and stunt perspective. But the stakes were very trivial and didn't really inform the audience of the kind of headspace Matt is in right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "New York's Finest" was written by Mark Verheiden and directed by Marc Jobst.
  • Claire finally makes her debut for the season. And it's not even to help stitch Matt up following a beating. She was a great character last season who didn't have a lot to do. She continues to be strong. Her scenes with Foggy are literally just about her looking information up on a computer. But they are still interesting to watch because of her.
  • Claire also brings up her recent run-in with Luke Cage who is bigger and stronger than Matt. That interaction can be seen in the first season finale of Jessica Jones
  • This season is really pushing Foggy as a great legal mind trapped in some very awkward circumstances. Talking down those two gangsters fighting in the hospital was a little preachy and not all that compelling. But it's certainly fitting with the path Foggy is on this season.
  • Karen is digging deeper into who the Punisher is. She even gets some help by reaching out to Reyes' assistant District Attorney. She points out just how ruthless Reyes is with her own co-workers and gets the Punisher files in return. She scatters them across the floor and takes notes. That's all that she does with them in this episode. Though it is noteworthy that the Punisher seems to have a bullet wound in this head.
  • The only real reason Matt decides to start this fight with the Dogs of Hell in the apartment building is because the old man from earlier in the hour comes out into the hallway and gets caught up in the mess. It's still not a good enough explanation for how long the fight actually goes though.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.