Monday, March 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - The Punisher Faces Off with the Irish While Matt Feels Guilty in 'Penny and Dime'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.04 "Penny and Dime"

Karen uncovers shocking facts about the Punisher, who finds himself hunted by a powerful force in Hell's Kitchen. Daredevil ponders his next moves.

It's certainly interesting that Daredevil has already decided to wrap up its main story with the Punisher. He has been a huge fixture of these first four episodes. He's the person bringing all of the chaos and action into Hell's Kitchen this year. And by the end of this hour, he is in handcuffs and Matt is doing his best to restore law and order to this community. Of course, this episode also sets up plenty of more mysteries that will build off of this main story. Those are being told in a really blunt way. But it's also so thrilling to see a definitive victory happen as well. This episode does murky the Punisher's motivations a little more than the previous one did. But it also helps establish the importance of Matt as Daredevil in this community. He understands what Hell's Kitchen needs more than anyone else because that's what he is fighting for. Everyone else is taking to action because of their own personal motivations. That becomes very clear with the Punisher in this episode. But Matt is different because he understands when Hell's Kitchen needs Daredevil and when it needs the police.

And yet, "Penny and Dime" is yet another very frustrating episode of the show this season. Most of that continues to be because of the show's depiction of gang life. It is just so derivative and formulaic. That was the point in the opening episode of the season. It subverted expectations in order to surprise viewers with the Punisher's first big massacre. But now, everything involving the Irish mob is being played completely straight. And that is just so horrendous and laughable. It's hard to take them seriously as a threat because they are just so stereotypical. Once again, there's an Irish funeral where the death of the son is finally enough motivation for the boss to get back in the game and find the killer. It's also a scene where one guy talks and talks until he eventually just kills the guy who questions him. It's the exact same set up as the scene from the premiere. But here, it plays out according to the formula and is not better for it. It is meaningful in showing that the Punisher is still a human and not a superhero killing machine. But everything with the Irish mob in this episode just does not work at all.

However, this really is a good episode with seeing the human side of the Punisher. His real name is Frank Castle and he had a family. Their loss ties into the larger conspiracy in play this season. But all of that is surrounded in mystery for right now. This episode only provides the smallest of clues into what happened to actually turn Frank into the Punisher. And yet, small moments still work with the character. He feels that his actions are justified due to how horrible the people he kills actually are. The Irish mobsters are willing to torture a dog just to get their money back. That's despicable. But Frank is also being motivated by the death of his family. He's a human just like everyone he kills. His only superpower is his expertise with a gun. It makes him a very lethal threat. He can take out a whole army of gangsters with very little effort. But when that happened in previous episodes, it was largely to showcase just how serious a threat the Punisher should be taken. Here, he gets caught with relative ease once the Irish are determined to make him pay for what he has done.

Frank gets caught because of his personal attachments to this world. This episode is a little forceful of his personal backstory a bit. That's especially apparent throughout Karen's story as she leaves her responsibilities at work in order to track down a lead. It's a story filled with necessary information about Frank Castle. He somehow survived both being shot in the head and being taken off life support. He also lived in a suburban neighborhood with a beautiful family. And yet, none of the sequence where Karen is inside his house makes a lot of sense. None of it feels personally motivated for her. It just happens so that the audience is aware of things before Frank goes into his big monologue in the end. It's effective for Frank but very pointless for Karen. But again, that monologue is fantastic. Frank understands that the world is closing in on him and he no longer has the strength to run away and continue this work. Daredevil pulled him out of this horrible situation but he can't put up a fight for much longer. That's what leads to his arrest. He is purely exhausted. It's a strong moment that is the parallel of the set up in the previous episode. Now, Daredevil is the one in control of the narrative. He uses it to put the balance back together in Hell's Kitchen.

Of course, things aren't going to be in balance for very long. Matt starts this episode still filled with guilt over what happened to Grotto. He's certain that he did everything that he could to save him but still failed. He still feels guilty. Once again, that conversation with his priest is a fantastic scene that helps motivate him to do the right thing and clean up his unfinished business. That's essentially what the rest of the episode does. He tracks down the Punisher and makes sure that he doesn't kill again while also delivering him straight to the police. It's a victory that Matt rightfully celebrates. That's a great moment. Of course, it's also a sequence largely defined by Matt and Karen deciding to act on their sexual attraction. That's still a dynamic that really feels forced. Nothing about the two of them as a couple feels natural. They do have strong chemistry together. But it's just no longer interesting to see a superhero story where the main guy is lying to his love interest about his secret identity. It hinders the show more than it helps it. But again, the show doesn't celebrate this moment for very long. Shortly after Matt and Karen kiss, he returns to his apartment and discovers that Elektra has returned to his life. That's a very promising tease for the next episode and the next stage of the story this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Penny and Dime" was written by John C. Kelley and directed by Peter Hoar.
  • Matt, Karen and Foggy are the only people to show up at Grotto's funeral. Matt's priest even gives a very nice eulogy about the life and the world that was lost and the impact it had on the trio. And yet, isn't it weird that the show is suggesting there is only one Catholic church in Hell's Kitchen?
  • Karen has been acting more like an investigator than a legal assistant as of late. That's not surprising given everything she did last season with Ben. But her story would be a whole lot better if she actually talked about it with other people. That may just be a way of saying that Ben's presence is missed this year.
  • Foggy basically does nothing in this episode. He's no longer all that concerned about Matt's safety. He's just grateful that the Devil of Hell's Kitchen is restoring order to the community. Plus, he's drinking one too many shots and teasing Matt over what prolonged happiness could do to him.
  • Melvin has finished Daredevil's new suit and says that it's basically indestructible now. Though the only way to find out is in the field. Also, Melvin has started wearing his own vest to protect himself against all the chaos happening on the streets. Plus, he has resisted the urge to revert back to his criminal ways.
  • A noteworthy part of Elektra's entrance is the fact that Matt didn't know that she was in his apartment until she made her presence known. That shows that she is a skilled individual as well.

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.