Thursday, March 31, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Frank Castle's Trial Begins as Matt is Distracted by Elektra in 'Semper Fidelis'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.07 "Semper Fidelis"

Murdock and Foggy take on the DA in the trial of the century, but their client refuses to play along. Murdock struggles to balance his dual identities.

Daredevil is starting to get lost in its own plot mechanics a little bit in "Semper Fidelis." It's still doing a number of things quite well. But it's also making things a tad too complicated right now which is bogging down the effectiveness of the narrative. It's thrilling that Matt's two worlds are starting to collide and affect his performance in both. But the two stories themselves have several really problematic parts. They still manage to work because of the cast. And yet, Frank Castle's trial is getting a little too complicated while Matt and Elektra's investigation into the "Yakuza" is just too straightforward and bland.

Again, the dynamic between Matt and Elektra is very fun. They bring out a quality in each other that is very rewarding and compelling to watch. But the story that brings them together just isn't building up into anything exciting. It just keeps being cryptically teased as something big and important. That's it. It's doing so while trapping these two characters in some very familiar and formulaic plot points. It seems that this story has largely just become the reason for every episode to feature some kind of thrilling action set piece. Again, the show does action and stunts very well. But in this episode, they just aren't inspired at all. It just feels like the show going through the motions and not really adding something new and exciting to the mix. That's very problematic because there really isn't a face or purpose to this threat that the two of them are dealing with right now. It does allow them to name drop a few key players from last season. But that's about it. It's all building to the two of them standing above a bottomless pit. That's the big reveal at the end of this episode. It's just a really lackluster moment void of meaning or intrigue.

The most engaging part of Matt and Elektra's story is their interactions with each other. That should be a prominent part of their dynamic too. But the show also needs to have a good enough reason for why the two of them spend so much time together. At first, Elektra was a surprise that Matt simply had to deal with. She returned to his life not having changed at all from a decade prior. She was still manipulating him in order to get what she truly wanted. But now, it feels like Matt is only interacting with Elektra and keeping it a secret from Foggy and Karen because he likes it. The show really hasn't earned that kind of transition. It's easy to understand why he would want to be around Elektra more. She's a captivating screen presence. But it still feels like Matt's willingness to tag along on all of her missions comes solely from the show needing to create tension with his other responsibilities. It has become a forced dynamic.

Fortunately, this hour has no problem painting Matt as the bad guy in this situation. The firm is preparing for Frank's big trial. They need to come up with some kind of strategy to represent this guy who is guilty of these crimes. That's where the story gets a little complicated and confusing. Matt and Foggy just don't want him to get the death penalty. They are trying to get him just one life sentence with the possibility of parole as well as being able to serve his sentence in a secure facility and not in the general population of jailed criminals. In order to do this, they have to find a way to get his entire family history into the trial and make the jury sympathize with him. It's not an easy task at all largely because Frank doesn't want to approve a strategy that is simply not true. But the situation is further complicated by the fact that Matt keeps running away from his duties in order to be with Elektra. He abandons Foggy and Karen in their time of need. He needs to own up to that fact. But it only continues to blow up in his face.

So, that leaves Foggy all alone in court doing his best to represent Frank. Even when he gets into a passionate rhythm with his speech, it's still undercut by Frank whispering to him that "that was some great bullshit." Matt was suppose to do all of this preparation in order to contribute to the trial. But in the end, he is hurting the case more than he is helping it. The firm finds a strategy to get the murders of Frank's family into the trial and potentially get Reyes thrown off the case with the hopes of later getting a mistrial. All they have to prove is that the chief medical examiner has falsified reports in the past. None of it has any bearing in the murders that Frank is charged with committing. But it's literally the only strategy that the firm has right now. And it's all ruined because Elektra decides to threaten the medical examiner which ultimately gets his entire testimony thrown out of the trial. It's a costly mistake that Matt is directly responsible for because he has gotten too close to Elektra.

Elektra's presence is adding some tension throughout the show right now. Foggy is shocked to learn that Matt has once again fallen under her spell after she almost destroyed his life during law school. Foggy has a right to be angry with Matt over what has happened. Now, the firm is screwed with the trial with no strategy to fall back on. Matt can lash out at Elektra for the damage she just caused. But at the end of the day, Matt is still responsible. He played a part in this action. As Foggy points out, he can't keep blaming these actions for happening to him. He has hurt the case and likely any hope of the firm being able to bounce back from this trial. That's an exciting place to end this episode on - even though it didn't always make for the most compelling hour here.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Semper Fidelis" was written by Luke Kalteux and directed by Ken Girotti.
  • The show really isn't subtle at all with the big discussion of whether or not Frank Castle is a hero to Hell's Kitchen. The episode literally opens with the potential jurors all having an opinion of the man. And then, he is brought out into the courtroom and stands right in front of an American flag. The show couldn't be any more direct about the subject.
  • It's great that Matt and Karen's first big disagreement isn't connected to Elektra at all. That bomb is still waiting to be dropped later this season. But right now, they are arguing over the merits of Frank's actions. Matt believes in vigilantism but not in killing people. Meanwhile, Karen believes that there are some circumstances that justify such horrifying action. This scene is made significantly better because of the hidden subtext of Matt being Daredevil and Karen having killed a man.
  • Matt and Elektra also have a nice sit down where they get to bond over how much they've changed in the years since they were last together. It's largely them sharing the stories of how they got their various scars.
  • Frank doesn't want to use PTSD as a defense strategy because he believes it's shameful and a disservice to his fellow soldiers actually suffering with the disease.
  • Stephen Rider is a series regular this season as Reyes' Assistant District Attorney. And yet, he really hasn't done anything to justify such an importance. It's really weird. Though not surprising considering Rosario Dawson is a regular as well and the show isn't even trying to incorporate Claire Temple into the story more.
  • Matt mentions Wilson Fisk and Nobu a couple of times in this episode. That has to be foreshadowing that they will pop up again sometime this season, right?
  • With this episode, the season has gone past the halfway point. And yet, I have no idea what all of this story is actually building to. That could be a big problem later on.

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.