Thursday, April 7, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Frank Gets Resolution While Elektra Learns the Truth About Herself in 'The Dark at the End of the Tunnel'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.12 "The Dark at the End of the Tunnel"

Daredevil goes underground to save an old friend. Karen follows a dangerous lead. The law firm of Nelson & Murdock may have reached its final chapter.

"The Dark at the End of the Tunnel" finally provides some answers and resolutions to the two main stories of the season. Colonel Schoonover - who testified at Frank's trial about his heroic service record - is revealed to be Blacksmith and the reason why Frank's family was killed. Plus, Elektra was revealed to be the Black Sky weapon that the Hand reveres so much. After an entire season of buildup, these answers should be satisfying and very rewarding. The final piece of the puzzle that helps set the stage for a truly dynamic season finale. And yet, they just don't. Both of these reveals fall completely flat because they are just so meaningless. The season has done a horrible job of getting the audience to care about Blacksmith and Black Sky. So when the reveals finally do come, it's with no understanding of what that actually means for the characters. So that ultimately makes this episode very lackluster and makes the season as a whole feel very disappointing.

Frank Castle has been so important to the narrative of this season. He was the reason why chaos was erupting on the streets of Hell's Kitchen once again. He was the inciting figure that put all of these plots into motion. Over the season, he has become much more nuanced as a character. His dynamic with Karen is pretty genuine and rewarding. And yet, his story is feeling more and more tangential. It was thrilling to see Matt once again interrupt his quest to find justice for his family's murders in the previous episode. But the story goes right back to being about Frank and Karen in this episode. It feels so detached from what the rest of the season is up to. The mystery surrounding what happened that day at the carousel has always played like a big conspiracy that will eventually connect to everything else that is happening on the show at the moment. This reveal has none of that.

So essentially, Colonel Schoonover returned from overseas and teamed up with some other marines in order to take advantage of an open heroin market in Hell's Kitchen. That's it. The Castle family murder wasn't some premeditated crime. That's just weird because of the deep personal connection between Frank and Schoonover. They allude to yet another top secret mission that could hint at this crime going much deeper than it appears here. But that plays as just more nonsense to keep the viewer engaged long enough without providing enough answers. It's hard to understand what exactly this story was going for. Is there anything deeper into what happened that day? Or was it just a drug deal gone wrong and Frank's family happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? It's just too complicated to really work. It's great that Frank doesn't want to listen to Schoonover as he starts monologuing. But again, that purely plays as a stalling technique. Frank believes this is the resolution he has been searching for. And now, he has it.

However, Karen's story is such a mess throughout this episode as she once again finds himself caught between Frank and the Blacksmith. She is motivated by Ellison to not give up on this story just because the Punisher may be dead. It's a really weird moment because it's largely Ellison telling Karen how she should be feeling right now - which is very problematic writing. And then, Karen has a very similar moment later on when she's pleading with Frank not to kill Schoonover. And yet, where did that sense of morality come from? Is it just because she saw how brutal he could be at the diner and wants him to change? If so, that's not clear at all. She is smart enough to figure out that Schoonover is Blacksmith. But she's still powerless when it comes to changing Frank's mind about what to do with that information. She's incorporated into this story with purpose. But it's just too much of a mess to actually make her an important character with the overall setup.

Elsewhere, the show continues to be exciting when it comes to action sequences. This episode features a couple. It starts with a showdown between Matt, Elektra and Stick. That's thrilling and shows that these former allies aren't agreeing at the moment even though they should be focusing on the major threat from the Hand. Their fight is interrupted by ninjas who kidnap Stick in order to get information out of him. But that only further leads to problematic plotting. Throughout this entire episode, Matt is trying to mansplain to Elektra about her inherent goodness and that she doesn't need to kill in order to be satisfied with the world. That dynamic is just so forced. It happens a number of times in this episode as well - first when Stick is kidnapped and later when Elektra is revealed to be Black Sky.

And yet, what does Black Sky even mean? Stick and Nobu knew that Elektra has been it this entire time. But does that mean there is something dark inside her that forces her to kill and becomes more powerful when she does? Or is she completely normal but has the respect, admiration and skills of this ancient organization? None of it really adds up to a whole lot. So, it essentially makes the entire story hollow. Elektra doesn't know how to process this information. She is caught between having an army of soldiers ready to obey her and follow her lead and listening to Matt who appeals to her inner goodness. That character struggle really doesn't come across well at all. Again, that's because most of it is framed from Matt's perspective. He needs her to fight alongside him against this mysterious enemy. But it's still questionable why Elektra doesn't side with Nobu in an attempt to take down the Hand from the inside. The show is still keeping something from the audience about the importance of this story. Again, it's exciting when Elektra sides with Matt and fights Nobu and the rest of the ninjas in order to get to freedom. But it's only building to a tease of Nobu saying that Daredevil must die. It sets up an action-packed finale where all of this story comes to a head. But the journey getting to that point has been so mishandled that there's almost nothing the finale can do to make it all seem worth it in hindsight.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Dark at the End of the Tunnel" was written by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Douglas Petrie and directed by Euros Lyn.
  • The one genuinely great story throughout this episode is the flashbacks depicting just how important the Elektra-Stick connection really was. That helps build the current tension between them. It also showcases that he has known all along that she is Black Sky. But he still trained her and wanted to protect her from the world for as long as possible.
  • It's also amusing that Matt and Stick can talk to each other in whispers that only each other can hear. That's crucial in turning the tides against the ninjas. Matt was only able to fight them by listening to their swords. Now, he can battle them by hearing their breath.
  • All of those rods sticking out of Stick's hand was a creep and horrifying image. This show sometimes glorifies violence. This does play like that while also showcasing the severity of this moment.
  • Foggy only shows up to tell Matt that he really wanted him to keep fighting for the firm and their partnership. That's it. He's deciding to explore other options throughout the city. Though the scene also features the two friends actually being friendly to each other again. So perhaps, things are looking up for them.
  • So, is the war with the Hand something that's been ongoing for centuries, something happening right now, or something that will happen if they get their hands on Black Sky? Stick really isn't consistent at all in describing the state of this war.

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.