Thursday, April 7, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Matt and Elektra Make One Last Stand Against the Hand in 'A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.13 "A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen"

Daredevil is backed into the ultimate showdown for his own life - and the future of Hell's Kitchen.

Daredevil chose to go bigger and badder for its second season. These last thirteen episodes have expanded this universe in exciting ways while interesting a bunch of new characters to compromise the morals of the protagonists. It's juggled a ton of story while pushing the dark themes from the first season even further. This has been a very erratic season. Some moments have worked really well while others have been absolutely dreadful. As a whole, this season was pretty lackluster and didn't really build to anything meaningful that justified all of the rising action throughout the season. That's hugely problematic. This finale makes things more personal to the characters. But it also doesn't offer a ton of resolution either. It has a couple of really devastating moments. And yet, it's also pretty blunt about saying this isn't going to be the end of this story.

The Elektra is really Black Sky reveal from the penultimate episode was very troublesome largely because the show hadn't established what that actually meant. So much of what the Hand has been up to this season has been completely preposterous and pointless. A number of things happened solely to keep them as this mysterious and creepy entity. And yet, none of those details really added up to anything that helped the audience's understanding of this organization. Seriously, why were they digging that big hole in an abandoned building? What was up with those teens sacrificing their blood for something else? Why did one of the ninjas already have scars from an autopsy? None of these mysteries are answered by the end of the season. So, that ultimately makes the show's depiction of the Hand really disappointing and lackluster. That largely came from the season taking awhile to actually introduce the Hand. The organization wasn't even named until the season was already two thirds over. That doesn't establish them as a villainous entity that the audience should be worried about. These last two episodes have been big on reveals with the Hand. But none of them have worked because the show wanted to rush through its introduction while not offering up anything concrete about them.

The Hand largely exists to give Matt and Elektra an army of ninjas to fight against in every episode. This show is very well choreographed. And yet, the approach this season took was increasing the number of opponents that they had to face in combat. Every episode featured some kind of fight. But they became moments that played into a formula. Ninjas would show up and be mysterious. Daredevil would fight them and win. It just wasn't that exciting after awhile. Here, Matt and Elektra have to face off with more ninjas than they ever have before. But adding more to the problem, doesn't fix the underlying issues. That final confrontation on the rooftop is well shot in wide frames that showcase all of the action happening. It's just very clunky because there's only so many ways to depicting these action sequences and the show has reached that limit - even though Matt gets a fancy new weapon to use in this episode.

And yet, this final confrontation with the Hand is a step up from all the previous fights because of just how personal it becomes to Matt and Elektra. They really don't understand what her being Black Sky really means either. The show plays into that fact. It's an identifier that the Hand really cares about and is willing to kill anyone just in order to get Elektra. The show doesn't bother with explaining how they learned Elektra was Black Sky or what it really means. It's just important that they are after her and Matt is willing to do whatever it takes in order to protect her. Daredevil is keeping the Hand from what they want. That's the reason for this big fight. Matt wants to protect his city but his love for Elektra is still so strong. He is willing to risk losing everything in order to protect innocents who get caught in the crossfire. Matt and Elektra run into danger. It's not the plan that they wanted to have. But it's what's happening nevertheless.

There are plenty of problematic moments that happen in getting to that building where every ninja is stationed. But ultimately, it's just fun seeing the two of them backed into a corner believing this may as well be the end for both of them. Matt's character arc this season has been muddled a little bit by the presence of Frank Castle and Elektra. They stole some focus away from him while the Hand also had to be mysterious. So, that does make his final plea to Elektra to survive this fight and go on the run together a little rushed and forced. And yet, it's still a moment that lands incredibly well. All season long, Matt has been trying to define his identity as Daredevil. He wants to make a difference in this city while also making it known that he doesn't kill people. That value is a little muddied later on when he throws Nobu off the rooftop. What does he expect to happen? How is that not breaking his code and pushing him over that line? But nevertheless, his values have gotten in the way of protecting this city from the new threats it has faced. He has been defeated by just how little he has actually accomplished. He has been broken down a little bit and pushed everyone away. Except for Elektra. She is able to see him for who he truly is. He's been trying to do the same thing for her. Her arc about trying to be good in this world hasn't been that great. It's been very hastily put together without a whole lot of understanding of what she's truly feeling. But in this final moment together, they have each other as they prepare for both death and life.

It's not surprising at all that Elektra dies during this final confrontation - especially after Matt makes plans for their lives after this fight. But it's still a moment that works very well. Frank Castle is sidelined severely throughout this episode. And yet, Elektra's death harkens back to his big speech to Karen about pain being a part of love. Matt opened himself up to Elektra and was willing to take on an uncertain and elusive world with her. He wanted to do that with her by his side. And now, she is violently taken away from him. It's a choice that she makes in order to keep the Hand from getting exactly what they want. It's hardly a hero's moment for Matt. He is devastated by this loss. However, it brings peace back to Hell's Kitchen. He let Elektra in but her death doesn't further push him away from the people he loves in this world. In fact, he takes this opportunity to be more open with the people in his life. He finally tells Karen that he's Daredevil. That's a huge moment that should make their dynamic in the future much more interesting. The audience knows that everything is not neatly resolved by the end of this hour. The war with the Hand is just getting started as they retrieve Elektra's body after Matt and Stick bury her. That's not as effective a final tease as the show would probably like. But this season still had plenty of really solid moments expanding the worlds of the various characters as they loved and lost.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen" was written by Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez and directed by Peter Hoar.
  • Karen is officially a writer for the New York Bulletin. I guess that's just something that can happen if you impress the editor even with no prior writing experience. Plus, the focus of her story changes from exposing everything about Frank to understanding what it means to truly be a hero in this world. That first paragraph is interesting. But what's the rest of the story like?
  • Foggy has a sit-down meeting with Jeri Hogarth from Jessica Jones. They are able to bond over experiencing a bunch of unexplainable things over the last few months. Plus, she wants to put him on a name partner track. Foggy has had a reduced presence over the last few episodes. But it's still nice to see him get a victory in the end.
  • If Stick knows that the Hand has the key to immortality, why does he allow Elektra's body to be buried in a regular New York City cemetery? If she's as important as everyone says, why doesn't he make it harder for the Hand to find her body? Or simply destroy it altogether. It's just the characters being stupid in order to set up that final reveal.
  • Matt takes Elektra to Melvin in order to better outfit her for this upcoming battle. And yet, that really doesn't seem to do much good. He gets the fancy new tool and she just gets some armor that wasn't made for her. It was a rush job and Melvin had to work with what he had. But it still wasn't enough to keep her safe.
  • Nobu survives his fall from the roof - again, it's just teasing that he is immortal and can't be killed. But then, Stick shows up to slice him in half. It's such a weird moment to have Stick finally show up. He could have been an asset for Matt and Elektra during this battle. He just shows up when it's over.
  • Frank is such a minor part of this finale. All of the resolution to his story came in the previous episode. No deeper connection to the Hand was revealed. He does help Matt in this battle. But that's a very weird moment. He shows up and it's surprising but it doesn't feel like something that would actually happen.
  • But the finale also teases more of Frank in the future. He returns home for the first time since the deaths of his family. He burns the place down after he retrieves a CD with "Micro" written on it. Whatever that means.
  • Right now, it's still uncertain if all the open plot threads at the end of this season will play out on a third season of this show or on The Defenders miniseries that the four Netflix-Marvel shows are eventually building up to.
  • How about that Luke Cage tease?

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.