Saturday, April 2, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Matt Learns More About the Mysterious Enemy He is Facing in 'Guilty as Sin'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.08 "Guilty as Sin"

As the firm's trial spins out of control, a figure from Murdock's past returns to deliver shocking revelations about the future of Hell's Kitchen.

Vincent D'Onofrio and Scott Glenn were standout performers in the first season of Daredevil. Both deserved Emmy nominations - though neither one ultimately got them. So, it's not surprising at all that both return in "Guilty as Sin" to complicate Matt and Frank's lives. Their returns do bring a level of excitement to this episode as well. But their screen presence can only do so much to liven up a really dull and expositional hour. This episode felt largely like the show giving the audience the information it needed to know in order to better appreciate what's about to come this season. And yet, so much of it is a drag and continues to prove that the show is in a slog right now in the middle portion of the season.

Stick was a one-off character last season. His introduction showed the audience how Matt was able to get so good at what he can do. Stick became a parental figure to a young Matt which was complicated by his refusal to develop any personal bonds in this world. Stick was also the show's entry point to the mysticism that is also taking place in this world. Daredevil has always been a very grounded show. Or as grounded as it can be with a blind superhero who is able to see the world through his extremely heightened senses. The mystic elements have been very awkwardly handled as well. So much of it plays as the show just cryptically and mysteriously teasing something about the bad guys Matt is fighting at the moment. And yet, the show hasn't put in the work to earn such mysterious teases. The mysticism is only going to play a bigger role in the narrative as the season continues too. So, it's very problematic that Stick's return in order to explain it all is very lackluster.

Stick's appearance here has a very exciting start too. The action sequence that kicks off "Guilty as Sin" isn't that great. It's just too dark to fully understand what is happening in this battle. Elektra and Matt face off with ninjas who've come to protect this mysterious pit they've discovered. During the battle, Elektra is seriously injured because Matt stopped her from killing. The only reason they emerge victorious from this fight is because Stick unexpectedly shows up to save the day by killing these assassins. It's thrilling to watch as Matt is solely concerned about Elektra while Stick is doing his best to defeat the ninjas still pursuing them. Once the fight goes on the move, it's very engaging and different from all the previous fights the show has done over its two seasons. That's something the show needs to actively be doing right now. Stick brings with him a different tone and sense of urgency. But all of that is quickly wasted later on.

Stick basically only shows up in order to save Elektra from this critical wound she suffered and to tell Matt that Elektra has been working with him this entire time. He also tells a story about a mysterious organization called The Hand who have discovered immortality and have been using that for nefarious purposes for centuries. It's basically an information dump and nothing more. It teases a weapon called Black Sky. It's name alone is suppose to be all the tantalizing threat it needs right now. It is not. Matt is skeptical about this whole story. The audience should know better because the show wouldn't just introduce all of this stuff for it not to be relevant later on. It's just a slog to get through. These scenes are slightly better when it becomes more personal about the Matt and Elektra dynamic. But even that is riddled with inconsistent character problems.

Elektra has been such a fun addition this season. She has been unique and a nice change of pace for the show. But here, she basically embodies every single cliche with a story featuring a femme fatale. Matt learns that it was Elektra's mission to make contact with him the first time they met a decade ago. She has charged by Stick to take Matt away from the law and back into the fold of their own warrior organization. But she made the crucial mistake of falling in love with him. Ugh. That's just such a poor characterization for her. This episode basically reduces her down to nothing more than a woman defined by her relationship with a man. She toggles between embracing the good and the bad inside of her just in order to please Matt. It's an interesting concept to show the drastic changes between a vulnerable Elektra and a ruthless Elektra. But that shift is not earned at all in this episode. She chooses to stand by Matt because he sees her as good. And then, moments later when they are attacked, she quickly kills the assassin and says that this is who she really is. But it's a moment defined by whether or not Matt still wants to be with her. It's such a disservice to the character. She doesn't need Matt's approval. He has already made the choice to never kill. Her struggle with the same concept is not executed well here and the show suffers because of it.

Elsewhere, Frank's trial reaches a very wonky and awkward conclusion. This story is ultimately very frustrating because it's clear the show didn't really know what it wanted to do with it. The creative team enjoyed the idea of seeing what happens after the criminal is caught with Matt, Foggy and Karen deciding to represent Frank in the trial of the century. Matt was the reason why the firm took the case at all. But then, he was never a significant part of it. He was too busy with Elektra to care about what was happening with the trial. But the trial is still being framed as Matt using his law degree to affect change in Hell's Kitchen. That only works if Matt is a meaningful part of the story. Here, he just swoops in at the end in order to deliver a speech to the jury about the city needing vigilantes right now because the police are overwhelmed by the chaos on the streets. It's a solid acting moment for Charlie Cox. But it ultimately falls flat because the show needs to rush a resolution to this story in order to move onto the next one.

Frank's trial was ultimately about ideologies and how far everyone is willing to go in order to justify their actions. That was it. Matt and Foggy's goal was to get a lighter sentence for Frank by bringing his tragic past to light for everyone to know about. But that was never really going to happen. The show likes Frank as a character this season. He's at his most interesting when he's an active part of the story. His trial has been interesting to watch - largely because of his interactions with Karen. The actual legal substance has just been filled with dull testimonies trying to sway the jury to one side of the argument in search of leniency. And now, all of that is irrelevant. Frank has a grand outburst while on the stand because someone clearly got to him in jail. Matt even knows that before he starts questioning Frank but that doesn't change how he handles himself at all. That's just strange. All of it is being done in order to pull off that surprise in the end with the return of Wilson Fisk. It has been great that the show hasn't forgotten about his influence this season. It should be interesting to see what he wants with Frank. But that ending hardly justifies all the awkwardness and rushed details getting to that point throughout this episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Guilty as Sin" was written by Whit Anderson and directed by Michael Uppendahl.
  • Karen walks in on Matt in his apartment while he's busy with Stick and Elektra. That largely leads to tension in their relationship because of the mystery and deceit of it all. But what does Karen actually think is happening there? That part is unclear and really needed some more clarity.
  • Matt did nothing to control Frank's outburst on the stand even though he knew something was up. And now, Foggy is mad at him for not being a better partner during this trial. That stems from this likely being the thing that forces Nelson & Murdock to shut down for good.
  • Foggy puts a couple of people on the stand to help justify Frank's action. They include a doctor who says Frank is in a state of near constant emotional distress following the bullet to his head and Frank's former commanding officer who provides some details about the hero he was on the battlefield.
  • Isn't it interesting that Frank is painted as a hero during times of war because he was fighting enemy combatants aboard while he is treated as criminal at home? That's a discussion the show somewhat introduces here but doesn't have the ability to have a nuanced conversation about it.
  • Police corruption was a huge part of Wilson Fisk's story last season. So, it's not surprising that he has gotten to a couple of guards in lockup. The outside world may be better now but his influence is still being felt and will complicate many things for the next part of the season.

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.