Saturday, April 2, 2016

REVIEW: 'Daredevil' - Frank Has to Fight in Order to Stay Alive in Prison in 'Seven Minutes in Heaven'

Netflix's Daredevil - Episode 2.09 "Seven Minutes in Heaven"

Frank Castle gets an offer he can't refuse. Foggy and Murdock question the future of their firm, but Karen won't give up so easily.

Vincent D'Onofrio is so very good as Wilson Fisk. That was abundantly clear throughout the first season. The end of his story wasn't the best. But his return to the narrative over the past two episodes has been fantastic. Fisk is a character the show is keeping around for a reason. He may be locked up in prison. Matt declared victory by making Fisk pay for all the damage he caused in Hell's Kitchen. But Fisk is always planning and looking around at what's next for him. He was an important part of the Daredevil story last season. The show intends to keep him as such too. This season was starting to sag over the last few episodes. And now, Fisk is back to bring some creative energy to the narrative once more. It's very refreshing and compelling to watch.

D'Onofrio's return doesn't undercut just how good Jon Bernthal is as Frank Castle either. "Seven Minutes in Heaven" highlights the key differences between the big villains of the two seasons. The best thing that happens here is putting Fisk and Frank together in prison and them helping each other get what they ultimately want. Frank's characterization has gotten more compromised ever since his trial started. The firm was fighting to show the world his humanity. He was a victim of his circumstances and took up his guns to deal with them. But now, this episode showcases just how ruthless and deadly both Fisk and Frank can be. Fisk is the far more eloquent of the two. And yet, Frank has no trouble going toe-to-toe with this man and cutting out all of the bullshit. It's thrilling to watch as both characters manipulate and kill in order to get what they want.

In fact, this episode would have easily been the best of the season so far if it focused exclusively on Fisk and Frank's adventures in prison. The show would have had the material if it wanted to go down the route. Fisk has been out of the picture for eight episodes now. A lot can change due to his time in prison. That's what makes the first ten minutes of this episode so engaging to watch. It's picking up on what happened to him after he entered prison. He's plotting for the appeals process while making sure to keep caring for Vanessa and keeping a low profile in the prison. And yet, Fisk enjoys being the man in charge. He likes being the kingpin over his domain. That's a really on-the-nose way to describe his position in the world. But it's apt nevertheless. The only problem is that the prison already has a kingpin in a man named Dutton - who also happens to know more about the day Frank's family was killed.

Fisk brought Frank to the prison in order for him to take out Dutton. He saw an opportunity to take control of his environment and he took it. His resources may be depleting - which eventually creates quite a plot hole in the story - but he's willing to do whatever it takes to be in charge of this prison. He's quickly able to find a new Wesley but he still needs someone to do his dirty work for him. Fisk isn't afraid to get his hands bloody. But he still wants to be seen as being cooperative to the system for his eventual end game. All of this is very personal for Frank. He's desperate to punish anyone who played a part in the deaths of his family. But all that he gets is a mysterious clue pointing him in the direction of a new target called "The Blacksmith." Again, it's just teasing and delaying important information until later. But Frank's visit to Dutton's cellblock is a very compelling sequence.

Frank kills Dutton but then finds him trapped in the cellblock by the guards. It's a way for Fisk to tie up the loose end and not have to worry about Frank anymore. All of Dutton's friends are furious about his death and willing to kill Frank for what he's done. But this action sequence continues to spotlight just how lethal Frank can really be. At the start of the season, he was a killing machine capable of taking on deadly gangs without getting hurt at all. And now, he is able to showcase that skill set once more. This season has struggled with giving its various action set pieces purpose and meaning. Most of the time they have been very formulaic and a way to complicate Matt getting too much information too early in the season. They've been reduced down to Matt fighting a bunch of faceless thugs who want to stop him for unknown and pointless reasons. But here, Frank fighting his way out of this situation is beautiful in its brutality. The violence is very graphic and shows just how ruthless Frank really is despite such a tortured backstory. He is still capable of these horrific acts just in order to survive. It's poetic in its tragedy. And that's also the reason why he continues to be alive. Fisk had heard the rumors about the Punisher but didn't believe them until he saw him in action. And now, Fisk has gotten Frank out of the prison to continue his pursuit of the person who killed his family.

All of this was very exciting and made for quite the memorable and tense episode. And yet, Fisk and Frank's story was not the only thing happening in this episode. Matt and Elektra had to deal with the fallout of her killing a young ninja at the end of the previous episode. It's chilling to listen as Elektra recounts the story of how she started killing at age 12 and enjoys doing it. That is such the opposite of what Matt wants to do as Daredevil. But it's at least a moment that makes sense for the Elektra from previously this season - unlike the preceding episode. It's enough for Matt to push Elektra away for good. They can't just keep teasing each other with the possibility of changing the other. Both of them know who they are and they shouldn't change just in order to fit into a relationship. They may both be fighting the Hand right now. But it's a mission Matt would rather handle by himself. He's pushing Elektra away just like he's doing with everyone else in his life. That may be really bad for him later on. But he's choosing to carry the world on his shoulders and pushing away the people who just can't accept who he really is.

It's a very lonely and isolating place to find the character. But that only makes him more determined to get to the bottom of what is currently happening in Hell's Kitchen. Again, it's a story filled with mysterious and obscure teases of what the Hand is truly up to. He finds a facility of theirs called The Farm where a bunch of young people are hooked up to a machine with their blood being pumped out of them. It's a chilling sight. But it's hardly the most engaging reveal because of how nefarious but empty it really is. Of course, it's a sequence that becomes much more compelling and tense when a shocking figure from the past returns. Nobu is revealed to still be alive which may give some credibility to Stick's claims that the Hand have discovered immortality. Matt is stunned to see his former enemy in battle yet again. He doesn't quite know what to think. But it makes it certain that this battle is far from over. Matt is playing with things he doesn't fully understand. That hasn't made for the best main story over the past few episodes. But hopefully it's setting up a fantastic fight for the next stage of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Seven Minutes in Heaven" was written by Marco Ramirez & Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and directed by Stephen Surjik.
  • Foggy desperately wants Matt as his friend from college and partner in the law firm back. Because he knows the truth, Matt has been much more blunt about his life and the work that he does with Foggy. And that has ultimately pushed the two friends away from each other. And now, there won't even be a firm for them anymore.
  • Karen doesn't stay unemployed for very long. She's able to quickly find a place at the New York Bulletin as she continues to dig deeper into the death of the Castle family. She uncovers that the John Doe in the case that the medical examiner helped cover up was actually an undercover officer working a sting operation that day.
  • Karen also learns that Ben and Ellison both know of a tragic event in her past. And yet, that reveal is such a hollow moment that really doesn't mean anything. So it's weird that time is spent on it.
  • What's going to happen to Elektra now? After Matt forces her to leave, she isn't seen again. It's not as if she can just go back to being with Stick. She made her choice. And now, she'll have to live with that which could complicate her life soon. Though she does have friends who are willing to clean up Matt's apartment for him.
  • Hopefully, Fisk choosing to eat a meal next to Dutton's deathbed isn't the last of him this season. He continues to be great. Though it would be understandable if the show didn't want to overuse Fisk for the remainder of the season. It's a nice complication here. But could be one element too many to balance 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.