Normally, a superhero series waits a few episodes before putting its masked crusader flat on his back.
But as we’re quickly learning, there isn’t much normal about Netflix’s foray into Hell’s Kitchen.
“Cut Man” wasted no time seizing on the instant peril Matt Murdock puts himself in whenever he dons the mask. There’s no suit of armor here, no shield. When a goon lands a right cross on Murdock, he bleeds. Bones break. He’s got no dreams of being faster than a speeding bullet, this guy just hopes he dances out of the way of a blade. Charlie Cox spills buckets of blood in just the series’ second stanza, and in doing so, the show goes a long way toward convincing the viewer that our hero is in serious danger nearly every time a fight breaks out.
“Cut Man” is home to a series of striking images, from that first shot of Murdock battered and lying in a heap in a dumpster, to the gag-inducing rooftop torture scene where our “hero” nearly gouges a Russian mobster’s eye out. We see Murdock at his most beaten to date, and then we see just how brutally efficient he can be even if his ribs are cracked.
After a failed attempt to save the kidnapped boy from the pilot episode leaves Murdock brutalized by the Russian mob, he spends most of “Cut Man” laid up and under the care of Claire (Rosario Dawson), who seems to be a loose incarnation of the Night Nurse character from the comics. The episode, while a little sluggish at times, allows us to get a better sense of Murdock’s motivation and drive to fight a one-man war against crime in Hell’s Kitchen through a series of flashbacks of his father’s final days and a smattering of conversations with Claire, who's trying to understand why her apartment has turned into a field hospital.
The chemistry between Cox and Dawson is solid here, as the pair seem to take a quick liking to one another, and Murdock somehow manages to be charming and make cracks about his religion between braining a mob soldier with a fire extinguisher, torturing the same mob prisoner on the roof and using his senses to track the same hitman through the building. We get a good sense of Murdock’s discipline, his less than heroic approach to justice and a better explanation of how his abilities work, and none of it feels like exposition.
This all ends in a spectacular closing fight scene, as Murdock takes his revenge on the mobsters in a chaotic, close-quarters fight, which we see from the occasional obscured viewpoint. It lets us get right into Matt’s fighting style … brutal, wild, frenetic and nearly impossible to track. It’s a simple arc (good guy takes a beating, good guy wins the rubber match) but it’s executed very well.
The rest of “Cut Man” plays out in the past, as Battlin’ Jack Murdock makes his last stand in the ring, refusing to throw a fight at the behest of some Hell’s Kitchen mafiosos, a decision that ultimately costs him his life. It’s nothing spectacular, but again the decision to play these flashback scenes and tell Matt’s origin here and there instead of all at once (in a manner similar to the way the CW’s “Arrow” dispenses Oliver Queen’s history over time, almost as a prequel within the show) works well. We get a chance to find out where Matt’s sense of duty and sense of right and wrong came from, and those who don’t know Matt’s back story get caught up, while those of us who do don’t feel bogged down in history.
Random Thoughts Without Fear:
So Foggy and Karen got drunk, and chummy, and I guess that’s fine? Karen is, I assume, eventually going to be Matt’s love interest, so I hope we find a better source of conflict between the two law partners than a war for Ms. Page’s hand.
Paging D’Onofrio? Vincent, D’Onofrio? While I still think it’s a smart move to hold back on the Kingpin until we better establish Matt as a character, I am binge-watching with baited breath.
Claire’s “costume” was delightfully awful.