Through nine episodes of Netflix's new "Daredevil" series, Matt Murdock has been outmaneuvered and easily manipulated. Our hero is playing checkers while Wilson Fisk is playing chess.
But for all the public relations victories Fisk has won since he first spoke to Matt on that walkie-talkie back in "Condemned," we could always take solace in one fact: When Matt gets through the hurdles and gets his hands on a bad guy, they're going to pay.
"Speak of the Devil" soundly shatters that illusion.
From the opening shot of Murdock bleeding and struggling to stay alive in a fight with a blade-wielding ninja, we know something terrible is going to happen. Doom pervades "Speak of the Devil," from Elena's refusal to give up her apartment to Matt's constant talk of an all-or-nothing battle with Fisk.
We know things will end badly. We know there will be a cost, but the episode does such a good job of drawing out that tension that the viewer spends most of this 50-minute episode feeling like they're walking a plank.
The fight between Matt and Nobu is a perfectly bloody mess, one that illustrates just how well this series has used violence in its opening season. Sure, on the surface it's cool to see Matt struggle mightily against an opponent who can fight just as well as he can, but the gruesome and graphic scarring he suffers also does well to physically represent what we've seen Fisk do to him over the past few episodes. He's literally tearing him apart.
The fight is drawn out across four scenes, as Nobu was at the edge of a trail of bread crumbs Matt followed, hoping to avenge Miss Cardenas' murder, but Nobu's methodical massacre of the vigilante keeps the tension level high even though we know Matt won't be dying in that warehouse. It's hard to remember the hero has to win when his liver might fall out of one of the 13 gaping wounds on his body at any second.
Then, of course, Fisk shows up to twist the proverbial knife after Nobu spent an hour dicing Matt up with a literal one. This whole thing was a setup. Fisk let his two main enemies weaken each other, and now he's here to pick up the scraps.
The sudden fight between the two is doubly painful for Matt. First, he costs himself the moral high ground as he raises his fists knowing he has every intention of killing this man. Then, he suffers a brutal, humiliating defeat. He's handled so easily that Fisk dismissively orders Wesley to shoot the hero. He won't even waste his time killing Matt.
Of course, Matt escapes. But what does he escape to? His body is broken. His morals are compromised. He now has to live with the image of a sneering Fisk completely dominating him in a fist fight. Oh, and now Foggy knows who he is.
This is a complete, sadistic victory for Wilson Fisk, one that made this episode easily my favorite of the first nine installments.
Beyond the hero fisticuffs, "Speak of the Devil" provides a bevy of excellent character moments. A drunken Foggy stakes his claim as the show's moral compass, as he just cannot understand how an innocent old woman like Elena can become a victim in a game being played several levels above her head.
He also now blames himself for her death, as she was murdered not long after he told her not to take the buyout and leave her apartment. Of course, in this completely askew version of Hell's Kitchen, Foggy has to blame himself for an old woman's death because he had a moral turnaround. (Remember, it was Foggy who urged her to take the money when they first met back in Episode 3).
Before his fateful meeting with Nobu and Fisk, Matt also takes several meetings with our local pastor. The show has done an excellent job playing up Matt's religious fervor. The choice not to kill is more than just a code here, like it is for other superheroes, it's a legitimate crisis for him. Matt doesn't only think killing is wrong, he thinks it's the first step toward damnation, and he essentially wants permission from the priest to kill Fisk.
Just an excellent all-around episode. If this is any indication of what the season's final arc will entail, I suggest you clear your schedule and binge-watch the final four.
Random Thoughts Without Fear:
The fight between Fisk and Murdock is a nice callback to Frank Miller's "Born Again" storyline, which is considered a sacred tome in the "Daredevil" mythos. Kingpin lures Matt into a fight, compromises his morals, and then savagely beats him.
Elden Henson has gotten so much stronger as the show has given him more and more emotional meat to work with. He's truly a pleasure to watch.
So, I guess the red garb settles it: Nobu is clearly a member of The Hand. Perhaps the lack of explanation for his background and all that Black Sky nonsense from the "Stick" episode is setup for the "Iron Fist" series?
I do have one complaint. For a series that has sidestepped so many superhero tropes, why did Fisk suffer a case of "Bond Villain Syndrome" at the end of the warehouse fight? Matt is unconscious! You won! Just beat him to death! Don't send your lackey to shoot him! Ugh. I obviously don't want Murdock to die (though I would absolutely watch "Netflix's Kingpin" in 2016) but just have him dive out the window mid-fight. Momentary lazy writing.