First off, if you have not yet seen the incredible Daredevil series on Netflix, what the actual fuck is wrong with you?! Now, if you do not have Netflix or for whatever cannot access the site, then yeah, okay, that makes sense. Otherwise, seriously what is wrong with you? If you have liked any Marvel property up to this point, you’ll like Daredevil. If you have become annoyed with Marvel properties getting bigger and seemingly more and more unsustainable, you’ll really like Daredevil. If you like quality television and story telling, you’ll love Daredevil. Basically, watch the show. Now. Here’s a taste:
C’mon, you know you want to see this series now, am I right? Of course, binge watching (kind of hate that this is the phrase we went with as a means of communicating watching an obsessive, possibly unhealthy, amount of television) the entire series got me thinking about a few of the interesting points and characters of the show. Thus, I decided to write on it because it is what I do. As always SPOILERS ahead.
The bulk of this post will be focusing on the last episode in the first season (S1 E13) “Daredevil.” So again, kind of major spoilers for both the episode and the series. Just so you know.
The season finale is a grand culmination of the slow burning battle between Matt Murdoch/Daredevil and Wilson Fisk (the not yet named as Kingpin of Crime). Although Fisk is never called Kingpin, his Machiavellian tendencies of playing players and events from the background are apparent throughout the series since his introduction. Furthermore, the entire series tends to focus on the dichotomy between Murdoch and Fisk. In their own way, both individuals do want to help Hell’s Kitchen, their home, to improve.
The major difference is that Murdoch believes that Hell’s Kitchen improves by helping the people within it to make their lives, homes, and circumstances better. On the other hand, Fisk believes in the gentrification ideal of improvement in the sense of improving the buildings, roads, and infrastructure (while lining his own pockets to a large degree) which, in turn, will bring a better class of people and culture to Hell’s Kitchen. Obviously, these two philosophies are diametrically opposed and lead to conflict.
Now, it is rather reductive to simply place Murdoch and Fisk as opposite sides of the same coin or some other cliche, but it is very accurate in its presentation. There ideologies are different, but both characters share similar personalities particularly in their single mindedness and focus. Both their developments into the people they are informed by their relationships with their respective fathers and a major event that became a defining moment during adolescence. The finale episode in season one, along with a big battle between them, also culminates in both Murdoch and Fisk accepting their true core natures. After all both characters have dealt with internal turmoil over their desires, appetites, and willingness to obtain what they really want which brings us to the first lesson: We all succumb to our true natures, eventually.
No matter how cultured, civilized, refined, or educated we attempt to become, we never escape our true selves. This is also true and applicable to anything we might use to define ourselves or the cultures and activities we take an interest in. I can put on a suit and as much of a neutral accent as possible, but eventually my preference for jeans, love of swearing, and slight Texas twang will come through. This might seem like a simplistic example but internal, existential ideas are just as applicable. Similarly for Matt, it is finally admitting that he has the same brawler spirit his father had. As well, that while he does enjoy helping his city, part of the reason why he puts on a mask and goes out at night is simply because he really enjoys hitting people that kind of deserve it. For Fisk, it is coming to terms with the kind of man he really is. He is not meant for the light. His place is in the shadows. More importantly, he is not the savior of the city he saw himself as. Fisk realizes that he is the demon and evil he claimed he was trying to rid the city of in one of the best scenes of recent television.
I wish I could link a video to the short dialogue I am going to transcribe because D’Onofrio plays it beautifully.
[Wilson Fisk]: I was thinking about a story from the Bible.
[Guard 1]: Did I tell you to open your mouth?
[Guard 2]: Let him talk. Don’t mean nothin’.
[Wilson Fisk]: I’m not a religious man… but I’ve read bits and pieces over the years. Curiosity more than faith. But this one story… There was a man. He was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho… when he was set upon by men of ill intent. They stripped the traveler of his clothes, they beat him, and they left him bleeding in the dirt. And a priest happened by… saw the traveler. But he moved to the other side of the road and continued on. And then a Levite, a religious functionary, he… came to the place, saw the dying traveler. But he too moved to the other side of the road, passed him by. But then came a man from Samaria, a Samaritan, a good man. He saw the traveler bleeding in the road and he stopped to aid him without thinking of the circumstance or the difficulty it might bring him. The Samaritan tended to the traveler’s wounds, applying oil and wine. And he carried him to an inn, gave him all the money he had for the owner to take care of the traveler, as the Samaritan, he… continued on his journey. He did this simply because the traveler was his neighbor. He loved his city and all the people in it. /(sighs deeply)/ I always thought that I was the Samaritan in that story. It’s funny, isn’t it? How even the best of men can be… deceived by their true nature.
[Guard 1]: What the hell does that mean?
[Wilson Fisk]: It means that I’m not the Samaritan. That I’m not the priest, or the Levite. That I am the ill intent… who set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.
Yes. I know it’s long, but the whole speech is necessary to make the following two lessons make full sense. It demonstrates the strength and power of both lies and truth and shows how ideologies and beliefs and faiths and the teachings of those things can be formed for one’s intent and purpose. First off, Wilson fully believed in his self falsity of savior of city. This pushed him to actually try to help his city. His efforts and tactics were misguided but would have been effective in improvement to some degree. As well, he faced the light and become the face of reform as a means of guiding the city more effectively. Ultimately, this fails and Wilson resorts to fully embracing his identity as a villain or “ill intent”. It is also his mantra that will keep him sane and powerful in prison ready to attack and seek revenge after his incarceration ends.
The next point is more interesting, at least to me. Fisk admits that he is not a religious man nor does he seem like a scholar of theology, but this text made an impression on him. For a long time, he used it as a guiding rod. He was supposed to be the good Samaritan helping his neighbor. All his actions and deeds were justified, or at least deemed acceptable, because he saw himself through that lens. Once he can no longer delude himself, he shifts his position in the story to the villain who took from the man traveling the road and left him for dead. In a matter of minutes, Fisk shifted his personal world view while still using the exact same biblical story. Which is kind of the point of philosophical and religious teachings; their malleability and allowance for interpretation makes them applicable to whatever the hell you want to say or believe in. Thus, it is not necessarily the texts that impart wisdom, morality, beliefs, or values, but, instead, it is the people that apply their own wisdom, morality, beliefs, and values onto the texts they read.
I think this is what made the series so damn enjoyable; the full characterization and agency of the villain, and to a large extent the secondary characters like Karen and Foggy as well. Most characters, especially heroes, are defined by their conflicts and obstacle and their response to these complications. In superhero stories, your hero is only as good or interesting as his foes. In real life, we grow, evolve, and show our true potential in the face of adversity and conflict. It suck, but doesn’t make it any less true.
Thus endeth today’s lesson(s). Also, go watch Daredevil. It is so good!