This episode marks something of a step backwards for the show, but as long as it's just a momentary stumble and not a sign of things to come, then Daredevil can continue to exceed expectations.
In the space of just a few episodes, Daredevil has gone from promising to downright gripping. Taking notes from all the best that TV has to offer the show has implemented complex, slow-burn plot-lines filled with double-crossings, manipulations and corruption. It’s starting to reach the point where it’s not only a damn good superhero show: it’s turning into a fantastic crime saga. You might even hesitantly venture that it’s become quite thematically rich, dwelling of issues as far ranging as ethics in journalism, the pros and cons of the judicial system, guilt and just about anything else that you’d expect to be covered in The Wire or House of Cards. That’s not to say it’s in those big leagues quite yet, and comic-book skeptics may accuse it of punching above its weight, but Daredevil’s ambition simply cannot be faulted.
As the last six episodes have carefully crafted the more gritty and realistic world of Daredevil’s fight against crime with laudable results, episode 7 “Stick,” takes a brave but slightly troubling step in a radically different direction. No explicit spoilers here but the story starts to flirt with the supernatural. Not a problem in of itself, that is if the show hadn’t done such a good job without those elements. This was supposed to be Marvel’s attempt at something a little different, and it was working extremely well. So why give up on it now? Let S.H.I.E.L.D deal with all the aliens and the mystical stuff.
Stick returns to filling in the gaps of Matt’s childhood, this time focusing on his training at the hands of the eponymous Stick (The Silence of the Lamb’s Scott Glenn), a hard-ass but masterful martial artist. Said flashbacks are triggered when Stick returns to Hell’s Kitchen after a 20 year absence and upon his return begins dispatching criminals with extreme prejudice. He then recruits Matt for a new and important mission. If things sound a little more generic this time, that’s because they are. For the mid-season episode Daredevil begins to border dangerously on cliche, but there’s more than enough good here to keep the show away from the ropes.
Charlie Cox is still proving to be a fine fit for Murdock. The Stardust actor does the typical angsty anti-hero thing but adds a touch of levity that many forget to include. Whenever he’s done with his Hamlet style brooding or Christian Bale-esque growly voice he’s always able to revert to a kind of boyish charm and playfulness that stops him from ever becoming a tedious bore.
And of course there’s the wonderfully unrestrained violence. At the start of episode 3, when an important gangster had their head caved in with a bowling ball, we were all taken a little by surprise. Nothing at that point had suggested that the show was willing to go that far. Yet, in retrospect that seems a little on the tame side. At least it was only implied and happened mostly off camera. It wasn’t shown in grisly detail like many of the subsequent kills and beatings have been.
One unintentional consequence of all this ultra-violence is that with all the head pulverising, baseball bat beatings and torture, there’s a bit of a disconnect when you remember that somewhere in this same universe, Baby Groot is dancing to the Jackson 5. But that aside, it’s this more mature direction twinned with surprisingly complex storytelling, that gives Daredevil (both on the page and on the screen) his edge. And it’s a huge relief to see that the show-runners have taken that on board. Let’s just hope they don’t stray much further from the path that they’re on.
Daredevil is broadcast on Netflix.