Fan reactions to Netflix’ new series, Daredevil, have been overwhelmingly strong. And rightly so, the series is terrific. That doesn’t make it perfect. [Spoilers for episode six, below.]
It’s a credit to the show’s overall very high quality that its only real problems can be counted on one hand. That doesn’t make these nitpicks; far from it. They’re problems. A series (adaptation or otherwise) stands on tone, plot, and character. All three need to be strong if it’s going to be a success. Daredevil‘s tone has been consistently gritty, and grounded in reality. It works. Nothing about that has changed, I just wanted to point that out before we got to the aspects that don’t.
The Kingpin Looks Uncomfortable, If Not Apologetic
Simply put, the Kingpin is ruthless. Born in Hell’s Kitchen, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps– from a low level mob enforcer, slowly working his way up the chain of command until he was in a position to simply take over.
Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk is doing a spectacular job of bringing him some humanity. He’s alone– success in his “field of work” has left him isolated, and he feels that deeply. It’s telling that our introduction to the Big Bad has him exploring his emotional side in an art gallery. It’s an incredibly brave choice.
Since that first cameo, we’ve seen different sides of the Kingpin’s character: Someone desperate for companionship, a leader who doesn’t like to micromanage, a cold tactician, and a brutal enforcer who will use his vast temper to literally crush a man’s skull.
Which makes it so jarring to watch the Kingpin look sorry, or awkward. His operations in Hell’s Kitchen haven’t gone perfectly (thanks to a certain man in black), and Fisk is uncomfortable with having to answer to his partners about the screw-up.
This is the crux of problem #1. The Kingpin doesn’t have partners. He has subordinates, temporary alliances. It’s odd and out-of-character to see Wilson Fisk operating with anyone, or having to justify his actions. He admits to his right hand man that he’s not looking forward to explaining things to Madame Gao. That is not the Kingpin.
I get that this can be the story of Fisk’s rise to power, but part of what makes Fisk Fisk is his arrogance, his supreme confidence. That man can still have all the other aspects I mentioned above, they’re not mutually exclusive. Fisk can show hesitance to explain things to Vanessa on their date, wanting to keep her isolated from that side of him. That works. What doesn’t work is him looking uncomfortable or contrite while he’s alone with his employee, talking shop. This is where he’s supposed to be strongest.
And then there’s the second issue with episode six.
It Borrows Its Plot, Whole Cloth
Concept: A vigilante crime fighter with no super-strength has made powerful enemies in his short career. These enemies own the police. Following a botched attempt at heroics, the vigilante is wounded and cornered in an abandoned warehouse. Heavily armed cops begin to swarm the building. The origins of this character have been famously written by Frank Miller.
Now: Did I just describe Daredevil, Episode Six, or Batman: Year One?
Unfortunately, it’s a trick question. The answer is both.
Frank Miller wrote Daredevil: Man Without Fear, considered one of the best renditions of Matt Murdock’s origin story. It’s gritty, realistic, and features him wearing an improvised black costume when he goes into action. It’s heavily influenced the Netflix series, which is fine. It’s a hell of a blueprint for a hero’s beginning.
Miller also wrote Batman: Year One, in which the Dark Knight is cornered in an abandoned building and pinned down by corrupt police, who get within a hair’s breadth of finishing off the vigilante for good.
Also known as exactly what fricking happened to Murdock in Episode Six.
Writers: Just because you’re borrowing from Miller’s origin story for your Netflix series does not mean you should feel comfortable stealing an entire beat of the plot from another franchise to do the same thing. It’s just… tacky.
I like Daredevil. It has a lot going for it. Every other aspect of its storytelling so far has been pretty damn great. I just hope this is a one-off, a hiccup in an otherwise consistently great show. I guess we’ll see.