Daredevil Recap: The Killing Joke

Élodie Yung as Elektra Natchios. Photo: Patrick Harbron/Netflix


New York's Finest Season 2 Episode 3
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Now that Daredevil finally has the costume and the name and the sweet ricocheting batons, I’ve noticed something unusual: The more we see him in action, the more apparent it is that he straight-up thrashes dudes. To be fair, that’s what a superhero is supposed to do, but theatrical accoutrements usually stylize the violence. I’m thinking of Spider-Man’s webs or Batman’s gadgets — gentler, less savage means of incapacitating wrongdoers than simply beating them to a pulp. It’s easier to accept those heroes, even as they take the law into their own hands, because they still seem noble. They’re able to do what cops cannot, all while wrapping up criminals with a neat bow.

Daredevil’s brand of vigilantism is cruder and meaner than that. Matt Murdock uses his armored fists to either take bad guys down or force them to talk. This is why it’s a little difficult to cheer as he roars and bellows and pummels bad men to the brink of consciousness. Of course, it’s often thrilling to watch — if only because these dudes are getting wrecked.

But hey, Daredevil doesn’t kill. That’s the line, and that’s why we’re supposed to root for him. We’re given plenty of reasons why: It’s not for any one person to decide whether another lives or dies; there is always a chance for redemption; and if you don’t believe there might be good in anyone, then why go on? It’s totally cool to hospitalize them, though.

That is what Matt Murdock believes, and that’s the case he makes to the Punisher as he wakes up, chained to a chimney on a rooftop. The ensuing philosophical debate takes up the majority of this episode’s running time. As the Punisher prepares to mow down his next target — the Dogs of Hell hangout across the street — Daredevil tries to talk him down, hoping to convince him he doesn’t have to kill.

The Punisher, of course, isn’t having it — he calls Daredevil “a half-measure” (and he also calls him “Red,” which is kind of cute) — arguing that he’s just sending criminals through a revolving door. They’ll only find a way back onto the streets and kill again. Putting them down is the only option. He doesn’t believe in redemption, but he does have a code.

It’s a well-performed and competently written exchange, but it’s also extremely tired. “Why doesn’t [superhero name here] just kill [really heinous villain] already?” is one of the top three cliché comic-shop arguments, right up there with “What if these guys teamed up?” and “Who would win in a theoretical fight?” (That last one is coming soon to a theater near you.)

Although TV shows and movies haven’t beat this dead horse nearly as much as comics have, it’s still been explored in some of the most popular superhero adaptations out there, like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. So “New York’s Finest” isn’t exploring new territory here.

It all builds to a tense climax: Punisher takes a gun, puts one in the chamber, tapes Daredevil’s hand (which sounds kind of funny now that I’m using words to describe it), then brings Grotto to the rooftop and says he’ll kill him unless Daredevil uses his one bullet to take Punisher out. Killing him is the only way to prevent Grotto’s death.

Instead, Daredevil uses his one bullet to shoot the chains and free himself, then tackles the Punisher — but not before he manages to shoots Grotto. While Daredevil tries to save Grotto’s life, the Punisher springs his attack on the Dogs of Hell, blowing up their bikes and getting them all worked up. Daredevil tries to stop Punisher from killing them all, though, which leaves the gang free to storm the building they’re standing on.

Quite the situation you made for yourself there, Red.

Anyway, there’s a point to all this. After Daredevil subdues the Punisher, we get … HALLWAY FIGHT PART TWO.

Some quick background first: “Cut Man,” the first season’s second episode, ended with an Oldboy-esque hallway fight designed to look like one take. Wonderfully choreographed in a way that clearly conveyed Matt’s sense of exhaustion and desperation, it’s easily one of the best things the series has done. It was Daredevil’s first watercooler moment.

The fight scene at the end of “New York’s Finest” both echoes “Cut Man” and dials it up to eleven. The mayhem spills out into a stairwell, tripling the number of goons against Matt, who has a gun taped to one hand and a chain wrapped around the other. It’s badass and thrilling, but doesn’t quite convey the same sort of desperation throughout. And that’s fine! The fight is wicked cool, and Daredevil is realistically worn out by the end of it — which is one of the best things about Charlie Cox’s performance. He’s so good at conveying the physical exhaustion that comes with putting the hurt on so many goons. The show’s fights work well when they convey the limits Daredevil is working against, and they falter when they devolve into generic action sequences with an implausibly inexhaustible hero.

That’s what Daredevil is best at — depicting the raw, bloodied human behind the masked crusade, in all of his exhaustion and flaws. When Matt beats the crap out of baddies, we can’t help but see the cost.

Devil in the Details:

Rosario Dawson deserves better. In a pleasant surprise, Rosario Dawson has returned as Claire Temple, overworked nurse sympathetic to superhuman scuffles. But as pleasant as it is to see her, it’s frustrating how Daredevil doesn’t give her anything compelling to do — she’s really just there so Foggy can ask if Matt has been checked into any hospital and to stand by while Foggy does something I’m about to complain about.

The thing I’m about to complain about. Foggy gets a whole scene in the hospital where he talks two gangbangers down from killing each other. On the Foggy Spectrum, this leans more towards episode one’s overextension with the Dogs of Hell, and less towards last episode’s terrific staredown with District Attorney Reyes. I like when Foggy has a moment to do Foggy things, but this scene doesn’t serve a purpose and stretches credulity.

Daredevil Recap: The Killing Joke