In the streaming era of television, you need a calling card to get noticed. A standout episode or moment that does a thing that’ll encourage viewers to give it a Friends name when they talk about it — you know, “The One With the [fill in the blank].” Daredevil wasted no time in doing this in 2015, closing out its second episode, “Cut Man,” with a dramatic, continuous hallway fight in which an exhausted Matt takes out a whole apartment full of bruisers on his way to rescue a kidnapped child. It was a good play, even if it was nakedly chasing a trend spurred on by True Detective’s famous single-take shootout of the year before, and riffing on Oldboy’s signature desperate corridor brawl.
Funny thing though: Daredevil didn’t just keep doing it, just about all the Netflix/Marvel shows kept doing it. Maybe they weren’t all continuous shots, but put a Defender in a corridor (or all of them in a corridor) and a fight was never far behind. Unfortunately, none of them worked as well as “Cut Man,” because none of them really bothered to root themselves in an episode’s narrative — “Cut Man” works not because it’s impressive, but because there’s a kid at the end of the hallway, and 40 minutes preceding it underlining how Daredevil is a hero that pushes himself through tremendous physical abuse to do what he does.
This is all to say that the centerpiece of this episode, a continuous prison fight in which Matt takes on a small army of inmates and guards, out-of-costume, through multiple corridors, is maybe the best fight a Marvel/Netflix show has pulled off since “Cut Man.” Narratively, the fight is about Matt’s dogged quest to answer a question: Why is Fisk targeting the Albanians, specifically?
He does this by stopping by his old apartment to don an old suit (the double-breasted kind) and catching a cab up to the prison where an old client of his is an inmate. Using Foggy’s credentials and his powers to pass as a sighted man, Matt tries to get his source to tell him about Vic Jusufi, the Albanian leader locked up there with him, and that’s when he gets scared, and punches Matt, lest he be seen as a snitch. This is where everything goes wrong for Matt.
It goes down like this: After getting punched, he’s made to see an orderly in an exam room for liability reasons. Only the exam room is deep in the prison, and the orderly locks him in the room and attacks him, partially drugging him with a syringe. Then Wilson Fisks calls — by means not quite clear to us, he can tap into the security cameras to see Matt, and also call him. He tells Matt that he’s never letting go of the threat against Vanessa he made during their encounter in season two, hangs up, and unlocks the door, leaving Matt to fight … pretty much the entire prison.
Thus begins the most ambitious action sequence Daredevil, or any Marvel/Netflix show, has attempted thus far. It’s 10 brutal minutes of escalating violence and desperation, raising the stakes as Matt gets closer to his goal. Doubly impressive is the fact that director Alex Garcia López and crew decided to pull this off with Matt out-of-costume, making it that much more difficult to swap out Charlie Cox and his stunt double — if you’re looking for it, it’s not hard to notice, but since it’s all in the service of putting together a terrific action sequence, it works.
So. Matt fights the orderly, who nearly drugged him. Matt fights some inmates, who have been told to take him out. He fights more inmates. He finds some guards and thinks he’s safe — just kidding, he has to fight them too. The prison goes into lockdown, red lights begin to strobe. He’s accosted by another inmate, and brought into a locker room — still styled as a continuous tracking shot, making the whole affair extremely intense. Matt finds he has the attention of Vic, who tells him that Fisk put out a hit on himself while in prison, offering to arrange freedom to a man with a life sentence if he would shank him, giving him the pretense to push for his current arrangement. Matt asks for this former inmate’s name; if he can find him, he can get a confession, and evidence that Fisk is playing everyone.
Matt gets his name: Jasper Evans. Now he has to get out, with the help of an Albanian in a guard uniform and the camera, never resting, following them all the way through a full-on prison riot, back to the taxi Matt paid to wait outside for him.
This should have been the whole episode. We’re 33 minutes in, and cutting to anything else feels wrong and also exhausting, like someone asking you to go for a brisk jog after you’ve done your share of wind sprints. Alas, there are 20 more minutes of TV here, and it’s a bit more thematically relevant than it may seem, despite its disjointed presentation.
Put simply, this is an episode in which men are confronted with forces that chip away at their pride and identity, and they react poorly to it. That’s the heart of why Matt went to the prison in the first place — Fisk’s presence anywhere outside of prison is an affront to him, a violation of Matt’s sense of purpose and meaning. Similarly, Foggy — who’s felt directionless but finds himself galvanized by the Fisk scandal — decides at the suggestion of his girlfriend Marci to not hide, but to campaign against Blake Tower as a write-in candidate in the District Attorney race. To hide from Fisk by not hiding at all, seeking security in the crowd. His first move is to stab Tower in the back, appearing at a police union event and getting Detective Brett Mahoney to get the cops to listen to him, only as he uses his podium to turn the cops against Tower and endorse him. I don’t know where this is going, but it feels like too much, too fast — the kind of brash, hasty move that’s going to bite Foggy in the ass.
Meanwhile, Agent Rahul Nadeem’s pride as a law enforcement officer is being undermined at every turn. He’s a guy who’s brought in the Kingpin of Crime, and he finds out that his son is too scared to sleep at home, and Poindexter — the agent who saved his life — is under scrutiny from the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) because the official report conflicts with forensic evidence. Poindexter didn’t take the Albanians down as a law enforcement officer should have, he just gunned them down, and OPR is close to figuring that out. So Nadeem, off-the record, tells Dex that, even as OPR officials arrive to interview Fisk to get his account of the motorcade attack.
Fisk sees Poindexter’s pride, and continues to exploit it despite the outward displays of contempt Dex shows him. He lies in Dex’s defense to the OPR agents and looks dead at the camera when they leave, knowing Dex would see it. He postures as someone who’s been humiliated and brought low, so he can sweet-talk Dex and tell him how he deserves to be commended for his service, and not treated with suspicion. And by the time he’s done, it looks like Dex might finally be ready to listen.
Karen Page doesn’t get a lot to do this episode — she has a scene where she pulls a gun (most likely to re-establish that she carries, and to remind us that she’s killed) on some catcallers and threatens them in a sequence too brief to really say much about. Karen is starting to fray, doggedly chasing the Fisk shell game story, and has also learned that Matt is back but in hiding for some reason. Mitchell, it would seem, is right — Karen’s too close to this story.
But at the very least, she’s not Matt Murdock, who wakes up in the back of the cab he passed out in after the prison riot to find someone else driving it, and too fast. Right into the river.