From the start, Daredevil’s third season set out to be a return to form, and it’s kind of amazing how literal it is in its pursuit of that goal. Some of the stuff is obvious: Matt’s return to his makeshift black suit, Wilson Fisk as a primary antagonist, the grounded and brutal fight scenes. Superficial stuff, mostly. But what’s funny is that this season is also closely aping the structure and dynamics of the first.
Like its debut season, this year of Daredevil is a villain origin story, slowly digging into the history of Benjamin Poindexter, showing the ways the world turns him in on himself to the point where he becomes outwardly violent, on a collision course with Matt Murdock. Similarly, Murdock — always in danger of being eclipsed by more interesting antagonists — wrestles with longstanding demons in a push to be a better better man. We already know the broad strokes of his history, so instead of digging into his childhood as a whole, this season examines Matt’s faith, trading his biological father for his spiritual one.
It’s remarkable how well it all works — and Matt is barely in this episode!
Instead, we spend the bulk of our time getting to know Special Agent Poindexter. He’s a precise, meticulous man —his apartment is Spartan, he doesn’t leave a thing out of place, not even a framed photo that tilts slightly out of place when he closes the door behind him. (He opens it again to reach through the doorway and straighten it. It’s a nice beat.)
We also learn about Poindexter’s history, as Fisk, via his lawyer, receives a box of documents containing what’s essentially Dex’s entire psychological history from years of therapy. As Fisk pores over what he’s been given, the world fades to monochrome and the penthouse he’s being held in becomes a mind palace of sorts, where small dramas from various points of Poindexter’s life unfold.
Benjamin Poindexter was an orphan, we learn. The star of his Little League baseball team, Dex built his sense of worth over how well he could pitch a ball. Donning a cap with a bull’s-eye on it, he smokes every batter that steps to the plate — but one day he’s crushed when the coach asks him to step off the field, just so he can give some time to the other kids. Dex doesn’t understand — he thinks that if he pitches a perfect game, maybe his parents will come back. The coach tells the boy a hard truth — a billion perfect games isn’t going to bring them back — and Dex, furious, heads to the bench, and fires a ball at a fence post that ricochets to his coach’s head, killing him.
Young Poindexter spends the next few years in therapy, where his therapist writes incredibly on-the-nose notes like BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER and PSYCHOPATHIC TENDENCIES while simultaneously being extremely warm and caring towards Dex. She says she’s going to teach him empathy, but over the years it seems he only really learns how to give the appearance of empathy. (“I’m sorry. That’s hard. That’s really hard,” a phrase Dex uses in response to an empathy exercise is a chilling and recurring motif in this episode.)
Despite briefly turning hostile toward her in his teens when, due to illness, his therapist is forced to retire — Dex gets to a place where he can function in the real world. “Your internal compass isn’t broken,” his therapist tells him. “It just works better when it has a North Star.”
To that end, after a stint in the Army, Dex takes a job at the Brooklyn Suicide Prevention Center, where he meets Julie and his obsession with her begins — alongside a disturbing proclivity toward going off-script with callers, wondering why one in particular has designs on ending his own life when he can just turn his impulses toward the stepfather that’s causing him pain.
Across these vignettes, Fisk devises a plan to manipulate Dex further by destabilizing his tenuous grip on normalcy and stability. He arranges to have someone offer Julie double the pay to leave her bartending job and work at the hotel bar where Fisk is being held, so that Dex will find her, and actually talk to her for the first time since he left his job at the call center and began secretly stalking her. And it works.
Julie recognizes him at the bar on her first shift. The two meet for drinks later and catch up — only Dex slips, and reveals that he knows a lot more about Julie than he should. Perturbed, she leaves, but not before Dex tries to grab her and explain and makes a small scene. Dex, already fraying at the edges from the investigation, loses it the moment he’s back at his place, wrecking things until he finds his recordings of past sessions with his childhood therapist and listens to them, trying to hold on.
All told, it’s an upsetting, effective portrait that finds ways to be both subtler than the show’s ever been at times and also terribly on the nose in others. It’s also, to boot, the most experimental and dramatic non-action sequence the series has ever attempted. It’s good!
The rest of the episode moves the plot forward a few notches — Daredevil’s pacing isn’t slow, but it’s never rushed, nor is it dense. It’s enough, always moving enough things to get you interested in the shifts that occur between episodes, leaving little to happen in between scenes. Much of that plot involves Agent Nadeem willfully playing into Wilson Fisk’s hands in his eagerness to score notches on his belt.
See, Fisk knows that Murdock survived the taxi that was supposed to drown him in the river. He also knows — thanks to security footage from the prison riot —that Matt is far more capable than any blind man has a right to be. So he employs another gambit to bring Matt down: telling Nadeem that Murdock worked for him and helped him cover up numerous crimes. Nadeem, ambitious to a fault and openly eager for more collars, immediately springs on the tip, raiding Murdock’s apartment (despite telling Foggy later that Matt isn’t charged with a crime, Daredevil plays due process fast and loose) and going to question both Karen and Foggy, respectively.
When Matt’s old friends are able to regroup, they break down for each other how uncomfortably close Nadeem is getting to figuring out Matt is Daredevil — which potentially means jail time for them, as his accomplices. But that’s not the only problem — Nadeem has tugged at the string leading to the one case Nelson and Murdock worked for James Wesley, Fisk’s former lackey — the one Karen killed. If Nadeem tugs any harder, he’s going to find out the truth.
As for Matt Murdock, he’s now homeless and on the run. The question now is, how long before his friends are forced to join him?