All of this started with Karen Page. From the very first episode of Daredevil, Karen was the means by which Matt Murdock would gain direction in his crusade. Remember: She was his first client with Foggy Nelson, after she was framed for the murder of a coworker in order to cover up her discovery of an embezzlement scheme — a scheme that would eventually lead to Fisk. Throughout the series, Karen has borne the brunt of the emotional fallout that resulted from Matt’s vigilante efforts as Daredevil — their efforts to take down Fisk threatened her life and led to her killing James Wesley in self-defense, and later she’s drawn into The Punisher’s lethal war on crime. In Daredevil, men do things and Karen Page pays for them.
“Karen” is an hour almost entirely dedicated to her history, and events that have been alluded to throughout the season. It gives her an origin as dark and tortured as Matt Murdock’s, so we can see that she’s also barely keeping it together in her struggle to keep her head above water as Wilson Fisk mounts his return to power. Following the events of “Upstairs/Downstairs,” she’s on the run, hiding out at the Clinton church under the care of Sister Maggie, who’s helping her find a place where she can hide from Wilson Fisk permanently.
But most of this episode is spent in the town of Fagan Corners, Vermont, where Karen lived with her father and brother, Kevin. She helps take care of the family restaurant that they keep in memory of her mother, languishing away after she dropped out of college to help keep the business afloat while running off to college parties to sell coke with her drug dealer boyfriend Todd.
She’s wasting her potential, and her family knows it. Her brother suspects she’s getting high to deal with it, and surprises her by getting the paperwork together to get her back into college. She’s got to get out of Fagan Corners.
Karen, however, doesn’t have it in her to escape the orbit of this sad gray town. She’s content to sell coke and shoot guns with her lousy boyfriend, convinced she’s not going anywhere. Maybe that’s her life now. But as she hangs out with Todd that night, she gets a call back to the family restaurant— her dad and brother want to have dinner with her, and talk her into going back to school. And Karen has to painfully explain her real reason for staying, and it’s not because this is the life she wants. It’s because she’s feels obligated to her family. Because she believes that her father’s notion that her mother loved the family restaurant wasn’t true at all, that she hated the place but just loved him too much to ask him to move on. And who can move on in a world like this, anyway? Who has the money to start over?
There’s a framed lottery ticket that they keep in the restaurant, a memento of Karen’s late mother. She decides to make her point by saying that their mother kept it for the dream it gave her, the nice idea that you could just scratch a card and have a better life. Karen shatters the frame, and scratches the losing card. Then she leaves, and Todd picks her up.
Kevin, however, is furious. He blames Todd for the state his sister is in, and so he beats Todd to his own trailer, setting it ablaze as revenge. Todd, who arrives with Karen before he can get away, attacks Kevin in a fury, beginning to beat him with a crowbar before Karen is forced to pull a gun and shoot him in the arm so she can save her brother.
Driving away from Todd’s, Karen is a mess. She wants to know why Kevin did that, and Kevin tells her that they already lost mom. It’s the last thing he says before Karen crashes the car, killing her brother.
In the aftermath, the police are kind to the Page family. The local sheriff says they’ve suffered enough, and decides to omit Page from his official report because she’d have gone to prison otherwise. Karen’s father, however, can’t forgive her. He tells her to leave. Karen always pays. But maybe in the present, she can find redemption.
There’s a part of me that wishes this was the entire episode. Just the small, Appalachian tragedy of Karen Page. But maybe it’s for the best that it’s not. On the whole, I’m not sure how I feel about this backstory, or Daredevil’s need to put Karen through the ringer for everything. (But as I noted after “Revelations,” Karen’s character has been significantly rehabilitated compared to what she’s like in Born Again.)
It doesn’t help that Daredevil has always struggled with Karen, despite her being at the center of just about all of its stories. There are parts of “Karen” that come close to being tremendously affecting, but something is wanting. The episode feels like an overreach, but an admirable one — the show wants to do right by a character it hasn’t been the best with, but it’s not entirely earned. “Karen” does a lot to flesh out Karen Page, but that doesn’t make up for two seasons of thin characterization, and a third that is only just now starting to show an interest in her inner life. (But purely in relation to yet another trauma.)
We’re back in the present now, and Father Lantom, recognizing Karen’s inner turmoil, encourages her to attend mass. Meanwhile, as Matt has discovered, Wilson Fisk has sent Dex — dressed as Daredevil — to kill her. So as Lantom delivers mass in a strangely red-hued sanctuary, the Daredevil imposter arrives and calls out his target. Not wanting to endanger the congregation, Karen surrenders, and would’ve been killed — but Matt arrives in his black costume. (Complete with Muay Thai ropes.)
Matt isn’t good enough to stop Dex, though, and the killer sends a baton plunging into the chest of Father Lantom, who puts himself in harm’s way to save Karen at the last moment. He whispers for Matt to forgive him. As Matt recovers, the fight goes on, and Matt is unable to gain the upper hand. He’s beaten within what looks like an inch of his life, saved only by Karen’s last-minute intervention that sends Dex falling from the church balcony before she collapses to take Matt in her arms. It’s not looking good.