World on fire: ‘Daredevil’ season 1 in review

Senior Television Writer
04.20.15 30 Comments

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I finished watching “Daredevil” earlier today, and while my overall opinion hasn't changed that much from my initial review, I have a few additional thoughts on the season as a whole, coming up just as soon as I misspell Chanukah…

In that earlier review, I noted an appreciation for the way that Steven DeKnight, Drew Goddard and company constructed each of the first five episodes to feel a bit different from the one before it. That sense of variation wasn't quite as strong in the remaining eight – or, rather, the overall “Daredevil” structure became more obvious given time, as each hour tried pairing off a different set of characters (Matt and Foggy, Matt and Stick, Karen and Ben) for some character-building, with one or two fight scenes to spice things up.

That's not really a complaint, because I liked these characters a lot – “Daredevil” works as well as it does because Matt's friends and enemies are defined at least as well as he is, or in some cases better – but the world began to feel a little insular as the season went along, even as more of New York became aware of both Daredevil and Wilson Fisk. The scale is definitely smaller than in the Marvel things, or even what something like “Agents of SHIELD” is trying to do (sometimes successfully, sometimes not), and “Daredevil” absolutely benefited from having a focus and letting the different characters show as many facets – Foggy's humor but also his vulnerability, Ben's decency but also his ego, Karen's tenacity masking some darkness in her past, even that Fisk is far more complicated than the pure bogeyman Matt wants him to be – and from having this many good actors in one cast. I have no idea if Netflix will be able to make any kind of serious Emmy push for Vincent D'Onofrio, but he wouldn't be undeserving in the slightest. I loved a lot of these performances – what a pleasure it was to see Vondie Curtis-Hall in a prominent role again, or to get Deborah Ann Woll away from the mess that was “True Blood,” or to simply let Elden Henson be charming – but I would think D'Onofrio (or Scott Glenn for his fantastic guest turn as Stick) would be the only one with a real shot at a nomination, simply because he's a noted Serious Actor, has the prominent villain role and a lot of meaty material to play.

This was absolutely the Frank Miller Daredevil, grim 'n gritty (albeit with some much-needed lightness from watching Matt, Foggy and Karen interact) and at times shockingly violent (the head crushed in the car door, the man who deliberately impales himself on the spike), but the fight scenes lived up to the billing and suggested that one man could, indeed, do all that damage. I hope additional appearances – whether in a second “Daredevil” season(*) or when he returns for “Defenders” – would play up his powers a little more, though. Early on, I was impressed that the show didn't feel the need to spell out his abilities, but I think they went too far in the other direction. Seeing more of the “world on fire” radar sense during fight scenes would both make them feel more distinct and do a better job of conveying how he's able to do remarkable things, above and beyond his ability to flip at will.

(*) At one point, Netflix suggested that each of their new Marvel shows would only do a season before giving way to the next one. But “Daredevil” has been so well-received – even if, as usual, we have no idea how many people are actually watching it – that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised at a renewal. 

I'd also like to see some tweaks on the costume going forward. The classic Daredevil costume just may not translate well to live-action – the Affleck movie had a more faithful version that still made him look like he was up for some S&M play – and I appreciate the idea that here it's meant to function both as body armor and a way to make him seem more heroic to the good people of Hell's Kitchen, but it ultimately looks too close to a Batman knock-off costume, when in fact so much of modern Batman has been influenced by Daredevil (because Miller jumped from the latter to the former).

On the whole, a really satisfying debut season. They kept things simple, and it paid off.

Some other thoughts:

* On the one hand, I'm sad that they killed off Ben, since Curtis-Hall was so strong, and since there are so many other classic Ben Urich stories they could have incorporated down the road. On the other, you can't say the show didn't get big emotional value out of it with the opening of the finale, where his funeral was scored to “Many Rivers to Cross.” (Also liked the use of Puccini to score the montage of the FBI arresting all the soldiers in Fisk's empire.)

* Did Melvin Potter also make the customized billy club weapons for Matt, or just the costume? If he asked for the latter, I missed it.

* Early episodes suggested a Foggy/Karen flirtation, but at a certain point that got dropped in favor of Foggy reconnecting with Marci, leaving Karen free to have a very meaningful hand squeeze with Matt in the finale. Wondering if this was always the plan or something that got changed in the shift from Goddard to DeKnight.

* Speaking of love interests, I wonder if we've seen the last of Claire Temple, or if she'll turn up again when it's Luke Cage's turn to front one of these Netflix shows.

* Our own Donna Dickens will be offering specific thoughts on each episode, three or so at a time, over on her Harpy blog. Here are her observations from the first three.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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