It’s hard not to be a little nitpicky after watching 13 episodes of one television show over the course of four days. (I’m not sure that pace even counts as binge-watching anymore. If anything, it’s probably considered “slow.”) But nothing quite cures any complaints about the new Daredevil television series than rewatching the 2003 film of the same name starring Ben Affleck.
I had not watched 2003’s Daredevil since seeing it in theaters, which means I’ve never seen the (what I’ve been told is a) much better, R-rated Director’s Cut of the film. Descriptions of that always sounded like some variation of, “It’s at least partially watchable now.” Now, after having now seen the aforementioned director’s cut of Daredevil, I fully understand why people think this way.
To be honest, after watching 13 episodes of a Daredevil television series that I mostly liked, I fully expected to recoil in disgust watching the 2003 film again. For the first 25 minutes or so, I found the Director’s Cut… not bad, even though it’s a little distracting when A.J. Soprano shows up in an attempt to beat-up a blind kid. (Turns out, as you might suspect, A.J. Soprano picked the wrong blind kid to terrorize.) But, the Director’s Cut does a nice job of setting up Matt Murdock’s backstory and his relationship with his father. Heck, the film at least acknowledges that Hell’s Kitchen is often referred to as “Clinton” and is, well, not exactly the bastion of evil that the television series claims.
Then, that all goes to hell once Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock suits up as Daredevil, in an extended “cool” montage of Affleck twirling his gizmos around while trying to look “stoic.” The only thing missing is Affleck adding at the end, “I’m pretty neat, eh?” And that scene when Murdock and Jennifer Garner’s Elektra get into an insanely over-choreographed seesaw slap fight is just as embarrassing as I remember it to be. And both Colin Farrell as Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk are in Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever mode — there’s no scene that they think they can’t steal. And no director’s cut can cure the fact that “Bring Me to Life” by Evanscence is dramatically played at a slow-motion funeral scene and Fuel’s “Won’t Back Down” plays over the closing credits. The Daredevil Director’s Cut is not a good movie, but it is better. But, thankfully, we’ve come a long way.
Obviously, from this point on, there will be major spoilers about the Daredevil television series, so this has been your warning. And this is in no way suggesting that you should watch these episodes out of order or that you should just cherry pick a few. But, like any television show, some episodes are better than others. And, honestly, it does feel like Daredevil may have been better served as a 10 episode series as opposed to 13. There’s often a lot of filler that, at times, feels redundant. (Again, I’m nitpicking, because I did enjoy this series. Perhaps I need to watch the original version of the 2003 film to remind myself of that.) Anyway, here are your Daredevil episodes ranked:
1. Episode Thirteen, “Daredevil”
The final episode does, thankfully, feel like a true culmination of everything the series has been building towards. And, perhaps most importantly, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) finally stops running around in the streets with a black rag covering his face. (And, we finally hear the word “Daredevil” spoken for the first time.) Yeah, I was hoping we’d see the actual Daredevil costume before now, but the payoff is nice. I actually felt a little chill when it was first revealed – and I do love that nobody knows who he is now because he so drastically changed his look, so much so that he has to remind everyone he interacts with that they have met before. A funny thing though: Vincent D’Onofrio is so good as Wilson Fisk that I didn’t necessarily find myself rooting for him, but I did find myself rooting that Daredevil doesn’t wind up killing him. I want more D’Onofrio as Fisk in season two. And it seems that everyone involved in this show knows that, without Fisk, it’s questionable if any of this actually works.
2. Episode Four, “In the Blood”
It’s great how Wilson Fisk is almost a specter before he’s finally introduced at the very end of the third episode. “In the Blood” is the episode that truly sets the tone of the series. Fisk is presented as a sort of quirky, sort of frightening entity that could explode at any moment. Oh, then he does explode after a Russian mobster named Anatoly interrupts Fisk while on a date. Fisk retaliates with pure rage, slamming Anatoly’s head with an SUV passenger door until he’s been decapitated. In one moment, Daredevil is making it clear that this is not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
3. Episode Eight, “Shadows in the Glass”
This episode gets ranked this high because of Wilson Fisk’s flashback, and what a great flashback! Fisk’s father is a prick, prone to hitting his wife and random neighbor kids. That all ends after young Wilson takes a hammer to his father’s head, then helps his mother dispose of the body. So, I suppose something like that could mess a person up, sending them into fits of deadly rage from time to time.
4. Episode Twelve, “The Ones We Leave Behind”
Okay, we all knew that Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) wasn’t long for this world when he so openly and proudly started boasting that that he was going to start a blog that would expose Fisk. But, man oh man, that scene when the camera pans down to reveal that Fisk has been sitting in the corner of Urich’s room the entire time is so well done and so disturbing. Then, Fisk’s calm demeanor for most his conversation with Urich is also quite unsettling, knowing that there’s no way that Urich is getting out of this alive. (I like to think about this an allegory for internet writing: Once you embrace it, it will kill you.)
5. Episode Nine, “Speak of the Devil”
This episode contains the best fight of the series, a fight with one of Fisk’s associates, Nobu (Peter Shinkoda), that frames the entire episode and a fight that nearly kills Matt. The worst part about this fight is that Matt’s injuries are so extensive, it leads Foggy to discovering that Matt is Daredevil, which leads to an entire next episode in which Matt and Foggy have to talk about their feelings. The best thing about this fight is that Matt decides his “black shirt with black rag” costume just won’t do anymore, which eventually leads him to hiring Fisk’s tailor to make him a new costume. Finally. By this part in the series, the “black rag” look is getting really, really old.
6. Episode Two, “Cut Man”
This is the episode that includes the now famous one-take closing scene that everyone is comparing to Old Boy or True Detective, even though the scene isn’t quite as elaborate as either of those. (It’s still a pretty nifty scene though.) This episode also introduces Rosario Dawson as a nurse named Claire Temple who seems important for the next few episodes, then just kind of disappears. But, this episode does establish that Matt is far from invincible and often gets himself injured.
7. Episode Eleven, “The Path of the Righteous”
Just when I was getting used to Wesley’s Josh Charles-sounding comfort voice, he’s killed off. Yes, it was shocking. I honestly did not see that coming. But is this for the best? It was nice that Fisk had someone to talk to other than his girlfriend, Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer). I liked learning things about Fisk, and Wesley was a good conduit for that. And it may have been interesting if Karen had at least considered Wesley’s job offer. Regardless, she didn’t, and Wesley made a fatal mistake. (And I did love his “do you think I’d leave a loaded gun on the table,” Josh Charles-sounding bluff.) Then again, anything that sends Fisk into his arm-slinging baby rage is probably worth it.
8. Episode Seven, “Stick”
At times, I couldn’t get it out of my head that Scott Glenn was playing Robert Durst. He sounded like Robert Durst! Regardless, seven episodes in, we finally get some backstory on how a child with no sight learned to be a superhero. (I did often wonder what people not familiar with Daredevil thought about his powers and abilities, because they weren’t really explained until this episode.) But for as many questions as it answers, this episodes opens up a lot of questions — who is Black Sky, and who is Stick talking to near the end of the episode? — then it answers. I suppose we will find out during the second season, which is fine.
9. Episode Five, “World on Fire”
The episode in which Fisk’s plan is set in motion, which all winds up feeling a little convoluted. And it’s the first episode that really overplays this whole Hell’s Kitchen angle, as if it’s its own island, as opposed to just another New York City neighborhood that has some good restaurants.
10. Episode Three, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm”
First, I’d like to know where this deserted New York City bowing alley is located. For those who don’t live in New York, bowling is at a premium here. There are very few venues, and the few that do exist are (A) crowded and (B) expensive. Bowling in New York City is considered a luxury. Anyway, a man named John Healey introduces himself as some sort of badass hitman (everyone on this show seems to know some form of martial arts), then winds up impaling himself to avoid the wrath of Fisk after telling Daredevil Fisk’s name. This felt like a lot of setup for a character who is already dead. (This was also the episode that I realized that Wesley sounds a lot like Josh Charles.)
11. Episode One, “Into the Ring”
I bet I wasn’t the only one who thought that, maybe, while Matt wasn’t fighting crime, the show would act as a sort of law firm procedural, with maybe a client of the week. Even the Director’s Cut of the film tried to sort of do this with Coolio playing a man represented by Nelson & Murdock. Instead, it turns out to be an elaborate way to introduce Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) as the firm’s new secretary. Because it makes total sense that, after beating a murder charge, that client would just start working at the law firm. Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock did not hire Coolio after being acquitted.
12. Episode Six, “Condemned”
Matt finds himself trapped in an abandoned warehouse with a Russian mobster while he’s methodically being framed for all of Fisk’s crimes. The phone call between Daredevil and Fisk is pretty intense (again, D’Onofrio is so good at this), but loses a little bit of its luster because we know that no matter what Fisk says, this will not be the last time Matt and Fisk speak.
13. Episode Ten, “Nelson vs. Murdock”
“On a very special episode of Daredevil…”
To be fair, I’ve never had a good friend reveal to me that he’s secretly a vigilante superhero, but I doubt my first reaction would be smug anger at my new superhero friend. I’d probably be excited that I was close personal friends with a superhero. What I’d be most upset about is that I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone. I would probably ask my friend something like, “Hey, do you care if I tweet something like, ‘I just learned who Daredevil is?’ I promise I won’t mention your name.” Instead we get almost an entire episode of Foggy (Elden Henson) telling us why he feels betrayed. I’m surprised they went this route so early: letting Foggy in on Matt’s secret. Then again, at least it opens up a dynamic that allows Matt to talk about his adventures to people who aren’t total strangers. By the end of the episode, Foggy is so distraught that he just wants to drown his sorrows in booze. Oh boo hoo, get over it. And the subplot with Karen and Ben Urich tracking down Fisk’s mother is maddening in a “this will obviously get one of you killed” kind of way. (Especially because Ben was tricked into the whole thing.) And now they know that Fisk killed his father, so what? He was a little kid. It makes salacious copy, but a story like that could be twisted around to make Fisk look sympathetic. This whole episode screams, “What’s the point of any of this?” Luckily, episodes like this are few.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.