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The Defenders – Fish in the Jailhouse (Review)

The second season of Daredevil hangs over The Defenders.

This is not a surprise. Daredevil was the first Marvel Netflix show, and so it occupies pride of place in the line-up. It was the only series to get a second season before the release of The Defenders. More than that, the showrunners in charge of The Defenders are the same showrunners who oversaw the second season of Daredevil. It makes sense that Matt Murdock would find himself cast as the protagonist of The Defenders, and that the show would like a logical continuation of his arc.

Apparently the Dutch settlers made the mistake of building Manhattan on a load-bearing dragon skeleton.

In many ways, the story of The Defenders is the story of Matt Murdock. In fact, Matt Murdock is the only character to end The Defenders in a markedly different place than he began. He begins the show having retired his costumed life following the death of Elektra in A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen. Over the course of the show, he embraces his status as hero. He comes to don the costume again and to lead the nascent team in Take Shelter, just over half-way through the season. He ends The Defenders sacrificing himself to save the city, only to narrowly survive.

While the stars of Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are all returned to a position where their first and second seasons might flow organically into one another, The Defenders almost feels like a truncated blockbuster season of Daredevil.

“Yeah, Thor: The Dark World did this gag first, but let’s just go with it.”

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Daredevil – .380 (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the strongest things that the second season of Daredevil has going for it is the three-act structure.

Pacing and structure can be concerns for Netflix television shows. After all, the distributor works on a completely different model than most television broadcasters. Instead of releasing a series on a week-to-week basis across a period of several months, Netflix releases all of a season at the exact same moment. As such, the focus and goals of a Netflix series are different from that a series developed through more traditional means. Netflix shows are consciously designed to be “binged” rather than to be digested in hour-long chunks.

He's the devil, that one.

He’s the devil, that one.

In some ways, this has seen the erosion of the episode as a functional unit of storytelling. If an episode of a regular television drama simply does not work, then the audience is left with a bad taste in their mouth for a week. If an episode of a Netflix drama does not work, the next episode is right there. In fact, Netflix makes it even easier by automatically moving the viewer to the next episode, meaning it takes more effort not to watch the next episode than it does to just keep going. With that in mind, an individual episode not working is not a deal-breaker.

In some respects, it is disappointing that Netflix has yet to truly embrace the potential of the streaming model. Storytelling that would be unthinkable in a weekly model are easier to work around when it comes to binging. In terms of playing with narrative formating, Aziz Anasari’s Master of None is probably the most ambitious of the “Netflix original” shows; the series bounces between its arc-based storytelling and more standalone pieces. In most cases, Netflix shows only really exploit the potential of the model when it comes to serialising their story.

Frank interrogates The Usual Suspects.

Frank interrogates The Usual Suspects.

That said, there is still some division between how streaming affects the plotting of comedies as compared to dramas. Comedies like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Bojack Horseman seem to adopt a more conservative episodic approach to their episode-to-episode plotting; given that The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was moved to Netflix rather late in its production cycle, this makes in a certain amount of sense. Nevertheless, it would appear that the streaming model tends to lean towards a “single story told over [number] hours” approach to drama.

This is not inherently a good thing. One of the bigger issues with streaming dramas remains the attachment to classic television formal conventions, whether it is a set runtime or a predetermined number of episode. Not every story needs to be thirteen episodes, especially not on a streaming service. There is a question as to whether shows like Mad Dogs and Jessica Jones might have been better served with a shorter order. There is also a sense that the demand of telling a single story over a set number of hours leads to stalling and repeating.

Just a regular guy, talkin' about love and punishing.

Just a regular guy, talkin’ about love and punishing.

While a fantastically ambitious show in terms of storytelling and themes, Jessica Jones had an unfortunate habit of running around in circles in order to reach that thirteen-episode count. Early episodes like AKA Crush Syndrome and AKA It’s Called Whiskey wasted a lot of time on how to knock Kilgrave out. Kilgrave himself was introduced twice in both AKA Crush Syndrome and AKA It’s Called Whiskey. Kilgrave was captured and escaped no less than three times over the season, in AKA The Sandwich Saved Me, AKA Sin Bin and AKA 1,000 Cuts.

In many ways, Daredevil is a conventional piece of television drama. Part of that is down to structuring. Daredevil has a stronger sense of episodic storytelling than many contemporary streaming dramas. Within the second seasons, episodes like Guilty as Sin and Seven Minutes in Heaven are held together by internal themes like the idea of perpetual war as it links the season’s two plots and whether various characters are trapped within prisons of their own makings. Care is taken to ensure that something is accomplished between the start and end of a given episode.

Guy talk.

Guy talk.

More than that, the second season takes the idea further and very clearly structures itself into conventional three-act design. The first act introduces Frank Castle and pit him against Matt Murdock, running from Bang to Penny and Dime. The second act introduces Elektra and focuses on Frank Castle’s trial and incarceration, running from Kinbaku to Seven Minutes in Heaven. The third act completes Frank’s origin story while pitting Matt and Elektra against the hand, from The Man in the Box to A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen. The structure is very clear.

Unfortunately, .380 marks the point at which that structure begins to fall apart.

There's going to be hell to pay...

There’s going to be hell to pay…

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Daredevil – New York’s Finest (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

The stock comparison for the first season of Daredevil was Batman Begins. There were certainly plenty of reasons. The yellow-ish colour scheme. The non-linear superhero origin story focusing on a protagonist who subsumes his anger into something greater. The erosion of the existing organised crime framework, replaced by something altogether weirder. The ninjas who plot to smuggle a potentially dangerous (and pseudo-mystical) weapon into the heart of the city through th docklands. It was a good comparison, and it served Daredevil well.

As such, it makes sense that the second season of the show would desperately want to be The Dark Knight.

That'll make a nice logo...

That’ll make a nice logo…

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Daredevil – Daredevil (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

In a way, the biggest problem with origin stories is that you know where they have to end up.

It is easy enough to predict the ending of the first season of Daredevil. Matt Murdock is the costumed superhero who dresses up as a devil to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen. He practices law with his best friend at “Nelson and Murdock.” Wilson Fisk has embraced his identity as a supercriminal in his own right. His plans to redevelop Hell’s Kitchen are soundly defeated. Evidence is put in the hands of the authorities, allowing our heroes to be exonerated and our villains to be identified.

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It is a very clear arc, because it has to end somewhere close to where every Daredevil story begins. Indeed, even the title of the episode alludes to that. This is the point at which Matt Murdock ceases to be “the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” or “the Man in the Mask.” This is the point at which he formally adopts the name “Daredevil.” This is the point at which he puts on a live action version of his iconic costume. This is the point at which the show stops being a Daredevil origin story and becomes just a Daredevil story.

So it makes sense that Daredevil feels a little bit anticlimactic and a little bit overly familiar. The episode doesn’t fight the pull of gravity that draws it towards the inevitable status quo. Despite the shock at the end of The Ones We Leave Behind, the season finalé offers no real shock or twist or subversion. It is exactly what it claims to be. It is functional, efficient and clean. It is not a bad ending by any means. In fact, it is quite satisfying. At the same time, it does feel just a little too tidy and neat for its own good.

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Daredevil – Shadows in the Glass (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Much like Stick, Shadows in the Glass emphasises the relatively episodic nature of Daredevil.

If Stick was “the mystical ninja tie-in episode”, then Shadows in the Glass is the obligatory “villain episode.” This is evident in the choice to open with a teaser dedicated to the morning routine of Wilson Fisk. It is a nice structural choice to repeat the sequence two more times, once at the midpoint and once towards the end. The second iteration of the sequence plays much the same as the first, but the third version plays out with both Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna, suggesting that Fisk is no longer as alone as he claimed to be in Rabbit in a Snowstorm.

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Daredevil is a show that really does take advantage of its format to flesh out and develop the world of Matthew Murdock. It would have been easy to structure Daredevil as a simply thirteen-hour origin story with a reasonably high budget. However, the show capitalises on the extra space afforded to a thirteen-episode season. None of the Marvel films could afford to devote fifty minutes of character development to the antagonist, and even Loki has never been given as much narrative attention as Fisk. (Only Michael Fassbender’s Magneto can compete with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk.)

Shadows in the Glass provides Wilson Fisk with a supervillain origin story very clearly designed to mirror that of Matt Murdock.

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Daredevil – Stick (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Sitting smack bang in the middle of the season, Stick is something of an oddity.

It demonstrates just how episodic Daredevil can be in structure. Stick lets its focus move away from Matt’s conflict with Wilson Fisk, offering an episode built around a guest star and shedding some light on one of the members of Fisk’s cabal. “Ride with me tonight,” Stick urges Matt. “Help me destroy Black Sky, keep it off the streets, and I promise you this: Wilson Fisk will know the taste of fear the day he faces you ’cause he’ll know that you kicked the guy he’s afraid of right in the nuts.” Fisk is still a target here, albeit one temporarily shifted to the background.

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There are obviously ripples from Stick that reverberate through the rest of the season. Nobu’s loss here helps to mount more pressure on Fisk in Shadows in the Glass, while it leads to a very physical confrontation between Nobu and Matt in Speak of the Devil. At the same time, it remains curiously disengaged from the show around it. Despite the fact that the casting of Scott Glenn was announced with the fanfare reserved for primary cast members like Rosario Dawson or Vincent D’Onofrio, this is his only appearance in the whole thirteen-episode season.

Of course, there might very well be a reason for this. Stick is the only episode of the first season with a closing scene that hints at something far beyond the scope of this individual show – a coming “war” between mystical and magical forces. In some ways, Stick feels like it takes advantage of the episodic structure of a thirteen-episode season to relegate all the obligatory set-up and world-building for material outside the show to a single episode in the middle of the season. This is perhaps the ideal place for it, not distracting from the beginning or the end of the run.

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A lot of this feels like set-up for the Defenders project that will unite all four of the Netflix and Marvel miniseries, bringing together characters like Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand to fight an incredible evil in much the same way that The Avengers brought together Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk. Stick seems to allude to something decidedly more epic in scope than the details of this individual thirteen-episode run. It is, essentially, the second act of Iron Man 2 structured as a mid-season episode of Daredevil.

However, it all works. Stick might be divorced from the larger plot concerns of the season around it, but it never loses sight of its main characters. After a run of episodes focusing on Wilson Fisk, Stick brings the focus back to Matt Murdock. The return of Matt’s childhood mentor might be tied to some larger plot, but it also helps explain Matt’s character a bit more. Meeting Stick, we get to know a little bit more about how Matt ended up this way.

daredevil-stick

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Daredevil – Condemned (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, let’s talk about Frank Miller.

daredevil-condemned3

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