Week of April 23, 2023:

The Dark at the End of the Tunnel (Daredevil s2 e12) released March 18, 2016 (where to watch)
A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen (Daredevil s2 e13) released March 18, 2016
Scott Hardie | July 22, 2023

The Dark at the End of the Tunnel: OK, first of all, how did Matt Murdock put on his superhero costume and get across town to save Stick in the time it took Elektra Natchios to walk down one flight of stairs?! This is not the most realistic series on TV but that's just not possible.

Stick beaten up and tortured doesn't look all that different from normal. It reminds me of an old Onion article.

The revelation that Elektra is the Black Sky barely registers because there's been so little definition of the Hand. They're an amorphous blob of an antagonist. Until now, the "Black Sky" has been said only to be some kind of weapon, nothing more; it could be a person or a house cat or a loaf of bread or that cassette tape of "Shining Star" in Karen Page's dashboard. It's meaningless. This subplot is so very, very dumb.

Foggy Nelson says that no one is coming through the door as a client, explaining that the law firm is too insolvent even to pay its electric bill. Didn't Elektra write the firm some very big checks earlier in the season? If they spent all of that money already, it wasn't on anything visible on screen. We've seen Karen's car and both Karen and Matt's apartments, so they're definitely not embezzling. Wouldn't the publicity from the Frank Castle trial, despite the loss, have gotten them at least some clients?

Ok, so the Hand half of this episode is a failure, but what about the Punisher half? Fortunately, that works far better, finally paying off some of the key thematic choices of the season.

The critical scene is Frank's decision to kill Ray Schoonover when he's already captured and could simply be turned over to the police with evidence. Karen tries to connect with Frank's inner humanity and convince him not to murder for once, but he ultimately refuses to change. Lesser TV shows would either grimly justify Frank's actions, or depict Frank as doomed and punish him karmically for his "tragic fall." This show is smarter. It understands that Frank isn't the protagonist; Karen is. He doesn't change, and there's no point in judging him. Instead, *she* is the one who must change: Her arc is to go from agreeing with his mission and its means-justifying ends to becoming disenchanted with vigilantism and violence. His soul is gone, but hers is saved in this moment, as heart-wrenching as it is to watch her go through it, due largely to Deborah Ann Wohl's committed performance. The camerawork is clever here, starting behind Karen and doing a 180' spin until it's completely on the other side of her, underlining her change of heart, and then showing her dropping to her knees in the car's headlights, bathed in light despite darkness all around her. There's no mistaking the symbolic importance of what just happened.

While I think the series ultimately suffered for its choice to divide its attention between the Elektra and the Punisher stories—primarily because it left itself no time to develop the Hand, a crucial failure, which I expect to write about in the next episode if it doesn't pull off a miracle by making them interesting at last—I do think that this penultimate hour has connected the two stories thematically better than any other in the second season, which is what (I assume) the writers were trying to accomplish. The Punisher and Elektra stories have almost no narrative connection at all, but thematically they're two sides of the same coin, about whether these people (and by extension, Matt) have a right, a responsibility, or a destiny to commit the acts of violence that they do. Throughout the season, we've seen moments where Frank and Elektra were truly forced to take life (such as Frank being locked inside death row) and others where they chose to do so unnecessarily (such as Elektra murdering the teenage assassin in Matt's apartment). This episode cross-cuts between each character's moral "final exam," Frank's capture of Schoonover and Elektra's invitation to join the Hand. Here at last, each must make the ultimate choice that gets to their essential nature, at the crossroads that will determine their futures. Will they become what the world expects them to be? Will they listen to their respective guardian angels, Karen and Matt, who know from experience that what tempts them is worth rejecting? In both cases, regardless of the choices made by Frank and Elektra (and Elektra does make her choice even if it's Matt and Stick who initiate the attack against the Hand), what matters is what effects their choices will have on Karen and Matt, which I assume will have ramifications far beyond this episode. The final act in this episode is the heart of what season two is all about, and it's a terrific ending. I just wish that the rest of the episode preceding it, like the season itself, had not made so many missteps in getting to this point. (7/10)

A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen: Man, what a disappointing finish. This season deserved much better. The big climax is a dramatic rooftop battle between our heroes and the Hand, but it's so dark that you can't tell what's happening. Nobu is generic and dull. The ninjas all just stand around letting Matt grieve instead of killing him while he's distracted. Elektra's last words "this isn't the end of the story" are definitely, totally a normal thing for a dying person to say, for sure. It's unclear why Frank would get involved in this fight, or how he got up there past the cops in time, or why he says goodbye to "Red" without knowing whether they'll cross paths again (although it's cool that Matt can hear him). Stick killing Nobu the human Ambien, for good this time, is maybe the one satisfying moment because it promises to put one of the show's dullest elements out of our misery.

The Hand continue to be the huge glaring weak point in this series. They are so boring and generic and under-developed! Consider Finn Cooley, the Irish mob boss from the fourth episode of this season. The show failed to make him truly unique (I thought he felt too much like a copy of other nasty TV criminal types, particularly when beating a subordinate to death in his first scene), but at least it *tried* to make him interesting in the very limited screen time that he had. It developed his backstory and motive, gave him distinctive dialogue and a specific point of view, and hired a good actor to play him. The Hand were in half of this season and got no such development. Other than Nobu and Hirochi, and possibly Madame Gao (the jury's still out on her), none of them had names or faces or dialogue. The first season had what felt at the time like too many scenes of Wilson Fisk's miniature international crime syndicate scheming together in shadowy parking garages, but those scenes provided crucial characterization, for Fisk most of all, and the Hand would really benefit from getting a fuller depiction. If I could rewrite the season, I'd have saved the better Punisher material for a later year, and spent the entirety of the running time on the Hand, giving them much more detail. And if you know the comics, what makes this even more frustrating is that the Hand have long been considered very dull and generic there, too! They dominated a run of the comics in the 1980s that heavily inspired season two's storyline, and although that story remains popular overall, the Hand are considered its weakest element, to the point that they've been parodized several times, such as in the form of TMNT's Foot Clan. It's hard to believe that this show not only decided to adapt some of Daredevil's least popular villains to screen, but didn't bother to fix the main problem with them in the process.

Then there's Karen's big newspaper editorial that she's been working towards for half of the season. She has observed several deaths, watched several people lose a part of their souls, and almost gotten killed a couple of times herself, so she should have a lot to say about the mortal cost of violence and vigilantism. And this, at last, is what she has to say about it:

What is it, to be a hero? Look in the mirror and you'll know. Look into your own eyes and tell me you are not heroic. That you've not endured, or suffered, or lost the things you care about most. And yet here you are. A survivor of Hell's Kitchen, the hottest place anyone's ever known. A place where cowards don't last long, so you must be a hero. We all are. Some more than others, but none of us alone. Some bloody their fists trying to keep the Kitchen safe, others bloody the streets in the hope they can stop the tide, the crime, the cruelty, the disregard for human life all around them. But this is Hell's Kitchen. Angel or devil, rich or poor, young or old, you live here. You didn't choose this town, it chose you. Because a hero isn't someone who lives above us keeping us safe, a hero's not a god, or an idea. A hero lives here on the street, among us, with us, always here but rarely recognized. Look in the mirror and see yourself for what you truly are. You're a New Yorker. You're a hero. This is your Hell's Kitchen. Welcome home.
Besides being a fraction of the length of a typical editorial, wow is that simplistic. I plugged that text into several readability tools online that estimated that this was appropriate for a third-grade to fifth-grade reading level. It's so bad that it reminds me of what Forrest Gump supposedly said into the unplugged microphone. Look, I'm not trying to be a snob here, but this is not just in my head, right? This is really bad writing, isn't it? This monologue should be the thematic capstone for the season, the chance to underline the central points that the show worked so hard to make, and the writers whiffed. Mitchell Ellison telling Karen that it's "something only you can write," my ass.

More bad thoughts: If the Chaste has always known that Elektra is the Black Sky since her childhood, why in the heavens didn't they try much harder to kill her during her childhood training, and why (it's worth asking a second time) didn't Stick let her die from her poisoning earlier this season? And if the Hand has always known that Elektra is the Black Sky, why did they waste an episode on trafficking that child in season one? I thought that kid was supposed to be the Black Sky, but maybe I'm misremembering and that kid was merely one of the creepy blood donors, something that the show still couldn't be bothered to explain in the end. Matt's stubborn refusal to believe that there's any possible legitimacy to the legend of the Chaste and the Hand continues to seem ridiculous, since he has now seen Nobu resurrected. Are we supposed to assume that his Catholic beliefs prevent him from accepting an alternative pseudo-religion, or are we just supposed to conclude that he's a moron, or what?

Some good thoughts: Carrie Anne Moss made a cameo! Sweet! More crossovers please! And Daredevil's signature billy clubs also finally turn up in the series, which is fun to see. The cemetery scene was beautiful; more shows should take place in winter despite the challenges in filming. (3/10)

One last thought: Writing about Finn Cooley above got me thinking more about Wilson Fisk. Like I've said elsewhere, I don't agree with every creative choice that the show has made about him, but mostly that's little stuff like the weird way that he strains to pronounce "my city" and "my love" as if he's an alien pretending to be human. It used to bother me that the two things that audiences seem to love most about him, that he's prone to frightening bursts of rage and that he's a master schemer who manipulates Hell's Kitchen like a chess master, seem mutually contradictory, since temper tantrums are the result of feeling like one is not in control, but at some point it dawned on me that his rage-fits usually come at moments when he feels like control has been stolen away from him, and it all fits now. But the point that I want to make is, like him or not, he's complex and dynamic, and Vincent D'Onofrio has a really unique and fascinating take on playing him, and there are moments where he takes your breath away. He could have easily been a generic fat-cat crime boss type, the sort we've seen on TV a hundred times before, but the show has worked really hard to make him specific and real. So why can't it do this with the Hand?

Scott Hardie | July 22, 2023
This comment contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming. Reveal it.

Scott Hardie | July 22, 2023

season rating: 7/10 (It ruled.)
best of season: "New York's Finest"
worst of season: "A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen"

Erik Bates | October 22, 2023

Dark at the End of the Tunnel

So Elektra is the Black Sky. Cool. What does that have to do with the giant bottomless pit they dug, and the zombie ninjas? This is so disjointed and unappealing to me. I can't follow it.

Did I grasp this properly, that Schoonover was the Blacksmith all along, and that the reason Frank's family was killed was because he wouldn't join up with him on his heroin empire? Honestly, that's a pretty good reason for him to want to take revenge. I'll allow for that. Did we essentially just see the setting up of the Punisher series with the discovery of the weapons cache and the itchy trigger finger imagery? I'm honestly looking forward to that series in our project.

Erik Bates | October 22, 2023

A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen

Karen's article was supposed to be 2000 words. Her "editorial" was 200. I sincerely hope that this is just her starting point, and not what she intends to submit as a real journalistic effort. To be fair, she's not a journalist. Staring at that screen with writer's block makes 100% sense to me. The end result sounds like little better than what I would have likely come up with. It sounds more like the last paragraph of a novel than the first (or entire) paragraph of a newspaper article.

Can we just explain what the Black Sky is instead of just saying it's a "weapon"? Yes, Elekctra, you're the Black Sky. Neat. Do you even know what that means? Or are you just saying it because people have said that about you, but beyond knowing that everyone wants to either kill you or save you because of it, do you have any idea what it actually is to be the Black Sky? Because I sure as hell don't, and the way they dance around it throughout the second half of this season makes me think that the writers haven't fully figured it out, either.

Also, did she die? Was she actually buried? Who/what was that in the cocoon thing at the end? Is that who has always been in there, or is that Elektra's supposedly-dead body? Are the multiple copies of her? I'm so confused, but not in a fun way.

Erik Bates | October 22, 2023
This comment contains spoilers for Daredevil. Reveal it.

Scott Hardie | October 25, 2023

Elektra being Black Sky: That's my take too. The show acts as if this is a huge revelation, but it means nothing to us because the show has allowed so very little screen time to develop the concept. Maybe there are comic book fans out there who are excited by this reference? I remember Thanos's brief unexplained appearance at the end of The Avengers; the audience was probably stumped by the one guy in the back going, "Wooo! Thanos! Yeah!" Anyway, I neglected to say this earlier, but part of my problem with Elektra's depiction in this series (as with too many women in media) is that she's too passive, just an object for the men to have feelings about. At various times, she appears to exist merely to make Matt horny or angry or grief-struck or what have you, such as inventing a false self to date him in college for Stick. The show turning her into a "weapon" in the form of "Black Sky" is just literalizing the notion that she is a thing and not a person.

Blacksmith and The Punisher: That's also my take, that Schoonover was the Blacksmith (and thus that the Blacksmith sub-plot is over). I assume that Frank finding the weapons cache is setup for his own solo series, materially or symbolically, but it's not necessary: Frank already had a considerable personal arsenal by the time he first appeared in Daredevil, and he's more than capable of acquiring weapons any time he wants, and satisfaction with Schoonover's "punishment" is his true takeaway.

About the meaning of Elektra in the cocoon: I'm trying to figure out how to answer without spoiling anything. Let me say that the first time I watched this, my interpretation was that the Hand had acquired Elektra's corpse at some point after her rooftop death, and they were bringing her back to sort-of-life using a process similar to what restored Nobu and probably also doing some woo-woo Black Sky magic to her (we saw them protecting this mystical sarcophagus before, so we know they had some kind of plan), and in the cemetery scene, Matt and Stick were mourning an empty coffin in the ground (which now I think Matt should have been able to detect, hmm).

About ninjas not having heartbeats: That's awesome! I didn't even think of that. Great insight. And yeah, the footsteps don't make sense; there would also be rubbing of fabric and other micro-sounds that Matt could hear, given how powerful his senses seem to be. The entire world must be one huge annoying ASMR video for Matt. It would not be fun in real life.

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