Is the opening scene a metaphor for Fisk’s entire plan to rebuild the city? “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs,” and all that?
After a couple of intense episodes for ol’ Matt Murdock, Wilson Fisk once again takes center stage in one of the finest episodes of the season. The title Shadows in the Glass appears to draw its inspiration from the opening scene of the episode, where Fisk looks into the mirror and sees himself as a boy, covered in blood. A haunting image that immediately draws questions about who Wilson Fisk is as a person. This reflection is how Fisk sees himself, and it begs the question, why?
The episode goes on to illustrate Fisk’s early years in an abusive household and a series of events that led him to be the man he turned out to be. It’s a great insight into Fisk as a character, and makes for some telling parallels between Fisk and Murdock. Following an episode about daddy issues from Matt’s perspective and turning toward Fisk’s own particular challenges makes for another thematic connection between the two characters.
The particular origin utilized in the series sheds a lot of light on D’Onforio’s character choices for Fisk. Particularly his bizarre cadence that makes Fisk seem so unsure of his identity as to slip back and forth between constructed dialects. It becomes pretty clear throughout the episode that Fisk is a product of his father; a thug desperately attempting to disguise himself as a refined gentleman and business man. Just like his dad, he looks to move up the social ladder to gain respect without really earning it, but rather by forcing it to happen. “Those are the guys who wanna keep you down. You gotta show ‘em you’re a man!” The veneer cracks in small details, particularly his reliance on Wesley for tips on wine and his bursts of uncontrollable rage.
Wilson’s father, Bill Fisk, was an abusive husband and dad who wanted to get on city council. He was a thug with a violent streak who wanted power. He wanted to move up in the world and would do whatever he needed to in order to see that happen. “You have to put yourself out there, take what you want,” he tells young Wilson.
It’s clear that despite his hatred of his father, Wilson Fisk took many of his lessons to heart. He will go to whatever means necessary to achieve his goals, obtain what he wants, and gain respect, power, and acclaim. He also inherited the incredible violent anger. That anger is always boiling under the surface of D’Onforio’s performance, always ready to burst.
And as we learn more about Fisk’s journey to who he is today, we also learn that he is not as in control of the Hell’s Kitchen underworld as things seemed at the beginning. His power is fraying at the edges and his associates are questioning his resolve and his ability. Nobu’s contribution to the underworld is unclear, but it is apparent he does not really work for Fisk, but rather he is owed something. Fisk describes Nobu and his organization as “A necessary evil,” whatever that means. Meanwhile, Leland Owsley is on Fisk’s butt about his ability to keep him safe. Owlsey is such an enjoyable character for his irreverent selfishness and his complete lack of fear among his incredibly stone faced compatriots in crime. He provides a service he views as completely necessary and so doesn’t fear he has anything to lose. Fisk also gets a visit from Madame Gao, who he obviously is very intimidated by. She systematically breaks through just about all of his defenses in record time. She figures out his private residence, one of his closest kept secrets, his ability to speak both Chinese and Japanese, and finally reveals that she knows about Vanessa. In fact, Vanessa is Gao’s greatest concern, because she sees this romance as a sign of weakness on Fisk’s part; a distraction.
When Gao leaves, Fisk is shaken and lashes out in rage, overturning his heavy table and even screaming at Wesley to leave him alone. Wesley comes through though, and brings in Vanessa to help, despite Fisk’s protests. Nonetheless, Vanessa manages to convince Fisk to open up. He admits his darkest secrets to her, and explains his current predicament.
Fisk’s deep dark secret is the fact that he beat his father to death with a hammer after having to sit and listen to him beat his mother. After that, his mother helped young Wilson saw up the body and hide it in bags over the next week. After this, Fisk declares that although the murder of Bill Fisk was for his own sake rather than his mother’s, he is not a monster, not cruel for the sake of being cruel. He has to scream this in agony to convince himself. He needs to believe it. Because when he looks in the mirror he sees the aftermath of his first kill. He is reminded of his father forcing him to beat a young kid to a pulp. He wears his father’s cuff links as a statement of who he is not, as if that makes any sense at all. He has convinced himself that his plans for Hell’s Kitchen, the death and the drugs and the crime he oversees, are all for the greater good, and they are not simply the lust for power and blood that he inherited from his violent father. He is desperate to be different from his dad. (Hey, does this remind you of Matt’s relationship to Stick?)
With his allies turning on him, Fisk reveals another way he is like his father. Everyone else is out to “destroy what I’m trying to accomplish.” He blames the world for his failures, rather than his own shortcomings, just as Bill Fisk was not willing to accept his own failures as a man and a politician and took his anger out on punk kids, his wife, and his son.
I’ve seen a couple of people write that Ayelet Zurer’s Vanessa is a character infatuated and drawn to Fisk because of some kind of magnetism that he has as a complicated man, but I reject that notion entirely. Vanessa has made it incredibly clear that she could have anyone she wanted. She is attracted to power and takes what she desires. She could have left Fisk and she brought a gun to their second date. Her eyes were fully open to who and what Wilson Fisk was. And he’s a man without any kind of natural charm. He’s a weird guy. But he has power and influence, and I think above all Vanessa sees in him a chance for herself to gain power. She’s fascinated by his complexity, complexity that continues to reveal itself, but that only makes him more interesting. Her face when Fisk reveals his story is interesting. There is what appears to be a sincere empathy going on, but I’m not convinced she actually believes her assurance that Wilson is not a monster. Perhaps that’s what she likes most about him. In many ways I find Vanessa the most interesting character in the season, despite her comparative lack of screen time.
She spends the night and helps Fisk pick out a slightly brighter colored suit and a new pair of cuff links to mark a new chapter in his life. She is going to help Wilson Fisk achieve what he desires. She’s going to be the woman behind the man, reaping the reward without having to get her own hands dirty.
Things in Matt Murdock’s world seem to be going more along the usual route for the poor guy. As soon as he finds himself poised for a win, he gets knocked down by Fisk. In this case, he manages to get just enough info to convince Ben Urich (in a nicely shot scene in the rain) to bring Wilson Fisk’s name out into the light, forcing him to deal with accusations and probes into his private and business life. This probing, Matt hopes, will be enough to throw the man off and reveal some hard evidence. This gets blown to hell, however, when Vanessa manages to convince Wilson to reveal himself and provide a face for the public of a hero for the city. If he wants to make a change and accomplish his goal, he can’t operate only in the shadows. In a scene that turns a “reporter writes a story and ties up loose ends as an episode closes” cliche on its head, Urich writes his draft just as Fisk holds a press conference declaring his intention to rebuild Hell’s Kitchen. Knowing that his article will never see print now, Ben deletes the file.
Matt also gets some much needed screen time with Foggy and Karen, where he manages to squeeze out of them their investigation into Union Allied. With a shocking amount of hypocrisy, he rails on the two of them for working outside of the law and endangering themselves. Together, the three begin the hard work of trying to pursue legal channels to bring the conspiracy down.
Overall, I find “Shadows in The Glass” to be one of the strongest episodes of the season, providing a great deal of insight to Wilson Fisk which completely remade my impressions of the character. Up until now I could not get a handle on Vincent D’Onforio’s bizarre performance, but seeing where he came from I saw clearly who this version of Fisk was. A thug in a suit, playing at being a man of high society, but unable to shake the anger and lust for power that lies inside. The personal connection to the “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” painting was also a staggering reveal, which said so much about Fisk. Bill’s order to sit and stare at the wall “and think about the man you want to be,” says a lot about the way in which looking at that painting calms Wilson following the nightmares of his childhood. It was the wall he stared at when he had to listen to his mother get beaten and he decided to take matters into his own hands. It was the wall he stared at when he decided the man he didn’t want to be. When Fisk wakes up from his dreams and feels “alone,” looking at the painting, he is able to remind himself of all the ways he is a better man than his father.
Even if he has to lie to himself a little to do it.
- Nice to see everyone at Nelson and Murdock on screen together. The series could really benefit on more focus on the relationships there, and I hope season two gives us more time to see how Matt relates to Karen and Foggy instead of sending the latter two off on their own and talk about Matt.
- It was really exciting to see Ben and Matt on screen together, given how much history the two have in the comics.
- Fisk convincing the cop to kill his partner was coooold. “How much are each of those years to worth to you…In round figures?”
- “Technically, we paid someone else to shoot him.” Wesley is so fun to hate.
- “This city is a piss! And a shit!” English may not be his first language but I think that Nobu has a mastery of the NYC dialect.
- Bill Fisk owed money to mob boss Rigoletto. Early in the series we hear how Rigoletto was “retired.” Maybe a bit of revenge on Wilson Fisk’s part, considering the money his dad owed was the catalyst for the beating we saw in this episode.
- Fisk’s custom tailor who lines his suits with a kevlar microfiber is Melvin Potter, a long running supporting character in the Daredevil comics. He was originally a super villain named Gladiator who fought by throwing buzzsaws. (There’s a poster in Melvin’s workshop of a Gladiator figure with the words “la vengeance de la gladiator!” The poster is actually modeled after Daredevil issue 226. There’s also a buzzsaw displayed prominently in the beginning of the scene at his shop.) In the comics he was originally an enemy, but eventually reformed with the help of Daredevil and Matt Murdock. He gained psychiatric help from a woman named Betsy Beatty, who he later fell in loved with and married. Melvin Potter has a lot of mental issues and is easily manipulated and has occasionally had some psychotic breaks that forced him back into costume, but at heart he is a gentle man. He owns a costume shop in NYC.