Daredevil: Speak of the Devil

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Daredevil Speak of the Devil
Matt Murdock and Father Lantom

My first thoughts as this episode begins? THE HAND, SUCKER!! That is a full-on red clad ninja out to kill Daredevil. I knew Nobu was not just Yakuza. My second thought is, man I wish there was a Ninja Turtles movie like this. Mostly because the TMNT origin is based on Daredevil and every time I see or hear The Hand, I think of the Foot Clan. (The original Ninja Turtles comic was a direct parody of Daredevil’s origin, with the radioactive ooze that blinded Matt also splashing on four regular turtles and mutating them. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were parodying what was hot in 80’s comics, which was ninjas and mutants—Daredevil and X-Men.)

Anyway. We find out a lot about Kingpin’s evil plot to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen by any means necessary. We still don’t quite know why Fisk is working with Nobu, but we do know that he and his organization (THE HAND!) was guaranteed a significant amount of space in the new city. Which explains the plot to drive people out of Elena’s apartment building. Fisk’s goals aren’t particularly evil, at least on the surface, but his methods are destructive and his desires are much less virtuous than probably even he believes. I imagine that Nobu’s “necessary evil” is man power and enforcement. Ninjas to do killing.

Nobu is very adamant about having a particular space in the city. Why is unknown, but he makes it clear that he is under pressure from his superiors. Knowing that The Hand have a mystical element to their actions, it’s likely there is something at play in that world.

At the same time, Fisk and Wesley discuss how the Mask has been less active recently. Is he scared, or just being more careful? Following the events of “Condemned” and the city turning on him, Matt’s tactics change significantly. Realizing he is at a disadvantage and always a few steps behind Fisk and co, he seems to be turning his attention to the legal system and working with Foggy and Karen. But that doesn’t stop him from pondering taking drastic measures. Which is what takes him to see Father Lantom twice in this episode. When the trailer for this series featured the snippet of dialogue, “I believe the devil walks among us, taking many forms,” I was ready to grit my teeth and struggle through another show that doesn’t know anything about Catholic faith or theology attempt to use its iconography. But, really, the series has a pretty solid take on it, and manages to make it feel authentic and believable. The devil is tricky, theologically speaking, with no real consensus and some priests rejecting the notion entirely. So the way Fr. Lantom talks about the devil is pretty refreshing, and, most importantly, from his own experience. It was especially so because they took the time to talk about the evolution of the word Satan in the biblical text, which is a nuance often missed not just by television but by the general public.

“I had this notion… which I was more than willing to speak about, at length, to whoever I could corner… that the Devil… was inconsequential. A minor figure in the grand scheme…In the scriptures, the Hebrew word “Satan” actually means adversary. It’s applied to any antagonist. Angels and humans, serpents and kings. Medieval theologians reinterpreted those passages to be about a single, monstrous enemy. In my youthful zeal, I was certain I knew why. Propaganda. Played up to drive people into the Church.”

Catholicism and fundamentalism are not the same, and a show claiming to be about a Catholic that went with the angle that the devil is a real evil creature walking around in the world would be a big fat red flag that the writers had no sense of what they were talking about. But Father Lantom has a more subtle understanding of the devil and evil through his missionary experience in Rwanda. The idea that the “devil” exists among people is palatable in this context, and probably as close to a general consensus of Catholic theology as is possible to get. It also works on a thematic level, in the conflict between Kingpin and Daredevil.

It’s not just the conversation at the beginning that’s handled well, but all of Matt’s interactions with the priest. Father Lantom is presented as a regular person, which is a big failing in so many shows where they make priests into characters who spout bible verses and are all-knowing wisdom speakers. I especially liked that Father Lantom doesn’t remember the particular verse he is quoting. Catholics are not the bible quoters that protestants are…My biggest pet peeve is when people who write fiction have Catholics or priests quoting chapter and verse all the time. It’s just not a part of the education or the major emphasis. It’s a lazy way of lumping all Christians together.  And even in the first episode, when Matt comes to confess before actually committing anything, Lantom is quick to point out that it doesn’t work that way.

The Proverb that Father Lantom shares with Matt (which is Proverbs 25:26, for the record) represents a major theme of the series. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” Meaning, when a righteous man falls to sin, it is as bad as if a public spring has been poisoned. The effects ripple to those around him. Matt feels himself hanging on a precipice. When put to the question of whether he is conflicted because he is “struggling with the fact that you don’t want to kill this man, but have to, or that you don’t have to kill him, but want to?” Matt is fully aware that murder is against everything he believes in. At the same time, he feels like the best option is to commit such a major sin. But is it his anger talking, or the real truth? He can’t be sure. The consequences could ripple to everyone he cares about.

In this episode Matt and Fisk come face to face for the first time, which shakes him to the core. To speak with this man who represents everything he hates is one thing, but to be in his presence another. It’s interesting that Matt refers to him as “the devil,” when it is he who takes on the Daredevil name. It’s another way the show parallels the two characters. Is he capable of taking actions that Fisk has already taken? And if he does, how much closer does that make him to becoming Fisk—reshaping the city by whatever means necessary.  It is the things that Matt Murdock clings to that makes him a good man—things Fisk does not care about or have. Yes, Fisk has Vanessa, but Matt has a set of moral scruples and beliefs that are incredibly important to him.

It is his Catholicism and faith that puts him apart from the Kingpin. That’s what makes his conversations with Fr. Lantom so interesting. The show isn’t a perfect depiction of being Catholic (although certainly there is no single way of being Catholic) but  Matt is a man guided by his beliefs. It’s ultimately what keeps him from going over the edge. When Fisk reveals that he killed Elena just to get at Matt, he explains, “I took no pleasure in her passing,” as if that is some kind of justification for the act. He’s exceptional at lying to himself in order to justify his actions. Matt, on the other hand, is riddled with the guilt of his actions because they go against so much of what he believes. It’s that guilt which drives him, because he is also unwilling to simply sit back and allow things to unfold knowing he could potentially make a difference. The central conflict of Matt Murdock is the man torn between his passion for the law and his actions as a vigilante. Similarly, there is the man of faith torn apart by his violent life. The Catholic faith is what keeps Matt from becoming Wilson Fisk, a villain. It’s what drives him to help others, rather than rule over them. He sacrifices himself every night for the sake of others, rather than paying others to do dirty work for him.

Twice, Murdock comes into contact with Fisk in this episode, first as their hidden selves, and then later as their real personas. Matt lashes out at Fisk despite being beaten and bloodied by Nobu so badly he can barely stand. Which ends poorly for him, as one might expect. Fisk tears him apart, revealing his monstrous strength and animalistic, furious violence. It is a taste of things to come for both us and for Matt. D’OnForio is not as gigantic as the Kingpin of the comics, but I don’t think anyone realistically could ever pull off that physique. But he still cuts an imposing figure, especially when in the moments when he reveals his unhinged anger. His physical strength and the way he attacks by massive charges and punches is properly intimidating and even if he isn’t a martial artist like Matt or Nobu, it’s easy to picture him being a physical match just through sheer strength.

Speaking again of Nobu, the ninja fight is a far cry from the more grounded street level action, veering a little more toward the super heroic with high flying flips and kicks. It’s another small step toward expanding the world of Daredevil to something a little more than the more street level drama season one has focused on. The frequent cuts to the super-violent battle provide jolts of action to what is otherwise an episode focused on character.

The episode ends with a shocking reveal from the aftermath of Matt’s battle, where Foggy discovers his friend’s double life. I definitely wasn’t expecting them to take that step this season.

Stray Thoughts

  • “We are going to make a difference. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes… a lot of the time, but we are.” Hope! The potential and desire to make a difference is central to these characters and this show. I don’t see the series as purely a dark and gritty tale, but one of hope and people fighting to make a difference. It speaks to the Murdock gift to always get up after a fall, which was so important to the first couple episodes. No matter what happens, if you keep pushing, you can come away with a win.
  • The scene with the reveal of the Nelson and Murdock Attorney at Law sign is a sweet scene with an air of victory to it..even if it is short lived.
  • Matt slices Fisk’s jacket and discovers that it’s a fancy Kevlar laced thing that keeps him from getting hurt. Important little thing.

Marvel Facts

  • The heroin packet seen is emblazoned with the symbol of the Steel Serpent, an Iron Fist villain. So, Madame Gao, who distributes the stuff may be connected to that later series.

 

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