In the penultimate episode of a show, the creators have to make a lot of moves to set up the season’s conclusion. In the case of “The Ones We Leave Behind,” the Daredevil writers have to begin paying off very methodically paced story developments and character arcs. The thematic crescendo of the closing can’t take place, but there has to be something dramatically powerful or impactful that thrusts the viewer into the final chapter. Characters that are separated begin to find their ways back to one another. Pieces are being moved across the chessboard.
This episode manages to pull off everything an episode of this nature has to. All the characters begin to circle one another to converge toward the conclusion. If the centerpiece of the season was Matt Murdock’s abject failure against the Russians and Kingpin’s destruction of the city, everything that followed tumbled downward from that point. Our heroes need to rally. Our villain needs to make his final move.
Fisk has been pushed into a corner. He has nearly lost the woman he loves in an attempted assassination attempt. His closest (perhaps only) friend and confidante has been killed. Someone has violated his sacred privacy and spoken to his mother. The title of the episodee, “The Ones We Leave Behind,” relates to those people that are left in the wake of our actions when we become consumed by an idea or a goal. It is our selfishness, our foolishness, the human nature to forget that our actions have consequences. Fisk is so self-consumed for his need for power that he considers all others expendable. All but two others. But he has never considered how dangerous a man he is to be around because of his own machinations. Yes, he warned Vanessa of the danger, but that was from outside forces, not because of his own poor choices.
For Matt, this has been a major point of pain for him, and one Karen confronts him over. What man is he choosing to be? If nothing else, this season has shown Matt that he does not want to be alone, and that the way he operates has to change if he is going to continue his life as a vigilante. And he is realizing it, here, in a sort of redemptive arc. The emotional torture of his predicament seems to have become replaced with a more relaxed acceptance and a regret for past actions. He is starting to realize that he does not want to kill—even if he had to learn it the hard way through a failed attempt. He is starting to realize he cannot do everything alone, and regrets his feud with Foggy. He realizes that there is space for Matt Murdock to show himself from behind the mask.
This was seen a little in the last episode, but also in his relaxed conversation with Ben Urich. A new ally and what seems to be a budding relationship. Matt even admits, “I can’t do this alone.” A far cry from the martyr complex that raged within him previously. His confidence, despite his losses, have led him to be more sure of himself, calmer, more precise. The battle raging within him is quelling itself as he begins to realize who he is at his core. Matt even takes a new approach with the police, attempting to place his trust in one particular officer he knows. It’s a tense conversation, but it’s the beginning of a dialogue.
In the meantime, Foggy continues to go at Fisk through legal channels and hard work. Different paths, same trajectory. Foggy is very much the conscience of the group, and may have the clearest morality of anyone on the show. Though the two are on the outs, they represent parts of a whole. Karen, on the other hand, seems to be coming apart as Matt tries to put himself back together, pushing Ben to get the story published, heedless or uncaring for any consequences.
Ben, for his part, is acutely aware of the responsibilities he has. He is not willing to leave those behind because he’s reckless—but Karen’s insistence sparks something inside him that he is unable to let go of. A heart to heart with his wife convinces him. The attempt goes sour, and after a public argument with his editor, he’s canned.
I said it before, but Vondie Curtis-Hall is perfect casting as Ben Urich. He has the perfect ability to provide the perspective of the every man in the world of Hell’s Kitchen and the larger Marvel Universe. He is a great entry point for the audience to understand the dangers that Fisk poses and the living situation of so many people that Matt Murdock cares about. He is lovable, despite his edges. He is funny but wise. Passionate and eager for a story, but reasonable.
And so it is only natural that he is murdered at the end of this episode. The reckless action Karen’s taken, the little guy against the larger-than-life corporate evil that Fisk represents, comes home to roost. Actions have their consequences, and there’s no room for heroes in Hell’s Kitchen. Not when those heroes threaten the Kingpin’s goals. Not when they affect him personally. As Murdock begins to regain his humanity, Fisk lets loose the animal raging inside him.
The appearance of Fisk in Karen’s dream in the beginning of the episode both foreshadows the ending of the episode, and makes the event more surprising and much more concrete. We were already faked out once, so this is the real dilemma. It’s a legitimate threat. And then it happens. It’s a heartbreaking loss.
One of the strengths of this first season of Daredevil as a whole is the way in which its characters and its worlds have to deal with the consequences of their actions and how those consequences ripple beyond the individual. As this episode’s final moments emphasizes, reckless action takes its toll. Ben has to pay for what is, ultimately, Karen’s failures and sloppiness, and his own stubbornness and desire to get another great story that blinded him enough to rush it into production.
But what makes a hero is the ability to overcome these kinds of great tragedies and persevere. Fisk is not able to persevere, and flies into a murderous rage.
- Madame Gao is definitely a floating plot point. We get a street name for the heroin that affirms its connection to Iron Fist beyond just the decal: Steel Serpent. So, is she setting up Defenders, or Iron Fist, or both?
- Speculation she is a character known as “Crane Mother,” an Iron Fist villain. From the mystical city of K’Un L’un, which is connected to Iron Fist’s origins. When she refers to returning home a “considerable distance farther” than China, it certainly hints at something mysterious. Not to mention she laid out Murdock with the palm of her hand.
- I’m a sucker for super heroes doing their thing in their civies. This episode was no exception. Also cool to see some of our first glimpses of Murdock’s rooftop acrobatics which I don’t think has really shown up yet.
- Karen makes a joke about going from alcohol to the hard stuff…which might be a dark comic jab at her story arc in the comics where she gets super strung out on drugs, goes into porn, and sells Daredevil’s secret identity for a fix.