Daredevil: The Good, the Bad, and the Stereotypical

DaredevilI’m finally caught up on the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil. I assume everyone has seen it at this point, but in case you haven’t, there will be spoilers (though most of them are tucked away behind the cut). As the title of this post implies, there were a lot of things I enjoyed about the series, and many that frustrated me. In this case, the bad and the stereotypical are pretty much focused on the same thing. But let’s start with the good stuff:

The fight scenes. They are brilliantly choreographed, often in one long take.  Many modern movies and tv shows rely on quick cuts, either to hide the use of stunt doubles, or as deliberate stylistic choices. Daredevil is having none of that. Like a good sex scene, a good fight scene should be a conversation, it should tell you something about the characters involved – how they move, whether or not they use weapons, what they key in on as an advantage or a distraction. In particular, the episodes Cut Man, and Stick, stand out  – the first for the brilliant single-shot hallway fight scene, the second for highlighting the fight-as-conversation.

The acting/casting. It’s pretty darn wonderful. The main actors in particular consistently nail the nuances of their characters, and reveal depths through tiny gestures. Well done all around.

The opening credit sequence. It’s lovely. The red wax/paint-like substance dripping down to take on the forms of religious iconography and the Hell’s Kitchen landscape is highly evocative, and the simplicity of the music pairs with it perfectly. Both set an excellent tone for the show.

The four main characters. Matt, Karen, Foggy, and Fisk, are all fully realized. The way they interact, meshing or clashing, is wonderful. They each have their own motivations, their own hang-ups, and their own strengths. And, as mentioned above, they are cast and embodied perfectly by the actors.

The lighting. Okay, I’m a little torn on this one. Everything is dim. It’s a thematic choice, tied into the main character’s blindness, and it’s interesting. No other show out there (that I’m aware of) is lit quite this way, at least not that consistently. It’s striking. But, without contrast, the novelty tends to wear off after a while. It’s a very nitpicky thing, but every now and then, I found myself wishing for a different color palette just to mix things up.

And now, behind the cut, the part where I complain about stuff (and where most of the spoilers lie)…

The bad/stereotypical:

TEH WIMMENZ!!!!! Sorry, was I shouting there? It’s always more frustrating in a show or movie that does so many other things well when there’s a major failing like this. As mentioned, Karen is a fully developed character, so I know the writers can manage a well-written woman. Karen goes out on her own to track down the people who framed her for murder. She doesn’t sit around waiting for Matt and Foggy to take care of things. She pursues leads, gets information, recruits a reporter to help her, and only tells Foggy and Matt what she feels they need to know. She is semi-rescued once, but in The Path of the Righteous, not only does Karen rescue herself, she does so in a way that gives her lasting trauma that doesn’t involve rape/abuse. She shoots (and kills) one of Fisk’s top men, and she doesn’t breathe a word of it to Matt or Foggy. Her character is made made even more complex by her necessary, yet horrific actions, and she’ll have to live with that as the next season unfolds.

So, Karen is a well-written character, but the problem is, when it comes to the women in the show, she’s the only one. There’s Claire, the helpful nurse who finds Matt Murdock in a dumpster after a fight and patches him up. And then proceeds to implicitly trust him for no apparent reason, and drop everything any time he needs her – including in the middle of a crisis at the hospital where she works. A good portion of the city has just been blown up by Wilson Fisk’s bombs, but Claire takes the time to hide in a stairwell and guide Matt through surgery on one of the men who recently kidnapped her and beat her up to motivate the hero, I guess. Oh, and also she falls in love with Matt after two episodes or so,then randomly disappears for most of the rest of the series. Presumably Rosario Dawson had better things to do than spend all her time playing a one-dimensional non-character.

Vanessa is an art dealer who seems to have even less going on in her life than Claire. She appears to fall in love with Wilson Fisk the moment she sees him and he buys a painting from her. She then decides, nah, y’know what, I’m going to stick with this guy – even after learning he’s a violent killer trying to ‘cleanse’ the city through fire and a network of drug deals. But he likes art, that makes it okay! Um, sure, I guess. Why are you throwing your lot in with him again? Oh, right, so you can almost die to show his human side later in the series. Got it.

Madame Gao. She’s badass, but she’s also kind of a ‘wise, old inscrutable Asian’ stereotype. However, it is hinted that she may be of supernatural/alien origin, so we’ll give that one a pass for now. Maybe she’s only adopting the stereotype because it amuses her. Silly humans.

Doris Urich, reporter Ben Urich’s wife. Her only role appears to be to make other people better, and act as an inspiration while she fills the role of the sainted sick/dying character. It’s especially a shame she isn’t given more to do, because the actress does a wonderful job showing the moments of fear and confusion, contrasted with lucidity as Doris deals with her Alzheimer’s. BUT, despite the fact that she has her own shit going on, almost all her dialogue is aimed at giving pep talks to her husband to bolster his confidence. Then, when Ben dies (yeah, they also kill off the one of the few black guys), Doris takes time out of her grief – at her husband’s funeral no less – to talk to the nice white lady, tell her she was the daughter Ben never had, and reassure her Ben’s death was totally not her fault. Okay, yeah, Ben has agency, but it’s also totally the nice white lady’s fault.

Despite this glaring problem, overall, I like the series. I hope it improves and deepens these neglected characters in future seasons. I fully realize there’s only so much time to spend on each character, except it’s almost always the same characters that get neglected. Inevitably, the non white, male, cis, het, characters are the ones whose stories get short shrift, and who are reduced to stereotypes. It’s lazy writing, and I know the show can do better.

All that said, I still would recommend Daredevil. It’s problematic, but it’s okay to enjoy problematic thing. Just realize they aren’t without flaws.

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2 Responses to Daredevil: The Good, the Bad, and the Stereotypical

  1. Your rabbit hole, I fall down it.

    Oh, Daredevil. Kind of the best thing on TV in a while, and still also sooooo far from perfect. It started out strong, esp those first four or so episodes.

    I liked the character of Claire, and I think I was willing to cut her more slack than you. Partly because she’s Night Nurse, an existing character who helps out a lot of the street-level Marvel heroes. I think that she’ll reappear in the other series in the same “helper” role, because she has those skillz and can tie the series together (also, she exists to show how freaking beat up Matt gets and how dangerous it is for him to do what he’s doing, since he can’t just stroll into an ER). The romance was a bit odd, but again, I think it was a way to show that Claire could be attracted (literally) to danger and thus become Night Nurse later on. i think it was also a misdirect so the audience didn’t sit around waiting for Matt and Karen to get together (and yay that the writers didn’t do that right away).

    I’m with your on Ben’s wife though. She was wasted in that role and DAMN Ben’s death WAS sort of Karen’s fault (though actually it was no one’s fault but Fisk’s because in the end he was the one who chose to kill Ben, and what a dick move that was.)

    Lighting: I loved the lighting! Comic book panels, callbacks to the red and yellow of classic Daredevil, and so many shadows! The lighting was a great character.

    What else? Oh, Vanessa! Vanessa is tricky. She hewed pretty close to comic book Vanessa in spirit, and comic book Vanessa is evil as all get out, so I didn’t have a problem with TV Vanessa being just as cold and ready to jump in with Fisk. She LIKES evil. She’s a damn monster in the comics. They just went with the canon on that.

    And, btw, weren’t college-flashback Matt and Foggy so sweet? I loved those scenes.

    So the good outweighed the bad for me. I knew that a lot of the more stereotype-y stuff was going to happen, and I just let my eyes glaze over till the next fight scene. Cause I’m mostly in it for the blood spatter.

    • I’m always torn with things like this, because I get that folks who are translating comics to screen often have stereotypical source material to work with. On one hand, I appreciate that they’re trying to stick close to their source materials, but on the other hand, I want them to go beyond that material sometimes. It’s fine for Vanessa to be cold and evil, but why? We have Fisk’s back story, why not hers? It’s fine for Claire to help Matt, but as you said, she partly exists in the show only to show how beat up he gets. The scene that really bothered me with her was her dropping everything in the middle of a crisis to help Matt do surgery over the phone. The rest of the stuff, I could live with.

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