Daredevil - 1.05 World on Fire

Writer: Luke Kalteux
Director: Farren Blackburn

The pressure that’s been building in Hell’s Kitchen has to release eventually.  Gradual release and the effects are minimal but leave it unchecked and they become explosive.  World on Fire, aside from taking its name from how Matt sees the world, is a perfect example of what can and will happen in a vacuum when one or more volatile agents are introduced.

As Wilson Fisk (D’Onofrio) pushes forward with his aggressive “restoration” plans for the city, Nelson and Murdock are involved in a tenant dispute between the lovely old Mrs. Cardenas and an unseen slumlord with connections to our Kingpin; but as Daredevil begins to piece together the pieces he quickly discovers he’s become the mouse to Fisk’s cat and it is more than a game.

Having brutally murdered Vlad’s brother using his car door, Fisk sends trusty right-hand James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) to point the filthy finger of blame towards “the man in the mask” in an attempt to have the Russian Mob do what Fisk’s own people have been unsuccessful with thus far; kill the devil.  This episode is interesting for several reasons.  Many of which we’ll touch on but the main reason is this the “birth” episode for Horn Head.  Up until this point he has been a story, vague and without form to the vast majority of New Yorkers.  He has even been operating without a name.  His existence has only really been witnessed by two factions.  “The Order” (law enforcement, paramedics, etc) and “The Disorder” (the criminal element).  World on Fire not only presents him to the mass public but does so in a way that is ambiguous.  Is he friend or foe?  Savior or slayer?  Like Batman, this is the most interesting period of Daredevil’s existence (at least for me).  The ground level victims know his good deeds; Karen in 1.01 for example, but the establishment (and yes we’re including Franklin Nelson in that) like Foggy are more reserved in accepting his particular brand or order realignment.  Even the Police, dirty and otherwise, are uncertain of his motives; but the city is in need of a hero.  NB. Though DD is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe there does not appear to be a Spider-Man in that equation yet, nor a Daily Bugle as Urich works for the NY Bulletin.  It is also the first time he is given a name other than “the masked man” when he is dubbed “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” by the press. 

At first glance this may seem like a negative title but consider how fitting it is.  How sympathetic it is to the geography he occupies.  In many respects it’s a positive, complimentary title as to avoid running into “the devil” you’ll have to be on your best behaviour.  With this label attached, and us moving closer to the “Daredevil” we know, how fitting is it that his vision is of a world perpetually on fire?  Yes, the calming blue vision of Mark Steven Johnson’s movie demonstrated DD’s sight in a beautifully fluid way that almost represented how it would look to interact with a radar display but it ran contradictory to the character’s motif and motives.  Seeing a city, your friends, your life in a constant blaze must have been harrowing to get used to.  It points to the tenacity of the character and though he’s constantly attempting to put the blaze out for others he is never able to do that for himself.  Think of that for a moment.  There’s a level of sacrifice there that is almost painful to entertain.  But he is needed.  Post-Avengers New York carries many of the hallmarks of a city in trauma.  Where many cities across Japan have stopped procreating due to the feeling of inevitability after several major nuclear incidents; New York is a city where the police have stopped policing.  Seeing Loki and co overhead has instilled a level of institutional hopelessness.  Suddenly a vigilante seems the lesser of two evils; better the devil you know after all.

Introduced long before his boss, Wesley is as deceptive as he is smartly dressed.  To call him a smiling assassin would be to insult the honourable occupation of killer for hire.  Wesley, on the surface, is passive, calm and non-confrontational but watch a scene with him; be it with Nelson & Murdock, Gao, Nobu or Leland Owlsley.  Watch him interact with the Russians and you’ll see the true cut of the man.  Moore plays him like a shark.  Dead behind the eyes and always moving, whether that be physically or mentally.  Presented with aggressive threats, he smiles, welcoming them in.  What sport!  He’s a high functioning sociopath who relishes the chance to be underestimated.  Those moments when thugs in tracksuits realise that this man in the designer clothing is simply wearing a human suit are beautifully menacing.  He is actuality a carnivorous animal with blood in his nostrils and an appetite for destruction.  Moore’s Wesley is, in my mind, a lot like Ian Fleming’s Bond.  Though he wears the suit well, speaks many languages and handles himself like a gentleman you get the impression he has been trained to be that way.  That his natural instincts are a lot more primal and in that respect, he is constantly striving to seek acceptance from the establishment while thumbing his nose to their threats… or is it smiling?

There are some excellent combat set-pieces in 1.05 which Blackburn maps out and pieces together beautifully.  Daredevil versus the Russians ran the risk of feeling either repetitive or redundant (or both) after Cut Man’s breath-taking corridor sequence and which involved me having to remind myself to breathe; but the choreography is fast-paced and almost graceful in its brutality while Blackburn’s camera hangs back at key moments in order to remind the audience he is one man against many.


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