Daredevil - 1.06 Condemned

Writer: Joe Pokaski and Marco Ramirez
Director: Guy Ferland

As we advance towards the mid-season point it is time to take stock, not just for an audience but for the writers, directors, and actors involved in the show but more importantly; the characters.  Every television show with aspirations of detailing a season long narrative thread reaches an episode when exploration recedes in favour of exposition so that gears can be changed, audiences refreshed and characters enlightened.  24 over its eight days and one half day (for good behaviour) had some truly remarkable “broom closet” episodes –or episodes in which the central character was either trapped or limited in mobility therefore forcing them to further the narrative through means other than action.

In Guy Ferland (Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, The Walking Dead and Homeland), Daredevil has a director skilled at delivering the long-haul goal line passes that allow the show to switch gears, refine direction and do so in a way that’s entertaining and thrilling.  Similarly Pokaski (Heroes) and Ramirez’s (Orange is the New Black) script has a delicate touch that prevents the exposition from becoming pedestrian.  A good pilot is essential to get show green lit, but a great “broom closet” episode is vital to keep an audience until the final fade-out and thus guarantee a second season.  Condemned is that “broom closet” episode.

Trapped in a derelict building with an injured Russian mobster, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) must figure a way out for both of them while navigating the corrupt cops circling outside, the media who can smell blood, and Wilson Fisk who quite literally has his finger on the trigger as New York burns from a series of explosions.

They say the most difficult thing to shoot is talking heads, primarily because there’s only so many ways you can frame two guys talking before it stops being interesting.  Ferland’s experience on several long running series gives Daredevil 1.06 the collective skills gained in creating an almost perfect visual story.  As Matt and Vlad find themselves bunkered in and forced to descend into the depths of the city we’re struck by how restricted our field of vision is.  The use of heavy-set shadows around the parameter of the mise-en-shot encases the two (newly aligned) characters within a fading spotlight.  The use of handheld camera stitches the audience into the fabric of the episode in a way that conjures a voyeuristic claustrophobia from deep within us.  This is real fight or flight stuff, only we’re tethered to these characters.  Condemned men in a condemned building, in a condemned part of town, in an ailing city.  Could the shadows get any thicker?  What works incredibly well in this scenario is Matt.  More specifically, what we know about Matt.  As our vision narrows inside the shadowy crypt within Hell’s Kitchen, Matt’s only increases.  As our heart rate increases, his decreases.  He gets calmer in moments of high pressure.  He sees clearer in the stilled darkness and it is these qualities that Vlad sees in him, and wanting revenge for his brother, shares the information on how to hit Fisk where it hurts –his money… or more specifically, his money-man.

Bob Gunton (as Leland Owlsley) is perhaps the finest piece of support casting there’s been on television.  He has played a similar kind of character before, in Shawshank Redemption, but what you get with Gunton’s portrayal is the representation of everything that Wilson Fisk is not.  A representation of the New York of old, the New York he’s determined to tear down.  There’s an almost gentlemanly way to Leland and the way he does business which is charming.  That’s not to say he’s not as dangerous as Fisk, he is.  He hasn’t survived this long in his line of work without getting dirt under his fingernails but where Fisk will smash your head in with a car door; Leland will find other ways to cripple you… largely financial.  He’s the old guard who are being shepherded from the top table to a fold out by the kitchen and his contempt for it, and Fisk, and Wesley is beautifully played and underpinned not just by his dialogue but his pacing.  It’s where in the sentence he takes a breath, how appropriately timed his interjections are.  He’s never surface aggressive but he’s a spitting cobra in his own way.  What they did with Owlsley is great. 

In comic book form The Owl had elements of his villainy that were interesting, certainly until the arrival of Kingpin and Bullseye he was the most complete villain Horn Head was pitched against (sorry Leapfrog) but there were elements to him that were problematic; namely the theatricality of his appearance.  In pairing him back the show-runners have given the underworld a rich, astute, string-puller who also serves as an example of how things were.  Those ways are gone now, condemned to the aging and discarded newspapers.


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