Daredevil - 1.10 Nelson v. Murdock

Writer: Luke Kalteux
Director: Farren Blackburn

Farren Blackburn is back behind the camera for what could be the deal-breaker episode of the entire season.  Leading in from the cliffhanger events of 1.09 Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) arrives at Matt’s apartment and is disturbed by some of the noises coming from within.  Once inside, he finds Matt –badly injured and dressed as “the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”.  Picking up from that sharp in-take of breath, Nelson v. Murdock explores the foundations of a relationship based on secrets, lies and a heavy dose of misdirection.

Throughout the season we’ve been treated to the light-hearted stylisings of Franklin “Foggy” Nelson.  In his time he has been a fun-loving, comedic guy but he is also an intelligent man, a man with a lot of heart and a thick cut sense of right & wrong.  If the show were to follow the arc of the comics, he is the man would later become District Attorney.  He’s also a man that feels wronged.

Elden Henson has done a phenomenal job all through the season.  He’s been responsible for a lot of the thankless tasks in the show and done an excellent job at highlighting the fun-side of Matt; Cox is great but with the issues he’s dealing with, rarely is he seen as party boy.  Foggy anchors the audience’s understanding of “fun” Matt.  Foggy is fun therefore his bestest friend in the whole world must be fun too.  Henson can also act though… and boy does he!  With Claire paying an off-screen visit (yes, Rosario Dawson has been seriously short-changed in the character sweepstakes but we’ll come back to that on our season wrap-up), Matt is conscious again and forced to answer his best friends questions on sight, fights, and all things masked.

It would be very easy for this episode to lapse into homoerotic parody.  On the page, Matt is the pseudo-hubby with a lot of questions to answer; Foggy is the wife upset and demanding to know “how long has this been going on?” but to their credit it never feels that way.  Henson struggles with Matt’s choices.  They’ve always been different (Foggy wanting clients with money, Matt –clients with clear consciences) but they’ve never been at odds with one another ideologically… until now.

The college years are beautifully rendered by Blackburn (director of 1.05) but they’re also beautifully idealized.  The use of campus lighting painting everything and everyone is golden yellow harps back to the previous episode and what Vanessa had been saying about “hope”.  Unlike previous flashbacks, and even the one within this episode showing Matt’s first outing as “the Devil”, this is an interpretative recollection.  It’s Foggy’s idealized remembrance of their relationship now that Matt has eternally altered it.  Yet this moment, and others perhaps more tragic, where inevitable.  When Foggy describes their potential partnering (in the dorm room on day one) as similar to Maverick and Goose it is Matt who points out that Goose dies (Top Gun spoiler!).  This plays into the notion of fatalism, of duality, of a pre-determined destiny that must be fulfilled.

Foggy’s biggest issue, bigger than being deceived, is that one can not be liberator and oppressor, light and darkness.  As a defense attorney Matt is a liberator, yet as Daredevil he could be cast in the role of prosecutor (or as Foggy detailed “Judge, Jury and now Executioner”).  Likewise, Wilson Fisk sees himself as the saviour of New York.  The liberator of its potential, blind to the oppressive and destructive actions he has committed in order to force this liberation upon the city.  Foggy sees this where Matt can not and in doing so forces his friend to ask many soul-searching questions of himself.

We’ve looked at the revelation before when discussing anonymity in 1.03.  Through the original run of Daredevil comics Foggy does discover Matt’s secret, though not through Matt’s reveal. Yes, he can trust him but he doesn’t want to put him in harms way.  He doesn’t want his best friend to have to protect himself.  This was an element of the superhero narrative I was both looking forward to and dreading.  Yes, the cloak and dagger nature of these two men working side by side in a small office yet holding secrets from one another; gatekeeping if you will.  This sounds like fun but inevitably it falls into genre conventions and then all you have left is the predictable.  In letting the cat out of the bag in episode ten, DeKnight and co have broken the rules.  It’s innovative, exciting but at the same time dangerous.  If they could break this rule, what else could they do?  Could they kill Foggy?  What about Karen?  Would they have Matt finally cross that line and take a life?  I hope now, but revealing Matt is Daredevil to Foggy so early in his superhero career opens the doors (or gates) to a realm of possibility.  As Foggy understands Matt’s senses he begins to understand the man better; the man who could lie to his best friend for so long.  Matt’s entire self is about gatekeeping.  Without holding back he would be able to perserve everything around him and be driven mad by it.  It’s almost as though he has to keep secrets from himself, and if he’s having to do that to protect himself –what would he do to protect his best friend?

None of this is in the dialogue.  It’s all handled in expression, and gesture, tone and direction.  Henson and Cox have mined not just their characters but each others characters so they understand not just Nelson and Murdock but Nelson & Murdock

Some people have issues with Matt's catalyst to become "the Devil of Hell's Kitchen"; the fact that Jack Murdock is not avenged and that he takes on a father who has been sexually abusing his daughter (more patriarchs causing more trauma).  Yes this is problematic.  Not nearly as problematic as the 2003 movie removing the heroism of a young Matt Murdock but even by the end of the series Daredevil is a character in evolution, a work in progress.  It's an issue at the moment but it's not a black mark.  I’ve often questioned the motives behind being Horn Head when you have already avenged/brought to justice/stopped the man who killed your father.  Sweeney is not a character that would simply walk away but perhaps illness and an untimely death robbed Matt of his “day in court” (of sorts).  We can only look towards Season Two to see how they intend to handle The Fixer.


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