Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Review - 'Daredevil', S02E13 - 'A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen'






Endings are hard – I can understand that. Coming up with a truly satisfying end can be the most difficult part of telling a good story.

Around this time, last year, I remember being a little bit disappointed by the way in which the first season of Daredevil ended. It had been a serviceable enough ending, if I remember correctly – but, it hadn't struck me as being on quite the same level as the rest of the season, up until that point. It had just seemed to lack something of the dramatic tension that the season had been so careful to build up. Unfortunately, as it turns out, I had a similar reaction to the final episode of this season, also.

With Frank Castle's season-long arc having reached its conclusion in the previous episode, the focus here was placed entirely on Matt Murdock and his inevitable final confrontation with the Hand. Elektra, still struggling to comprehend the fact that she is, apparently, the 'Black Sky' that the hand have been so desperately searching for, is uncertain what her role is, now – though, Matt (whose attitude toward her seems to have drastically shifted once more) insists that the choice of who, and what, she is should ultimately be her own. The fact that Elektra rejected the Hand's offer to join them willingly seems to have been enough to earn back Matt's trust – and, that seems to be enough for now.

Knowing that the Hand is going to keep hunting for Elektra, though, the two of them decide to strike first – believing that taking out Nobu might, effectively, cripple the Hand. Elektra wasn't to simply kill Nobu, of course – but Matt, still holding to his code and believing that Nobu could simply become a martyr for the Hand, would rather see him in a prison cell. Before they can launch their assault, though, Nobu puts his own plan in motion – stealing police records identifying everyone that Daredevil has helped recently, and rounding them all up as bait to draw Daredevil out. While this would have probably been more than enough to draw Matt out, Nobu's plan takes on an unexpectedly personal touch when it turns out that Karen is one of those identified in the police records, and she is also taken.

So, now, the surprise attack that Matt and Elektra were hoping to launch has become a desperate rescue mission – one that requires Matt to walk into very obvious danger.

In theory, all of the pieces were in place for a great final confrontation. Nobu had managed to come up with an impressively clever plan to draw out the selfless defender of Hell's Kitchen – and, he had called on every warrior at his disposal to ensure that Daredevil would be killed, and Elektra would be captured. Matt, desperate to rescue the innocent victim's of the Hand, knowingly walked into a very dangerous situation. Elektra, meanwhile, was forced to decide, for herself, whether she was willing to follow Matt into that same danger – while, also, being confronted by the unique threat of being captured alive, for whatever the Hand might have planned.

With the stakes being as high as they were, the action sequences that we saw in this episode should have easily topped anything that we have seen on Daredevil, so far. But, ultimately, they didn't. Whether it's due to the staging of these sequences, the choreography, the camera-work, or some combination of the three, this episode's action sequences simply seemed to lack much of the energy that we have seen in the past – coming across as slow and, honestly, a bit sluggish.

This episode's main action set-piece, for example, saw Matt and Elektra taking on a large group of ninja on a roof-top before being confronted by Nobu, himself. While this should have been the clear high-light of the season, at least as far as the action is concerned, this entire sequence just felt a bit off. I can really only assume that the problems stemmed from the fact that the sequence was, simply, too 'big' – like there were too many elements at work, and they didn't quite mesh as well as they could have.

There were also some issues with the editing of the sequence of events which led us to that moment, which certainly didn't help. At one point, while Matt and Elektra were coming to terms with the idea that they might not be able to escape, we saw establishing shots featuring what appeared to be dozens of Hand ninjas making their way over the rooftops, while even more were coming up through the building beneath them. Yet, when they finally did head up onto the roof, there were barely a dozen – still more than enough, sure, but not nearly what we were led to expect. What happened to the rest? Well, we never really find out. In the end, it really just came across as a moment of sloppy editing.

While the episode's action might have been somewhat underwhelming, the season's final episode did still manage to fit in plenty of great moments of character-driven drama – with Matt and Elektra's increasingly complex relationship serving as the basis for the episode's best moments. At one point, believing that they might finally be in over their heads, the two even discuss the possibility of simply running away together, should they be able to survive. It was a great moment for Charlie Cox and Elodie Yung – made even more compelling with the strong implication that they were each being genuinely honest with the other about what they truly wanted.

The supporting cast also get their own little moments throughout the episode. Foggy, despite not having much of a role to play, gets to finish the season on a high-note, as he finds himself offered a position at a prestigious law firm – with Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) crossing over from Jessica Jones, in a brief cameo. The implication, there, is clearly that Foggy Nelson is going to be just fine – or, at least, he will be until Wilson Fisk gets out of prison and makes good on his promise to ruin his and Matt's lives.

Karen, while not being held hostage by the Hand, seems to be settling in to her new role as a journalist – receiving more support from her new boss, Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor), who has done a great job with his supporting role throughout her character-arc this season. She, also, seems to be doing just fun. Although, as a side-note, those scenes of her staring at a blank screen did strike me as intentionally funny – since, after all, it would have been hilarious for her to fall into a journalist job, only to realise that she wasn't a very good writer. But, clearly, that's not what we were supposed to get from those scenes.

Frank Castle's story might have come to an end in the previous episode – but, here, we have something of an epilogue for the character, as we see him officially moving on from his past and fully embracing his role as 'the Punisher' (complete with finally adopting his own uniform, of sorts, with the iconic 'skull' – here, inspired by the x-ray image that we have seen throughout the season).

I do have to admit, though, that Nobu turned out to be a severely under-utilised character, by the end of the season. Peter Shinkoda had done a great job of making Nobu into a genuinely mysterious and dangerous figure in his time on the first season – and, with his return, he should have gone on to be much the same. Nobu should become the dangerous adversary that brought the entirety of this second season together. But, instead, he simply wasn't given enough screen-time to make a very strong impression.

In all, while I was never quite able to feel the sense of tension and danger that the creator's clearly wanted the audience to feel with this final episode, there were still enough moments of genuinely compelling drama to make this final episode worthwhile. With the Punisher, things ended in a manner which clearly seems to set Jon Bernthal up to head off into his own series – which is something that I am actually genuinely interested in seeing, despite having little interest in the character before this season. Also, there are enough hints dropped about how a third season of Daredevil (as well as The Defenders – the cross-over that all of this is building toward) will play out to leave me genuinely excited for more.

Next up for Netflix's corner of Marvel's Cinematic Universe is Luke Cage, later this year – and, while it probably safe to assume that it will feel like a very different sort of series, I am definitely expecting it to maintain the sense level of quality as what we have seen, so far.

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