Our friend Fr. George William Rutler lives in the rectory adjacent to the Church of St. Michael in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side – right in the middle of the territory over which the comic-book hero Daredevil stands guard like a gargoyle. I wonder if Fr. Rutler has ever seen this particular lapsed Catholic hiding in the shadows of his great church.
Daredevil is the alter ego of Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer, whose inability to see has amplified his other senses. Fr. Rutler would be a much better confessor than the fictional, diffident Fr. Paul Lantom (Peter McRobbie), and he would surely refute Matt’s angst-filled assertion that, in crime-fighting, “darkness only responds to darkness.”
Besides, Fr. Rutler knows how to box, a skill Murdock practices almost without cessation through all thirteen episodes of Daredevil’s third season (now streaming on Netflix) – though Daredevil’s fisticuffs are not in accord with the Marquess of Queensberry Rules (neither do they conform with common sense). Daredevil is admired for his vow never to kill the villains he chastens, but few could survive the beatings he dishes out, nor could he endure the thumpings the bad guys mete out upon his apparently concrete skull.
That said, this new season is the best thing in the entire Universe – the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is.
Certainly, the fight sequences are better in Season 3, especially in one scene destined to become legendary: an 11-minute, continuous-shot brawl with many actors and stuntmen filmed in an abandoned prison on Staten Island. Mr. Cox does much of the fight work, although his stunt double – Chris Brewster, I believe – moves seamlessly in and out of the sequence: as Cox is knocked to the floor, it’s Brewster who arises, always shot from behind or in darkness until Cox reappears, with more “blood” on his face. Throughout, and as red lights flash on and off, a voice comes over the P.A. system droning, “Code 33; Code 33. . .”
The whole thing is implausible, and I can prove it: Murdock has taken a Yellow Cab to the prison, and, after he escapes the riot, the taxi is still there waiting.
Of course, I wouldn’t even be writing about Daredevil were it not for the fact that Matt Murdock is a Catholic. This was explicit, although tepid, in Season 1 and pretty much AWOL in Season 2, but in Season 3 it’s strong and likely to be the most Catholic thing you’ll see on TV this year that’s not on EWTN. Just keep in mind that the episodes are gritty, sometimes profane, and altogether TV-MA.
Part of what makes the season soar is the attention given to each characters’ backstories, which add a great deal to viewer interest and are a welcome respite from the mayhem.
A new character (not to the comics but to this series), a nun named Sister Maggie Grace (Joanne Whalley) – whose relationship to Murdock is complicated – adds to the Christian counsel Matt receives from Fr. Lantom, and a lot of the scenes in Daredevil take place in church.
Lantom encourages Daredevil sidekick Karen Page (Deborah Woll) to come to Mass and receive Holy Communion. But she isn’t Catholic. She and Matt are reunited with Murdock’s law partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), and together they scheme to bring down Kingpin, a.k.a. Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), who is in FBI custody but still owns pretty much everybody in New York, including the Feds.
Ms. Woll gives a terrific performance. She’s a lovely actress, who is usually best when acting bright and happy but who’s maybe even better when being dark and sorrowful. Mr. Henson gets more to do this season than in the past, and he is more than up to it. And Mr. Cox seems more muscular and reasonably convincing as a smart guy who can take a punch: a hero with a rock jaw and solid faith.
But it’s Mr. D’Onofrio who makes it all work. At 6’4” and surely tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds, he’s like a great white shark in the gleaming white suits he wears (sharkskin. in fact), his eyes heavy-lidded and his mouth always slightly open, waiting to devour his next enemy. He is aided and abetted in his nefarious machinations by another Marvel supervillain, Bullseye (Wilson Bethel), a mad killer around whom his psychosis hums like a swarm of insects.
I was with my older son, Bobby, in Denver recently, and we got to talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We were surprised that Luke Cage got canceled, and Bobby (an ex-Army captain and karate black belt) was bemoaning the poor martial arts sequences in Iron Fist (also canceled), which made no sense to him, given that the fight sequences in Daredevil are so good.
“Well,” I said, “that probably depends on the showrunner.”
That’s the person, essentially an executive producer, who exercises overall creative control of a series. In the case of Daredevil, the showrunners have obviously hired the right technical advisors.
In Season 3, Erik Oleson runs the show. The writing, by Mr. Oleson (the first, the 9th, and the final episodes) and by eight others, is consistently crisp and smart; the plots as good as anything I’ve seen on TV in years. And there’s a different director for every one of the episodes! It’s truly amazing that the continuity of the series is so seamlessly maintained.
I’ve not read a comic book since I was about 8 years old, so I’ve no point of reference regarding the similarity between Daredevil on TV and on the inked-and-lettered page. I gather the comic’s demographic is young, white, and overwhelmingly male, and this must be a major reason why the TV series is so unrelentingly violent. But Daredevil is also stylish, intelligent, and exciting, and those are characteristics that ought to attract a more diverse audience.
And it deserves it – and a Season 4.
N.B. Again, Daredevil is rated TV-MA, meaning, at the minimum, that it’s not for young children. Click here to watch the official trailer, which provides a good sense of the series’ violence. There is also much cursing. The fine cast includes Jay Ali as FBI agent Nadeem and Stephen Rider as District Attorney Tower. Annabella Sciorra and Ayelet Zurer are very convincing as bad women.