Saturday, April 18, 2015

Daredevil Episode 2 Review: Cut Man

[note: This review attempts to contain as little spoilers as possible. However, potential spoilers and plot points may come up. If you haven't seen Daredevil yet, read at your own risk]

If you thought "Into the Ring" got Marvel's Daredevil off to a good start, "Cut Man" takes the show to heights Uwe Boll could only dream of. Building on the grim world established in episode one, "Cut Man" proves Daredevil isn't just here to stay, it's a force to be reckoned with. By the time this episode ended, I was convinced that Daredevil was going to be a special show (spoiler; it is). Somewhere, Josh Whedon is wondering how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn't be this good. 

Unlike "Into the Ring", "Cut Man" focuses on three different story arcs. The first follows Matt Murdock trying to save a young boy kidnapped by Russian gangsters, a mission that takes a major detour when he's injured and forced to take shelter in the home of nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). The second arc focuses on Karen Page and Foggy Nelson pub crawling through Hell's Kitchen, an adventure that serves as therapy for the emotionally shattered Karen (obviously still recovering from episode one's wounds). And finally, flashbacks take us back to Matt's childhood, where his father Jack Murdock (John Patrick Hayden) is forced to make a decision that could prove to have fatal consequences for him and his son.

A common thought among film buffs is that a great movie has at least three great scenes. "Cut Man", once again steered by Drew Goddard and Phil Abraham (their last work on the series sadly), contains three such scenes. The first is a brutal interrogation scene featuring Matt, Claire and a Russian gangster, which involves Matt doing something to the gangster that might be the most painful thing I've seen in any form of entertainment. The second is Jack Murdock basking in the glow of winning a fight backstage, despite the fact that he's just double crossed the local mob and is likely facing death. If there's a better example of being content with your fate than that scene, I don't know what is. And finally, the money shot of the episode (and likely the series) is a near five minute long take of Matt fighting his way through a group of gangsters in order to save the kidnapped boy. It's a mixture of brutality, determination and violent poetry unlike anything you've ever seen, and if nothing else serves as the shining example of what Daredevil at its best was capable of.

A preview of that excellent final scene for you

Part of what makes this episode successful is Goddard and Abraham's willingness to keep characters off. Other than the main three roles, no major character from the first episode reappears and there is still no sight of Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk. While this may again disappoint those in favor of seeing big name characters, it's the right move, allowing each arc to have the appropriate amount of time to develop as opposed to being rushed.

As with "Into the Ring", Charlie Cox is magnificent as Murdock, and once again treats the character more as a flawed, non superhuman man than that of his Marvel counterparts. This is the last episode Murdock is truly the center at, but Cox manages to keep him effective, largely because of his performance here and in "Into the Ring". Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Hensen are also good again as Karen and Foggy, though they perhaps get too much screen time that should've gone to the other arcs. Rosario Dawson, held off from the first episode, takes awhile to get going, but eventually gets her footing as Claire (as you'll see and read, Dawson's Claire becomes a real standout as the show continues). The standout is unknown actor John Hayden Patrick, who steals scenes as Matt's father in the flashbacks. An unknown who slightly resembles Father of the Bride star George Newbern, Hayden Patrick nails every beat of "Battlin" Jack, perfectly capturing the essence of a rough, but decent man who is trying to make a better life for him and his son. He proved to be a very valuable secret weapon for Daredevil's first two episodes.

Jack Murdock on the way to the ring

Bottom Line: After a successful debut, "Cut Man" takes what made "Into the Ring" great and turns it into a masterpiece of an episode. Filled with great performances, a compelling three arc story and one of the best closing scenes in recent memory, it's the first Daredevil episode to considered essential. Arguably, "Cut Man" is both the best episode of the series and one of the best episodes of TV you'll see this year. 

Please change disks to continue...

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