Daredevil isn’t exactly breaking new storytelling ground, which isn’t saying particularly much since it’s simply a new version of a superhero story that’s been told before. What it is doing effectively is reinvigorating some of the clichés of the story that it is retelling. “Shadows in the Glass” and “Speak of the Devil” highlight this fact in a few key moments and argue that new or original material isn’t a requirement when it comes to surprising the viewer.
“Shadows in the Glass” in particular treads well-worn territory as it spends much of its time focusing on Wilson Fisk both in the modern day and during his formative years. Both sides of the story we see here are relatively familiar, the modern Fisk existing within his almost hermetically sealed loft, going through the repetitive daily motions of his life as he’s haunted by the specter of his traumatic childhood. The haunting’s practically literal in the episode’s opening scene as the image of a young Wilson appears in the mirror before the full grown Fisk. A reminder of just how much his youth guides his present.
Wilson’s past isn’t the most thrilling of storylines, in that it primarily deals with something any savvy viewer will have seen before; an abusive father, a meek mother, and a scared child who is hectored by his father into becoming the cruel man that the series has presented up to this point. While the episode does mostly tread this path, and the scenes set there are some of the weakest of the season so far, it ultimately twists away from such a simple storyline, instead repurposing it to highlight the man Fisk truly believes himself to be, even if he isn’t telling himself the truth.
It turns out that while Fisk’s cufflinks are worn daily to remind him of his father, it is not out of respect, but fear. Fisk’s desperate to prove that, while he is a violent man akin to his father, he is not acting out of the same selfish rage that his father did. The season up to this point has consistently portrayed Fisk as a man who believes in his plans for the city as the most effective way to do the most good for the most people, and this ultimate resolution only backs up that claim. The plot is still a little leaden at times but it’s surprisingly effective in the end because it manages to subtly invert expectations, playing with the ways plots such as this generally resolve.
“Speak of the Devil” also manages to twist an overused trope when it opens in the middle of a fight sequence and then cuts away to another point in the show’s timeline. Unlike other shows though it never specifies exactly when those opening moments took place. There are no locating subtitles or information as to when Matt was going up against a ninja and by removing that information the episode is capable of treating the opening as a thematic point rather than solely as a bit of excitement to pull a viewer into an otherwise dull episode.
This goes hand in hand with the fact that Daredevil has already demonstrated a predilection for atypical plot structures. Whether that was in the second episode that opened with a bruised and beaten Murdock or in this episode with the atemporal opening, Daredevil’s method of storytelling doesn’t always ascribe to the expected patterns of other television shows and as such it allows the viewer to avoid drawing conclusions based purely on what they’ve seen before.
In the end, that opening scene does wind up being the last portion of the episode’s story, but by removing the certainty of this fact “Speak of the Devil” is capable of using it as more nebulous material. The episode focuses on Matt’s uncertainty about his course of action in relation to Wilson Fisk. He knows Fisk is evil, at least based on where he stands, and he knows that he must do something to stop Fisk, but he is worried about just how far he might end up going in his quest to stop the man. By fore fronting the fight it adds a sense of fatalism to the episode, while the fight isn’t with Fisk it still highlights that Matt will ultimately choose the violent course of action, the course of action that sends him around the city brutally beating anyone in his way as he heads towards Fisk. It’s a strong way to animate the central thematic concern of the episode and it’s well managed even as it necessitates a structure that’s been poorly used many times before.
These kinds of clever tweaks to the basic structure of the story are some of the things that have made Daredevil such a compelling watch even as it treads familiar ground. This is familiar material reinvested with just enough new angles and bravura storytelling to feel exciting once more. When a story’s well told it doesn’t really matter if we’ve heard it before, it can still feel as vital and new as if it’s the first time we’ve ever stumbled across the tale.