Episodes ten and eleven of this first season of Daredevil slow things down a little; by necessity the show needs to take stock of itself before plunging ahead into the climax of the season, and while this could potentially pose problems the episodes are carried nicely thanks to the strong actors that litter the cast and the character dynamics that have been ably built over the course of the preceding nine episodes. For such a young show, Daredevil has managed to invest a surprising amount of heft in its character relationships and it’s a testament to both the writers and the actors that all these people feel so vibrant and fleshed out after such a relatively short period of time.
“Nelson v. Murdock” in particular relies on this fact as it digs into the rift that has formed between Foggy and Matt after Foggy found out about Matt’s masked alter ego. The bulk of the episode puts Matt and Foggy in a room and has them square off while occasionally flashing back to their early years at law school. It’s material that wouldn’t work if their relationship wasn’t believable, and while Foggy and Matt have always been warm to each other this episode truly sells exactly why they’re such good friends.
The flashbacks could be redundant, unnecessary, or simply dull, but thanks to the chemistry between Charlie Cox and Elden Henson they’re anything but. The sequences make it readily apparent why the pair cottoned to one another, Matt appreciated Foggy’s immediate acceptance and ability to treat him as an equal while Foggy remembered Matt’s youthful heroics and simultaneously saw how being his friend might help him get ahead with the ladies. It’s simple, well written material that the actors sell effortlessly.
They’re friends immediately upon meeting and it seems like there was no other option. Backed up by nine episodes of the pair working together, the flashbacks make immediate sense and also manage to carry an immense amount of sadness due to the pair’s current circumstances. Foggy’s horribly hurt by Matt’s betrayal and seeing everything they’ve lost due to it digs the knife in deep, letting the viewer in to the hurt Foggy feels and the loss Matt is sustaining as his best and oldest friend turns against him. The actual plot points in these episodes might be thin but the emotion that emerges from the characters lets the episodes feel important even as relatively little of plot significance transpires.
This kind of character work isn’t restricted to just the heroes though; it’s the backbone of the villainous side of the show as well. “The Path of the Righteous” features a whole lot of Wilson Fisk’s cohorts after Vanessa is poisoned at an event Fisk is hosting. The show has built a believably strong relationship between Fisk and Vanessa, but the relationship that really shines in these scenes is the one between Fisk and Wesley. Wesley’s always been the second in command of Fisk’s empire, but as the season has progressed it’s become clear that he isn’t merely an employee of Fisk. The bond between the two men is strong, almost astonishingly so, and it’s all the more compelling because it’s never explained why Wesley is so devoted to this man.
The explanation isn’t forthcoming in these episodes, and with Wesley’s demise at the end of episode eleven it’s unlikely the viewer will ever know quite why Wesley was a steadfast friend and proponent of Wilson Fisk, but that’s beside the point. The bond the two men shared and the portrayal of said bond by Vincent D’Onofrio and Toby Leonard Moore explained more than enough. The care and affection present was palpable and it never undercut the ferocity or viciousness that either man was capable of.
In particular, this is one of the things that Daredevil has been so skilled at, humanizing all of its characters without obscuring the kind of people that they truly are. Fisk is brutal and violent while also able to truly love and connect with others while Matt is kind and good at heart and still capable of frightening violence and rage. As much as the show is preoccupied with good and evil, with doing what is right, it also acknowledges that those engaged in the struggle between these two forces aren’t wholly good or evil themselves.
Wilson Fisk has some of the angel in him and Matt Murdock most certainly has some of the devil buried away in his soul. It’s what “The Path of the Righteous” builds to as Matt finally takes steps to protect himself just a little bit more in his quest for justice. He heads off to Melvin Potter, Fisk’s talented tailor, and ultimately convinces him to help him create an armored suit of his own; a suit that he speaks of as a symbol. The viewer knows that symbol will be indebted to the devil as it will finally be the moment when Matt adopts the moniker of Daredevil. Matt’s the man doing good, he’s the hero, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some of the devil within him. Daredevil has drawn out this contradiction wonderfully, utilizing every tool at its disposal to understand just how complex and varied both the sinners and the saints it’s representing truly are.