Marvel’s Daredevil: “World On Fire”

A.V. Club Most Read

Marvel’s Daredevil: “World On Fire”

Sparks fly between couples as the Russians go up in flames

B+
B+

Marvel's Daredevil

"World On Fire"

Season 1 , Episode 5

Community Grade (215 Users)

  • A
  • A-
  • B+
  • B
  • B-
  • C+
  • C
  • C-
  • D+
  • D
  • D-
  • F

Your Grade

?

The war for Hell’s Kitchen begins in “World On Fire,” and by the end of the episode, Wilson Fisk has wiped out the threat of the Russians, making significant forward movement in his campaign to seize total control of the city’s criminal element. Of course, he would never describe his mission that way. If you ask him what he does, as Vanessa Marianna does on their second date, Wilson Fisk would tell you that he’s rebuilding the city, trying to carve something beautiful out of the ugliness of Hell’s Kitchen and help it reach its potential. He admits that he’s hurt people and will hurt more people to reach his goals, but he also takes no pleasure from the cruelty that he sees as necessary to usher in a new age of prosperity. He has a vision and he will do everything in his power to realize it, and that artist’s spirit intensifies Vanessa’s attraction to him.

Like last episode, much of Wilson’s story revolves around his growing romance with Vanessa, but there’s much more time spent on him performing his duties as a crime boss. He meets with his remaining allies to come clean about his role in the murder of Anatoly, and seeing Wilson interact with these people instead of Wesley reveals a lot about the current state of relationships between larger criminal parties. Leland doesn’t lose his sense of humor around Wilson, showing that he’s not worried about the consequences of disrespect because he’s the money guy and they can’t afford to lose him. (This leads to a lot of great one-liners, most of which you can find in Stray Observations.)

Nobu is his usual stoic self, but we do learn that he’s working for other people that Wilson has made a mysterious promise to, perhaps The Hand, the Japanese order of mystical ninjas that is a major presence in the Daredevil mythos. And then there’s Madame Gao, the small Chinese woman that earns the most respect from Wilson, who goes out of his way to keep her confidence when he reveals the changes in power structure. Madame Gao is one of the most intriguing characters of this season, and while much of Wai Ching Ho’s Mandarin-speaking performance is untranslated, the emotion and intent behind her line-reading is always clear. As the only woman in a position of power in Hell’s Kitchen’s underworld, there’s a strong sense of mystery around Madame Gao’s character and how she got to where she is, and the mystery will only deepen in her later appearances.

A lot of the success of this episode comes from the chemistry between romantic pairings. Wilson and Vanessa’s connection becomes tighter as Wilson reveals more about himself, and you can feel the affection grow between the two as Vincent D’Onofrio and Ayelet Zurer’s performances become more relaxed. But what makes this date even more captivating than the first is the way the balance of power shifts from person to person. Vanessa has it at the start as Wilson tries to get back in her good graces after their botched first date, but Wilson seizes it when he brings up the gun she has in her purse. That turns up the tension, and Vanessa’s response adds even more, revealing that she’s smart enough to read between the lines of Wilson’s speech about rebuilding and carving beauty from ugliness. “We’ve been sitting here talking for hours, and you’re going to insult me like I have no idea what you really do?”

Wilson is caught off guard by Vanessa’s frankness, but that just makes him comfortable enough to tell her more about himself. Wilson is a man of power, but Vanessa is a woman of power, a woman that knows what she wants and takes it without regret. If she wants to get laid, she’ll sleep with a guy that throws her a cheesy pick-up line and she won’t be ashamed when she recounts that story to the man she’s currently on a date with. When Wilson meets her, he doesn’t give her a line, he gives her the truth, and after spending time with men that lied about the things that were important, Wilson’s honesty is what attracts Vanessa. And then there’s Wilson’s aura of sad power, radiating an enthralling mix of strength and vulnerability.

When Vanessa looks out over a city in flames, she knows the man next to her is responsible, and she’s in shock. Ayelet Zurer’s intense stare suggests a mix of fear and anger, but Wilson knows just the thing to assuage her concerns. He asks her if she remembers the story about the boy who watched his father get beaten in front of him before being abducted, and tells her that the men responsible will no longer infect the city. “Good,” she responds, and in that moment, Wilson wins her heart.

Claire Temple spends the entirety of this episode cooped up in Matt’s apartment recovering from her wounds and sorting out her feelings for the charming vigilante, firmly embracing her role as love interest in the narrative. This leads to a boost in romance in Matt’s life as the two finally act on their chemistry by kissing at the start of the episode, and that opening scene does a lot to increase the level of intimacy between the two. There’s more of Matt tending to her wounds (an act tied to affection because of Matt’s childhood), and Claire uses this time to figure out how Matt sees the world and better understand how he lives his life.

This show hasn’t spent too much time on the specifics of how Matt’s powers work (we’ll get to that in episode seven), and the fact that Matt hasn’t shared this information with anyone on screen yet makes it an even bigger deal that he’s sharing it with Claire. He tells her how he can feel balance and direction, micro-changes in air density, vibrations, and blankets of temperature variations. When these combine with sounds and smells, they create a sort of impressionist painting in his mind, and when she asks what that painting looks like, he responds, “A world on fire.” This line is accompanied by the only shot in the entire season showing how Matt truly views the world, an image of Claire’s face roughly outlined by ever-changing strands of fire. As heavy-handed as it is, I love the idea that a character by the name of Daredevil would see a world consumed in flames, and it’s a smart angle for his radar sense that plays into the major themes of this series.

The last couple in the spotlight is Foggy and Karen, whose subplot delves into how the actions of Fisk and his associates impact the lives of the people living in the downtrodden neighborhood being picked over by developers. The two team up to help an elderly Guatemalan woman that is being forced out of her rent controlled apartment by a landlord that wants to tear down the building to make way for new condominiums, and while they don’t have much luck helping Mrs. Cardenas legally, they offer to help fix her home that was destroyed by “repairmen” she never called. It’s a serviceable plot that shows Foggy in lawyer mode as he confronts an ex-girlfriend representing Mrs. Cardena’s landlord, but it primarily functions as a way to bring Foggy and Karen closer together, turning their repair session into their first official date when their host cooks them dinner.

Things are going pretty well for Foggy and Karen, but the momentum of their storyline grinds to a halt with one ridiculous request from Karen: “I want you to touch my face.” As hard as Deborah Ann Woll tries to sell this line, there’s no way not make it totally laughable. Karen says she wants to feel what it would be like to have a blind person touch her face, and it’s just weird and awkward and totally nonsensical. Karen’s request sets up a big surprise when an explosion knocks them to the ground after they start touching each other’s faces, but there are so many other ways that the script could have set a calm, intimate mood without forcing the audience to wonder what the hell Karen and Foggy are doing.

Those explosions mark a major turning point for this series, increasing Wilson Fisk’s power by wiping out the Russians and leaving Matt in an especially tricky position as he’s cornered by the NYPD outside one of the bombed locations. But as much trouble as Matt is in now, he has no idea what lies ahead. As we saw from Wilson setting up the fall of the Russians, this is a man that knows how to hatch a plan in order to get desired results, and Matt is exactly where Wilson want him, making the masked man just another pawn in the growing war for Hell’s Kitchen.

Stray observations:

  • Starting today, Netflix has made Daredevil available to the blind with an audio description track for each episode. It’s great to see the company work so fast after receiving complaints from the blind community, and this has actually inspired Netflix to create audio description tracks for more of their original series.
  • We get another extended single-take shot in this episode as the cameras follows one of Madame Gao’s blind drug runners, who is being driven around by the Russians where Matt attacks them. (When the man is shot dead, the camera cuts away.) I really like when this show embraces more complex cinematography, which is one of the areas where Marvel’s other TV series could greatly benefit.
  • Nelson & Murdock’s office used to house Van Lunt Real Estate Co., which is a reference to Marvel Comics villain Cornelius Van Lunt, a real estate dealer that eventually took up a life of crime to become Taurus, a member of the Zodiac crime network. A deep cut from the set design team!
  • Foggy knows Panjabi for some strange reason. I wonder if we’ll ever find out…
  • I like that the “You Don’t Have To Reveal Your Identity To Solve Violent Crimes” sign is usually in view when Matt goes to the police station. It’s a fun little shoutout to his secret life.
  • Karen refers to Foggy’s ex as a “meat grinder,” which is a very evocative image.
  • “You have a job or something to get to? Or you one of those billionaire playboys I’m always hearing about?”
  • “Anyone else wondering about this?” Leland Owlsley isn’t going to be polite and just ignore the stream of blood.
  • “Where are the Smiley Twins? Sleeping off another kidnapping?”
  • Wilson: ‘They were too unpredictable.” Leland: “This from the guy taking heads off with a car door.”
  • “What? I’m going against the three of you? I like my head where it’s at.”
  • “Masked vigilantes, crazy Russians? I’m getting my stun gun out of storage.”
  • “Be nice to it! You know, for when the machines take over.” Subtle hint at post-Age Of Ultron MCU? Probably not.
  • “They’re gonna shark attack me, Matt. Look at me. I’m delicious.”
  • “Feels like a place in a movie where you’d buy a clone. Or maybe a robot baby. Or the clone of a robot baby.”
  • Vanessa: “All of a sudden, this tall man in a white suit and an ascot—“ Wilson: “An ascot? That’s a bit much.” A little dig at Wilson’s comic-book appearance for years.
  • “I know you’re a dangerous man. That’s why I brought a gun to a dinner date.”
  • “He’s like a sexual Rain Man.”
  • “I only ever let him put his hand on my face once, ‘cause…weird.”