Welcome to The A.V. Club’s Daredevil binge-watch. From Friday, March 18 through Sunday, March 20, A.V. Club contributor Caroline will be watching and reviewing every episode of Netflix’s returning superhero series. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting five reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and four reviews on Sunday. You can follow along and comment on the whole season on the binge-watching hub page or chime in on individual episode reviews. For those watching the show at a more moderate pace, reviews by Oliver Sava will run daily starting Tuesday, March 22.
Admittedly the exhaustion of binge-watching was setting in before I clicked “play” on this episode. But let me tell you, I’m wide awake now. “The Man In The Box” is a fantastic rollercoaster that balances dozens of moving pieces while making time for great character beats as well. It irrevocably changes Daredevil’s world in more ways than one and ends on a really exciting cliffhanger. In fact, it’s taking everything in my power to write this review rather than just starting the next episode.
One thing I haven’t touched on yet is the fact that Daredevil changed creative hands between seasons. Season one showrunner Steven DeKnight passed the reins to first season writers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez this year, and while they’ve mostly kept the same look and tone, Petrie and Ramirez are interested in slightly different aspects of the Daredevil mythos than their predecessor. DeKnight focused on Matt Murdock’s relationship with his father, his working class background, his faith, and his connection to Hell’s Kitchen (all of which I wrote about in more detail here). Petrie and Ramirez, meanwhile, are more interested in Matt’s legal career, his romantic relationships, his vigilante moral code, and the mystical side of his comic book world. Those four elements have served as the backbone of season two, and they all come together beautifully in “The Man In The Box.”
Most importantly, Matt reaches a breaking point. He’s done with the legal system, he tells Claire during their rooftop meeting. After all, nothing he does through official channels seems to stick. Wilson Fisk is running a crime syndicate from behind bars, Frank Castle is back on the street, and D.A. Samantha Reyes was mercilessly gunned down right in front of him—leaving his best friend with a hip-hop worthy bullet wound. So Matt also decides he’s done with the kind of interpersonal relationships that put others at risk (i.e. Foggy and Karen) or distract him (i.e. Elektra). Claire pushes back against the idea that Matt is better alone (may we all be so lucky as to have a Claire Temple in our lives), but his prison confrontation with Fisk has left Matt deeply shattered. In the face of such evil, the pull to full-time vigilantism is too strong to resist.
For some reason I assumed Fisk would only be appearing in one episode this season, but he makes a welcome return in “The Man In The Box.” His meeting with Matt is a textbook example of how to slowly raise the stakes until the whole scene is boiling. Watching Fisk slam Matt’s head into a table, knowing Matt couldn’t risk revealing his secret identity by fighting back, was as intense as any action sequence Daredevil has produced.
Really almost every scene in this episode is a stand out, helped along by Peter Hoar’s fantastically cinematic direction. In some ways scriptwriters Whit Anderson and Sneha Koorse have the easier job of raising questions without having to provide answers, but they do so with an elegance that elevates what could otherwise be a filler episode. Bringing The Hand’s dirty work out from the shadows and into Metro General finally connects the mystical elements of Daredevil with the main thrust of the show in a potentially game-changing way.
Elsewhere, Anderson and Koorse humanize Reyes so that her death has more of an impact than it would’ve had earlier in the season. They also make time for a fun Elektra fight sequence (#SweaterNinja) as well as some lovely little character beats, like Frank shielding Karen from a shower of bullets or Karen making sure to describe visuals to Matt, despite the current tension in their relationship. And the Claire/Matt scenes that bookend the episode have a humanity that Daredevil sometimes struggles with during its more philosophical conversations.
But enough with the praise—we’ve got members of The Hand scaling Metro General, murderous zombie teens on the loose, and an unknown gunman to find!
Standout moment: I’d like to highlight Royce Johnson’s work as Detective Brett Mahoney. He’s created a likable, lived-in character with very little screen time.
Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: I don’t think so?
Burning question: Can a newspaper editor just pull two random police officers from a crime scene and order them to escort one of his reporters home?
Excitement to start next episode: 15/10
Is the binge-watch getting to me or does this kid look like a young Christian Bale?