After the brief introduction to Wilson Fisk at the end of last episode, “In The Blood” dives deeper into the character through his blossoming relationship with art dealer Vanessa Marianna. Wilson’s plot in this chapter revolves around his first date with Vanessa, beginning with him awkwardly asking her to join him for dinner, and ending with him punishing one of his associates for interrupting his enchanted evening, revealing different sides of the character that quickly set him apart from the majority of the MCU’s villains. The bad guys in Marvel films tend to be woefully underdeveloped—the main exception being Loki, who has become the MCU’s most popular antagonist because of the work done fleshing out his emotions and motivations—but Wilson Fisk’s characterization is a big step forward that should be used as an example for future Marvel projects.
As I mentioned in my review of the last episode, I’m very impressed by this show’s introduction of Wilson Fisk, and we’re still meeting the man during “In The Blood.” Over the course of his dinner with Vanessa, Wilson talks about his tumultuous relationship with Hell’s Kitchen, giving hints at his tragic past but being careful not to give too many specifics. As a young boy, he dreamed of living somewhere beautiful, far from his grimy neighborhood, but after spending his teenage years living in the country, he came to realize that the city was in his blood and a part of him that could never be denied. With Wilson and Vanessa’s dinner, writer Joe Pokaski begins to spotlight the similarities in Wilson and Matt’s characters: they both have a strong emotional attachment to Hell’s Kitchen, and are focused on helping it reach it’s maximum potential. The major difference is that Wilson is using the Hell’s Kitchen criminal element to achieve his goals, creating a new shining city without any regard for who gets hurt in the process.
“In The Blood” is a spotlight for Vincent D’Onofrio, who makes Fisk an immensely captivating figure with a performance largely lacking in bravado, but still full of power. There’s an inherent authority in D’Onofrio’s presence, so he doesn’t have to play up the hard, commanding side of Wilson. Instead, he moves in the opposite direction, focusing on Wilson’s idealism, vulnerability, and sad, romantic spirit. When he tells Vanessa that he hung the “rabbit in a snowstorm” painting in his bedroom, she says, “That’s either very romantic or very sad,” but it’s both for Wilson. He’s a man that’s hungry for love, but past trauma has made it difficult for him to connect with other people, which is one of the reasons why he’s been able to rise to power.
Without any strong personal connections, Wilson has been able to focus all his attention on being a cold, ruthless crime boss, but his relationship with Vanessa blurs his judgment with emotion. D’Onofrio does exceptional work showing how Vanessa disorients Wilson with his awkward proposal of dinner, and her presence summons forth a softness inside him that is far from the vicious character suggested by his actions in previous episodes. By emphasizing the gentler side of the character. Pokaski creates a strong point of contrast for this episode’s final scene, which exposes the raging monster inside Fisk as he murders the man that derails his date.
From the moment Anatoly (Gideon Emery) interrupts Wilson and Vanessa’s dinner, there’s no question what his fate will be. Wilson is infuriated, and his rage only grows when he takes Vanessa home and has an uneasy goodbye with the woman that has stolen his heart. Vanessa’s character journey is a fascinating one, and Zurer has a very difficult job on this series. She needs to convince the viewer that Vanessa would stay by Wilson’s side as she learns more of the horrific truth about his character, and her final scene in this episode establishes the internal conflict bubbling as she tries to figure out her feelings for this man.
It’s a conflict that we also see with Claire Temple, but Claire’s worries are more explicit than Vanessa’s over the course of the series. Much is left unsaid with Vanessa, but Zurer has the acting skills to make the character’s struggle clear, and it’s refreshing to see the writers trust her talent to bring dimension to Vanessa. Anatoly barging into dinner confirms Vanessa’s suspicions that Wilson is connected to the underworld, and she needs time to sort out how this changes her feelings toward him. But would she still be as conflicted if she saw how Wilson takes care of the Russian? Probably not, unless she has a thing for watching men get decapitated with car doors.
At the end of an episode highlighting the softer side of Wilson Fisk, the man unleashes the beast within as he beats Anatoly with his bare hands, then slams the car door on his neck until his head comes off. I’ve spoken about the importance of violence informing character in past reviews, and Wilson’s big moment of action in this episode is a perfect example. We’ve seen the vulnerability, now it’s time to see the ferocity, and D’Onofrio is terrifying when he lets loose. He’s blinded by rage, and his action choreography is focused entirely on blunt force that intensifies until his victim is dead. This is the side of Wilson that poses a threat not just to Daredevil, but the other crime families of Hell’s Kitchen, and he decides to send Anatoly’s headless body to his brother to start a gang war that will ideally level the competition and put Wilson in the highest seat of power. The violence is graphic, particularly the gory decapitation, but that garners a visceral reaction from the viewer that makes the impact of this moment linger through every future scene with Wilson.
Claire Temple makes her return to the series after sitting last episode out, but the strength and self-reliance she showed in her debut is downplayed as she’s abducted by the Russians. It’s a bit unsettling that the show’s two main female characters at this point have been cast as victims, but there’s also a long history of female victimization in Daredevil comics, so I can’t say that I’m surprised. Thankfully, these women don’t let these traumatizing events destroy their spirit. The injustices done to Karen Page have motivated her to further investigate the fallout of the Union Allied scandal despite the risks involved, and Claire sees her abduction as further reason why Hell’s Kitchen needs Matt help, which inspires her to stay by his side as a medically trained ally.
Matt rescuing Claire from the Russians has a different energy than the action sequences in the first three episodes, emphasizing stealth over direct aggression. Matt knocks out the lights, and then thins the herd by taking people out from the shadows, which gives him an almost supernatural presence. He wants Hell’s Kitchen’s criminals to fear the shadows, and taking a sneakier approach allows him to cultivate this terror. It’s another smart way of using action to explore the character, and this fight scene is a nice change of pace that accentuates suspense and atmosphere over raw violence.
Claire gets one hit in at the very end of the battle when she swings a baseball bat at the head of the man that used her as a human shield moments before, but the feeling of victory quickly dissipates as the weight of Claire’s traumatic experience comes crashing down on her. Rosario Dawson realizes Claire’s turbulent emotional state with heart-wrenching clarity, going from terrified panic when she’s being violently interrogated to vengeful glee when Matt arrives to save her to crushing despair when the fight is over and she processes what has just happened. But Claire doesn’t blame Matt for her troubles. When he tries to take responsibility for what happened to her, she explains that he didn’t ask her to pull him out of a dumpster. That was her choice, and the consequences are hers to bear.
Claire knows about Matt’s Catholic upbringing (in fact, she knows about it before she knows his name), and she’s actively taking the guilt off his shoulders because she doesn’t want that affecting his future actions. He’s already starting to get worked up about the people that he’s hurting in his crusade, but Claire is there to remind him that what he’s doing is important. She’s more scared than she’s ever been right now, but she’s not the only person in Hell’s Kitchen that feels that way. Claire understands that the devil inside Matt may be the key to the city’s salvation, so she goes out of her way to make sure that he keeps fighting. And with Hell’s Kitchen on the verge of a gang war, Matt’s help is needed more than ever.
- Karen Page and Ben Urich officially team up in this week’s episode, and I really like the master-apprentice dynamic between Vondie Curtis-Hall and Deborah Ann Woll. Ben fully understands the danger that Karen is just starting to comprehend, and is helping her navigate treacherous waters as she tries to piece together what happened to Union Allied after their corruption was revealed. Karen’s story is all about tension and paranoia this week, but it ends on a surprisingly sweet note as Foggy praises her for buying office equipment at an auction, which helps makes Nelson & Murdock feel like a legitimate firm.
- This episode has Foggy’s first mention of his mom wanting him to be a butcher, and by the end of the season, you’ll be as sick of hearing it as Matt is.
- Daredevil drinking game: drink every time someone says “my city” or “this city” and you will be sloppy by the end of any given episode.
- The second trailer for Ant-Man was released this morning, which places considerably more emphasis on humor than the first. The scene with Ant-Man and Yellowjacket fighting on the toy train set put a giant grin on my face.
- “I know how much your people delight in extolling the amount of pain they can endure, but maybe next time you could try ducking?”
- “If he had an iron suit or a magic hammer, maybe that would explain why you keep getting your asses handed to you.”
- “A woman that can be bought…isn’t worth having.” There’s a palpable shift in Wilson and Vanessa’s relationship with this line. You see him breaking out of his shell and turning on the charm, and you see her become totally enamored with his persona.
- “It’s a girl, isn’t it? You got a new phone just for your girls. My life sucks.”
- “Tell Mr. Potter I’ll need a new suit.” Fisk is referring to Melvin Potter, a tailor that is also the buzzsaw-wielding villain Gladiator in the comic books.