Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one! Spoilers ahead.
I have always loved Marvel’s Daredevil from its very first scene. You can now watch it, and its fellow formerly Netflix-based shows (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders), on Disney+. They were added March 16 as the first ever mature content on the streamer. Daredevil, about a blind vigilante, was the first of the Marvel-Netflix shows to premiere back in 2015, and from the pilot it’s clear this is a show that always knew exactly what it wanted to be. As this column’s first ever retro post, here’s a look back at why the episode remains so iconic.
Appropriately titled “Into the Ring” (we’ll get to that in a moment), the episode opens with a flashback. We meet our hero Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox), who will eventually become the vigilante Daredevil, as a young boy (Skylar Gaertner) who has just saved a man’s life by pushing him out of the way of what looks like a large car accident. We immediately understand Matt as the type of person who would instinctively help someone else. Matt’s been a hero long before he ever got any powers or training.
In addition to doing important character work–the scene also sets up how Matt goes blind, as the chemicals from an overturned truck fill his eyes, while his scared father Jack Murdock (John Patrick Hayden) hugs him–it’s also beautifully shot. We enter the scene with a shaky camera, and the visual is a little bit blurry to convey Jack’s confusion as he approaches the scene of the accident, and then suddenly everything slams into motion, the sirens and horns blaring, as Jack realizes what’s happened and runs towards his son. As good as the series is at telling the story, it’s just as successful at these more technical elements. Pause the episode anywhere, especially on the scenes in the office or Matt’s apartment, and marvel at how lovely the lighting is, how it plays with the shadows.
The flashback then moves seamlessly into present day, as Matt sits down in a confessional booth. The monologue he gives to the priest may be one of the best TV speeches I’ve ever heard. As Matt explains how his father used to be a boxer, and the rage he sometimes saw his father express in the ring, he’s also talking about himself, and what he feels now. We learn a lot about Matt’s backstory without it feeling like an info-dump, and despite the dramatic nature of the speech, Cox smartly pulls back and gives a minimalistic performance so that every slight inflection and turn of phrase shines through. By the time his eyes finally well up with tears, we’re riveted.
How does Matt express his rage, or as he terms it “let the devil out”? Not in the ring like his dad. By day he’s a lawyer along with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), whose endearingly animated chattiness contrasts nicely with Matt’s cool dry wit, insisting that they take on clients who need their help, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. But that’s clearly not enough for Matt as he dresses in all black with a mask (his Daredevil suit, as well as the name “Daredevil,” are still to come) to fight crime, in this episode’s case, interfering in a human trafficking ring.
What’s nice is this series doesn’t spend its premiere on just set-up. We get right to the action in only the third scene as Matt beats up bad guys and shows off his amazing martial arts skills, but also his super-hearing, which is powerful even for a blind person, as he reacts to a gun being cocked behind him. The action looks amazing since Matt is wearing a mask, allowing the series to shoot Cox’s stunt double head on.
Of course, Matt’s not just fighting random bad guys. The operation he’s interfering with is part of a vast criminal conspiracy within New York City, as a group of crime lords gather on a rooftop to complain about the mysterious new hero. And little does Matt know it, but his and Foggy’s new client Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), whose seemingly open-and-shut case becomes more bizarre as she undergoes multiple murder attempts, is also a victim of this crime syndicate. This means that we get another climactic action scene as Matt goes head to head with a hitman.
The episode doesn’t tip its hand completely. Wilson Fisk, a.k.a Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), is the big bad of the series, but he doesn’t actually appear until episode 3. He’s alluded to here, and there’s a phone call where we hear his voice, but his name is never spoken, leaving a large presence looming over the story.
As for where Matt’s rage comes from? The episode answers that in the final scene as he stands on a rooftop and listens with his super-hearing to the sounds of the city. Hearing people being hurt, needing help, for someone with such an innate sense of justice as Matt, it’s unsurprising that he feels the need to do something about it, and he obviously has the ability to. Now, where he got his combat skills from, that’s a question to be answered another day.
Whatever danger Matt’s facing, at least he has Foggy and Karen to rely on. The shot towards the end of the episode where the three are sitting, eating dinner in the office, and Karen offers to work for them perfectly establishes our core trio. These are the people we’re meant to root for.
With Matt showing up in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Wilson Fisk appearing in Hawkeye, it feels like there’s a big resurgence happening for this series and its characters. It was devastating when the show was canceled after three enormously popular seasons due to the spat between Netflix and Disney over the then still upcoming Disney+. If you hadn’t heard of it before, now’s the time to binge this fantastic series. And if you’ve seen it, might I suggest a rewatch?
Other observations we thought made this episode stand out:
- Between Matt visiting his childhood church and Foggy’s conversation with Officer Mahony (Royce Johnson) about growing up together, the series conveys that they’re locals with deep ties to the community.
- Don’t skip the theme song! The music, the visuals of a city washed in red–Daredevil’s signature color, but also implying that the city is dripping in blood–are mesmerizing.
Marvel’s Daredevil, Streaming Now, Disney+