When I was a girl, Marvel studios created the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some people may try to convince you that it had a grand plan from its inception but this simply isn’t true. There was certainly a rough outline, with some things more likely to happen than others, but never a concrete plan. This uncertainty is present throughout the ABC Studios series Agents of SHIELD, which eventually diverged from the core MCU timeline into it’s own entity, and in the hit Netflix series’ produced under the Marvel banner.
These shows exists in a bizarre state of limbo, with their canonicity to the larger MCU bordering between non-existent and questionable. It’s present from the very first episode of Daredevil, which was the very first of the lager pantheon of Netflix Marvel shows. Reporter Ben Urich has articles, written by him, framed on his wall about the Hulks rampage in Harlem and the pivotal Battle of New York meaning that the canon of the films do exist here. However the favour isn’t returned as none of the plot points, locations, or characters from the Netflix series’ ever appear in the big screen outings (I know…I discuss it here.) This occurred because current head of the MCU, Kevin Feige, wanted these shows to eventually appear alongside their cinematic counterparts but the people in charge at the time did not, vying for both a television empire and a theatrical one. As a result, Daredevil exists, for lack of a better phrase, as Kevin Fieges headcanon.
The show follows lawyer Matthew Murdoch who, having been blinded by chemicals as a child, uses his heightened senses and martial arts training to fight crime. Simultaneously, he is attempting to keep his newly established law practice afloat as well as friendships with fellow lawyer Foggy Nelson and client-turned-secretary Karen Page. However, as the light rises, so too does darkness to meet it. Across the first 3 episodes, a shadowy figure looms large over the neighbourhood of Hells Kitchen, controlling all the major crime syndicates. This shadow finally reveals itself toward the end of episode 3 as Wilson Fisk, in an introduction that perfectly captures why this series works so well.
Wilsons presence, despite only being off-screen initially, is overbearing. His determination to complete his goal is without question and his willingness to kill whoever stands in his way is more than apparent. Yet, his first on-screen appearance is a gentle one. He stands in an art gallery, musing over a canvas painted in several shades of slightly-off white. When asked by the art curator how it makes him feel he responds by saying that it makes him feel alone. This is a stark contrast to the typical “villain” one might expect. He’s driven by emotion and doesn’t truly yearn for violence…he’s just doing what needs to be done. He’s a grounded character that exists in a moral gray area and this is what this show does so well. There isn’t a single character here who’s presented as purely good or evil, everyone is willing to do something a little sketchy if they aren’t already doing so.
It’s often seen in the friendship between Matt, Foggy and Karen which fractures as the series goes on. It doesn’t happen because they want it to, instead it happens because they each come to harbor a major secret. Even when there is some reconciliation towards the series’ end, it’s clear that the dynamics are forever changed. This isn’t the typical “Act 3 Break-Up”, it has lasting implications. Even their interactions with secondary and tertiary characters change the course of the plot. Aforementioned reporter Ben Urich teams up with Karen as they work to take down Fisk through journalism, with the repercussions being some of the most heartbreaking moments of the show. Meanwhile, Father Paul Lantom’s discussions with Matt provide an interesting look at the moral gray areas which are central to the core of the plot. He also isn’t a holier-than-thou preacher, he’s a down to Earth realist who happens to have devoted himself to God and does what he can to keep Matt on the right path. It’s a really good portrayal of Christianity and preaching God’s word.
Capping it off is the brutal action which is present from the very first episode. With a 16+ rating in the UK (TV-MA in the US), Daredevil makes the most of the violence which is allowed. The prime example is episode 2s famous Hallway Fight which lasts around 5 minutes. It’s shot as a continuous take which makes it feel more grueling and only switches angles when it’s truly necessary to keep that feeling going. By the end of it, Matt is bruised, bloody and tired which is a far cry from the heavy hitters of the MCU like The Hulk or Captain America. Daredevil isn’t a superhero, he’s just a hero who happens to do super things. Then there’s the copious blood, which is more often seem from Fisks victims…particularly an unfortunate Russian who has his head caved in with a car door. It displays yet another core aspect of the show which is how far people are willing to go for their causes. How far do things go before murder is a viable option?
This first season of Daredevil is the blueprint on which the following Netflix Marvel shows were founded. It has a different tone to the theatrical releases, opting to be more grounded and dark, although there are plenty of laughs too. Ultimately, this is why it will be remembered, regardless of whether or not they ever become canon.