The Good: Character, Most of the performances
The Bad: Banal plot, Unsettling combination of gore and sensuality
The Basics: The Punisher plotline reaches a peak in "Penny And Dime" making for a weird early-season "conclusion" for Daredevil.
When the Daredevil episode "New York's Finest" (reviewed here!) finished fans of Daredevil had to wonder what the long game for the season was. After all, as "Penny And Dime" begins, it seems like the Punisher threat has been more or less neutralized, whatwith Daredevil rescuing his adversary from the Dogs Of Hell at the climax to the previous episode. Fortunately, "Penny And Dime" opening with yet more people who want revenge upon Frank Castle makes it easy to believe that the show will find a way to keep building something significant for the entire season.
"New York's Finest" did not accent any form of escape for Frank Castle - the viewer sees him apparently unconscious in the elevator as it hits the ground floor and then Matt Murdock looks out into the street - so those binge watching Daredevil might well feel like they've missed something before "Penny And Dime." "Penny And Dime" returns Father Lantom to Daredevil and his role as a moral advisor in Matt Murdock's life seems almost redundant after Murdock explicitly stating his moral code and then illustrating it in the prior episode. Fortunately, the concept of Murdock feeling guilty over his lack of universal successes plays well in "Penny And Dime" and helps justify Lantom's presence in the episode.
Opening with an Irish Wake for the mobsters killed by Frank Castle, Finn arrives and takes out the current head of the Irish mob, ostensibly because the current leader let Finn's son die on his watch. Finn is looking for $1.2 million that was taken by Frank Castle when he hit the Irish mob. The Irish go through Hell's Kitchen tormenting business owners until they find Frank Castle's hideout, abduct his dog and prepare for his inevitable assault on them. Castle managed to elude Daredevil after his rescue and witnesses Finn taking away his dog. Karen Page arrives at Matt Murdock's apartment to take her boss to Grotto's funeral, which only three people show up for. While Murdock gets a pep talk from his priest, Frank Castle inserts something into a wound in his arm and leaves his van in an otherwise abandoned lot.
Melvin Potter provides Daredevil with a new cowl and gloves to help him defend himself. Page follows clues that make her realize that Frank Castle is a piece of a conspiracy of some sort - not the orchestrator of it. Page learns that after Castle was shot in the head, mysterious people came to the hospital and exercised a Do Not Resuscitate order on him and he very briefly died. Castle lays a trap for Finn and his gang at the carousel his wife and children were killed at, but Finn gets the drop on him. Castle's capture puts Daredevil once again in the unlikely position of having to rescue the vigilante whose methods he deplores.
"Penny And Dime" moves the relationship between Murdock and Page forward, though not at such a pace that it is unrealistic or lacking in substance. Page's discovery that Frank Castle was shot in the head helps her exhibit compassion for the man who was shooting at her. Her compassion is irresistible to Murdock and that makes their growing bond seem realistic.
Page is also fleshed out wonderfully as she investigates the personal history of Frank Castle. Page is becoming something of a detective - a wasted opportunity to add Jessica Jones to the storyline! - in hunting for clues about Frank Castle's life before he was a serial killer cleaning up the criminal element in Hell's Kitchen. Page's desire for understanding clues her into the conspiracy that Castle is a component of and "Penny And Dime" begins to characterize D.A. Reyes as someone with potentially sinister motives, which is an interesting twist - that a character begun as a background character could be given such an extensive backstory and plotline to flesh her out. Fortunately, Page is the focus, which keeps viewers invested in "Penny And Dime."
"Penny And Dime" can be difficult to watch in many points as the graphic violence is palpable in the episode. When the teaser features a man getting killed by having something thrust into his eyeball - the sound is absolutely terrible! - the viewer knows that the episode is not going to let up. "Penny And Dime" is filled with torture and shots like Frank Castle's foot getting drilled through with a power drill are shown explicitly. Interestingly, director Peter Hoar and the episode's writer seem to know the threshold for viewers as Castle's dog is brought in by Finn, but not tortured.
After the early moralizing that allows Matt Murdock to express himself, the episode turns heavily toward Frank Castle. Frank Castle loves his dog . . . but not enough that at the episode's critical moment he makes sure his dog is rescued with him. His backstory is revealed in "Penny And Dime" through a long scene of exposition at the episode's climax and fans of the Punisher character will appreciate the fidelity the episode plays to his commonly-known backstory. Frank Castle's family was murdered in front of him and his attempt to kill members of the groups involved or present at the shootout where his family was killed is what is driving him.
Guest star Tony Curran steals his scenes in "Penny And Dime." Curran is brilliantly unsettling as Finn, playing angry and vengeful in a way that might surprise those who know him exclusively from some of his other guest-starring roles. Indeed, it is tough to accept Curran as Finn when one remembers him from his portrayal of the vulnerable and broken Van Gogh on Doctor Who!
John Bernthal does exceptionally well as Frank Castle in "Penny And Dime" as well. Between the brutally difficult physical scenes and the exceptional amount of exposition at the episode's end allows Bernthal to show off his range. Bernthal is tasked with ending the very physical, violent episode with over ten minutes of monologue and he makes it surprisingly gripping. Castle explains the story of coming back from war and being reunited with his family and the story takes time and it slowly develops and Bernthal makes the process surprisingly good television.
"Penny And Dime" very satisfyingly forces a transition in the second season of Daredevil. While "New York's Finest" might have made it seem like the Punisher was neutralized, "Penny And Dime" both puts him back into and takes him out of the mix, preventing him from continuing as the primary adversary of the season in the next episode. The resolution to "Penny And Dime" has the feeling of being a strong ending - up to and including the musical crescendo, which is reminiscent of many of the Marvel movies - and the return to focus on Matt Murdock and his morals helps tie the episode together well. The result is that viewers who watch Daredevil for the Daredevil-core characters are likely to enjoy "Penny And Dime" and its place in the second season; Daredevil is not being rewritten as Punisher Featuring Daredevil And His Friends.
As an early climax within the second season, "Penny And Dime" is good, but the plot is more typical than extraordinary. Viewers who are engrossed in Murdock and Page's relationship are likely to feel cheated by the extension of the "will they or won't they" vibe in "Penny And Dime;" if ever there were a place for two people to fall into bed with one another after a rough and mildly cathartic day, the events of "Penny And Dime" would seem to be it! The combination of graphic gore and violence (yet we do not see the bomb in the briefcase or the fate of the dog?!) and the slow passion of a drop of rain on Karen Page's skin is more unsettling than it is artistic. The result is a more average episode than one that truly electrifies.
For other works with Stephen Rider, please read my reviews of:
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Daredevil - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of the blind vigilante here!
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