Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Cut Man" Progresses Daredevil With An Unfortunate Advocation Of Torture!

The Good: Some wonderful character moments, Good performances,
The Bad: Advocates torture, Realistic grittiness is entirely unpleasant to watch.
The Basics: The second episode of Daredevil finds a wounded Matt Murdock struggling to survive after he fell into a trap while rescuing a boy from a child trafficking ring.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the new Netflix series Daredevil was how the pilot episode hit the ground running. The series does not define the vigilante alter ego of Matt Murdock in its pilot episode and it did not explicitly define how it is that Matt Murdock is able to get around as a blind man without special equipment. Given how many Daredevil books there are that define and redefine the origin story of Daredevil, the less linear approach to the story of Daredevil was a surprisingly smart way to keep the story engaging for fans, while leaving a lot to intrigue newbies to the franchise from the first episode.

Picking up after the climax of "Into The Ring" (reviewed here!), with Matt Murdock atop a building, hearing a boy being abducted, "Cut Man" illustrates the effects of Murdock as Daredevil walking into a mob trap. Instead of continuing at the same moment the prior episode ended, "Cut Man" keeps Daredevil intriguing by giving a narrative gap that viewers have to fill in by paying attention and being patient with the way the episode unfolds.

Opening with Daredevil in a dumpster, with his throat cut, the blind vigilante is discovered by a young man, who brings Claire Temple to him. In his wounded state, Matt Murdock flashes back to taking care of his father after he endured one of his boxing matches (and came out with a technical knockout), before waking up to Claire taking care of him. While Foggy and Karen go out for the evening, Claire patches Matt Murdock up and he is forced to confess to her. Murdock fell into a trap while trying to rescue a boy who was part of a human trafficking ring.

After stopping the mobster who is masquerading as a cop, searching for the masked vigilante, Claire reveals the reason she pulled Matt out of the dumpster. Claire is a local nurse who has been dealing with the effects of Matt Murdock's efforts to save locals who have been hurt by mobsters. She believes Murdock's motives are pure and that he is trying to do good with his nocturnal activities. Claire watches - and helps - Matt to torture the mob lackey for information on where the kidnapped boy is being held.

Weaving throughout the primary narrative involving Matt Murdock, wounded in the present, is the story of Battlin' Jack Murdock's big fight. The story of Matt Murdock adapting to his blindness and standing up to Sweeney (the local mobster who is fixing the fights in Hell's Kitchen) is one of the essential stories in Daredevil. In "Cut Man," Battlin' Jack is given his chance to fight a big name, Creel, who he is supposed to lose to. Jack stands up to set an example for Matt, knowing it will likely cost him everything.

"Cut Man," in addition to having the essential Jack Murdock story that helps frame Matt Murdock as Daredevil, is thematically bound together by a theme of fear. In this episode, we see this proto-Daredevil using fear as a tool to torture information out of the mob lackey. It is the lackey's fear of death and the extreme pain Murdock inflicts upon him that leads him to give up the information Murdock needs. Even though Murdock knows it is a trap, he walks into it. This, of course, establishes the Marvel Universe vigilante as the Man Without Fear and while it is frequently unpleasant to watch, it is clear that writer Drew Goddard was saying something thematically with the way he structured "Cut Man."

Karen Page becomes instantly compelling and realistic in "Cut Man." Page's apartment was broken into in "Into The Ring" and her coworker was murdered there. Page spends the episode not wanting to go home and her monologue about why is heartbreaking and uncommon in television. Page is wrestling with the consequences of violence that was done to her and, of course, she now lives in fear. Page is scared and Deborah Ann Woll embodies that incredibly well in "Cut Man." Woll plays Page as the woman desperate to not return to the place that no longer feels safe and she nails it without appearing weak and whiny. Instead, Page realistically deflects and Woll plays it with subtlety instead of just starting the episode crying out "I'm scared!"

The introduction of Claire Temple is handled incredibly well. Temple fills an essential niche in Daredevil as the vigilante will frequently be put in harm's way and need stitching up. Temple is given realistic motivation in "Cut Man" where she wants to do right and she makes a character judgement about Matt Murdock. The way that unfolds over the course of the episode works very well. Instead of being monolithically good or given an unrealistic sense of motivation, Temple's backstory on the sidelines of Daredevil's one man fight on crime is carefully revealed and it works. It works, in no small part, because Rosario Dawson approaches the role with a humorless seriousness. When Murdock drops a fire extinguisher on a mobster, Dawson as Temple cringes in the exact way one hopes a real, compassionate, human being would.

Charlie Cox does fine as Matt Murdock in "Cut Man," though much of his performance is him gritting his teeth an embodying a man in great pain. Skylar Gaertner is actually forced to play Matt Murdock (the young Matt Murdock) more than Cox and he does fine for a child actor.

Where "In The Ring" was hard to find issues with, "Cut Man" is much easier not to like. Thematically, the episode is tight and the performances are good. But, despite the scenes with Foggy and Karen Page, the episode is almost homogeneously unpleasant to watch. And "Cut Man" advocates torture. Sure, we get it: Matt Murdock can tell when people are lying, so he knows when tormenting someone yields real results, but the advocation of torture and the implication that if it is "done properly" it works is ridiculous. "Cut Man" progresses the story and it certainly helps define the characters better, but it is not entertaining and it is not easy.

While the latter can be forgiven, the "ends justify the means" idea for Matt Murdock torturing cannot. Drew Goddard and Phil Abraham should have to go back and watch the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Chain Of Command, Part II" (reviewed here!) before they are given a chance to influence the next generation of television viewers again.

For other works with Rosario Dawson, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Seven Pounds
Clerks II
25th Hour
Men In Black II

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Daredevil - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Man Without Fear here!


For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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