The Good: Performances, Plot progression, Character development, Surprises
The Bad: Direction
The Basics: "World On Fire" would have been a perfect episode of Daredevil, if only director Farren Blackburn had let it be!
Daredevil, for its first season anyway, got off to a bit of a rocky start. That is understandable in some ways; Daredevil has a number of core characters to introduce and a crime plotline that is more sophisticated than a simple "man sees injustice in the world, tries to do good" superhero plot. The rockiness of the inconsistent few establishing episodes faded by the season's fourth episode "In The Blood" (reviewed here!). Going into "World On Fire," Daredevil had the Big Mo back on its side (momentum). Unfortunately, for fans of Daredevil, the story is heading into a necessarily predictable direction and as a result, "World On Fire" gambles big on style over surprise.
At the core of the structural problem with "World On Fire" is the dichotomy being established between Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk. Daredevil Season 1 is a long origin story for both the vigilante hero and his primary adversary. The problem going into "World On Fire" is that any fan of comic books knows how the conflict must end. "In The Blood" peaked with Wilson Fisk antagonizing a war between the rival mobs in Hell's Kitchen and given that Fisk is moving to become The Kingpin the way Matt Murdock is evolving into Daredevil, Wilson Fisk's street war can only result in him vanquishing his foes and consolidating power over Hell's Kitchen.
So, "World On Fire" has to wow viewers with how it makes that happen over the surprise of "what will happen now that Wilson Fisk is at war with all of his business enemies?" And it does it!
Opening with Claire Temple cleaning up after being tortured by the Russian mobsters, Matt Murdock reveals more of his abilities to Temple. After convincing her to stay at his apartment, Temple gives Murdock the name of the Russian mobster who seems to be leading the local mob. Meanwhile, Wesley visits Vladimir and implicates the masked vigilante in the death of his brother. Arranging a meeting with the three other mobsters, Wilson Fisk comes clean to his other business partners about how he killed Vladimir's brother and plans to divide the Russian mob's interests among the remaining four.
After Daredevil attempts to find Vladimir, which results in one of the Russian mob lackeys getting arrested, Nelson & Murdock take the case of an old woman living in a rent controlled apartment who is being muscled out of her building. While visiting the police precinct for information on Tully, the slumlord, Murdock overhears the interrogation of the Russian by two corrupt detectives, who kill their prisoner. Page and Nelson visit the giant law firm of Landman and Zack where Foggy squares off against Marci Stahl, a woman he used to date. While Foggy and Karen work to help their client, Fisk has a date with Vanessa . . . which leads him to be exposed to Vladimir's wrath.
"World On Fire" treats viewers to the first images of exactly how Matt Murdock "sees" and that is executed well.
Charlie Cox and Rosario Dawson have amazing on-screen chemistry. As Matt Murdock treats Claire Temple's wounds, Cox plays the scene with such tenderness that it is almost erotic to watch. Rosario Dawson gives subtle eye and body reactions that make the viewer feel the lightness of Cox's touch on her skin. The teaser scene is remarkably sensual and it illustrates well that Cox was cast for more than just his good looks or ability to do fight scenes. After Claire reads the contents of the burner, Dawson emotes incredibly powerfully with only her eyes and that makes that scene heartbreaking (which is tough to do so early in a series).
As one who saw Deborah Ann Woll on screen for years on True Blood (reviewed here!) as Jessica Hamby, one of the delightful aspects of "World On Fire" is how she truly comes into her own with embodying Karen Page. Woll brings a sense of delight to Page while she and Foggy are having an impromptu date that is distinct and different from her True Blood role (which is important because the two characters' origins are remarkably similar). Woll and Henson (Foggy) have decent on-screen chemistry in "World On Fire."
On the character front, Foggy Nelson might well have the best scene of the episode. When he squares off against Marci, the scene is a delight to watch for anyone who has ever loathed the way corrupt businesses operate. Arguably, Nelson takes the high road to impress Page, but the scene still works. In a similar fashion, the way Fisk tries to interface with Vanessa gives Fisk more depth than most villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"World On Fire" is also the emotional tipping point for viewers on the relationship between Wesley and Fisk. Fisk defines Wesley as his friend and that is part of a scene of emotional honesty that begs the question of why Wesley acts as the hand of Wilson Fisk. Smartly, "World On Fire" does not give it all away, but it starts to address that question. Wesley has been loyal and trusted by Fisk and by "World On Fire," enough has happened that viewers have to wonder "why?!" At least getting Fisk's perspective on the matter is a refreshing start.
Vincent D'Onofrio is incredible as Wilson Fisk. His body language is great and director Farren Blackburn captures the important cufflinks well.
Thus far in Daredevil, very little of the direction has stood out. Daredevil is very dark (which is should be). But in "World On Fire," Farren Blackburn's use of handheld camera is nauseating. That makes for a visually inconsistent episode as Blackburn segues between unwatchable shaky scenes and long, slow scenes with a controlled sense of movement. The latter type creates an amazing sense of tension in scenes like Fisk's date.
Ultimately, "World On Fire" is a bridge episode. It has to take Daredevil from where it has been to the next major plot arc. Bridge episodes are tough to do because the plot is usually a set-up, depending on the subsequent episodes for resolution. "World On Fire" packs the episode with character development and while it feels like a traditional bridge episode, the last few minutes of the bring satisfaction to fans of any incarnation of Daredevil who want to see how Fisk might accomplish his ascension. As a bridge episode, "World On Fire" does not complete the rise of the Kingpin, but it moves it all forward in a brilliant and entertaining way.
For other works with Bob Gunton, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"The Wounded" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
[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 movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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