Monday, April 13, 2015

Wilson Fisk's History Bleeds Out Through "Shadows In The Glass."

The Good:  Character development, Plot progression, Performances
The Bad: Musical direction, One or two moments of character
The Basics: Wilson Fisk's history is fleshed out through flashbacks and amazing performances in "Shadows In The Glass," which is one of the most powerful episodes of Daredevil.

In creating serialized television, the responsibility the showrunners have is to make sure that a single plotline does not dominate the entire series. The first season of Daredevil is essentially an origin story, building to the proper emergence of the hero Daredevil and the villain Wilson Fisk evolving into The Kingpin. But the midpoint of the first season, while including some elements that would carry into subsequent episodes, was very much focused on seeding a major, future plot. In fact, the only real hint at "Stick" (reviewed here!) in "Shadows In The Glass" - the episode that followed it - is Matt Murdock's broken apartment and the allusion to the murder of Black Sky.

"Shadows In The Glass" moves Daredevil back to its a-plot. This is an episode that works very hard to round out the character and history of Wilson Fisk, much the way it has been doing for Matt Murdock. In addition to fleshing out Fisk, "Shadows In The Glass" quietly introduces Melvin Potter to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, the episode is erratic and, in its quest to build up Wilson Fisk, it undermines his intelligence.

Opening with Wilson Fisk and Matt Murdock getting ready for their days, Matt Murdock learns what Karen and Foggy have been up to in the wake of the bombings in Hell's Kitchen. Wesley and Fisk meet with Nobu, who threatens Fisk's operations in the wake of the Black Sky getting killed. Wesley is incensed on behalf of Fisk, but Fisk keeps him in check by declaring that the mobster is a necessary evil in their rising organization. Fisk's problems grow when Detective Blake comes out of his coma and Wesley is concerned he will squeal after being shot.

Worried that Blake will name Fisk, Fisk and Wesley meet with Detective Hoffman (Blake's partner) and bribe him to kill his partner and friend from childhood. Murdock is unable to get any information from Blake before he dies. Madame Gao visits Fisk in his home and makes a veiled threat against him. Forced to get his house in order, Fisk allows himself to be vulnerable with Vanessa after he lets his rage out. Wilson tells the truth about his father's death to Vanessa while Matt Murdock finally meets Ben Urich and tells him that Fisk is behind all the violence in Hell's Kitchen.

"Shadows In The Glass" is peppered through with flashbacks to Wilson Fisk's backstory. Fisk's father ran for Town Board in Hell's Kitchen. Bill Fisk is a misogynist and a bully. Predictably, he beats his wife and emotionally abuses Wilson as a kid. The magic in "Shadows In The Glass" is the way the episode ties back to "Rabbit In A Snow Storm" (reviewed here!) and explains the emotional connection he has to the painting. This is also the episode that fleshes out Fisk's tragic flaw; his rage.

This is the episode that cements Vanessa's place in Wilson Fisk's life. She becomes his enabler and fills the role that the priest does in Matt Murdock's character arc. But, instead of simply hearing Fisk's confession, Vanessa prods him into action. In a critical final scene in "Shadows In The Glass," Vanessa dresses Wilson Fisk and picks out new cufflinks for him - a small detail that sets him free from restraint and moral inhibitions.

Unfortunately, Wilson Fisk is not only vulnerable in a very human way in "Shadows In The Glass," he is somewhat stupid. When Blake wakes up, he learns that the police have closed ranks to protect him, making it very hard to kill the witness to his organization. Fisk goes through a number of permutations involving police officers before settling on hiring Hoffman to kill his childhood friend. Fisk's solution is remarkably inelegant and opens him up to further exposure. Why Fisk (and the episode's writer) did not think to hire a hospital employee to kill Detective Blake is inexcusable.

On the flip side, Vincent D'Onofrio is amazing as Wilson Fisk. Cole Jensen does an able job portraying the younger version of Wilson, but D'Onofrio does all of the emotional heavy-lifting in the episode and he is absolutely amazing playing the intense, wounded, complicated, and enraged businessman.

The only other issue with "Shadows In The Glass" is a nitpick that comes from those who love the broader range of television history. The musical direction in "Shadows In The Glass" is unfortunate in that it is entirely derivative. Those who are savvy to television history - modern television history - will recognized that the musical piece used in "Shadows In The Glass" to embody Wilson Fisk's tormented self moving toward the breaking point is the exact same piece The West Wing used in the second season (reviewed here!) episode "Noel." The problem is, "Noel" used the music the same way, for the exact same emotional stirring and so Daredevil here seems to be a cheap imitation of something that was popular, smart and powerful. The music fits here, but given the depth and breadth of music history, it would have behooved director Stephen Surjik to use another piece that was equally evocative, but not the same work Yo Yo Ma played on The West Wing.

That said, Surjik comes damn close to a perfect episode and "Shadows In The Glass" is one of the best first season episodes of Daredevil!

For other works with Wai Ching Ho, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Listen Up Philip
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Keeping The Faith

[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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