The Good: Direction, Acting, Character development, Plot development/serialization.
The Bad: None!
The Basics: Long scenes of dialogue and unbroken fights pit Daredevil against The Punisher in a philosophical battle that allows Daredevil to finally achieve a perfect episode!
Throughout my reviews of the second season of Daredevil thus far, I have refrained from commenting on the actor of Jon Bernthal, who plays Frank Castle. The truth is, for the first two episodes of the season, Bernthal has played Castle well within the range of what one might expect, given his performances in the first and second seasons of The Walking Dead (season two is reviewed here!). That makes his early performances on Daredevil a function of good casting, as opposed to genuinely fresh acting. That changes for Bernthal in "New York's Finest." "New York's Finest" allows Jon Bernthal to show off his acting chops as Frank Castle is finally given real dialogue and Bernthal nails the emotional intensity of every second amazingly well.
Between the interplay of Jon Bernthal and Charlie Cox as The Punisher and Daredevil and the amazing direction from Marc Jobst, "New York's Finest" is the essential episode from the second season of Daredevil to watch. In fact, "New York's Finest" manages to do what only the Jessica Jones episode "AKA WWJD?" (reviewed here!) managed to do for the Marvel Cinematic Universe before; it creates a perfect hour of television!
"New York's Finest" picks up immediately after "Dogs To A Gunfight" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible, as a result, to discuss it without spoilers of the prior episode's ending. "Dogs To A Gunfight" climaxed with D.A. Reyes's use of Nelson & Murdock's law firm and Grotto as a trap to draw out The Punisher. The disastrous plan led to Daredevil being captured by The Punisher and Reyes's plan falling apart.
Opening with Matt Murdock dreaming of a nun (presumably his, unbeknownst to him, mother), Daredevil awakens on a rooftop chained up by The Punisher. Page and Nelson confront Reyes in the wake of the botched trap to draw out Frank Castle, while Murdock witnesses Castle setting up for his next hit. Foggy Nelson goes looking for Claire Temple at Metro General, suspecting Murdock is going to need medical attention, witnessing the carnage the gang war in Hell's Kitchen has wrought. Page returns to the office, where Grotto calls and reveals he is fleeing Hell's Kitchen.
While Daredevil and The Punisher discuss their motivations, Nelson finds Temple and warns her that Matt is up against the man who is filling her emergency room with bleeding bodies. After a tense encounter whereby Frank Castle talks his way out of killing the building's night watchman when he finds Castle on the roof of the building, Page has a conversation with Assistant D.A. Tower. Page gets information on The Punisher, while Foggy negotiated with two thugs to disarm a tense standoff in the hospital. When Frank Castle brings Grotto to the rooftop after taping a gun into Matt Murdock's hand, the situation on the rooftop deteriorates rapidly. Castle's choice of rooftops is revealed to be entirely planned as he rains fiery hell down upon the Dogs Of Hell bar below, which forces Daredevil to save his adversary's life from the bloodthirsty bikers!
"New York's Finest" is an intense episode of Daredevil and a great hour of television. Long before the action starts in the episode, "New York's Finest" uses the bulk of the episode to do what seldom happens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; characters talk. Frank Castle and Matt Murdock have a genuine debate about their natures and the conversation is insightful, intelligently written and powerfully-delivered. "New York's Finest" is the closest Daredevil has gotten to producing an episode of television in the realm of greatness of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Duet" (reviewed here!). The philosophy and larger themes in "New York's Finest" resonate well outside the confines of the Daredevil universe. The long scenes of dialogue between the season's primary protagonist and antagonist are unlike most anything on television.
More than that, the first major act that features Daredevil and The Punisher squaring off to talk, is one of several long pieces in "New York's Finest." Unbroken until the building manager comes to the roof, "New York's Finest" exhibits just how good television direction and editing can be. It would be utterly unsurprising to me to learn that the scene was Bernthal's audition for Daredevil; the patter and timing between Bernthal and Cox is so effortless and natural feeling. The timing feels fresh and the scene - which is just two people talking - moves along at a great pace, it is so engaging. Bespite the unfortunate rhyme in a key bit of dialogue, the exchanges between Daredevil and The Punisher are amazingly good television.
"New York's Finest" is not just talk, though. If the episode is not nominated for both Best Direction and Best Editing Emmys, then the awards truly are rigged. The episode climaxes with a stairwell fight scene that is absolutely amazing direction. I've watched the episode multiple times now, but the stairwell fight scene even more; I can only find one cut in it! The long shot is expertly choreographed and cut and it is so much more than most television fight sequences. It is awardworthy.
Karen Page's part in "New York's Finest" is to expose that a conspiracy exists surrounding Frank Castle and in this episode, she gets key information that there is something more to Castle than initially appears. Despite all of the new character elements in "New York's Finest," fans of Daredevil and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe will appreciate how Claire Temple resurfaces. The return of Rosario Dawson's character is a thrill and the allusion to her working off her punishment for her actions at the climax Jessica Jones (reviewed here!), before it is made explicit, is a fun connection for the fans.
"New York's Finest" is an episode of Daredevil that assuages the fears of fans who were worried that The Punisher would completely overwhelm the second season of the show. The conflict between Daredevil and The Punisher transitions from philosophical to physical in a very organic way, but the sense of resolution at the end of the episode is palpable, making it feel much more satisfying than a part of a larger narrative. Between the quality of the performances, direction, philosophy, and character development, "New York's Finest" is one of the best episodes of television I've ever reviewed!
For other works with Charlie Cox, please visit my reviews of:
The Theory Of Everything
Daredevil - Season 1
[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!
For other television episode and movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please visit my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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