Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tear Apart All You've Built: Nelson & Murdock Fractures In "Semper Fidelis!"

The Good: Acting, Direction, Plot development, Moments of character, Twists.
The Bad: Lighter on character development than it could be; The best moments are set-ups without resolution.
The Basics: Daredevil does a courtroom drama that puts Foggy Nelson on his own while Daredevil goes after the Yakuza in "Semper Fidelis."

Serialized television has a tough tightrope to walk. Episodes have to find a balance between telling a story of their own and fitting into the larger narrative. Daredevil occasionally managed to strike an impressive balance between the micro- and macro-stories. "Semper Fidelis" is an episode that manages to do that exceptionally well. While the micro story that is mostly encapsulated within "Semper Fidelis" puts Foggy Nelson in the driver's seat of the trial of Frank Castle, Matt Murdock's plotline lays another, incredibly brick on the long road to a television incarnation of the Shadowland storyline from the (comparatively) recent Daredevil books. While the one plotline is chock full of new information and exposition, the other plotline has little new information, but a lot of allusions to first season episodes of Daredevil.

"Semper Fidelis" opens about a week after "Regrets Only" (reviewed here!), with the trial of Frank Castle set to begin. The idea of a trial for The Punisher put Nelson & Murdock in the odd position of coming to the defense of a man that most of the characters deplore and put the audience in the uncomfortable position of wondering how the second season of Daredevil could possibly proceed. While Frank Castle was apprehended surprisingly early in the second season, the role of Elektra in the prior two episodes has hardly been substantive enough to make viewers believe that the show would maintain focus on Daredevil and Elektra. Given the relative speed and progress of the Castle trial in "Semper Fidelis," viewers have to latch onto the hope that the Elektra plotline progressed in this episode would advance in a satisfying way.

Opening with jury selection for Frank Castle's case, public opinion is seriously divided on the nature of the Punisher vigilante. D.A. Reyes and Foggy Nelson manage to approve of a jury to empanel and the trial of Frank Castle begins. The day before the trial begins, while Foggy Nelson is struggling with an opening statement, Page visits Castle in jail. Castle is belligerent with Page about discovering the truth about who killed his family, but he provides Page with a character witness: his commanding officer from his Marine days. Murdock is sidetracked by Elektra, who has found a translator for the encoded page from the Yakusa ledger. That night, Daredevil and Elektra visit the professor who encoded the ledger for the Yakuza.

When Page realizes that the medical report from the examiner who did the autopsy on Frank Castle's family was probably altered, Nelson sees an opening. When a trip to the trainyard raises more questions than it answers and leaves Daredevil and Elektra ambushed, it keeps Matt Murdock up for the night and allows him and Natchios to bond once again. As a result, Murdock is late to the opening of the Castle trial and Nelson must make the opening remarks. When the medical examiner is called to the stand, he cracks completely, leading Matt to realize what a liability Elektra is to the professional half of his life. When Daredevil confronts Elektra over one of the properties that Fisk secured, the pair makes a shocking discovery.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has not seen anything even remotely like a courtroom drama, so Daredevil is plumbing new depths with "Semper Fidelis." To balance the newness with the familiar for those more inclined toward comic books and their sensibilities, "Semper Fidelis" includes the plotline with Elektra and the battle that Daredevil and Elektra have against the Yakuza. Amid legal arguments and depositions that would be out of place for characters like Thor and Ant-Man, Daredevil and Elektra discover a mysterious hole in Hell's Kitchen and beat people up for information.

The thrill in "Semper Fidelis" does not come from the Daredevil and Elektra b-plot, but rather from seeing intelligent characters acting smartly. Foggy Nelson does amazing work on the Castle trial and Page shows a real knack for investigative work in "Semper Fidelis." The characterization of Elektra proceeds in a surprisingly subtle way; the sheer volume of Yakuza ninjas she takes on without aid implies far more training and ability than she has thus-far exhibited or admitted to. "Semper Fidelis" starts to imply a lot about Elektra's backstory before the final revealing moment in a subsequent episode that allows fans of Elektra to cheer (and horrify the rest of us!).

Deborah Ann Woll earns her entire season's paycheck for her key monologue in "Semper Fidelis." It is a rare thing - especially in works based upon comic book source material - for an actor to be able to deliver a strong, convincing monologue. Woll does so when she tries to consider Frank Castle's perspective and the result is a passionately-delivered set of lines that is one of the best few minutes Woll has ever put on screen.

Elden Henson continues to make waves in the Marvel Universe as Foggy Nelson. Nelson is almost always treated as a third-string sidekick, but in Daredevil, he is an immensely likable right hand to Matt Murdock. In "Semper Fidelis," the character is forced to break out of his own shell and Henson makes him into a break-out character who is far more engrossing to watch than Elektra. Henson perfectly projects to make the theatrical opening statement in the Castle trial seem both realistic and plausible . . . and in character. The interplay between Henson and Cox when Murdock comes out to him about Elektra's presence in his life allows Foggy to explode with moralization and Henson to infuse the angry scene with a relatable amount of caring.

"Semper Fidelis" is delightful for the sheer volume of surprises it possesses and the episode manages to hold up remarkably well over multiple viewings. The prep work for Tepper - the medical examiner - taking the stand acts as a wonderful chance for Murdock and Page to bond. It also works to set up a traditional reversal; Murdock comes up with an elaborate strategy to slip up Tepper, but Tepper cracks pretty much the moment the cross examination begins.

Not all of the work that is done in "Semper Fidelis" is paid off in the episode. Page and Murdock have a legitimate philosophical argument that forces them to cool off for a night, which puts off their romantic relationship for yet another night. It is a critical component in reinforcing Matt Murdock's sense of ethics and, in "Semper Fidelis," establishing an in-episode bedrock for the horror he will feel when Elektra's true nature is revealed. Unfortunately, in "Semper Fidelis," her nature remains only implied and that work plays to a critical moment in the next episode.

"Semper Fidelis" finds an incredible balance between the larger Daredevil narrative and being a satisfying bridge episode. The allusions to Fisk and Nobu help progress the Elektra plot, while the medical examiner's corruption becomes a key component in the Reyes conspiracy plotline that is unfolding at the Castle trial. The result is a surprisingly substantive episode that is, objectively, a middle act.

For other works with Elodie Yung, be sure to check out my review of:
G.I. Joe: Retaliation

[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 elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please visit my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment