Monday, March 21, 2016

The Trial Of Frank Castle Concludes: "Guilty As Sin"

The Good: Wonderful reversals, Effective exposition, Good balance between a- and b-plots, Performances
The Bad: Lighter on character
The Basics: Daredevil takes a series of left turns when "Guilty As Sin" shakes up both the trial of Frank Castle and the Elektra plot when Stick returns to Hell's Kitchen.

As someone who reviews a lot of television and movies, it is always nice to be pleasantly surprised by a work I enjoy. The second season of Daredevil was proceeding with mixed highs and lows for the show when it took an abrupt left turn at the end of "Guilty As Sin." "Guilty As Sin" manages to prove that even in today's over-spoiled entertainment industry, there is not only room for surprises, but merit in surprising an audience with something truly audacious. As well, "Guilty As Sin" helps to illustrate how truly wonderful serialized television has episodes that more or less blend together; when the trial of Frank Castle began, I only recalled it ending with the end to "Guilty As Sin" - not "Semper Fidelis."

"Guilty As Sin" opens in the seconds following "Semper Fidelis" (reviewed here!) and it is obvious why early reviewers were only given the first seven episodes to review. "Guilty As Sin," the eighth episode, climaxes with a moment virtually impossible to not spoil (I won't in this review, though!). "Guilty As Sin" finally reveals Elektra's true nature and it returns Stick to the Daredevil narrative.

Opening with Daredevil and Elektra standing over the pit they discovered in Hell's Kitchen, Daredevil realizes that the pit is more than forty stories deep. They are immediately attacked by Yakuza ninjas who gave managed to perfectly mask their sound, but the pair manages to escape with the sudden intervention of Stick - though Elektra is severely wounded. Arriving back at Murdock's apartment, Stick makes a poultice that neutralizes the poison the Yakuza had on their blade when they sliced Elektra, saving her life. The next day, Foggy is shaken when Murdock does not appear for the Castle trial. Despite that, Nelson effectively uses Castle's former commanding officer, Colonel Schoonover, as an impressive character witness.

After Stick finally details the nature of the war he alluded to before, a doctor at the Castle trial explains exactly what the shot to Castle's head did to him. Dr. Lee describes the way Frank Castle lives in the moment of his family's murder due to the gunshot wound he took to the head moments after and the case seems to be going Castle's way, until a courtroom outburst shakes the jury. Page convinces Castle to take the stand and she visits Murdock's apartment - seeing Stick and Elektra there - to get Murdock to return to the trial the next day. But when Frank Castle takes the stand, his testimony does not go as planned. Returning home battered and disappointed, Matt Murdock is attacked and Elektra's true nature is exposed to him.

"Guilty As Sin" is the explicit pay-off to Elektra's opening line in her first true scene in "Kinbaku" (reviewed here!). Attentive fans would easily note that Elektra's first line mirror's Stick's evaluation of German beer from the first season episode "Stick" (reviewed here!). Stick's return in "Guilty As Sin" comes with the explicit exposition that Stick once trained Elektra, which shocks Matt.

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe might find that "Guilty As Sin" is a tipping point for them. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone to great lengths to mirror - as much as possible - the real world. The world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so rooted in reality that Thor has declared that magic is just another form of science and the introduction of the Scarlet Witch included a vast number of disclaimers as to how her abilities actually work. But Stick's story of the war, the founding of the villainous group The Hand, and the rise of The Chaste (the good guys who have been fighting the Hand for centuries) has no real-world counterpart. The Hand is said to have members who have been resurrected from the dead and "Guilty As Sin" lays the groundwork for the return of a character viewers have seen killed.

"Guilty As Sin" introduces Colonel Schoonover and places Clancy Brown within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brown had recently done time in the DC Television Universe as General Eiling on The Flash, but he appears in "Guilty As Sin" without even a hint of the menace he infused into Eiling. Schoonover might be a bit role for Brown, but he dominates his scene with the part.

The reversal at the climax of the episode will only make those who appreciated the first season of Daredevil squeal and the Elektra moment at the episode's end is more a revelation than a reversal. Rewatching "Guilty As Sin" becomes a joy of anticipation, watching the rising action that is more deliberate and well-paced than it originally appears (especially if one watches "Semper Fidelis" immediately before).

"Guilty As Sin" is a bit light on character development. Despite the final-moment reversal, the characters remain largely static in the episode, save Matt Murdock. Murdock learning the truth about Elektra and Stick shakes him to his core. Murdock comes to understand that his entire relationship with Elektra ten years prior was part of the machinations of Stick and it leaves him severely rattled. Murdock is not shaken enough to adopt Stick's methods; he refuses to kill, even for Stick's war. Murdock has a moral core and that moral core was unshaken ten years ago when Elektra gave him the chance to kill Rosco Sweeney; he did not go over to the dark side then and he shows no signs of doing it now, though he is upset. The only in-episode justification for Murdock not asking Castle what the police officer said to him (and what he meant by it) is that he is shaken by the events the night before.

Foggy Nelson continues to exert more professional acumen than we've seen from him before and his role in "Guilty As Sin" is to play the powerful, smart, strategic-thinking defense attorney. Karen Page is relegated to being a supporting character and D.A. Reyes takes the part of a pretty generic adversary in "Guilty As Sin."

Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal rule the performances in "Guilty As Sin." Bernthal has played angry in many of his prior roles, but he manages to have an angry outburst as Frank Castle in "Guilty As Sin." Bernthal is able to make the character feel distinct and angry, which takes real acting talent. Cox plays shocked and between Cox and Scott Glenn, viewers are reminded in "Guilty As Sin" that portraying a blind person does not mean reducing the emotional range the actor uses for their facial expressions.

It is hard for fans of Daredevil not to feel like the season might not have any surprises left after "Guilty As Sin," especially given how Elektra's training and brutality are made explicit in the episode. Fortunately, for those fans who might feel that Elektra being outed in the show as a trained assassin was the end of the surprises, "Guilty As Sin" manages to come up with one more, huge, surprise that propels viewers into the next episode.

For other works Drew Goddard is involved in, check out my reviews of:
The Martian
Daredevil - Season 1
World War Z
The Cabin In The Woods
Angel - Season 5
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 7

[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 season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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