Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Urgency Of The Punisher Problem: "Dogs To A Gunfight!"

The Good: Some good MCU tie-ins, Characterization and development, Plot foundations, Performances
The Bad: Devotion to mood over resolution, Perhaps the worst police snipers in all history?!
The Basics: Very much a bridge episode in the rising action of Daredevil's second season, "Dogs To A Gunfight" is still impressive!

Setting in Daredevil is extremely important. Hell's Kitchen at night is the most common setting for the book and television incarnation of Daredevil. So, when "Dogs To A Gunfight," the second episode of the second season of Daredevil opens in the stark white light of day at a hospital, it is somewhat jarring and it sets a tone for the episode that is frenetic and intense. As well, starting any episode with a worried Foggy Nelson instantly connects the grounded viewer to the fantastic world of Daredevil. Out of all of the Daredevil characters, Foggy Nelson is the most realistic and relatable and opening with his reactions to a public shooting creates an incredible sense of alarm that allows "Dogs To A Gunfight" to hit the ground running.

"Dogs To A Gunfight" picks up the morning after "Bang" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the second episode without some allusions to where the prior episode ended. Starting "Dogs To A Gunfight" with the moments after Castle shot up a hospital looking for Grotto and then shot Daredevil point-blank in the head is an instant hook and, fortunately, the sophomore episode builds on that momentum.

Foggy Nelson arrives at Metro General Hospital where there is a police cordon in the wake of Frank Castle shooting his way through a ward there. Nelson is relieved to hear that Karen Page escaped with their client, Grotto, but is alarmed when he overhears that shots were fired from a nearby rooftop. Foggy recovers the seriously wounded Daredevil and he expresses his concern for Matt. Foggy arrives at the police department where he confronts Grotto about the fact that the local mobs were being taken out by a single man and Grotto confirms that the man who came after him is the same as the one who took the Irish mob out. Foggy and Page learn from Sergeant Mahoney that the District Attorney's office is convinced that the shooter has no ties to any organizations.

As Matt Murdock struggles with the physical effects of barely surviving his face-off with Frank Castle, Foggy Nelson squares off with District Attorney Reyes. Reyes wants Grotto to wear a wire on Brass, a higher-level drug dealer in Hell's Kitchen. To extort him into the deal, they show Nelson, Page and Grotto the mortician reports on various victims of Frank Castle. Frank Castle, codenamed The Punisher by the D.A.'s office, goes to buy a sophisticated police scanner from a pawn shop so he can continue his crusade against the mobs in Hell's Kitchen. Page checks in on Murdock and the two debate the nature of The Punisher and Daredevil while Foggy prepares the witness protection case for Grotto. Despite his cowl being severely damaged and being in a weakened state, Matt Murdock once again suits up to go after Frank Castle to try to prevent further violence in Hell's Kitchen.

One of the most refreshing aspects of "Dogs To A Gunfight" is that Matt Murdock is not characterized as invincible. Daredevil might be strong and well-trained, but he has limits. Matt Murdock got his clock cleaned in "Bang" and in "Dogs To A Gunfight," Murdock is low-energy as he struggles to recover from a serious head injury. This allows Charlie Cox to expertly explore Matt Murdock's disability and his shortcomings. Murdock goes temporarily deaf and when that happens, Cox plays the moment with freakish accuracy and fear.

Unfortunately, the strength of Cox's performance and Phil Abraham's direction lead to one of the most incredible flubs of the entire series. Matt Murdock is stumbling around before going deaf (to add to his blindness and, given his lack of reaction to knocking his hands against brick, possibly lacking in sense of touch as well!), after Foggy left his apartment with the Daredevil suit laying in the middle of the living room. When Karen Page comes over, Matt Murdock has barely managed to stand up again; it is utterly unrealistic given the strength of the performance that Murdock would have had the time and ability to stash the suit away. In other words, the suit should have been in the living room when Karen Page arrived to visit Matt Murdock!

"Dogs To A Gunfight" connects Daredevil to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe well through the use of D.A. Reyes. Reyes popped up in the Jessica Jones episode "AKA Smile" (reviewed here!) and her role in the second season of Daredevil allows her to deepen the bit part. For a show that is working to tie together to a larger universe, the fact that the bus that passes outside the pawn shop has a Mamma Mia! advertise on it instead of a Trish Talk sign is unfortunate.

Frank Castle's character is further explored in "Dogs To A Gunfight" and one of the critical scenes actually is open to a number of interpretations. When Frank Castle goes to the pawn shop to get the police scanner (torn from a police car, so it has the encryptions that would not be part of tha publicly available police scanner), the scene is tense and tight and, predictably, results in violence. But the brilliant aspect of the scene is how deep it (probably) actually is. Frank Castle reacts to the pawn shop owner offering him porn of a twelve year old with predictable (for his character) brutality. But, as my wife pointed out, the moment might be far more planned than the spontaneous violence it appears to be. Castle buys something from the pawn shop he clearly researched ahead of time - it's an illegal item and one that would not be "on the books" - so Castle might well have known that the pawn shop owner was an absolute scumbag before he ever stepped into the shop. Moreover, while buying the store's video tape is an obvious defensive move to prevent tying Castle to the crime, the only reason for Frank Castle to buy the shells from the shotgun and not take the shotgun is so that the absence of the shotgun at the (eventual) crime scene is not a red flag to the police. New York City detectives would know that a pawn shop owner would have some form of (probably illegal) protection and expect to find it after a murder/robbery. Castle makes the defensive play of leaving the pawn shop owner unarmed, but without anything that would tie his murder to Frank Castle - the baseball bat is not his usual m.o. But, rewatching the scene with the idea that Castle is setting up the murder of the pawn shop owner adds a richness to the scene and the character that is not immediately evident at first blush.

Karen Page's role in "Dogs To A Gunfight" is not going to be understood by anyone who did not see the first season of Daredevil. Page notes that The Punisher could have been coming after her and that makes no sense given how Castle is killing criminals. In the first season episode "The Path Of The Righteous" (reviewed here!), Page is forced to kill Wesley in self defense, but she has not confessed that to anyone. In "Dogs To A Gunfight," Page expresses her feelings of guilt and the effects of her murdering Wesley are evident.

One of the interesting aspects of "Dogs To A Gunfight" is the new dichotomy with the second season of Daredevil. When the chop shop for the Dogs Of Hell is introduced, the viewer has to wait a moment before they realize it is Frank Castle cleaning out the lair, not Daredevil. The idea that two vigilantes are now operating in Hell's Kitchen makes for an interesting new dynamic.

Having Grotto wear a wire in "Dogs To A Gunfight" is an important plot device that is used to lay the bedrock for the season's deeper conspiracy plotline. Grotto's mission to get Brass implicating himself on tape is a set-up and the machinations of D.A. Reyes are presented in the episode as simple plotting. However, the way Grotto is used (and how the "mission" is not what it initially appears) is actually characterization. Reyes is a user and her actions in this episode are foreshadowing to something deeper later in the season. That makes "Dogs To A Gunfight" a weaker individual episode, but an essential part of the season; it is an essential piece of a puzzle, but on its own it is hardly amazing television.

Building character and consequences, but lighter on theme, "Dogs To A Gunfight" is still impressive Daredevil.

For other works with Jon Bernthal, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Grudge Match
The Walking Dead - Season 2
The Walking Dead - Season 1
Date Night
World Trade Center

[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 movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!

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