The TV Room: Daredevil Season 2, Episode 5, by Scott Nye
“Kinbaku”, the fifth episode of Daredevil’s recently-released second season, will, I’m willing to bet without having seen the rest, prove to be a landmark episode of the series. It draws together so many dangling themes, clarifies a way of approaching it outside of what it has previously positioned itself to be, and abandons many elements we might have previously assumed required. It gives Matt (Charlie Cox), Foggy (Elden Henson), and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) separate missions that clearly defines their larger goals – for Matt, it’s coming to terms with his past and his desires; for Foggy, some element of prestige and honor; for Karen, the search for the truth. It is the first episode to not show Matt in any kind of costume. Outside of a sparring session in a boxing ring, it has no action scenes. There is, in fact, no villainous force Matt has to contend with at all. That just leaves, to play on a title from Mizoguchi, Matt and his two women.
Spoilers follow for “Kinbaku”, and by association, many episodes that have lead to it.
On that tack, four shots in this beautifully-directed (by Floria Sigismondi), fairly self-contained episode leapt out as definitive both for the story “Kinbaku” was telling, and as a way of distilling the way Matt approaches women, which is reflective of the way he approaches everything else. That this hour contained many more such shots, in tandem with Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s sharp script, made for a quite distinct experience amidst the increasingly under-considered aesthetics of superhero entertainment, in theaters or on television.
Matt is perhaps the only classic superhero with an active sexual appetite. Now, every classic superhero is attractive, and they’ve all had girlfriends, lost loves, or even a wife at one point or another. But they don’t like women like Matt likes women. He knows how attractive he is, how that and his blindness can disarm people, and how to leverage both to his advantage, romantically. This is not a game he plays strictly for love. He doesn’t stop women from pitying him, encourages their affections, and strings them along while only committing to a degree that suits him. He did this a bit with Claire (Rosario Dawson) last season, and he’s really doing it with Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) now. But more on that in a bit.
In this flashback scene, we see how closely this sexual hunger is linked with his bloodlust. Elektra (Élodie Yung), a former girlfriend, has just come back into Matt’s life, and about half of this episode is spent in his memories of her. As discussed probably too elaborately in the second episode of season one, violence is not simply a means to an end that Matt indulges for the sake of the greater good. Matt really likes hurting people. Here, he and Elektra excite one another sexually by drawing blood in a brief sparring session; already fresh, ripe territory in the superhero genre. Sigismondi pushes it even further than that, bringing Matt’s penchant for violence into the sex itself – and letting Elektra like it. Which brings us to the next shot…
In this flashback, the last we see of Matt and Elektra’s past romance, she has lead him to the ornate house belonging to the man who killed his father. But he doesn’t know that yet. For now, this is a continuation of Elektra’s irresponsible behavior – we’ve seen her steal a car, break into the sex gym, and, in the present, break into Matt’s apartment. What’s one more house. Matt seems to be enjoying it too, casually mentioning that he hasn’t been to class in too long. At this point in time, Matt’s in his early-twenties, and, having worked hard towards a law degree throughout his youth, seizes Elektra’s carefree, reckless nature, delighting in her crimes and happily smashing expenses glasses in the house they’ve broken into. He takes a respite on the counter, where she brings over a block of cheese to slice over his chest.
Sigismondi captures most of this scene in a couple wide shots, showing the ease with which Matt and Elektra play off one another physically, and this shot in particular sums it all up – she’s in control, leading him down a dangerous road that he can readily see, but chooses to risk because he’s having way too much fun while he’s at it. The series has mostly focused on the “devil” side of his “Daredevil” moniker, but the name originates from how gleefully Matt risks his life at every turn, how excited and stimulated he gets by risking everything with every step he takes. This shot also shows the hold Elektra has over him, how she can coerce him towards more and more dangerous behavior to give her whatever high she’s chasing, which of course will come to define everything that’s happening in the present timeline as this episode reaches its conclusion.
Now, as for the present…
This is just a damn beautiful shot, for starters, and a rather potent example of how this episode in particular uses set design to communicate emotional needs (see also: the shot at the top of this post, where Matt climbs halfway up a skyscraper to listen in on Elektra’s board meeting, close enough to get curious but shut out from learning the full truth; Elektra, as always, has him in plain sight while remaining a mystery). Matt and Karen are in the midst of their first date. They’ve just come from a very nice restaurant that left neither able to find decent conversation, in large part because they both have secrets (for Matt, Elektra’s return; for Karen, her investigation of The Punisher) weighing heavily on them, but which they don’t want the other to know about. But that restaurant, however classy, also forced them to talk only about whatever was on their minds, offering nothing to distract. This joint, a vaguely-Asian-themed restaurant at which they’re served an unidentifiable dish while surrounded by thousands of cheap bulbs, gives them plenty to talk about and bond over without having to once touch on their present concerns. More specifically, though, they have stuff to talk about because she now has something to offer him – the pleasure of describing their environment to a blind man. Matt, once again, plays this card all the way down the line. The shot captures all this – the space, what it brings out in them, and the universal joy of, at least for a moment, finding shared space in the world…even if you’re sharing different things in it.
This is only a few minutes later, when, after a rousingly successful evening, Matt and Karen make out a bit on her front stoop, and she invites him upstairs (no “Netflix and chill” premise? Synergy!). He resists. He tells her the evening was already too perfect, but something else is going on. Perhaps he’s more cautious now about moving too fast with women, perhaps he’s concerned she’ll find out that he’s Daredevil (she already suspects something). But really, he just can’t shake Elektra from his mind, and continues straight on to her penthouse after saying goodnight to Karen. Karen’s sweet goodbye, her dress twirling as she turns, captivates Matt. It’s a sweetness he hasn’t been able to fully accept, which may yet escape him even here, just as she seems to physically float away here. “Careful, Matt,” Foggy jokingly warns him at the end of episode four, in a pretty big moment that touches on his jealousy of his partner while building on his realization that he has a lot to offer on his own. “Keep going like this, you just might end up happy. For a Catholic boy, that’s a pretty dangerous thing.” Earlier in the season, Matt mocks Foggy to Karen for his wanting the three of them to remain where they are forever. Matt’s not good at recognizing a good thing.
And soon enough, he’s back where he began the episode – in an apartment alone with Elektra, a woman who wronged him and with whom he, at least theoretically, wants nothing to do. But she’s drawn him back in, just as she always does, just as she knew she would, and just as he happily obliges. And in the best cliffhanger the show has yet done, she makes one hell of a play for him.