Devilish Musings (Part 2)
The Good Samaritan
A superhero story is only as good as its villain, and Daredevil has one of the best: Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin (played with scene-devouring panache by Vincent D'Onofrio). He stands, among other things, as a poignant but sinister illustration of how easily the heart deceives and is deceived. "I was thinking about a story from the Bible," he remarks toward the very end of the season. "I'm not a religious man, but I've read bits and pieces over the years. Curiosity more than faith. But this one story... "
With that, he recounts the tale of the Good Samaritan. He smiles, a little sadly, as he concludes, "I always thought that I was the Samaritan in that story. It's funny, isn't it? How even the best of men can be deceived by their true nature. I am not the Samaritan. I am not the priest or the Levite. I am the ill intent."
It is a brilliant and sobering moment of clarity for both the character and the audience. For all his pretensions to heroism, Fisk is never selfless enough, or self-aware enough, to be anything more than a murderer and a fiend; the Macbeth of his own little world. As Madame Gao warns him in an earlier episode, "Man cannot be both savior and oppressor, light and shadow. One has to be sacrificed for the other. Choose, and choose wisely."
Fisk followed half of her advice, just not the most important half.
Bigger Picture, Higher Stakes
Comic books have been and continue to be remarkably fertile ground for discussions of crime, justice, law, and the ethics of vigilantism. In Daredevil, tension between the latter two is made more compelling by the fact that, as an attorney, Matt Murdock represents the very thing he steps outside of when he puts on the mask; an upstanding partner at Nelson & Murdock by day who becomes the Devil of Hell's Kitchen by night. "Conflicted" might be understating things a bit, but the conflict makes him an absorbing and sympathetic character.
In freely acknowledging the severe, often devastating limitations of human law, Daredevil, like all the best superhero dramas, is haunted by the universal longing for real justice, ultimate and unerring. Divine justice, whether men be honest enough to admit it or not.
Key to all of this is the way in which the audience is invited to think about the clash between Daredevil and Kingpin, not as an isolated struggle, but as part of the ongoing war between capital-G Good and capital-E Evil. The struggle isn't purely or even primarily physical: it is spiritual. (One can't help being reminded of the Joker's quip about "the battle for Gotham's soul" in The Dark Knight.)
"Matt Murdock is, I think, one of the most, if not the most, religious characters in the Marvel universe," said showrunner Steven DeKnight in an interview with IGN. "His Catholicism is so much part of his being and part of his conflict, I think it would be incredibly disingenuous to attempt to do the show where that's not a big part of it."
Without the religious lens, the bigger picture would have been obscured. The stakes, high as they are, would have been lowered. Materialistic postmodernism always produces cheap drama; for as Flannery O'Connor once observed, "the greatest dramas naturally involve the salvation or loss of the soul. Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama."
Lucky for us, Daredevil acknowledges the bigger picture, and is all the more exhilarating for it.