[WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for Daredevil season 1.]
Marvel and Netflix's Daredevil series has changed the entire dynamic of the MCU, along with shared universe franchises in general. Starring Charlie Cox as the blind, crusading lawyer Matt Murdock by day and the ruthless, violent vigilante by night, Daredevil proved itself a worthy showcase for one of Marvel's most fan-beloved characters while making the case for how a far darker, more adult-oriented TV adaptation could work.
Daredevil has been unsurprisingly renewed for a second season, but season 1 maestro Steven S. DeKnight will move into the background with series creator Drew Goddard as executive producers while Doug Petrie (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Horror Story) and Marco Ramirez (Sons of Anarchy) take over as showrunners.
Inspired by - but not dependent upon - Frank Miller's The Man Without Fear comic book storyline, Daredevil catches up with Murdock after he has embarked on his nocturnal activities as the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' but well before adopting his signature red, horned costume and moniker.
DeKnight spoke about how and why they chose to give Murdock his superhero name when they did, and the problems with applying the comic book's 'DD' chest symbol. According to DeKnight:
We talked about, do we do one of the versions in the comics where when he was a kid people used to taunt him with the name Daredevil, but that didn’t quite feel like our world. At one point we were going to have Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) give him the name, but the timing wasn’t right from where he’s in his black outfit and then gets his suit, which is after Ben’s untimely demise. There was something technically tricky of somebody actually saying the words, “Hey you’re some kind of Daredevil.” The solution was to play that off-screen and then hit it in the paper that he’s been given this name Daredevil.
I also got asked a lot of questions about why he doesn’t have a "DD" on his chest, but he got the suit before he got the name. We talked a lot about DD on the suit, which is one of the more problematic emblems in superhero-dom. It’s a little wonky. His suit in the comics is very difficult to translate to screen, especially in this world that is grounded and gritty. There are some practical difficulties. The Daredevil outfit in the comics, his mask only covers half his nose. It doesn’t come all the way down to the tip. We discovered when we were trying to design it that if you didn’t bring it all the way down, you could clearly tell it was Charlie. Not only did we have the suspension of belief that nobody would know “hey, that’s Matt Murdock” we also had the practical problem of it becoming almost impossible when it came to switching in and out our stunt double. So we had to make that adjustment.
One of the most surprising - and, compared to the more family-friendly tone of the rest of the MCU, refreshing - aspects of Netflix's Daredevil is the show's violence, culminating in more than one shocking deaths of major characters. When quizzed on the decision to dispatch one of the comic's most famous characters, journalist Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), DeKnight said the following:
I wish I could take credit for this, but killing off Urich was decided before I signed on. I want to say it was Marvel’s idea. They really wanted to show that toward the end of the season because we knew we’d get some sympathy for Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), to have him do something truly terrible that would propel Matt into that final endgame in the confrontation with Fisk. And to let the audience know that the gloves were off: just because he was a beloved character in the comics, doesn’t mean he’s safe. It’s one interpretation. It’s like writers doing a new run of the comic. It felt right for the story. Much like episode four where Fisk kills Anatoly, not because he did something to cross him in the criminal world, but because he embarrassed him on a date. Urich gets murdered because he committed the unforgivable sin in Fisk’s mind: he went to Fisk’s mother. The last thing you want to do with Fisk is at all involve, insult, drag through the mud the women in his life he loves. That will be a serious trigger for him.
Ben Ulrich wasn't the only major character death. In a pivotal moment for the series, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) shoots and kills James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), the trusted right hand man of main antagonist Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio). DeKnight says this act was also preordained, saying: "We always knew he was going to die; that was decided at the beginning of the season that Karen was going to kill Wesley at some point but the mechanics of 'how' were tricky."
Daredevil left plenty of loose ends dangling by the end of Season 1, and Karen's secret about Wesley is one of the biggest. When asked why she chooses not to confide in Matt Murdock or Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), DeKnight provided some deep background on the existing question marks about Karen's past.
There’s something that happened in Karen’s past — we allude to it, Ben alludes to it — and when she grabs the gun she says, “You think this is the first time I’ve ever shot somebody?” That's a secret from her past that she doesn’t want anyone to know. The fact that she shot him once, you can explain that as self-defense; but then she pretty much unloaded the gun into him. That crosses a bit of a line. The last thing she would want is for those two to be horrified by what she’s done. She’s a woman with secrets. Deborah had a great response when somebody asked if Karen would be the girl always getting into trouble and she said, “No I’m the girl whomakes trouble.” You’ll see that more. At one point we talked about, does Matt find out at the end of the season? And how does that play out? But ultimately we felt with the Netflix model that we didn’t have to resolve everything by the end of the season. There could be loose threads that we explore as we move on to other seasons.
Vincent D'Onofrio's surprisingly sympathetic (to a point) Wilson Fisk appeared to be well on the way to becoming his famous comic book persona the Kingpin by the season's end. According to DeKnight, they decided in the end to avoid using the villain's nickname, saying: "You know if in the last five minutes we went, 'Oh they called him Daredevil! Oh they called him Kingpin!' It’s a little too much. Also there was no real natural way to get to Kingpin. It felt a little off. There is a point down the line to get there."
DeKnight went on to confirm the Fisk's acceptance of his nature, saying:
We always planned on getting there and at the end of the season, Matt puts on the mask and embraces that he is the hero — and that Wilson Fisk puts on the suit, or in this case, a nod to his white suit with his white prison uniform and accepts who he is. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) has a line earlier on where she tells him, “You can’t be both savior and oppressor. You have to decide which you are.” It was always intended to have these parallel stories, and if you look closely, there’s this religious parallel. Fisk mentions religion a couple of times, like when he’s at Vanessa’s (Ayelet Zurer) bedside and says he doesn’t know how to pray. And then later when he’s recounting the story of the Good Samaritans. It was really important for us to show that this story was the rise of the hero and the rise of the villain.
While Fisk is Murdock/Daredevil's main enemy during this introductory season, several other traditional Daredevil elements were introduced for expansion later on, along with a mysterious future plot point in the form of the seemingly human child Black Sky, whose assassination by Murdock's mentor Stick (Scott Glenn) Daredevil tried to prevent. It may slipped under the radar, but DeKnight addresses the question of just what and who Black Sky is:
It fits into something bigger. There is a mention of Black Sky in another episode that isn’t episode seven. If fans look closely at episode one, you will find a reference to Black Sky. It’s a visual reference to Black Sky and that's important to Nobu and his people. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Who was Stick talking to?” You already named who he’s talking to, but I just say, “He’s a character from the comics.” Any fan of the comics will know who he’s talking to. We really wanted to pluck that out of Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear.
The allusions in the scene between Stick and the character called 'Stone' and his mention of "doors opening" appear to be oblique references to the Netflix Iron Fist series, which along with A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the eventual team-up show The Defenders will all tie in to Daredevil's newly established pocket of the MCU.
DeKnight acknowledged the very vague nature of the reference, saying:
I can’t say anything! Is it literal or metaphorical? It’s very much like a code the same way the MCU does after the credits, which isn’t something we can do with the way that Netflix starts the next episode after the credits. But yes, it’s obviously tying into a bigger picture.
DeKnight's refusal to confirm or deny the Iron Fist connection becomes even more glaring when asked about the unexpectedly powerful Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), the little old lady heroin pusher who gives Daredevil a run for his money during their confrontation. According to DeKnight:
There's obviously something going on there, as well as with the heroin she’s selling, stamped with the symbol of the Steel Serpent. Could that be another tie-in to Iron Fist? Time will tell. There is obviously more to her than meets the eye. I got a message from Ed Brubaker who asked, “Is Madame Gao Crane Mother?” I can’t even tell you!
Seminal comic book writer Brubaker's question is valid - Crane Mother is an Iron Fist character, the mystical ruler of Ku'n-Zi, one of the Legendary Cities of Heaven. The references to the follow-up shows and overall MCU may not be overt, but there is no doubt at this point just how integral Daredevil is to the future of the inter-connected Marvel franchises.
We've already heard talk of how Charlie Cox's Daredevil could overlap with other corners of the MCU - notably Captain America: Civil War - but the show's major contribution to the overall, multi-platform universe might just be the "doors opening" into the mystical nature of the MCU.
A rumored Doctor Strange/Iron Fist crossover provides a wealth of possibilities for a more organic move into the Sorcerer Supreme's realm, but at this point, Daredevil truly stands on its own as a major game changer for the superhero genre.
Daredevil Season 1 is now available for streaming on Netflix. A.K.A. Jessica Jones is expected later in 2015. Luke Cage and Iron Fist are expected to debut on Netflix in 2016, with The Defenders to bow in 2017.