I binge-watched Netflix’s 13-episode first season Daredevil during the past week. That’s a pretty astonishing feat considering my work and sleep schedule, so perhaps that is the best endorsement I could possibly give the show: I moved things around in my life simply because I felt compelled to spend at least an hour every day watching the show.
The original draft of this post featured two long-winded (shocker) paragraphs about my love of the Bendis-Maleev run on the comic series (totally check that out too), but I ditched them in favor of just trying to convince you to watch the show.
1. Slow-build storytelling. When people say “the book was sooooooo much better than the book,” they’re usually referring to details in print that were glossed over or omitted completely in the film version. That’s the outcome, and it’s a function of time and space. Five hundred pages is several infinities longer than two-and-a-half hours on screen. How do you tell an origin story, build the hero’s (and villain’s) character, foreshadow, flashback, raise the action, climax, let the dust settle than pick up the pieces in 150 minutes? You can’t. Or you can, and it sucks. The Marvel Cinematic Universe built in its own solution to this problem: the individual character movies serve as exposition and character building; ensembles like The Avengers are climax. It works, but it also requires the audience to view all those films if it wants the entire view.
Daredevil’s 13-hour (roughly) first season story allows for the exposition and rising action to build and boil in a way that does not feel rushed. It spends huge chunks of episodes establishing relationships and subplots. There are episodes which feature only 10 minutes of physical action; the dialogue and other machinations feel more developed and important as a result.
2. Consequences. I have intermittently spent time watching melodramas like Scandal and Once Upon a Time but eventually gave out on both out of frustration that stemmed from the relationships between both show’s central characters. The writers of both shows understand correctly that the primary conflict is derived from the shifting alliances between their main characters. Both shows are episodic and on-going which means the plot always serves two masters. The writers have to drum up a crisis du jour to move the season forward while also making sure nothing really happens to the main characters in order to preserve the long-term show’s long-term prospects. Change appears to occur, but at the end of the day (or season), the main characters are more or less in the same spot they were a season ago. The result is a continuity that doesn’t matter (ironically, the exact description of the comic book realm).
The 13 episodes of Daredevil are written in a way that mirrors actual comic book writing. A creative team – writer and artist – will combine to tell a story or series of stories on a title, then leave. In the case of Bendis and Maleev, their run lasted four years. The show’s story focuses exclusively on events which build to the climax in the final episode. There is subtle foreshadowing toward possible future story lines, but season ends with characters in different places, relationships altered, and deaths pretty high in the mix. There was a jarring sense of finality as the season wound down. “They’re just killing people,” I said to Lynnette last night. “Isn’t that what you want?” she asked as she rolled over to avoid the light of my iPad. Yes.
3. Hand-to-hand combat. Watching stereotypical ensemble superhero movies like X-Men and The Avengers is an adventure in over-stimulation. The action sequences are especially difficult to fully appreciate at times because their aim is not nuance, it is full-blown oh-my-God dorkgasm. All the flying and lasers and lightning and fish-shaped alien crafts are awe-inspiring because of their scope and the technological skill required to pull them off. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching the Hulk punch holes through alien tech as much as the next guy, but it’s three seconds lost in the middle of a 15-minute multi-million dollar salvo.
That’s not to say the action sequences in Daredevil don’t require a certain suspension of disbelief, only that it’s a different kind, tamped down each scene’s relatively tiny proximity. A landed punch matters. A choke hold could be the end of the fight. Reaching for a sharp-edged object might meant he difference between life and death. The martial arts aspects are all the more engaging because the suspense created between two evenly-matched fighters can’t be replicated by the power of a laser beam a quarter-mile wide with a blast-radius of 80 city blocks. I mean, if that laser goes off in The Avengers, thousands of people that we never see or think of for a second are dead.
There are several other reasons that I became so caught up with the show, but I don’t want to spoil those specific things. I will only say watch the first two episodes. If you aren’t hooked by then, you weren’t going to be anyway.