Daredevil: Season 1 Review (Netflix Series)

Warning: minor spoilers below.

Everything has a beginning.

Daredevil is a superhero that hasn’t gotten a lot of treatment over the years.  The last major thing I can remember about him was the Ben Affleck movie, which I remember being an okay movie at the time I watched it.  I can’t honestly tell you much about it (I was like fourteen or something when I saw it).  But now that Marvel is kicking up their expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  For those uninitiated MCU is a term that refers to the interconnected movie universe they’re building, where all the superheroes essentially exist in the same world.

The new Netflix Series Daredevil is the latest in a line of Marvel television shows.  For those of you who don’t know him, Daredevil is a superhero who was blinded as a kid by an accident involving some kind of toxic waste.  However, this accident gives him heightened reflexes and senses, making him an incredibly powerful fighter.  He is based out of New York (Hell’s Kitchen specifically, at least in the new television show).

I’ve already talked about the one-shot fight scene at the end of the second episode, so I won’t mention it again here (you can read my thoughts on it if you like).  In any case, the show kicks off by immediately showing the aftermath of the accident that blinds Daredevil (real name Matthew Murdock).  His father runs to him as he lays in the middle of the street, injured and covered in a strange liquid.  A passerby reveals to his father that if it wasn’t for Matt pushing him out of the way, he would have died.  And so begins the hero’s tale.

Daredevil is definitely a slow-burner type of show.  The first few episodes focus more on his character, who he is and why he does what he does, rather than showing a bunch of epic fight scenes.  Murdock is a lawyer by day, trying to set up a practice with his best friend Foggy Nelson.  In the first episode, they help out a woman named Karen Page, who becomes their intern secretary and one of the main characters for the show.  Of course, there are still fight scenes in these early episodes, but they’re few and far between.  Most of the second episode deals with the aftermath of a failed rescue attempt by Murdock to save a kidnapped boy (we don’t actually even see the attempt…the episode jumps in right after he fails and we see him being rescued by a nurse).  One of the show’s biggest strengths is its use of tension, and the second episode is great at that.

Speaking of tension, the big bad in this first season doesn’t even appear until the last minute of the third episode.  We hear vague hints of him and we see his followers enacting his plans, but we don’t actually get a glimpse of him until then.  He is played by Vincent D’Onofrio (who you might remember from Full Metal Jacket or, more recently, Law and Order Criminal Intent), and he pulls off a masterful performance in this season.  One of the things that struck me is that the villain is a complex and complicated one, which is different from most comic book style shows.  Instead of being a one-note bad guy with a lust for destruction and/or power, the villain in this show seems to believe he is doing the right thing for his city, despite his methods being extremely destructive and violent.  There’s even a romantic subplot that develops between him and a curator at an art museum.

I particularly liked that the villain in this particular season wasn’t super-powered or anything.  He’s just a big, strong guy who happens to wear a lining of armor underneath his suits.

Let me put this out there: this show is dark.  Very dark, and not just in the lighting.  The phrase “darkest before the dawn” comes to mind.  Before things inevitably come to their conclusion, things get very grim for the main characters.  I won’t spoil anything, but the latter half of the season is incredibly intense and doesn’t let up.

The grim nature of the show translates to the fight scenes as well.  Bones snap and break the skin.  People are impaled, bludgeoned to death, and burned alive among other things.  I can definitely say that if you are squeamish at all, you probably shouldn’t watch this.  But if dark and gritty is your thing, and you don’t mind a bit of the old brutal violence, then by all means go right ahead and watch to your heart’s content.

I hesitate to say much more about this show for fear of spoiling some of its finer moments, but I will say this: it’s probably one of the finest superhero origin stories I’ve seen in a long time.  It reminds me a lot of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, both in tone and in the character of Daredevil himself.  Peppered throughout the episodes are flashbacks to Murdock’s childhood, where we see him coping with his blindness as well as other tragic events.  Daredevil’s story is one of joy and sorrow in equal mix.

I honestly don’t have anything particularly bad to say about this show.  I griped about the one-shot fight scene (link here), but that was really the only part of the show that fell flat for me.  Once the show gets going, it doesn’t let up.  It’s quite the roller-coaster ride, pardon the cliché.  The only other thing I can say is that there are some vague elements of mysticism that don’t really go anywhere in the season, but that’s mostly because it’s setting up what I’ve heard are some of the more bizarre elements of the Daredevil story, which we will most likely see in the next season and maybe beyond, depending on how far they decide to go with the show.  I know this particular series is a lead-in for The Defenders, which is a TV series that will see Daredevil team up with several other heroes in New York City.

In any case, I highly recommend the show for those of you who are into gritty, character-based stories.  It’s one of the finest origin stories I’ve seen yet.

 

That’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.

 

 

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Patriotism Problems

Once upon a time there were people called patriots.  These people ardently believed in the independence of the British colonies and fought tooth and nail for it.  Their struggle created what we now know as the United States of America.

Fast-forward to today, and the word patriot still carries meaning.  In its simplest terms the word refers to someone who has a strong belief in their country.  And while this is not a problem in and of itself, it can lead to something I like to call “blind patriotism”.

Symptoms of blind patriotism include:

  • Believing that your country can do no wrong.
  • Seeing anyone with different opinion as “the enemy”.
  • Refusing to accept any criticisms of the government.

Now, while believing in your country and its ideals is perfectly fine, there comes a point when too much faith in them is a problem.  And in the United States you see more and more blind patriots, people who refuse to accept anything other than “America is number one.”

Take a look at the response to the various cop shootings that have been reported in the last year.  In every case, you see two basic sides.  There is the side of people who believe that all cops are just murderous thugs with a badge.  Then there is the side that believes that all cops are heroes regardless and shouldn’t be criticized or resisted in any way.  This is the side I want to focus on today, even though I believe that the other side is guilty of the same basic thing.

The people who believe that all cops are heroes are also the people who believe that all protesters are looting thugs.  Basically, they think that the protesters are all anarchists, when this is simply not true.  The Baltimore situation that erupted recently was widely televised as being brutal and chaotic, but the thing that wasn’t made clear was the simple fact that there were numerous peaceful protests before the rioting even began.  And there we see the problem with the news media.  They are forced to distill everything down into a story that lasts a mere one to three minutes.  This leads to them only showing the “highlights” as it were.

The blind patriots are the ones who believe this vision of the protests.  They don’t take the time to research anything, to actually back up their assumptions.  They don’t care.  They ignore anything that doesn’t fit their view of America being the greatest thing on the planet.  This worldview gradually wears away at them because they see so many people who dislike the United States government.  Eventually, it becomes less about preaching the virtues of the country and more about harassing or snubbing anyone who disagrees with them.

The point I’m trying to make here is that blind patriotism is as dangerous as any other ideology.  It leads to a self-contained worldview that won’t accept the broad range of human experience.  These patriots may never have experienced hardship that wasn’t of their own choice, so they can’t grasp the concept that sometimes the government fails to take care of each and every one of us, leaving many to wallow in poverty.  In their view of the world, that can’t happen.  It’s impossible.  Therefore, the only conclusion left to them is that these people must have done something to deserve it.  They didn’t work hard enough.  They’re lazy.  They offended God, and so on.

Blind patriotism is like a cancer, eating away at a person until they’re nothing more than a hardened husk of a human being.  Like extremist religions, they can’t accept any other way of life aside from their own, so they strive their hardest to force it on people.  Don’t burn my flag, they say.  Don’t tread on my values, they say.  But what they fail to understand is that sometimes to make a point, people have to do controversial things.  Flag burning is protected under the constitution as symbolic speech.  That is a fact.  But it doesn’t stop people from calling it an affront to America.

And what happens when extremist views become the majority power base?  You get groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, violent military forces who seek to destroy any who don’t follow their way.  Could blind patriotism end up being the same if it had ultimate power?  Maybe.  Am I being overly alarmist?  Maybe.  But the fact remains that historically, whenever a group holds power that has a narrow-minded worldview like that, things tend to get unpleasant.  They oppress anyone who says differently within their own land, stomping down on any views that might contradict their own.  Galileo was placed under house arrest because the Church didn’t like the fact he was proposing that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around.  Ideology is a dangerous tool.

My advice?  Don’t restrict yourself to one group.  Don’t call yourself Republican or Democrat.  Don’t call yourself a conservative or a liberal.  Find the views that speak to you and embrace them.  Don’t force yourself to adhere to everything a particular group says just because it’s the closest to what you believe.  Just be yourself.  Don’t fret so much on the details.  Do what feels right for you.  Our existence in this world isn’t made up of cut and dry categories.  Humanity is a spectrum of different thoughts, ideals, beliefs, and morals.

Don’t chain yourself to an idea.  Let yourself be free, and you’ll find your own way.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.

The Allure of Star Trek

So for the past month or so, I’ve been recording a podcast with a friend of mine where we review each episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in order from start to finish.  You can find the podcast here (shameless self-promotion is best promotion).  The two of us going through the show again got me thinking about something.  Why is Star Trek so loved, and what exactly do people love about it?

It’s interesting, because there hasn’t been a Star Trek show for a decade now (the date this is posted will be exactly ten years from the premiere of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s last episode…I was already writing this post when I found that out…funny how things work out).  The only thing Trek fans have gotten in the last ten years is a couple of movies that are basically more action movies than anything.  So then, what got people interested in this franchise in the first place?

I’ve never actually watched much of the original Trek series (I know, it’s heresy), but I have seen all or at least most of The Next Generation (TNG for short).  I used to watch it all the time back when my family first got satellite television.  SpikeTV used to broadcast episodes of the show back to back, so I would watch them when I got home from school that day.  The show itself was on the air before I was born and ended its run when I was about three or four, so I was never really able to watch it back then.  The thing that struck me about the show, and something I really look for in the shows I watch today, was how character driven it is.  TNG is not a show that’s driven by action or explosions.  It’s driven by characters who are genuinely trying to find their place or deal with personal issues.  Sometimes this works beautifully.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Such is the nature of television.

TNG is especially a case of ups and downs, mainly because it was born in that time where television was in a state of transition.  TNG itself was even the driving force behind a lot of changes in television.  But that being the case, it is also true that the first season of the show is very much all over the place in quality.  One episode could be an enjoyable romp with good pacing, and the next episode could be stupefying in how bad it is.  And yet, despite this rocky first season or so (me and my friend have only done the first ten or so episodes so far), the show went on for seven seasons, and garnered multiple Emmy awards.  So the question still remains, what made this show so popular?

Re-watching the first episode for our podcast, I realized part of that reason.  The first episode of TNG deals with the crew of the Enterprise encountering a godlike being named “Q”, who places humanity on trial for being savages.  The Enterprise crew of course argues that humans may have been savages in the past, but that they’ve changed.  The rest of the episode deals with them proving that point, showing that humanity can indeed better itself.  It’s certainly a more hopeful vision of the future.

It’s this philosophical nature of the show that I think a lot of people like, myself included.  The show proves its intellectual chops right away in the first episode, despite the fact that the episode itself is very uneven.  Star Trek as a whole loves to muse on the nature of the human race and its place in the grand scheme of the universe, and I think that science-fiction as a genre deals with that a lot.  That’s part of the reason I like science-fiction so much.  It’s part philosophical, part spectacle, and part character driven.  Or at least it can be.  You can also get sci-fi tinged Michael Bay movies that do little more than make jokes about giant robot balls (yeah I’m looking at you Transformers 2).

But when sci-fi is done right, what you get tends to be an incredible experience…if you’re into that sort of thing.  There are a lot of people out there who just don’t get science-fiction, don’t understand why people are so enthralled by it.  And that’s perfectly okay.  Sci-fi was never meant to be an all-inclusive genre.  It straddles the line a lot of the time, drifting into most other genres with ease, but there’s always a distinct sci-fi flair to it (or lens flare if you’re J.J. Abrams).

It’s something that TNG as a show understands very well.  It’s deep, thought-provoking, and touching at times, but it also sometimes just has fun with its premise.  One of the early episodes deals with a region of space that allows people’s thoughts to become reality, and it’s that sense of wonder and mind-bending concepts that made me love Star Trek.  It’s not afraid to try something new or be outlandish.

So will we ever see another Star Trek television show?  I honestly don’t know.  There have been rumors over the years about different projects, but none of them ever came to light.  I would love to see another show, but I wonder if it would succeed in modern times.  When you look at the popular shows, they tend to be things like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, shows that aren’t very favorable to humanity, instead showing us as bitter and conniving.  Is there room in this landscape for a show that presents us as flawed yet well-meaning?  I like to think so, but only time can tell.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Guilty Pleasures: Ghost Hunting Television Shows

So I have a little bit of a confession to make.  I actually enjoy watching those ghost hunting TV shows every now and then, even though I don’t really believe in paranormal phenomena.  It’s a guilty pleasure of mine (but you already knew that because you read the title of the post…you clever scamp).

But let’s rewind a bit, back to March 2014.  I was just starting up this blog and my very first post dealt with the paranormal.  In it, I talked about how even though I am skeptical when it comes to whether or not ghosts and the like actually exist, I enjoy ghost stories and just the idea of the paranormal in games, movies, and television.  In the post, I only really talked about video games, specifically the Dark Fall games, a series of point and click adventures dealing with ghosts.

I suppose then, that this was a long time coming.  I have seen several ghost hunting shows before (interesting fact, the show Ghost Adventures actually visited Duluth earlier this year), but the one I’ve enjoy most is Ghost Hunters and its spinoff Ghost Hunters International on the Syfy channel (yeah don’t ask, I don’t know how that ever became a thing).  I mainly like this show specifically because when it comes to the spectrum of being believable, Ghost Hunters probably lies at the top.  I have a healthy skepticism about most of these shows, especially a certain one I’ll talk about in a little bit.

But why do I like these shows?  Mainly because they feel atmospheric to me.  I like the idea of going into a supposedly haunted place and just experiencing all it has to offer.  And since I’m certainly not going to be buying plane tickets and going to any famous haunted locales in the near future, I have to do it vicariously through video games and television.  I chalk it up to a mixture of the part of me that likes exploring and that masochistic part of me that likes horror and being scared.

And as far as experiencing a haunted place goes, Ghost Hunters is a good avenue for it.  If you’ve never seen the show before, the gist of it is this team of people go to a bunch of different places (usually two per episode) and see if they can find any sort of paranormal evidence, be it on video, audio, or some other means.  And of course, they investigate in the dark, because that’s when all the spooky stuff happens.  In any case, I enjoy the process that they go through in each episode.  And in the end, they seem the most genuine out of all of the shows, because they at least admit when they haven’t found anything…which leads me into the other show I want to talk about.

Have you ever heard of Paranormal State?  If you have, and have seen it, you might understand the direction I’m about to go in.

Paranormal State is another ghost hunting show I’ve watched, but not for the same reasons as Ghost Hunters.  I watch Ghost Hunters because I like the idea of ghosts and hauntings, and their method of doing things doesn’t strike me as ridiculous as some of the other shows.  I watch Paranormal State because I like to laugh at it.  Me and my roommate used to watch it in college a lot because it was just so absurd.  The team in this show hails from Penn State University, and seems to have a major confirmation bias going on.  If you don’t understand what I mean by that, let me put it like this: they like to twist things around so that it fits their version of what they want to be true.

Here’s an example.  In one episode, they investigate an abandoned sanitarium (read: mental hospital).  While they’re there, they get a recording of a voice saying the name “Lucy”.  After doing some research, they discover that they can’t find any evidence of a woman named Lucy ever having worked there, been a patient there, or even having set foot through its doors.  So what’s their conclusion?  A demon is covering up the evidence.  Yeah…I wish I was kidding.

But that kind of thing is precisely why my roommate and I watched the show a bunch, because it was hilarious to us.  About ninety percent of their cases were attributed to demons.  I mean they even had a serialized arc going on with a demon that followed the Mississippi River.  It’s really rather ridiculous how much demonic activity they’ve supposedly encountered in their time.  And after all that, most of their demons just create drafts of air and blow doors shut.  Demons everybody!  They’re seriously evil and stuff!

Paranormal State is definitely one of those shows that I believe is either faked on some level, or the people in it are just really full of themselves.  In any case, I still enjoyed watching it.  Too bad it’s no longer on Netflix instant streaming.  Comedy for days man.  Comedy for days.

Everyone has that guilty pleasure in their life, that thing that they do that they know is kind of stupid but they do it anyways because they enjoy it.  Ghost hunting shows are that thing for me.  I know that on some level the science those shows use is pretty much bunk or unproven, but the idea of chasing down paranormal entities is something that fascinates me.  It’s a primal sort of thing, when you enter a deserted or empty building in the middle of the night, and you feel that sharp chill on the back of your neck.  You get the unshakable sensation of not being alone.  The wind howls through a distant hallway, creating an eerie sound akin to someone moaning.  That’s the kind of thing I feel when I watch those types of shows, the sensation of exploring a place like that.  And I love it.

And you know what the best thing about shows like Ghost Hunters is?  No obnoxious jumpscares.

 

Well that’s all I’ve got for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.