By Ron Smith
Season two of Daredevil is more violent and bloodier than season one, but the violence and blood are not gratuitous. The writers also focus more on the religious imagery that is associated with the Catholicism of Matt Murdock/Daredevil, and the work of redemption within the Catholic narrative involves broken bodies and spilt blood. The usual understanding is that Jesus died for the sins of human beings and restores them in a right relationship with God, but that is a glib interpretation of the crucifixion. In Catholicism, the role of suffering in a person’s life is to endure the consequences of sin and give that suffering to God to repair the effects that sin has on the world—a restoration of balance. This understanding is why Daredevil assumes a Christ role to withstand and take the violence to redeem Hell’s Kitchen—providing justice. Season two, on the other hand, presents the viewer with a twist as the writers inject a sampling of Eastern Orthodox theology. Matt Murdock/Daredevil is the one in need of redemption, and that redemption comes engaging in fierce dialogue with The Punisher and Elektra. Elektra and The Punisher are redeemed through the redemption of Daredevil. These two are focused on punishment and fear and their interaction with Murdock/Daredevil creates a trifecta of redemption and balance.
On top of the roof of an apartment building, overlooking the city, and within earshot of the ringing bells of St. Matthew, The Punisher has Daredevil bound with chains. After several minutes of struggling, Daredevil gives up loosening his chains and talks to The Punisher. As the dialogue between Daredevil and The Punisher unfolds, the scene takes on religious imagery—a debate between the devil and Christ concerning redemption and judgment. The Punisher stands over Daredevil, gun in hand, pointing at the city, arguing that Daredevil’s way is not working because criminals can return to killing and raping. The Punisher’s character represents a Satan figure, but not in the manner of evil and destruction. The name Satan comes from the Hebrew Ha’Satan meaning “The Accuser”—a role illustrated in the third chapter of the Old Testament book, Zechariah, as he accuses Joshua, an allegory for Israel, for his many sins according to the criteria God had set down in the Law of Moses. Similarly, The Punisher accuses the criminals of Hell’s Kitchen with the same passion and righteousness of Satan, and just like Satan, his accusations are valid and correct; but his approach to redeeming Hell’s Kitchen is putting down the criminal element like rabid dogs. Daredevil does not dispute the accusation of The Punisher but approaches the criminals with grace. Yes, they are guilty of the crimes they have committed, they should be brought to justice, but they should not be killed. Daredevil argues there is a glimmer of good within the most evil of people, and there is a glimmer of good within The Punisher. To let somebody live is to give them a chance to try to be different, to redeem a life they have broken. Punishment does not take away the corruption of the human spirit—punishment denies the dignity of the human spirit.
Somebody ask you to put on that costume or take it upon yourself? You know what I think of you, hero? I think you’re a half-measure. I think you’re a man who can’t finish the job. I think you’re a coward. You know the one thing that you just can’t see? You know you’re one bad day away from being me. –The Punisher to Daredevil, “New York’s Finest”-
Daredevil/Matt Murdock understands the futility in fighting against the evil in Hell’s Kitchen. On the rooftop with Claire, he takes the first step inward arguing about the uselessness of the law, and relationships—they are mere distractions and stumbling blocks to the final solution of justice; but the justice he seeks is the justice of Frank Castle. Unlike Castle, Murdock takes with him his sense of messianic suffering, internalizes the suffering, and projects his distortions on to the world around him. Murdock ceases to be human and becomes the identity he has created: a warped facsimile of a religious icon. With a mixture of sarcasm and compassion, Claire reminds Murdock there are other people in positions of authority who also care about Hell’s Kitchen, and the best thing for him to do is to get off his proverbial cross to visit Foggy, who is recovering from a gunshot wound. The way to bring about justice and redemption is not about great heroics and taking the bad guys off the street, but about the smallest act of kindness shown to someone broken by the world; but Claire’s words fall on deaf ears. Murdock stays on the roof looking over the city, Claire leaves the roof, and Foggy watches the Jets game alone.
“Red, just this once? No. No, no, no, no, no, Red. That’s…that’s not how it works. It’s just…you cross over to my side of the line…you don’t get to come back from that. Not ever.” –The Punisher to Daredevil, “.380”-
There may be quiet after blows have been exchanged, but there always remains the underlying tension. Both Daredevil and The Punisher want the same thing, but they come from different perspectives. By episode eleven, Daredevil realizes the futility of his way and suggests, for one time, Castle’s way would be the best way to handle the overwhelming presence of evil in Hell’s Kitchen. Daredevil is Christ in the desert and Christ on the cross weary with suffering, and Satan poses his questions, “If you are the Son of God why don’t you turn these stones into bread? If you are the Son of God why not get off that cross, and save yourself?” For a moment it is considered, and when Christ thinks “Why not?” the countenance of the devil changes. Satan is no longer the accuser. Just as Christ told those who wanted to follow him what kind of price they would have to pay to follow him, so Satan, from his despair, tells Christ the price he would pay to walk on this path. Castle tells Daredevil there is no one time because once he crosses the line and takes Castle’s path, there is no return. At best, the justice Daredevil seeks will be tainted, and he will replace balance with fear. The redemption Daredevil wants will be lost, and Hell’s Kitchen streets will be cracked with dread. Their roles are reversed, and Castle pleads for the soul of Daredevil and sacrifices his life for Daredevil’s redemption. The devil you know is also your savior.
“Now you could either try, and kill us and prove them right. Or you could save Stick, and prove them wrong.” –Daredevil to Elektra, “The Dark at the End of the Tunnel”-
After balance is restored in Daredevil, and he is brought back from the edge by The Punisher’s words, he is redeemed and can now be a tool to redeem others. The redemption, though, takes on another twist with Elektra who is The Black Sky—an antichrist type worshipped by The Hand. The followers, along with Nobu, bow to her with swords across their arm in reverence and respect because she is the final weapon to end the war. Elektra believes this, and steps forward with Nobu’s sword to kill Stick, but Daredevil stands between her and Stick with the point of a sword against his neck. He does not want to fight her, he does not want her to believe she is the Black Sky, and he does not want her to kill Stick; but he reminds her that if she chooses to act on this belief, she will have to kill him. Daredevil gets to the core of Elektra’s main desire: to be loved, and he understands the pull of that belief; but he reminds her of the price she will have to pay for her choice—either kill them all, or save Stick. She chooses to save Stick, and does so with her life, but her death is not the end. The season ends with Elektra put in a resurrection chamber and The Punisher saving Daredevil’s life.
The writers of Daredevil relied heavily on Roman Catholic imagery, but as season two progressed the idea of redemption came from Eastern Orthodox theology. From The Eastern Orthodox perspective, everyone that dies goes to the presence of God, and is often misunderstood as universalism. The difference lies in the state of a person’s soul after death. If someone lived a life of love and compassion they will feel that love and compassion from God—and it will be bliss; however, if a person lived a life closed off to love and compassion, the presence of God will burn like a fire. There is a twist, though. At any point the person who is closed off can make the choice to turn and be open, and experience the bliss of God’s presence. This idea is what motivates Eastern Christians to pray for the souls of those who have died. Also, over the centuries, and today, there are those who believe that even Satan and the fallen angels will eventually make the choice to be open to God, and be redeemed. This idea is not official Orthodox dogma, but there are a few monks who embrace that idea. The redemption and balance that is shared between Daredevil, Elektra, and The Punisher takes on a divine dance restoring the soul of the other; and that dance may involve weapons and fists. What is clear is the argument in Daredevil: Season Two is redemption and balance can be found in the worst of us as well as the best of us, but it will take work.
Ron Smith was born and raised on the east side of Indianapolis, went to Blackburn College where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Literature and Religion, and drove back and forth across the country. He enjoys, almost exclusively, the writings of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, James Joyce, and any graphic novel series that are recommended to him. You can read Ron’s other writings on www.tijeanblog.wordpress.com