Written by Robin Hitchcock.
This review contains spoilers for Daredevil and some graphic images of violence against women.
The new Netflix original series Daredevil, about Marvel’s blind defense-attorney-by-day-vigilante-by-night Matt Murdock, surprised me. It’s extremely different from the other Marvel Studios properties, the MCU films and the broadcast television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter. First, it has the “dark, edgy” tone normally associated with Warner Bros. DC movies, particularly the Nolan Batman films. Second, it is really, REALLY violent (like, graphic decapitations violent) in a way that Marvel’s PG-13 movies cannot be. Finally, Daredevil is almost a complete disaster when it comes to its female characters. Marvel’s track record with female characters isn’t perfect, but I’ve come to expect much better than what we get here.[caption id="attachment_20441" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page in Daredevil[/caption]
The first woman we meet on Daredevil is Karen Page, the most prevalent if not necessarily the most important female character from the source comics. Karen Page is a notorious example of women being treated horribly in comics, with Frank Miller writing an arc where she’s addicted to drugs and “tragically” became a porn star, and Kevin Smith later fridging her and then having himself drawn into her funeral. She does better in this series, but that’s not saying much.[caption id="attachment_20430" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Panel from Daredevil comic when Karen is killed[/caption]
In the first episode of Daredevil, Karen is set up for murder in a complicated cover-up that’s tied into all the series’ other complicated criminal ongoings (which are hard to keep track of even when marathoning the episodes). Do-gooding lawyer noobs Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson take on her case, and protect her from all the bad guys who want to kill her, with legal jujitsu as well as the actual kind from Matt in his masked vigilante alter ego that will become Daredevil. They take her on as their assistant, so she can continue to be imperiled.[caption id="attachment_20431" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Karen in peril[/caption]
In the comics, she’s a love interest of Matt’s, but many of the early episodes give her nothing more to do than be made goo goo eyes at by Foggy. (Nearly every female recurring character on this show is a love interest for someone.) Later, Karen is given “something to do” as she conducts her own investigation of the Kingpin alongside journalist Ben Urich. Naturally, this makes her a damsel in distress once again, but at least she’s given the opportunity to save herself.[caption id="attachment_20428" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple in Daredevil[/caption]
Next up is Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a nurse who drags a half-dead Matt out of a dumpster and tends to his wounds. Their relationship grows because Matt loses and a lot of fights and falls out of a lot of buildings and regularly needs patching up. But it only takes a couple of episodes before she’s kidnapped, beaten up, and rescued by Matt. Who she’s falling in love with, which makes no sense (I mean, dude is fine, but he’s also seems to be pretty much wrecking her life). Claire peaces out for pretty much the rest of the season, probably because Rosario Dawson was too expensive to have in many episodes. The role is really a waste of her talents.[caption id="attachment_20429" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Claire in peril[/caption]
The third and final female character in the main cast is Ayelet Zurer’s Vanessa, the romantic interest of the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). I can’t decide if I should call Vanessa “complicated” or just “confusing.” I really do not understand why she falls for Fisk, and grows closer to him the more she learns about his criminal lifestyle. Vanessa feels more like a construct designed to humanize Fisk than a character in her own right. And of course she also functions to give Fisk angst when she inevitably ends up in a hospital bed, because this show sure does love its damsels in distress.[caption id="attachment_20434" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Vanessa in peril[/caption]
The minor female characters continue the depressing trends: Elena, a friendly elderly client of Nelson & Murdock, is murdered to draw out Daredevil. Evil drug dealer Madam Gao is one of two villainous East Asian characters who just happen to be martial arts experts. And Ben Urich has a dying wife, because not only violence imperils the women our male heroes love, but also the cruel fates of sickness and natural death![caption id="attachment_20440" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Nice old lady Elena, killed to “get to” Daredevil[/caption]
And to answer your burning question, no, there’s no Elektra. (Not even a teaser in a post-credits scene, which I was suspecting we’d get at the very least.) I guess they’re saving her for season two.
Ultimately, I still enjoyed Daredevil enough to watch the whole season in two days (it helped that I’m nursing a cold and didn’t feel up to much more than curling up in front of the TV). But I’m terribly let down by its treatment of women, and hope Netflix’s forthcoming Marvel series do much better.
Robin Hitchcock is a writer based in Pittsburgh who actually liked the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie, so you should possibly disregard all of her opinions about everything, ever.