‘Daredevil’s Elektra and the Problem of Destiny

Daredevil Elektra

This is a guest post written by Elyssa Feder. | Spoilers ahead.


In season two of Daredevil, Elektra Natchios, international assassin and part-time debutante, is one of a pair of foils the show introduces to contrast with the series’ hero, Matt Murdock. While season one saw Matt wrestling with if he should kill Wilson Fisk, season two puts Matt among two antiheroes who have chosen the other side of the ethical line Matt won’t cross — Elektra, and Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. While Frank is given a detailed backstory, Elektra’s motivations are suspiciously obscured. The show then reveals that she is “The Black Sky,” a weapon that a shadow organization called The Hand has been searching for for centuries. Ultimately, we are left to conclude that Elektra’s characterization is not based in specific motivations, but in a dangerous, unseemly destiny that shapes her will and revokes her agency.

This should leave a sour taste. I watched season two of Daredevil in around two days and then I watched it again, mostly because I have a terrible memory and usually need to watch shows twice to retain what happened. But going back and watching with the knowledge that Elektra is a weapon, that that is a designation handed to her by men, that she doesn’t get to choose any of it, and that it serves to explain her characterization while Frank Castle gets all the internal motivation he seeks — that’s very troubling to me.

There are a lot of moments to make your skin crawl about this, but the one that kicked off my concerns about this is all the way in 2×12, “The Dark at the End of the Tunnel.”

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Here, Stick, the mentor to little Elektra (and little Matt, as the latter will later learn), explains there is some violent force inside Elektra, one she will have to learn to control. Though I’m not in principle opposed to women having innate power, there’s something off-putting about the way Elektra’s power is described here, and in other parts of the episode. Stick suggests that Elektra and her power are unwieldy, something dangerous and unnatural. And this line comes directly after Elektra almost kills someone — and she ultimately does kill him, later in the episode, an act Elektra explains she did “just to prove she could.” What a sociopathic little girl, we are left to believe.

But the show makes a pretty bad case that Elektra’s a sociopath, which might have let them off the hook for laziness. She’s reticent to leave Stick, her adoptive father figure, and her love for Matthew is genuine. Rather, the show reveals that Elektra is the Black Sky, a strange and mysterious weapon we still haven’t had fully explained. Rather than a real woman with choices, she’s an object. Her violence is, as Stick suggests, deeply a part of her — not because she chooses it but because, at least as most of the men of Daredevil would like to suggest, she’s not really a person. She’s just a shell for something sinister.

There are some fairly grotesque examples of this objectification. Nobu, one of the leaders of “The Hand” repeatedly refers to Elektra as “it.” Nobu is part of a cult that worships the Black Sky, so while one might think he’d be nicer to Elektra, the woman is just a shell, the container of the weapon. Stick, when tied up in Matt’s apartment says, “The Black Sky cannot be controlled, manipulated, or transported.” (Stick seems to have done quite a bit of controlling, manipulating, and transporting of Elektra over the last 3ish decades of her life, but I digress.) There’s a moment after Nobu reveals her identity where you can see the trauma and self-loathing Stick brought to her play out, and she seems to entertain this destiny, even for a moment.

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To be fair to Elektra’s internal world, I think we can chalk this up to the trauma of her father figure trying to kill her. Furthermore, Elektra is raised by an older white man who taught her that she was out of control for unknown reasons, her violence is given no rationality, and then it’s ultimately revealed she’s violent because surprise! She’s not a person; she’s a weapon. Destiny and a bunch of guys who worship her said so. But they don’t really worship her. They worship some sort of weird mystical weapon they think is inside her. They see her as an “it.” And, at least for a moment, Elektra thinks, “Makes sense.” After all, was she not raised to believe she was a monster? A thing without reason? A creature out of control?

This sort of burden of destiny — and the irrational, innate violence that goes along with it — is something her natural season-long foils, Matt and Frank, are spared. Though I have my own struggles with the writing of Matt’s motivation (a subject not for this post), one cannot doubt that he is hyper-rational about them, with probably too much thinking and self-flagellation for my taste. Frank is given enumerative motive and rationality in the form of his murdered family, and a personal champion Karen Page who makes sure those motives and rationales come to light.

I should be clear here, when I say rationality I don’t mean, “Frank Castle makes good choices.” What I mean is that there is an internal logic to them; he is a Rational Actor. It is this rationality that allows Karen to argue he wouldn’t target the DA’s family; it goes against Frank’s internal code. I know why Frank Castle does everything he does, in a way I don’t with Elektra because it’s never offered. And there’s a reason this matters too, in the basic vein of “women are people,” and the fact that their choices are circumscribed or erased in all sorts of media is not only a common trope, but a disturbing one. We all know women in the real world make choices, good and bad, moral and immoral, that are grounded in experience. Elektra, the show suggests, makes choices because she can’t help it. Elektra kills people because she was born a weapon. Not much of a choice.

Though there moments where Elektra makes choices in this series, particularly ones that reject her “destiny” and the violence it sparks in her, that unseemly destiny thing has a tendency to intervene. One example is in 2×08, “Guilty as Sin”:

Matthew: Where’s Stick?
Elektra: I made my choice. He didn’t like it. I want to be with you. The only person in this world who believes I’m good.

Then, around three minutes later, Matthew gets attacked by a young member of The Hand and, after beating him single-handedly, Elektra still kills him in this bloody homage to “crazy” lady slasher films.

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This line is the most unhinged Elektra is all season by my estimation, not three minutes after she decided to hang up her evil sword and pick up her noble one. Guess that uncontrollable violence got in the way again. She and Matt call it quits for a few episodes, until they’re mostly back together in 2×12, after she decides against joining up with The Hand.

It is in the finale that Elektra makes her last choices, at least for now. When Stick says her decision to fight The Hand is a mistake she says, “Maybe. But it’ll be my mistake, because this is my life.” This is the clearest pronouncement of her own choices and agency Elektra makes all season. It is a choice she makes not because she wants Matt to see her as Good ( I should note the paternalism and white savior complex in this dynamic are important to explore), nor a choice she makes because she’s the Black Sky. It wouldn’t be good characterization or good writing for her to suddenly become a white hat, but she chooses to fight a war because she wants to fight it, because there is something personal and at stake for her in its victory, and because she seeks to reject the destiny the men around her have told her is fated.

This is, of course, for naught. She and Matt fight The Hand on a roof, during which she declares they will kill him “over her dead body,” just to heavily foreshadow what was obviously going to happen. And then, in the latest case of unseemly lady deaths, she runs into a sword to save Matt, taking The Hand’s precious weapon out of the equation. It seems Elektra can only have agency over her destiny by throwing herself on a sword.

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These are the few choices Elektra is allowed in Daredevil that contradict her destiny to be a weapon instead of a woman. The final chain of events — choices that are truly Elektra’s and no one else’s, and ones she makes to reject her destiny — leads to her death. The show even has the audacity to suggest her death, one of her few (and problematic, obviously) choices, will be rendered useless in the face of that destiny. Season two ends with Elektra in a coffin designed by The Hand for “the rising.” We are safe to assume Elektra, or something in Elektra’s skin, will return.

This trope, in which women’s “destinies” obscure, erase, or negate their agency is one that can be found other places, each of which could merit their own post, but I’ll give a few examples. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the premise of the show is that Buffy wanted to be a normal girl and no longer can be, because a few millennia ago, a bunch of men forced superpowers into a girl, and now Buffy doesn’t get any choice in the matter. On the spinoff series Angel, though Cordelia is initially given a series of painful visions without her consent, the show suggests in the episode “Birthday” that Cordelia is destined to have the visions. In making the choice to accept some mystical intervention into her life, she sets off a chain of events that ultimately leads to her death (also in the interest of saving the man she loves). In Battlestar Galactica, Kara Thrace is given the destiny of leading humanity to Earth and nearly loses her mind because of it, only to disappear and die (again) once that mission is completed; Laura Roslin’s similar destiny is inextricably linked with her illness and death.

On the other hand, when men are given great destinies, from Harry Potter to Buffy and Angel and beyond, their choices are not sublimated in the face of that agency. Rather, those choices are portrayed as steps along a greater path. Their agency remains intact, and their deaths are rare. Yet, we see patterns where women’s destinies cut off their choices, or where the choices they make in the face of destiny leads to their deaths. (I will note that Dawn Summers, also in Buffy, faces a similar ‘you’re a mystical creation’ scenario as Elektra, but is allowed to retain and enhance her agency throughout the rest of the show.)

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It is also worth noting that Elektra’s death appears amongst a series of disturbing choices to kill off women this spring. A few weeks ago, The 100’s decision to kill Lexa, a lesbian character, sparked deep outrage in the fandom, as well as critiques from the broader media as part of a larger pattern of killing off LGBT women on television. This past week on Sleepy Hollow, the show decided to kill of lead Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie. Sleepy Hollow has faced critiques for a few seasons for the continued sidelining of Beharie’s character, a Black female lead on a major network, in favor of white characters on the show. The show’s decision to not only kill off Abbie, but to construct her death as in the service of white lead Ichabod Crane (played by Tom Mison) and his destiny (one they were supposed to share, but seems to have been summarily robbed from Abbie in the service of his), has been roundly criticized, with fans of the show creating a hashtag to cancel the show entirely (which, agreed). Elektra, a woman of color (played by Elodie Yung) who the show forces to sacrifice herself to save a white man, is part of this larger disturbing pattern.

Conveniently for Daredevil, they, unlike many of these shows, have the opportunity to fix the problem they created. When Elektra does return, the writers have a choice as to who they bring back. She can be a thoughtless monster, a weapon known as the Black Sky with no consciousness, and which Matt will inevitably have to either kill or save with his love (dramatic eyeroll). Or she can be Elektra, a woman who tells the men who both put her in the grave and raised her from it to go to hell, and take destiny with them. It would be this Elektra who could be given the opportunity to make the choices she wants, to have an inner world explained by more than “she’s a weapon.” A real, live, breathing woman.


See also at Bitch Flicks: ‘Daredevil’ and His Damsels in Distress


Elyssa Feder has a BA in Women’s Studies and International Affairs from George Washington University, where one day she decided to write a paper about women in the military (on scifi television) and it was all downhill from there. By day, she is a political person doing political things; by night, she can be found lecturing friends and coworkers about television. She also does this by day, if anyone lets her.