I will start this review with a mandatory disclosure: I love me some Vinnie D. That's Vincent D'Onofrio to you normal folks. I love him in everything he has ever done. I loved him as the sweet yet prideful young man in Mystic Pizza, I loved him in his small role as "Thor" in Adventures of Babysitting, I loved him when he wore an Edgar suit in Men in Black, and I loved him the mostest in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. So while I'll be telling you the strengths and weaknesses of the show, don't be concerned when I seem to love the villain more than the hero.
Though Kingpin AKA Wilson Fisk had a small cameo in the Defenders, Season 3 of Daredevil marked his triumphant return to the status of Big Bad. And make no mistake, Wilson Fisk is as Big and Bad as they come. Obey him or he will kill you. Though he might kill you even if you do obey him. Hypothetically, he might savagely crush your head in if you are simply the bearer of bad news. Hypothetically.
Though Fisk is the centerpiece of Daredevil's parade of villainy, he is not the subject of this blog posting. Most pressingly, because Wilson Fisk is not a psychopath. He is violent, evil, and generally terrifying... but not a psychopath. We know this because of his emotions, which are on display in every scene he is in. We saw him as a wounded boy in DD Season 1, one who just wanted his abusive father's love. We saw his fierce protective instinct of his mother, his heart-wrenching devotion for Vanessa, his filial loyalty to James Wesley, and his mournful rage when he discovers who murdered him.
|Girl, are you crazy?|
FBI Agent Benjamin Poindexter AKA Dex has none of these emotions. He does not love. And he simply doesn't understand why other people do. Dex is a psychopath. One who ended up in the FBI. The reason he was able to do this was that he had help from a psychiatrist. A well-meaning but ultimately irresponsible woman I wanted to choke the life out of in every scene she was in. After Dex kills his loving father for having the temerity to take him out of a little league game, Dex freely admits he did it on purpose.
In watching his nonplussed demeanor, the doctor understands immediately he is a psychopath. And instead of recommending he be removed from decent people, she tries to help him. It seems she does this out of love, with the idea that he can be aimed in the right direction. But she's fooling herself. She doesn't aim him anywhere. She teaches him to mimic normal human emotions he doesn't feel, like empathy. She teaches him to hide his absolute disregard for other people behind a structured job and a script for human interaction. Even on her deathbed, he wants to kill her because she is leaving him. She is not meeting his needs.
Dex and his amazing skills (Comic fans will recognize him as Bullseye) come to Fisk's attention and he steps in to be Dex's new mentor, pointing him in an entirely different and far darker direction. In doing this, the show walks us down the fine line between evil and genuine psychopathy, between the cool control of Fisk and the white-knuckle just-below-the-surface rage of Dex. It also uses these two men to show us the shades of grey all good people face.
We see the changes in Matt because of his loss of faith and purpose. We also see the actions of Agent Nadeem, Fisk's main handler with the FBI. Of course, neither man is a psychopath, but for each, there is a slow creep of the ends justifying the means, of other people maybe not mattering terribly much in a given moment. It is probable that Dex was born a psychopath. He has never been burdened with empathy, with loving someone more than himself or sacrificing for the betterment of someone else. But Matt certainly has and he does. So does Agent Nadeem. But after suffering and loss, after being backed into a corner, they both willfully separate themselves from the people they love, barreling headlong after Dex and Wilson Fisk.
Why does the show do this? It is so rare to have a real portrayal of psychopathy. Often, psychopaths are portrayed as cool and edgy, as glamorous and alluring. Daredevil shows the reality. Loneliness and anger and constant aching needs that are only rarely fully met. Because who could keep up with that level of need? One of the more powerful scenes of Dex is with him feeling the rage encroach and he is cut off both from the young counselor he'd gone to for help and from Fisk, who is busy with other things. In his crippling need for affirmation and direction, we see the anguish on his face...and we hear the sound of swarming bees.
Dex is simply not able to control himself. Fisk is a control freak who kills anything he can't control. The lesson Matt learns from both of them is that it is harder to be good and to be moral. To feel others' pain as you feel your own. Karen and Foggy, his dearest friends who he shoves away, are not just "the good ones," they are the strong ones and it is their strength that gives Matt the courage he needs to comes back to the light.
The villains of Daredevil and in the Marvel TV universe are some of the best out there because they magnify our own flaws, talking us out of taking the easy way out. Sure, it's easier simply not to care... to use people for your own purposes and then discard them. But it will not bring you peace. It certainly won't bring you happiness. Not even if you're a psychopath.