Daredevil: The Descent of Dex

Last week, in between revision sessions, I watched Season Three of Daredevil, which has been off the air for several years now. Chronologically, Season Three comes after The Defenders. I think.

I wouldn’t have been interested in watching it except Daniel Kane commented (a couple years ago) that there is a subplot involving a socialized psychopath, and the villain’s steady operation to “reprogram” him by destabilizing his life. This subplot includes the character Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter, (aka Bullseye in the comics) and Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. (Is that right? Has Wilson Fisk always been Kingpin? I’m confused.)

Fisk is still played by Vincent D’Onofrio in Season Three.

I didn’t actually time this, but it seemed like Fisk was on screen more than Matt Murdock/Daredevil, at least in the first five episodes. Not a complaint, just a comment.

This season originally aired in 2017. While I was watching it, I realized that my sense of the show, now, is markedly different than it would have been then. If I had watched it then, I would have snorted with disbelief that anyone with Dex’s personal history could pass an FBI psych eval. Now, on the other side of four years of Trump, more and more police violence against a civilian populace, and the degree of overlap of 1/6 insurrectionists with law enforcement officers, I’m inclined to believe that the FBI eval screens in more psychopaths than it screens out. Anyway, I had nowhere near the problem suspending disbelief around that plot point than I thought I might.

No, this go-round Wilson Fisk’s habit of declaiming everything really bugged me.

There were two problems here. One is the voice D’Onofrio chose for Fisk. It was a choice, I get it, and it obviously worked on many levels. D’Onofrio is the kind of actor who doesn’t mind making himself grotesque for a part, even without makeup, and Fisk is a kind of grotesque, sheathing his brutality and his appetites in the finest white suits all the time. His harsh voice is a way of reminding us that all the delicately flavored omelets, art work and chamber music in the world will never make him fully human. I get that. It works. It still bugged me.

Wilson Fisk also never just says anything. He narrates it. This is a writing choice. (One exception in Season Three; in the prison dining area, he roars out “Quiet!” while he’s eating, a deliberate echo of Killgrave in Jessica Jones.)

But, seriously, the man’s a talker. When he is “working on” Dex, who at first is a loyal, if ruthless and murderous, agent, there is little interaction between them, but once he’s suborned the guy, there are phone calls. On or off the phone, Fisk declaims. At some point while I was watching, I drifted off in my imagination to an alternate universe where, instead of being Daredevil, this was a horror story with Dex as the Main Victim. Dex, a troubled FBI agent, is going about his assignment guarding a criminal who has turned state’s evidence and has been placed in a safe house while he is being debriefed. As Dex goes about his day…

SCENE: Dex’s apartment. Dex is obsessively washing his lone coffee cup.
Phone: Bzzt. Bzzt.
Dex: This is Dex.
Fisk: Once when I was boy, my father took me fishing. He was a brutal man, who rarely spent time with me. We went far out of the city to a distant cove, where in a dingy shack, a man with one eye sold fresh bait…
Dex: [Hangs up.]

SCENE: [Upscale bar where Dex is stalking Julie, the bartender.]
Phone: Bzzt. Bzzt.
Dex: Dex.
Fisk: I was a sickly child, with no friends. My father, a brutal man, mocked me. I disappointed him. My mother’s love was not enough to–
Dex: Stop calling me. [Hangs up phone.]

SCENE: [An alley where Dex, having staked out Julie’s apartment, is watching her eat pizza with a friend.]
Phone: Bzzt. Bzzt.
Dex: [Looks at phone.] (Whimpers.)
Phone: Bzzt. Bzzt.
Dex: (whispers) Stop calling me.
Phone: Bzzt. Bzzt.
Dex: [grabs phone] Stop calling me!
Fisk: Some time after I beat my brutal father to death with a hammer, my mother called me to her side. She was a frail woman who had never been able to confront him, but I felt that she loved me. She told me–
Dex: [Throws phone against windshield.]

And so on, until the story ends with Dex trapped in a chamber several sub-basements below any known sub-basements in some derelict building probably near the water because night shots with the reflection of city lights on water look cool. He cowers against wall, wild-eyed.

Phone: Bzzt. Bzzt.
Dex: (Screams)
[Camera pans to the shattered pieces of a cell phone on the floor.]
Phone: Bzzt. Bzzt.
Fisk: Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage. I have learned this in my lifetime. You cannot imprison a man behind walls or bars. My brutal father taught me this. Have I mentioned that my father was brutal? Anyway, where was I… oh, yes, you cannot…
Dex screams, screen goes black and credits roll.

Anyway, writing choices aside, one thing about Fisk/Kingpin that separates him from “standard” megavillians is self-insight. Fisk knows himself. He knows what he is (a brutal criminal, sure) but he know himself, in some smaller ways as well. I appreciated that. He certainly understands himself better than Daredevil understands himself. Matt Murdock should take a look at this. And he should just let his calls go to voicemail.

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