“Without this, I’m not alive. Not really. And I know that now thanks to you. I don’t know what we are together, and if we have any chance in the future, I don’t. But I do know that I’m free with you. Like with no one else.”
“You hide from yourself. You don’t let anyone in.”
“You. I let you in.”
Matt and Elektra, ‘A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen’
“By necessity, by definition, they’re separate. Even from each other.”
“Maybe that’s what they need most from us – connection.”
Malcolm and Claire, Jessica Jones ‘Smile’
In the Marvel Netflix series, our heroes cling to normal in a way their big-screen counterparts do not. They exist in a more mundane world, with less flashy superpowers, and grapple with a reality of life where extreme circumstances have separated them from the normalcy that continues to exist around them. How they weave in and out of that abnormalcy – and bounce off the real world around them – is a consistent defining characteristic of these shows.
For Matt Murdock that means a struggle with the blindness and powers granted to him when he was a child. More than almost anyone else in the MCU, this means pushing up against conflicting identities, each of which offers him different benefits. And in second season of Daredevil, this meant shoving that conflict into main focus, and forcing him to more fully assess what each of the two offer.
As was defined in first season, there are three specific factors most important to establishing the Matt Murdock vs Daredevil internal conflict:
- his father: a boxer who threw fights for money, and wanted his son not to follow in his footsteps; in choosing to be the lawyer, Matt can be the man his father wanted him to be; in choosing to be the vigilante, he can be the man more like his father actually was (and no doubt feel closer to his father in the process)
- his faith: Matt tells his priest he believes God gave him his powers for a reason; if he can put those powers into good use and go out and help people, then that validates this perception; but if God didn’t give him his powers, then there probably is no god, and his entire belief system breaks down
- his disability: even without his powers, Matt’s differences are already enough to separate him from the normalcy of others around him; people will always see and recognize him first for his blindness, and to a substantial degree, he has to hide what he’s actually capable of; but as the vigilante, he can maintain full control of how others perceive him
Second season opens with things in a relatively peaceful state for our heroes. The law firm is doing well, riding high on its successes over Wilson Fisk, things between Matt and Foggy have reached an unspoken calm, and there are hints of romance for Matt and Karen. But there’s still rumblings on the horizon – in the early episodes, Foggy and Karen (as if sensing something down the road) individually implore Matt that, in essence, it’s worth clinging to his Matt Murdock persona.
Enter Elektra, the perfect person – as we come to learn – for forcing this challenge into the light. Forcing Matt to make assessments about his life, and why he may value one of his personas over the other. With Elektra around, it becomes harder for Matt to listen to what his closest two friends are saying.
One of the first real tests for Matt came in first season when Foggy learned the truth about him as the vigilante – resulting in an hour-long exploration of their history and relationship. Though Foggy’s anger at Matt is justified (both for the secret kept and the morally questionable actions committed) Matt’s motivations are similarly understandable. Foggy has consistently provided him the strongest ties to normalcy than he arguably has ever had. And as long as he can keep those two elements separate, the easier it is for him to maintain both simultaneously.
The flashbacks in ‘Kinbaku’ provide some important details to these temptations – for the pull of Matt in two different directions. In one, Matt takes Elektra to the boxing ring where his dad used to practice, bringing her into a part of his life like he has no one else – not even Foggy.
What’s more, Elektra’s reactions to the totality of him are important – particularly in contrast to Foggy. Unlike his best friend, Elektra recognizes that he has gifts that make him more than he appears. She sees and validates his abilities, and thereby that side of himself. Whereas Foggy is uncomfortable, to the point of being repulsed when Matt explains what he can do. Not because Foggy is a bad person (he isn’t) but because he’s normal – and he reacts the way that normal people do. He provides Matt that key tie to normalcy, but it also puts limitations on how much he can accept Matt. What’s more, Foggy even admits having felt sorry for Matt all these years – in spite of him not wanting it. Whereas when Matt tells Elektra not to pity him, she tells him flat out that she doesn’t.
So with Elektra on the scene, though Matt initially resists, he can’t resist being drawn back to her. Pulling further and further away from the Foggy and Karen side of his life, and gradually deciding more and more than he can only thrive and exist as Daredevil. Foggy in particular is inevitably trounced in the crossfire largely because he provides that pivotal representation of normal – which Matt effectively abandons altogether.
This culminates in the season finale, in a final stand against the Hand. The two huddle in a stairwell for a sad little scene, where they know they’re likely to go out and fight (quite possibly die) and Matt implores her to give everything up and run away together. His Daredevil life is something of a drug – validated by all the father issues and the martyr complex – and he’s dangerously caught up in it. Even as he asks her to give everything up for a life together, she’s able to recognize what he’s doing. That he’s trying to abandon the Matt Murdock side of himself altogether.
This is, perhaps, the primary reason why Elektra had to die. Matt was willing to throw everything tied to his Matt Murdock side away in preference for Daredevil – and the primary representation of his Daredevil side literally died in his arms. It’s one of the most important takeaways for the character in second season: that he can’t abandon Matt altogether in favor of Daredevil.
So in the end, he reassesses. He tried to maintain both Matt Murdock and Daredevil simultaneously, but it ultimately failed. He tried to give up the Matt Murdock side altogether in favor of Daredevil, and that didn’t (and couldn’t have) work out for him either. So he tries a new tack – as demonstrated by his coming clean to Karen. No doubt he’ll move forward with a new goal: accepting the inevitability of both sides of that identity being needed in his life, and letting them bleed into and interact with one another more than they have in the past.