Good, Evil, and Daredevil
Daredevil Season 3, as perhaps one might expect from a show about superheroes, is all about good and evil.
The quality that elevates this season of Daredevil above any other superhero show I’ve seen, is that it’s not about good VERSUS evil, but about good AND evil.
I think a lot about the nature of goodness. Despite my commitment to being a good person, much to my surprise and chagrin, I’ve done bad things in my life. Hurt people I care about. Broken rules that I would’ve never thought that I could. I’ve done things I am ashamed of in front of my children, even involving them as co-conspirators at times. And without exception, it made perfect sense to me in the moment. Even my poorest decision felt as inevitable to me as breathing and as obvious as the sun at noon. Every seemingly inexcusable choice I made – things that an outsider would look at and say “My God, Kristin, what were you thinking?” – seemed to me to be the only possible choice.
There was never some quintessential moment where I had to decide between right and wrong. I never had an opportunity to pick the left fork or the right on life’s path. A klaxon never sounded; I had no warning signs. What was eventually revealed to have been wrong always, always felt like the proper thing to do at the time. The good thing to do at the time. The seemingly harmless thing.
I have never made an active, deliberate decision to do wrong. I never acted at all, only reacted. I reacted to sh-ty situations I should never have been put into, I reacted to people who behaved badly themselves, I reacted to impossible expectations no human being could live up to. I handled the situations, I handled the people, I handled the demands. I tried to create fairness and obtain justice when the people who surrounded me were unfair and unjust. I took what was mine when it was owed to me and never more. I smoothed over the bumps in the path and put boards over the deepest ruts and I kept my family going for another day, week, month, year. It was only over the course of years that I began to see that in doing so, I had committed unforgivable sins. But every one of them had been in the name of love. Every one had been to save my family.
There’s a reason they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
There are many shows about good and evil. Stories about falls from grace and whether redemption is possible are as old as humanity. Yet most times, even in shows I adore like The Shield or Breaking Bad, the protagonist’s arc involves discovering self-fulfillment in being bad. They end up finding they have a taste for evil. As Walter White said, “I did it for me. I liked it.”
I didn’t like it. I didn’t have a taste for it. I wanted to be nothing but good. A good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, a credit to society. I was cornered, entrapped, eventually tricked into becoming a bad person by others, almost entirely against my will. They used my own goodness against me. They took the love in my heart and my desire to make other people happy, and exploited it. They set the rules of the game so I would get nothing and they would get everything if I played the game their way. Yet somehow, some way, I ended up to be worse than the people who set me up. Because I was the one who made the final choice. I was the one who scrambled up and cemented that capstone on the top of the pyramid. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t laid the foundations or built the walls, the last move was mine, and I made the wrong one. Repeatedly. It doesn’t matter that I couldn’t see it at the time. It doesn’t matter that every decision that came beforehand was made by those who did not have my best interests at heart. I will still be held responsible.
Walter White is a fun character, but I don’t think he represents the reality of evil. Daredevil Season 3 does a much better job. There is more than one fall from grace in Daredevil and I won’t spoil it by revealing who and how, but all of them are people who really, truly, want to be good people. They desire goodness, but are put into positions by circumstance and the machinations of others where their choices are between rock and hard place. The only obvious decisions they can make as the moral people they believe themselves to be, corrupts them. But any one of us in the same situation would do the same thing. Of the handful of piss-poor options we’re ever offered in this fallen world full of fallen people, we will take what appears to be the best one to us at the time. And maybe we’re even right in doing so, maybe it was the best of all possible options, and maybe all the other possibilities would have yielded worse outcomes. Maybe the burden of guilt we carry is the price we pay for doing what was best for everyone else.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
We have no way to know. We’re as blind as Matt Murdock. Every path we can choose carries its own set of consequences and we cannot foresee them going in, nor can we know what the outcome would have been had we gone a different way.
The scenarios screenwriters love to spin where against all odds, our hero pulls off a miraculous, impossible victory where s/he compromises nothing, good is rewarded and evil is punished, all the loose threads are tied into a beautiful bow and no one we are cheering for ends up worse for the wear, aren’t real. The reality is that the choices we are offered in this life are usually chock full of suck and no matter which option we choose, come with a heartbreakingly high cost. Sometimes even our very souls have to be sold.
I would someday like to see this type of story told from the perspective of someone who won’t bend. Who is incorruptible. I want to see the hero’s journey of the person who never compromises, who never makes exceptions, who always follows a strict and unyielding ethical code in every situation regardless of context. Because I suspect the kind of person who is incapable of corruption is probably a pretty amoral, even sociopathic person. They don’t care about what happens to anyone else, they only care about living on their own terms. They don’t negotiate, ever, even to save a life. Even to save a soul. They’re immune to evil because they’re really kind of evil already. In order to be compromised, you have to be open to compromise.
Most of us are willing to compromise. Our very goodness is a weakness that can be weaponized. Our goodness can be, and often is, our downfall. Most of us fall because we want to protect and provide for the people we love. Most of us fall because we expect fairness and justice from those who treat us unfairly and unjustly. If the game was fair, we could play by the rules, but the game was created for the benefit of those with the power to make the rules. The dice is loaded, the deck is stacked against us, the odds favor the house. We start counting cards because we couldn’t win if we didn’t. And the people who are counting on us, need us to win.
Daredevil has toyed with some of these questions before but in this third season the execution is absolutely brilliant. If you haven’t watched Daredevil yet, or you started to and couldn’t get into it, try again. Daredevil doesn’t have the answers we seek because Matt Murdock is right there beside us wrestling with his demons too. But at least it’s asking a different kind of question.