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The Morals of Hell’s Kitchen: Wilson Fisk as the Hero of His Own Story

This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s Daredevil Seasons 1 and 2.

It’s no secret among my peers that I love Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk in Daredevil. In the midst of a structurally shaky Season 1, he remained the consistent shining light and most compelling character. My delighted surprise at his appearance in Season 2 was rewarded with some of the best scenes of the season.

This isn’t an unpopular opinion: a lot of people, critics and fans alike, expressed their amazement with Fisk and D’Onofrio’s performance when Season 1 finished. So much, in fact, that some people criticized the season for not being called Kingpin, or overshadowing Daredevil aka Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox).

I get that, and it’s a valid criticism. I wouldn’t mind an entire series dedicated to Wilson Fisk, honestly.

However, one of the things that I genuinely love about the first season is the way it parallels Fisk and Matt. The fact that this show presents Fisk as the hero of his own narrative is the biggest reason why he’s my favorite character of the series.

As I wrote in my review of the first season, Fisk and Matt essentially want the same thing: to better Hell’s Kitchen, the town they were born in, that’s in their blood. It’s their different tactics to achieve this that put them on opposite sides of a war.

The morals of Marvel’s Daredevil are not cut and dry, which all at once shape Hell’s Kitchen, but also complicate the way audiences view characters and choices. This is seen best of all with Fisk.

It’s easy to turn a character like his into nothing more than a sadistic villain. You don’t have to do much to get the audience to root against him. But that’s not what this series does, and it’s certainly not what D’Onofrio was thinking with his performance.

It’s that performance I fell in love with first. I typically don’t go for villains – I am staunchly a supporter of heroes. And while I have nothing against Daredevil (nor Charlie Cox, who has been deserving of this attention for a long time), I was shocked by the way I found myself drawn to Fisk and looking forward to when he would next show up when I binged the first season.

There’s a consistency to D’Onofrio’s performance that is fascinating, a consistency which makes Fisk feel completely fleshed out and real. Whether it’s the interesting vocal ticks D’Onofrio gives to his character, or the way he carries himself, in a slightly awkward and un-villain-like manner, until he rises to his full stature to deliver some serious violence, Fisk in Daredevil is such a solid character purely in performance that it’s impossible not to be mesmerized.

As the first season continued, I began to realize I was becoming entranced by the character himself, and not just D’Onofrio. According to Matt, Fisk is despicable, a stain on Hell’s Kitchen, who is going about bettering the city in the all the wrong, violent, corrupt ways. But the script explains Fisk, and it’s done in a way that I couldn’t have hated Fisk even if I fought and tried to.

From flashbacks, to putting Fisk front and center as the romantic lead of the series (one of my absolute favorite aspects of the first season), this show gives Fisk perhaps even better material than it gives Daredevil.

Whenever Fisk talks about his love for Hell’s Kitchen, and this community that birthed and raised him, you believe it. His every word is genuine. He is not a character who is coy, or lies to get what he wants. This is spectacularly shown in Season 2 when he meets the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) in prison and manipulates him, but does so completely up front and without a fa├žade. It’s incredible to watch.

Fisk, as with any good leading character, begins to have his layers pulled back by the relationships he has with other characters. He can preach as much as he wants, and bash people’s heads in car doors, but it’s the reasons for these actions, and the way we see him interact with other characters based on these reasons and his own internal compass, that make Fisk the very human villain that he is.

Particularly with the two people he’s closest to, Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer) and James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), Fisk’s respect for them, and how much he trusts them, is astounding. He cares very deeply for these characters and it is not false, nor is it meant to manipulate. This is an honest portrayal of this character and it didn’t take long in Season 1 for me to become completely addicted and, in a way, charmed, by this trio, who is like the heroic trio of the show (Matt, Karen, and Foggy), and yet completely unlike them as well.

There is honesty and communication between the characters that our heroes struggle with and this make them, and most importantly Fisk, characters you could find yourself coming to care about.

I was especially astonished by the respect-bordering-on-reverence Fisk shows the women in his life (Vanessa and Madame Gao). It makes him both a smart and refreshing character, villain or not.

Of course I wanted more of him in Season 2. But the scenes we do get, D’Onofrio absolutely commands. His presence once again immediately grabbed my attention and I was thrilled, feeling the adrenaline coursing through my veins again. The character traits and ticks are back, D’Onofrio so completely dedicated to this role and his performance. Season 2 is where he finally steps into the role of Kingpin (part of what makes him so interesting in Season 1 is that he isn’t Kingpin yet), and it’s exhilarating to watch. His presence is so wholly felt and once more I found myself eagerly awaiting every next scene he would appear in.

As I mentioned before, Wilson Fisk is the hero of his own story. Every villain is. But what separates him is that the show allows him this. It passes no judgment on him. Despite the hero being on the opposite side, the show never condemns Fisk for his beliefs or convictions and so then, how could I? It’s a strange feeling, but there’s a part of me that’s rooting for him now.

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