The Parable in Hell’s Kitchen

“I am not the Samaritan. … I am the ill intent who set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.”

–Wilson Fisk, Daredevil 1.13 “Daredevil”

This post will almost certainly be filled with spoilers for the Netflix sensation Daredevil. I’d highly recommend watching the first season before reading. However, I should also note that Daredevil is a violent series, not appropriate for the kiddos and at the edge of my ability to watch. So if violence isn’t your thing, better to skip the show.

Caveats aside, Daredevil is a top-notch work of fiction. There are so many good quotes to choose from, so many angles to explore from a literary perspective: a disabled superhero, the prominent Catholic themes, the place and limits of violence in film. I could go on. Instead, I’m going to stick with Wilson Fisk, villain extraordinaire.

Every villain has their reasons for running a criminal empire and terrorizing innocent people. There is always a backstory, usually with just enough sympathy to suck you in for a moment and make you understand. Antagonists, especially in superhero stories, get their moment to shine.

Fisk has all this. He has the tragic backstory of his violent father, of killing a man for the first time. The boy Fisk remembers vividly what it is to kill an evil man and to not regret it. He envisions a better city, a place free from such men. He’s really, honestly, truly trying to create a better world. Or so he tells himself. Regardless, the sympathy is there. The chubby little boy who just wanted to change the world.

All grown up, Fisk spends most of the first season of Daredevil convincing his beloved Vanessa (and with her, the viewers) that he really wants good things for Hell’s Kitchen. The difference between him and other world-changers is that he is willing to do whatever it takes.

But in the final episode of season 1, as Fisk sits in an FBI transport, apparently abandoned to his fate, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He tells of a traveler beaten and left to die. He dutifully recites the passerby and their responses–the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan. Then he identifies himself in the story.

Everything in the season up to that point would make Fisk out to be the Samaritan in his own eyes. The Samaritan wasn’t someone the traveler would have liked if they’d crossed paths in normal life. Perhaps if the roles had been reversed, the Samaritan would have been passed by, even by the Jewish traveler. And that is how Fisk has presented himself–the hero who, if people really knew who he was, would be abandoned and left to die. He’s been fighting for this city who wouldn’t love him if they only knew. But Fisk has finally realized–and now admits–that he is not the Good Samaritan.

My next thought was that he’d paint himself the victim. The backstory is all there. Poor little Willy Fisk, completely misunderstood and abandoned by a world that should have loved him.

But no. Wilson Fisk lays himself bare. I am the ill intent. I am the evil man, he says. There is no more hiding in the shadows. Fisk is who he is, and he will not hide. Yet he manages to shift the blame to the traveler who was on a road that he should not have been on. In other words, the good guys who get in Fisk’s way are to blame for what happens to them. If they’d just mind their own business, Fisk could go about his work with minimal collateral damage.

Wilson Fisk will never rest until his work is done, but at least now there is no doubt as to who he is: an unequivocal villain claiming the highways as his own.


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