Hidden in Plain Sight: On the Long Take in DAREDEVIL, Episode 2 (“Cut Man”)

Many will be talking about the end of Daredevil‘s second episode. The show culminates with a 5 minute, 32 second fight scene in the tight confines of a dark, neon-lit hallway (fig.1), where Daredevil, AKA Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) takes out over a half-dozen goons and saves a kidnapped boy. The entire sequence, so it seems, is a long take.

Fig.1. The slow track-in that begins the sequence.

What’s brilliant about it is not that it’s a single take, because it isn’t. It consists of four to seven longish takes, with “hidden” edits, most of which come when the camera pushes in toward a body to darken the frame (the other edits seem to come when the principles move offscreen and the frame becomes relatively static).

Fig.2. Daredevil arrives.
Fig.2. Daredevil arrives.
No, what makes this sequence of apparently continuous time work is its classical structure and a sound design (among other elements) that cues the viewer to the tole the “non-stop” action takes on Daredevil (DD). We have a three-part organization:
  1. a beginning (prior to DD’s arrival (fig.2), when the camera slowly tracks in toward a locked door at the end of the hall, one goon walks through the door and offscreen right, where we hear him interacting with the boy, whose voice quivers as he calls for his father);
  2. a longer middle (the fight itself, which is highly structured, too, following a rhythmic burst-pause-burst arrangement, as DD moves in and out of rooms, leaps into and out of the frame, or lumbers in pain for a moment or two, followed by an energetic resumption of the assault) (fig.3-4);
  3. a short end (where the camera repeats the same tracking movement toward the door, DD follows the same trajectory as the first goon (fig.5), we hear DD and the boy talking offscreen, and they emerge as DD carries the boy to safety).
Fig. 3. Daredevil pauses during the fight.
Fig. 3. Daredevil (foreground) pauses during the fight.
Fig.4. Daredevil, back on offense.
Fig.4. Daredevil (left), back on offense.
Fig. 5. After taking out the goons, Daredevil approaches the rooms where the boy is being held.
Fig. 5. After taking out the goons, Daredevil approaches the room where the boy is held.

Already vulnerable from injury, DD battles to the point of exhaustion, and when he departs with the boy in arms, the camera tracking backward to stay just ahead of them (fig.6), all we hear beneath the background score is his aggravated breathing.

Fig. 6. At the end of the sequence, Daredevil rescues the boy.
Fig. 6. At the end of the sequence, Daredevil rescues the boy.

A character who “always gets up” when knocked down–a Murdoch family trait, as we learn earlier in the episode (DD’s father was boxer, as tough as they come)–and a sound cue–gasping for air–another of the episode’s tropes. The thoughtful redeployment of these elements through the scene’s structure, staging, and long(ish) takes makes for an engaging sequence, just one of many in a superb episode. Marvel is onto something.