Season 2 of Daredevil was not lacking in vigilantes of various stripes. But the actual hero the city deserved wasn’t Matt Murdock’s red-costumed alter ego. It was Foggy Nelson.
Daredevil spent a fair amount of its second season delving into the philosophies of vigilantism. Is it a net positive? A net negative? Is there a line that separates the “good” vigilantes from the “bad”? (Matt believes the line is “killing people.” Matt is an idiot.)
The true patron saint of Lawful Good in Daredevil is Matt’s law partner, Foggy. No one else in Daredevil bothers with the law. Karen goes to the press. The Punisher kills just everyone he thinks deserves it. I’m not sure Elektra knows that any laws exist. Even the DA has a shockingly casual relationship to the law. And then there’s Foggy.
Foggy knows the law backwards and forwards, and he consistently proves it. In episode two, “Dogs to a Gunfight,” Foggy has a confrontation with the DA. He’s representing a criminal who wants protection in exchange for his cooperation. The DA wants to steamroll him—not uncommon. Foggy’s quick thinking, quick talking, and awareness that he can go to the Feds instead saves the day. And even after thoroughly lawslapping the DA, he gives Karen the reality check that this was “just Round One.”
Foggy is a highly welcome mixture of competence and realism. His goals are to do the best by his clients that he can—while recognizing that he can only do so much within the system. In a show where so many people are either corrupt or so hidebound to ideology that they can’t bend, Foggy just keeps grinding out help.
In “Dogs to a Gunfight,” Foggy gets a deal for his client—a deal that he is careful to explain is both shitty AND the best he can hope for. It’s not his fault that the DA never intends to honor the deal, and instead uses Foggy’s client as bait for the Punisher. There’s a theme to this season, and it is: “It’s not Foggy’s fault.”
Foggy gets a deal for the Punisher, which would have saved him from the death penalty. It’s not Foggy’s fault that the Punisher torpedoes that deal. Foggy comes up with a number of trial strategies which might have served up enough mitigating circumstances to save him from prison. It’s not Foggy’s fault that the Punisher rejects most of them. Or that Matt loses whatever semblance of legal sense he once had, the one time he actually shows up to court.
Foggy always shows up. Foggy always does his job. Foggy isn’t doing anything out of guilt or selfishness. He does it because it needs to be done. Foggy is brilliant and hard-working, and is the only person with a clear head in this entire show.
And with no superpowers and arsenal to protect him, Foggy is incredibly badass, risking his neck again and again for what’s right. Daredevil makes everything Foggy does look like a heroic act, instead of trapping him in the “shlubby best friend” role, or sidelining him in other ways.
Apart from everything else, defense attorneys aren’t usually shown as heroic in pop culture. They’re either incompetent and overworked, or defending rich guilty people for money and fame. Likewise, plea bargains, almost by definition, aren’t heroic. But Foggy gets the best possible deals for his clients. He gets them second chances. Foggy is committed to a job that doesn’t pay the bills and definitely doesn’t pay off his giant-sized student loans from Columbia Law School.
Late in season two, Foggy tells Matt,“You don’t get to create danger and then protect us from that danger. That’s not heroic. That’s insane.”
That’s the most important line in the entire season. The show really wants us to think about the Punisher as the logical extension of Daredevil’s vigilanteism. Which means that Matt’s job isn’t done when Daredevil turns him over to the police. His job is done when he puts on his legal hat, and makes sure Frank Castle gets the help he needs—to make sure the Punisher goes away.
Foggy works his ass off to make that happen. Which is why it’s so satisfying to see him get recognition from Jerri Hogarth. And why it doesn’t feel like a betrayal for him to actually take the job he’s offered. You want to see what Foggy can do with actual resources. And with actual support.
The real lesson of Daredevil is that everyone should listen to Foggy. The fact that no one ever does is a real tragedy.