Sunday, January 6, 2019

Guest Post: Daredevil

Originally posted at in November of 2017 for legal month.

Bret Anderson pitches in to review a Netflix series.

Daredevil (TV series 2015 - )
Daredevil’s first trailer (and the second scene of the series proper) starts with a shot that was once one of the grand cliches: a man in a confessional booth, admitting to the priest that it’s been too long since his last confession, then going into exposition about his past. Matt Murdock, our protagonist, talks about his family’s history of violence and Catholicism, the two counterweights in his life, leading into the grim, almost noir setup dialog that promises the viewer that things are not going to be restricted exclusively to people talking in dimly lit rooms.

“I’m not seeking penance for what I’ve done. I’m seeking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.”

It’s a big, flashy moment, showing us our protagonist is plotting something not exactly upright. In a lesser show, the scene would end there, but the first season of Daredevil isn’t stupid.

What matters just as much is the next line, from the priest:

“That’s not how this works.”

The show, with surprising religious literacy, remembers that the confessional is for past sins, and, that while saying what you’re going to do may sound cool, it’s not what the booth is for.

Daredevil season 1 cares about the act of confession beyond its role for exposition. Matt Murdock is a Catholic, however lapsed, and that means something about him as a person.

In Matt’s case, it means that he feels really guilty about how much he likes smashing people’s skulls into the pavement. He simultaneously feels that Hell’s Kitchen needs someone to act outside the law to protect its people, and that taking that such action is wrong. He believes that his actions should remain in the law (he’s a lawyer) and that the law isn’t enough (he’s also a vigilante).

The struggle could have been kept internal easily enough, but Daredevil goes a step further by not only having Matt go to a priest, but making the priest an actual, ongoing character. As the show progresses, the priest provides a confidant to Matt -- not just a generic “religious” figure, but a specific person, with his own opinions and history. The show nods at the more modern convention of open air confessions, where the parishioner can see the priest across the table rather than dealing with a distant voice of authority, and gives the main priest a past, complete with doubting doctrine, and later doubting his doubts.

The Church in Daredevil, while not able to solve all problems, is a place where people trying to be better seek to glorify God, and where people on the edge of falling can catch their last handhold.

It’s not perfect, but overall, it’s a much more positive depiction of Christianity than most drama shows, with care and consideration for the details.

Well worth the watching. Four steeples for the church and its priest.

Guest Post: Castlevania

Our son Bret offered to review the churches in Castlevania. As always, this isn't a review of the series, but the church and clergy in the series. This post originally appeared in in October 2017 as part of vampire month.

Castlevania (Netflix original series)
Typically, there are three times you can expect a crowded parking lot at a local church: Christmas, Easter, and when Dracula releases a plague of the undead on the world. Whatever its faults, most people find their local house of God a more than reasonable alternative to bloodsucking enemies of all that is good.

Unfortunately, there’s an exception to almost every rule, and Netflix’s Castlevania shows that, sometimes, going to the local church is not ideal in the event of an invasion from Hell.

The clergy puts up an exceptionally poor showing for most of the four episode miniseries. Not content with being merely incompetent or morally bankrupt, they enthusiastically manage both. We first see a bishop burning a saintly doctor as a witch while she pleads that her persecutors be spared, for they know not what they are doing.

It turns out that burning her was even more of a mistake than you’d expect: she was pleading to her husband, Dracula, who immediately declares war on humanity… after they’ve had a year to clean up and get their affairs in order.

The Bishop
The local archbishop (who, following the well known principle of Peter, has risen to the highest level of incompetence) spends the year doing nothing useful, talking about how Dracula is incapable of threatening the children of God -- he even holds a ceremony mocking Dracula’s late wife on the day Dracula had promised to begin slaughtering all and sundry. Needless to say, it does not go well for the archbishop.

Before the show is over, we’ve seen the corrupt bishop who killed the doctor excommunicate a vampire hunter, plot the murder of an order of charity-minded knowledge seekers, and drive a whole town into a reign of terror even beyond the expected background horror of having demons regularly eat their babies. It is not, needless to say, the Church’s finest hour, or particularly good fodder for any later literary historian to make theories that the writer was secretly a Catholic.

All that said, what’s most interesting in the show’s depiction isn’t what it says, but what it doesn’t say. It’s not unknown for horror films to show priests as deeply corrupt, or the Church as more of a hinderance than a help. However, most films in that vein go further, showing that the God they worship is non-existent, or is another monster as horrible as the supposed enemy.

Not true here. It’s made very clear that the villains have fallen away from their faith. The archbishop indulges in the pleasures of the flesh; the bishop wants to remain on Earth, clinging to power rather than move on to the presence of God; and in a rather memorable scene late in the series, a demon declares that the church the bishop hides in is no defense, an empty box, because the man has rejected God in his heart. His monstrous actions stink to heaven, leaving the God of love with nothing but disgust for the man who claims to speak for him. (The demon, on the other hand, claims to love the bishop. The demon loves him enough to give him a kiss/bite his head off.)

In the end, a priest who hadn’t been a participant in any of the most questionable actions was even able to prepare holy water against the demons, aiding hero Trevor Belmont in his attempts to save the city. In the end, God is good. It’s just his people who are awful.

I wouldn’t say that Castlevania is anywhere close to a theologically guidepost (honestly, I’d say the church portion of the plot is the least interesting part of the show, with the villains being much less interesting characters than Dracula OR any of the heroes), but it is a decent reminder of Matthew 7:21. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

It’s vital that those who claim to follow Christ live up to it -- even when there aren’t any signs of Draculas. The church in Castlevania earns our lowest rating of One Steeple.