an appreciation of Foggy Nelson

Note: this post has Netflix: Daredevil Season 1 spoilers in it. Probably this is obvious from the post title, but, you know, it's the Internet.

The last Daredevil-inspired post discussed some criticism traps one can run into when discussing female characters in a story. This time, I'm focusing on Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock/Daredevil's best friend and law partner.

The purpose of a hero in a comic book story is pretty well established. He fights for what's right, saves the girl from the forces of evil, and winds up with her as a romantic partner. The Daredevil series has this too, in the character arc of its hero — Foggy Nelson.

Yup. As far as I'm concerned, this is one story where the sidekick turns out not to be a sidekick at all, but the true hero.

He fights for what's right. For all his “I should have been a butcher” and “I should have stayed at that big law firm and made lots of money” speeches, Foggy really does want what’s right. Sure, he supports low-income tenants when their homes are threatened by gentrification, sure he is comfortable defending a woman in what at first looks like an open-and-shut murder case (because due process and presumption of innocence), but he also takes his best friend to task for beating people up. Even when they both agree that the people Murdock is beating up as Daredevil are clearly bad guys.

He saves the girl from the forces of evil. Actually expand that to “saves the girls” (and let’s make it the more accurate “women” while we’re at it), and guys as well. He saves Karen on at least two occasions, tries to save Mrs. Caldena, gives Marci perspective on the law firm she works for (and gives her the space to choose for herself). He also acts as Murdock’s conscience, without his own knowledge at first, and then with awareness later. I especially liked that he works from his own moral, ethical, and legal code, not by what “team” he’s on — he gives Murdock hell when he finds out he’s Daredevil. I really loved the scenes when they were facing off in Murdock’s apartment.

He winds up with one of the people he saves as a romantic partner. At the end of Season One, Daredevil doesn’t have a romantic partner. Something is happening between him and Karen, but then again, something happened between him and Claire Temple earlier on and fizzled out. The only characters on the forces of good who actually get laid are Foggy and Marci, and the ending of the series strongly indicates he and Marci may be becoming a couple again.

Foggy is no white knight either, of course. The late-at-night scenes where he’s drunk and shouting through Murdock’s apartment door actually made me cringe (I was glad that, unlike a lot of TV shows, they bothered to show a disapproving neighbour). But still, of all the major characters, he’s the one who comes out on top.

But what about Daredevil? The show’s named after him — shouldn’t he be the hero? It’s complicated, and one of the things I liked about Daredevil is that it showed that it ought to be complicated. In the final analysis, the character who succeeds best is the one who fights for what’s right, gives everyone else respect, wins mostly through argument and logic, has street smarts, and stays inside the law. And that’s Foggy.