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[This story contains spoilers for episode four of Daredevil‘s third season.]
Three years ago, Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil made its ambitious intentions clear early on with an instantly iconic, one-take fight sequence that pushed the boundaries of action on television. In a three-minute scene in the series’ second episode, Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock takes on an entire gang of Russian mobsters in a hallway.
In its third season, which launched on Netflix Friday, the show matches and exceeds its own high action watermark with a breathtaking 11 1/2-minute, single-shot fight-and-escape sequence that incorporates multiple plot twists and emotional beats with visceral hand-to-hand combat, as Matt fights his way out of a maximum-security prison.
Midway through the season’s fourth episode, “Blindsided,” Matt has lied his way into a prison visit using the stolen identity of his friend and former law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), with the goal of getting intel on the Albanian mob’s relationship with kingpin Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). This solo recon mission goes south fast, and after being injected with a drug that vastly diminishes his powers, a disoriented and exhausted Matt has to battle his way through a seemingly endless series of hallways and rooms, packed with inmates and corrections officers out for his blood, negotiate a way out with one of Fisk’s enemies and then navigate a growing prison riot before making his way outside.
“The truth is, I didn’t think it was achievable,” Cox told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was genuinely concerned that we were suffering from ego, because the show has kind of become famous for these fight sequences that take place in one shot, and it’s almost like a burden, or a pressure that I didn’t want.”
Showrunner Erik Oleson, keenly aware of how “earth-shattering” the season one fight was, also had his doubts. “I did not write it as a oner, and I thought that was going to be ambitious. But the director, Alex Garcia Lopez, and the writer of the episode, Lewaa Nasserdeen, and the stunt coordinator, Gary Stearns, all came to me and said, ‘We think we can pull this off.'”
Production was halted for a day so that the entire sequence could be rehearsed at length, Oleson said, “and that makes a lot of people very nervous.”
When he was walked through the sequence ahead of time, Cox was game for the challenge but privately skeptical that it would come together. “I thought, this is too many moving pieces: You’re in these tiny corridors with all the actors, all of the stunt guys, the camera operator, the focus puller, the sound guy, and they’ve all got to be choreographed perfectly so that they don’t corrupt the shot. If one of those punches doesn’t land, if one of them is off center, the whole thing falls apart.”
Anticipating that some hidden cuts would have to be made, the team deliberately built the scene to allow for a cheat or two — but didn’t end up needing them.
“We built in places where we could cut to another take if we had to; darkened hallways for instance. But they pulled it off in one shot,” Oleson said.
In post-production, Oleson ended up boosting the light levels in the scene to make it very clear to the audience that no cuts were made. “There is not a single hidden cut,” he said. “It is one 11 1/2-minute take. Charlie Cox and Chris Brewster, his stunt double, do some cowboy switches, where Charlie switches off with Chris, and you can’t even see where those happened. Charlie Cox is a champion for being able to do all of the stunts, and then flip over into a dramatic scene, and then back into stunts, and do it all like a freight train and stay in the moment. It’s an incredible feat.”
Cox noted that in comparison to the season one scene, he was able to do a lot more of the stunt work here himself.
“The scene in season one was very, very early in the process, and I was still learning so much, so a lot of that [scene] is my stunt double and very little of it is me,” he said. “Over four years I’ve learned a lot, and I’m capable of doing a lot more now, so there’s a huge amount of me in this sequence. Probably the lion’s share of it is me, so that was a nice full circle.
“To this day, I don’t know how we did it, but I’m very proud of it.”
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