Daredevil’s third season ends with a wedding, a massive three-way fight, and the rise of an exciting new villain. Most fans will likely think that new Big Bad is probably Bullseye, given the fact that the season’s last scene lingers on a shot of a target reflected in the eye of Special Agent Benjamin Poindexter, who already spent most of the season killing people. But the finale also sets up another, more tantalizing possibility: Vanessa Fisk.
Vanessa only appears in two episodes during Season 3 of the Netflix series, yet her presence looms incredibly large, impacting almost every event that takes place. Her relationship with series’ villain Wilson Fisk is the strongest romance on the show, and his desire to protect her from federal prosecution is the spark that kicks off his larger plan to reclaim his freedom and take back his underworld empire. In fact, most of Fisk’s decisions this season are driven by Vanessa in some way – by his desire to protect her, reunite with her, or prove himself worthy of being with her.
However, unlike many superhero stories of this type, Daredevil doesn’t treat Vanessa as a symbol or merely an extension of Fisk’s story. Instead, she is a strong, capable woman with agency and purpose in her own right, who’s allowed to make her own choices and pursue her own agenda. More importantly, she isn’t judged by the narrative itself for any of those decisions – her feelings for Fisk are as simply accepted as any other fact of the story. Her actions aren’t framed as mistakes, either — just choices. The same as any other character must make.
By the end of Season 3, Vanessa has not only chosen to marry Fisk, she’s decided that she wants to be a fully informed and involved part of his life in every sense of the word. And she’s not only apparently fine with anything Fisk chooses to do in the name of his business, she’s willing to dirty her hands right alongside him. Vanessa herself encourages some of Fisk’s most illegal tendencies, and even decides on her own that FBI agent Ray Nadeem presents too big a risk to remain alive.
She is certainly much more than a typical love interest in a superhero story, that’s for sure — particularly as one who’s involved with a villain. Women in tales such as these are often limited in their ability to act independently, left to languish as damsels in need of rescue or serve solely as emotional crutches for the men in them. These women are frequently lied to and objectified, have little to no power of their own, and often find themselves subject to the whims of others.
But Vanessa demands the right to choose her own destiny, almost from the first moment she appears onscreen. Her entire presence in the story is her own choice. She’s romantically involved with Fisk simply because she wants to be – she’s not coerced, threatened, kidnapped, or brainwashed. She chooses Fisk with her eyes wide open, with full awareness of who he is and what he’s done. She actually gets to decide whether she wants to be with him, and exactly how much she wants to know about the darker parts of his life.
For his part, Fisk doesn’t infantilize, dismiss or otherwise treat Vanessa as though her perspective isn’t a valid or a valued one. He trusts her and, crucially, trusts her judgment. He’s honest with her, values her input, and actually listens to what she says. (She’s the reason he went public in the first place, way back in Season 1). Vanessa may not be her husband’s equal in terms of physical strength, but she’s just as savvy as he is, and is utterly unafraid to do what she thinks needs to be done.
Daredevil has repeatedly made a point to highlight Vanessa’s agency throughout the series, and to paint her relationship with Fisk as a true partnership. She doesn’t exist to be Fisk’s conscience, or push him toward his better angels. She isn’t a trophy or an object. She becomes the thing he fights for; loving her makes him stronger, but Fisk doesn’t expect her to save him. In fact, he worries that he’s too broken to be with her, that he can’t love her the way she deserves. (Just take like two seconds and try to imagine, say, the Joker saying this about or to Harley Quinn. Ever.)
The fact that Vanessa is given so much control of her own destiny by what is ostensibly the most evil character in Daredevil’s world feels unprecedented in this sort of story. The hows and whys behind her reasons for saying yes to Fisk, for choosing to be with someone like him, are worth discussing, and Season 4 should certainly dedicate an episode or two to exploring what, exactly, makes her tick. But the fact that she is given so much power of her own within this narrative is remarkable.
What might a female villain look like with this sort of support system behind her? By the end of Season 3, Fisk is headed back to jail, but Vanessa remains free, with full, legal access to all his money and resources and (presumably) a fairly large chip on her shoulder. One has to assume that, now the tables have turned, getting her husband back – and punishing those responsible for their separation – is likely to be her top priority. Could that mean the rise of a new queen in Hell’s Kitchen? If we’re lucky, yes.
Matt greatly underestimates Vanessa’s agency at the end of the season, assuming that she is nothing more than pawn to be used against Fisk. By promising her freedom in exchange for her husband’s surrender, Matt suggests that he doesn’t see Vanessa as someone worth worrying about … in a world where we’ve already seen that everyone is primed for revenge. How might she punish Matt (whose real identity she now presumably knows) as she works to free Fisk? What does a Hell’s Kitchen where Vanessa rules look like? Actress Ayelet Zurer manages to convey volumes with a single glare during Vanessa’s final Season 3 moments onscreen, caught somewhere between rage, anguish and determination. And that woman – the one who ends up covered in her husband’s blood and staring down his nemesis without flinching – is a worthy adversary for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, for sure.
Daredevil is currently available on Netflix.