We’ve waited three seasons for Daredevil to finally give us Karen Page’s full backstory, and it was worth all that mystery and speculation.
When we first met Karen Page in Daredevil season 1, she seemed to be an unassuming side character, placed there as a damsel in distress for Matt to save and as a love interest for both him and Foggy to pine after.
But Karen turned out to be so, so much more than that. We learned fairly early on that Karen can handle herself in a crisis, as depicted when she shot Fisk’s right hand man, Wesley. Karen didn’t need Matt to save her then, and she’s proven time and time again that she’s willing to fight for truth and justice as much as Daredevil. And she doesn’t have the luxury of superpowers or a fancy suit while she does it.
Despite Daredevil season 2 introducing heavy hitters like The Punisher and Elektra, Karen was the real star of the show. She was still dealing with the trauma of killing Wesley, but she didn’t let that stop her from doing what was right.
She put her life on the line to save Grotto, but she also dove headfirst into Frank Castle’s history, despite not knowing if he was the lunatic everyone was making him out to be. She was kidnapped and held at gunpoint, and yet she was more concerned for the people around her than for herself.
If I’m being honest, that’s probably not a healthy approach to life. Some survival instinct is good to have, though Karen should be heralded as a hero as much as Matt, given everything she’s done to make sure the public knows the truth about what goes down in their city.
We’ve speculated, and finally confirmed in Daredevil season 3, that Karen’s disregard for her own life is not only because she’s brave and selfless and righteous, but because she carries the kind of guilt you can’t ever forgive yourself for. She is constantly trying to make up for the fact that she’s a bad person (her words, not mine) by doing as much good as possible.
Of course, she’s overcompensating, to the point of recklessness. I mean, really, Karen. You’re just going to confront Fisk like that and not think it’s going to affect more than your own life? Having experienced how ruthless and cunning Fisk is, Karen should’ve known better.
But I can hold her accountable for her actions and still believe she had some good intentions woven into the manic desire to be the one to finally land a punch on the man who has made her life a living hell since the day we met her.
While we knew from the beginning that Karen was dealing with the trauma of her past — the constant hints that she had done something bad weren’t exactly subtle — it wasn’t until Daredevil season 3 that we got all the answers.
If you haven’t watched the latest season yet, this is probably where you should walk away and binge the rest of the show. I’ve heard many people saying season 3 was just as good — if not better! — than season 1. That’s certainly a tall order to fill, but the show does its best to follow through. (Read our review.)
Karen constantly pushes the narrative forward with her investigative prowess, often putting the pieces of the puzzle together before anyone else, allowing Matt to do what he does best as Daredevil. While Matt might get the glory of saving the day, it’s important to note that Karen’s role is imperative in finding justice, albeit much less glamorous than landing that final blow on a bad guy.
But we’ve never truly understood the driving force behind Karen’s determination to find the truth.
In season 3, episode 10, “Karen,” we get the flashback we’ve all been waiting for. In it, we see Karen selling drugs, taking drugs, hooking up with her boyfriend, and unhappily dragging herself into work every day as a waitress in her family’s diner. We also meet her brother, who constantly covers for her and only wishes to see Karen aspire to her true potential.
Ironically enough, everything starts to break down when Karen is given the opportunity to do just that.
Karen has already resigned herself to being in their small town and working at their small town diner. She has a loyalty to her family that’s wrapped up in a lot of resentment. She doesn’t trust her father to keep the diner from going under, so she feels obligated to stay. This constantly puts them at odds, and leads to a huge blowout.
When Karen storms off, following the reveal that both her brother and her father are basically forcing her to go off to college, she seeks comfort in her boyfriend. There, she gets drunk and high, and when they return to her boyfriend’s trailer, they find that Karen’s brother has set it on fire. The two boys duke it out, and Karen ends the fight by shooting her boyfriend in order to protect her brother. The wound isn’t fatal, and Karen puts her injured brother in the car and high tails it out of there.
Of course, she’s still drunk and high and is being fueled by rage and adrenaline. The car goes off the side of the road, and while Karen survives with just a few minor injuries, her brother has been killed.
I can’t imagine what Karen must be feeling in the aftermath of the accident. Not all of it was her fault, of course — her brother shouldn’t have set the trailer on fire, after all — but there is no denying she played a major part in what went down.
On top of that, the sheriff decided to cover up the fact that she was under the influence. This may be part of what drives Karen to seek the truth, no matter how ugly. I imagine it also adds to her guilt: she did something terrible and never faced the consequences of her actions. She has not been punished for her crime and therefore feels she is still a bad person.
Her father also told her to leave following the accident, which continues to isolate Karen even in the present. No wonder she feels like she must do everything on her own. No wonder she has trouble trusting other people with her secrets. The rejection she faces from her father is still so raw. If she faced that same rejection from Foggy or Matt, it probably would’ve broken her. She’s been teetering on the edge of hysteria for quite some time, and that would’ve undoubtedly been the final push.
What I’ve enjoyed most about Karen’s arc over all three seasons of Daredevil was the slow burn. When we first meet her, she seems ordinary. But as the story unfolds, we learn she is much more complex than we ever gave her credit for. She hides secrets even darker than Matt’s, which have driven her to go to any length to wash away her sins.
If Karen’s story had unfolded over a single season, it wouldn’t have made as much of an impact as it did having been revealed in Daredevil season 3. By this point, we know present-day Karen thoroughly. We’ve seen her both at the highest points of her personal and professional life, as well as the lowest. We knew her darkest secrets even before she revealed them to her best friends.
That kind of connection to a character needs to be cultivated, and Daredevil did it with sharp attention. When the truth that had been hinted at for so long was finally revealed, it felt like we could take our first breath in ages. We knew, more or less, that it was going to be this bad, but finally, finally the show slid the last puzzle piece into place.
The picture of Karen Page was now fully formed for all to see.
I don’t know where Daredevil will take Karen next, but I have faith that they’ll continue to do her character justice. Even though both Matt and Foggy now know the truth, she still has demons to battle. Her guilt has not been erased, although I’d argue it has been lessened by the act of divulging her secrets to those she trusts.
I hope Daredevil doesn’t throw another past trauma into the mix to elevate Karen’s story and keep it exciting. For one, she has enough to deal with at the moment. And two, it would feel disingenuous — not to mention lazy — after spending three seasons expertly weaving the mystery of Karen Page’s story.
As Matt begins to heal at the end of Daredevil season 3, I hope Karen can, as well. Light has finally been shed in the dark corners of her history, and the most important battle the show will have to fight now is how to make this next chapter as equally exciting as the last. Just because the truth has been revealed doesn’t mean Karen has nothing left to unpack, and I, for one, am hoping they can make her recovery as compelling as the buildup to this huge revelation.