After debuting with a masterful first season last year, Daredevil returned to Netflix this spring for its sophomore effort. Expectations, including my own, were quite high.
While I may not binge with the best of them, I did manage to watch every episode in a little over a week. The following will be an overall review of the series rather than an episode-by-episode break down. It will also contain lots of spoilers, so read at your own peril.
Daredevil vs. The Punisher
Once again, Charlie Cox imbues old horn head with that same charming yet infuriating personality that makes Daredevil such a great character. He’s stubborn to the point of self-destruction, but so well intentioned that it’s impossible not to root for him—even when you also want to slap him upside the head.
He’s also given a perfect foil in John Bernthal’s Frank Castle/Punisher, who basically does the same thing Daredevil does, but with a willingness to finish it. Permanently.
Their discussion on the roof in episode three could have been a standard dissection of the ‘To Kill or Not to Kill’ trope in superhero fiction, but Castle makes a damn compelling case for his side, both from a practical and personal point of view.
When I heard that Bernthal was going to be playing him, I was a little worried he’d go the Shane route. For those of you who don’t watch The Walking Dead, Shane is a guy who starts out as a really good person and gradually becomes more unhinged and completely unlikable as his story arc progresses.
But with The Punisher, Bernthal somehow manages to portray a gun toting maniac with a surprisingly degree of nuance. He’s so tragic that you feel sorry for him, but the dude still manages to maintain an utterly terrifying presence. I’m not sure how I feel about the implications the show makes regarding his mental state being at least partially due to a bullet wound, but it gave us a good excuse for The Punisher skull to become part of his uniform, so I’ll allow it.
His ability to magically show up in the exact right place and time that the plot needed him was kind of annoying, but we’ll get to that later.
Deborah Ann Woll got a lot more screen time this year and she definitely made the most of it. While Murdock tunnel visions his way towards tragedy and Foggy freaks out about everything, Page is the glue that holds it all together.
Her scenes with Frank Castle are great, giving him a suitably wary and sensitive personality to play off of and help reveal that he was once a different (and better) person.
Her relationship with Matt Murdock, while short-lived, is so good that it kills you to see them split up. She’s clearly heartbroken by it (as is the audience), but thankfully, she doesn’t go running back to him when he tries to reconcile. Karen may wear her heart on her sleeve, but she’s also tough as nails. Considering that she doesn’t know Matt’s secret identity, his actions don’t deserve her sympathy or respect, which he rightfully doesn’t get.
Also, for anyone that finds it unbelievable that a smart/resourceful character like her couldn’t become a freelance reporter, I’d invite you dig around the internet (or ‘blogosphere’) for a while and get back to me. (Spoiler: The standard is pretty low).
This job is perfect for her. I just hope her finding out about Matt’s secret identity doesn’t mean she’s going to bite the big one soon. I know that’s what’s supposed to happen in the comics, but maybe we could go a different direction—at least for another season or two. Or at least until we find out what happened in Karen’s past. I appreciate that we got some clues this season, but the way they’re building this up, it better be something more than the DUI-related death that was briefly hinted.
Due to Matt’s obsessive nature, Foggy got a chance to shine a bit more this season, too. Elden Henson puts the character a hair shy of sounding whiny, making him seem believably terrified and bewildered at this new world his best friend has plunged him into.
I also like how at the end of the season, he didn’t automatically forgive Matt and go back to being his best friend. I’m sure we’ll get back to that point eventually, but for now, some truly lasting damage has been done.
Ah yes, the classic hardass D.A. It’s a stock character that can get old fast. Fortunately, Michelle Hurd is so good in this role that we eagerly anticipate every one of Reyes’ appearances just so we can root against her.
Then she dies and we feel awful.
That’s not fair—and a credit to Hurd for making such a malicious character still manage to seem human.
Claire Temple/Night Nurse
Just like last season, Rosario Dawson’s character comes in with a hard kick of reality against Matt’s stubbornness and the show’s supernatural elements.
Unlike Foggy, her exasperation never hints at weakness. Instead, it points toward the resolve of someone who fights by trying to heal instead of punching or killing whatever is in her way. Her scenes in the hospital when things go all 28 Days Later are perfectly balanced between disbelief, abject terror, and a willingness to compartmentalize it all for the sake of protecting others.
Of all the characters we’ve seen in this series, Claire Temple might very well be the most heroic.
More courtroom drama
Matt Murdock may have been MIA for most of it, but it was really cool getting to see Foggy and Karen put on a trial defense for Frank Castle. It also helped establish that these two weren’t just Matt’s helpless sidekicks. They were both strong and resourceful enough to make their own way without him—which is ultimately what they did.
I’m one of the few people who wasn’t completely enamored with Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of The Kingpin last season. He definitely had his moments, but he seemed to spend most of his screen time looking neutered or completely out of control. Maybe it’s just me, but those aren’t the characteristics I’d associate with a man who is supposed to be New York’s most feared organized crime boss.
Ironically, his time and actions in prison make Fisk seem more terrifying than ever. His ruthless and cunning machinations are on full display along with a hard-edged iron will—which Matt painfully experiences after trying to threaten him.
This is the Kingpin I always wanted.
What mostly worked
Elodie Yung’s portrayal of Elektra Natchios kept me off balance most of the time—which might be exactly what she and the show’s writers were going for. But even if that was the case, I’m not sure it was done properly.
One minute, Matt hates her and wants her out of his life. The next, he’s ready to run away with her forever. This happened more than once and within a relatively short span of time, making his swing in emotions toward her hard to believe.
Yung’s chemistry with Cox was good, but it sometimes felt like she went overboard with the gleeful/sadistic part of Elektra’s personality. That said, she did grow on me quite a bit by the end of the season, which made her character’s (temporary) death a real let down. If you’re going to fridge a badass assassin who can clearly handle herself a fight, maybe do it in a way that doesn’t have her blocking a dude’s sai with the middle of her torso while wearing her new armored costume. I mean, c’mon…
At least we know she’s not dead, though. No way The Hand put her in that coffin full of kid blood (and dressed her in her comic book red outfit) just for kicks. I do wish we’d seen more of her life growing up under Stick’s tutelage—or at least seen it sooner than the penultimate episode. It added a lot to her character a little too late.
Scott Glenn once again does a fantastic job portraying Matt’s former mentor. Unfortunately, his character makes some very confusing (or possibly stupid) decisions that were hard to wrap my head around.
– If Elektra is Black Sky (ugh…we’ll get the whole ‘Black Sky’ thing in the next section), and he’s supposed to kill her, then why did he save her the first time? Was the conversation he overheard really enough change his plan from ‘Save My Apprentice’ to ‘Put out a Hit on Her?’ Wouldn’t it have been easier if he let the whole BLACK SKY/WORST THING EVER end with her bleeding out in the car? I know that seems harsh, but this dude killed freaking kid in the first season. It’s not like he didn’t have it in him.
– Is it just me, or would Stick save himself a lot of trouble if he just told Matt (and Elektra) what the hell was going on from the start instead of being so frustratingly cryptic until people started punching him?
I guess having a one-take fight scene every season is going to be Daredevil’s thing now. Unfortunately, the stairwell brawl we got doesn’t live up to the Old Boy-inspired throw down from Season 1. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still pretty awesome. But it also feels a lot more stylized than the raw/brutal hallway scene.
With that said, however, the season two fight scenes are generally superb, particularly the ones involving Elektra. They’re graceful, but not too pretty. Every punch and kick is felt, giving us another jolt of street level pain that makes Daredevil’s corner of the Marvel universe a darker, more savage place.
Oh yeah, and The Punisher shoots a guy’s face off. Like, in full view of the camera. That was nuts.
While I’m still not 100% sold on Daredevil’s costume, I did like the minor tweaks and upgrades it got. Also, I LOVED Melvin Potter’s introduction of the long-awaited billy club in the season finale (along with Elektra’s new duds).
Speaking of Potter, I wish we saw a bit more of him. I can see how too much would be overkill, but he’s such a fascinating character. Even if he doesn’t fall into the Gladiator persona he’s had in the comics, it’d still be fun to watch him and Daredevil interact a bit more.
What didn’t work
Colonel Roy Schoonover as The Blacksmith
I’ve seen a lot of reviews praising this “shocking” reveal, but I still have a few questions/issues with it.
– For starters, do we get any sort of explanation why a decorated war veteran turned into a city-destroying drug kingpin? I guess money and power is the simple answer, but that seems kind of lame.
– So this Blacksmith guy is so careful that he is nearly impossible to find, but he invites a reporter (or lawyer if you count what he first assumed about Karen) into his house with a FREAKING PICTURE OF ONE OF HIS DRUG RUNNERS ON THE WALL?
And before you say he might have just not noticed/realized it, he did totally notice Karen Page checking out the picture. Seems like a fairly observant guy, hence why no one knew he was running the largest drug operation in the city. After that, he decided to drive her out to his woodshed to kill her because…uh…I guess he didn’t want to stain the carpet?
– I know Frank Castle was tracking Karen for a while, but it’s a bit of a stretch to assume he knew to tail her over to Schoonover’s place. When did he figure out the colonel was behind all this? Was it during the boat raid when he saw a couple of his former squad members there? If so, why the hell did he wait for an entire day to go get him?
– I know Frank’s all pissed off and stuff, but maybe he should have gotten a few more answers out of Schoonover before popping him in the head.
The Hand might be the most inefficient/backwards fictional evil organization since Weyland Corp. Maybe I’m missing something, but how does it make sense for them to try and kill Elektra multiple times, including one time when they almost succeeded, then proclaim her their leader—with Nobu even offering her his sword? Talk about mixed signals.
They’re also not very good at their jobs. Take the hostage situation for example. Putting aside the plot contrivance of one of them being under house arrest with an ankle tracker, how in the hell did a group of trained ninjas (who I’m assuming searched them all for weapons and phones) miss something like that?
And while it was cool that they had no heartbeat (making them invisible to Daredevil’s radar sense), it would stand to reason that they shouldn’t need to breathe, either. But they did, which is ultimately what helped Daredevil kick their immortal asses.
Black Sky, Black Sky, Black Sky, Black Sky, Black Sky, Black Sky. Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it, Black Sky.
Did that help you understand what Black Sky was? Because according to the series’ logic, repeating those words over and over again is supposed to help them make sense. Unfortunately, all that achieved was making me grumpy and more confused. It’s clearly become too important to be a McGuffin, but the mystery of Black Sky is in severe danger of becoming an impossibly tangled and contrived plot thread.
First, we have a kid (who is also referred to as Black Sky) killed in Season 1. Then we find out that not only is Black Sky still alive, but in a universe where aliens have attacked New York, a bunch of ninjas with melee weapons can end the world with it.
THEN we find out that Black Sky is Elektra (so I guess that poor kid got killed for nothing…or Black Sky is/can be multiple people…or the writers didn’t have this planned out at first).
Now don’t get me wrong—Elektra is a stone cold badass. But I don’t think she qualifies as a global level threat. Even if The Hand was under her leadership, that doesn’t explain why she is Black Sky—or why Stick didn’t kill her when he found out she was Black Sky (which we still don’t understand), but tried to kill her later when she told Matt she didn’t want to be in his army anymore. And once again, I’ll remind you that Stick has shown himself to be more than willing to kill a child dubbed Black Sky.
Lost was less vague/confusing/contradictory than this about the mystery of the island, and we all know how that turned out.
Remember that giant, unexplained pit that Daredevil and Elektra found at the end of episode six? It works as perfect (and heavy handed) metaphor for everything wrong with this season. Daredevil is still a great show, but the multiple plot holes and dangling narrative threads push it well below the first season’s brilliance.
The argument could be made that they’re setting up things for the next season, but that doesn’t negate the current strain those unresolved plotlines are putting on the overarching story. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and accept that a dude who got toxic waste splashed in his face develops super senses. I cannot, however, keep myself from being bothered by inconsistent actions and behaviors by these characters.
Fortunately, the great acting performances and cinematography are more than enough to keep Netflix’s premiere Marvel series a must-watch. We better get some answers next year, though. I’m cool with things being kept in the dark, but a good expanding mystery is built on a foundation of previous knowledge and answers. Those need to happen to some extent in season three, especially with regards to Black Sky.
Oh, and Bullseye. We need to have Bullseye next season, too.