If anybody ever asks me what my favorite superhero film is, I’m likely to cheat with my answer and say Daredevil on Netflix. By the time I had finished season 2 of Daredevil, I knew this was among the best the superhero entertainment on television or in theaters. For a genre that has exploded in popularity over the past sixteen years, with two of the highest-grossing entries of all time recently hitting theaters, that’s no small feat. But Daredevil exists so confidently within its own framework that I stand by what I said. It’s my personal favorite.
Daredevil‘s second season opens with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen doing what he does best – kicking criminal ass. Wilson Fisk is behind bars. And Nelson and Murdock are starting to develop a reputation for themselves. They’re not breaking the bank, but they are doing good work in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a tale as old as time. Things are starting to go well for our heroes. Now it’s time for things to go south. Daredevil in the comics has always been one of Marvel’s most punished (no pun intended) characters, and it’s great that Netflix and new showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez clearly get that. Petrie and Ramirez also seamlessly take over for Steven S. DeKnight from season. The quality of the show notices no change, so if you were worried about that, you’re good.
While Daredevil has been hammering the criminal element of Hell’s Kitchen, a new figure emerges. Unlike Daredevil, this vigilante prefers to use guns and has no qualms about killing. Of course, we know this new vigilante is Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. Meanwhile, Matt Murdock’s possible romantic future with Karen Page is also about to be threatened by a shadowy figure from his past. Not many girls are understanding when a Greek Ninja you’ve previously fought alongside as well as against comes back into the picture, and that’s exactly what Elektra Natchios does.
With The Punisher and Daredevil, we find Matt Murdock being pulled into too many directions, and of course, he can’t keep everything afloat. Things quickly start to fall apart, and it’s hard not to feel like this is partially his fault. His relationships with Foggy and Karen become strained, and it doesn’t help that something very bad is brewing under the surface of Hell’s Kitchen.
It’s the classic act two storyline. We’ve seen the hero become the hero, now we need to see him them pushed to the limit. Petrie and Ramirez give Daredevil more than enough chances to screw the pooch, but Murdock through all of this still is a hero worth rooting for.
The Punisher is played by series newcomer Jon Bernthal who most will know as Shane from early seasons of The Walking Dead. I always found Shane to be an annoying character on TWD (later I realized it wasn’t just him, it was all of them) so I was skeptical of him coming into season two. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been. This is the iteration of The Punisher we’ve been waiting for. The only thing they do that is controversial to some would be a brief foray in the middle of the season where he’s briefly made to be a sympathetic presence. But no matter what, Punisher is done all of the justice, and Punisher himself extinguishes his last bit of humanity in his violent quest for vengeance. The biggest frustration is that in many ways, season 2 is for Punisher what season 1 was for Daredevil. It’s something of an origin story, and the true comics version isn’t seen in all his glory until the very end. Now, there’s more than enough punishment doled out by Bernthal, don’t worry, but you’ll be wanting more at the end of it all.
On the other end of the spectrum is Elodie Yung as Elektra. It is great to see a character like hers on this show, because there is nobody else like her. She’s a spoiled rich socialite who uses people for fun because she’s never dealt with any true consequences. As we get to know her more, we understand her backstory (much of it involving Stick, played by the returning Scott Glen). The more Elektra and Murdock do together though, we see Elektra’s front fade away and she becomes much more relatable. Elektra is more enjoyable as her initial facade disappears, and her and Matt make sense together the more time we spend with them. Elektra’s is a great character arc for the season. Yung deserves praise for her acting as well, though what she is doing isn’t clear until the end. Again, this wasn’t an actress who had me hopeful at the beginning, but by the end I was singing a different tune.
While Elektra and Punisher keep Daredevil busy at night, Matt Murdock during the day is slowly losing control of his professional life. Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Hansen return as Karen Page and Foggy Nelson respectively. Karen Page has a great arc this season. It’s great to see her character evolve as well, and it evolves in an organic way. She slowly and seamlessly transitions into an investigative journalist as her ties with Daredevil and the Punisher compel her to keep looking into things. I thought it was great, and the character does feel done justice. She’s never put upon, unnecessarily abused, or relegated. Her character can be in danger, but it never feels as simple as her being a damsel in distress. Even her relationship with Murdock doesn’t feel as cliched as it could. Page recognizes the bigger picture, and her investigation compels her more than her romance, which while I’ve mentioned it twice, isn’t that big a character trait.
Foggy Nelson has proven to be the most controversial element. Personally, I actually thought he was great this season. He never annoyed me, and he’s more the voice of reason. Seeing as he is one of the few to know Daredevil’s identity, it puts him in a compromised position. As a big trial dominates much of Nelson and Murdock’s professional career for the middle of the season, Nelson is left on his own by Murdock more than he should. He feels pushed out of Murdock’s life, and his reactions are more emotional, but that’s likely how it would be. I don’t love where they are at the end of the season, but I’m also curious how their fallout continues.
The biggest problems of Daredevil’s first season came down to pacing. About three-quarters of the way through, the pacing just seemed to lose its way. This is probably equal parts the fault of the creators as well as the inherent Netflix binge-format. For the most part season two has better pacing. I felt the finale stretched out a bit too long. What was thirteen episodes to me felt like it could have been twelve. The acting across the board is great, and Woll in particular feels like she has grown the most. But Yung, Bernthal, and Glen all bring it as well. And of course, every scene with Rosario Dawson threatens to be the best scene of the episode. Her casting is perfect.
Charlie Cox as Daredevil is still perfectly cast as the hero. The only flaw is that this time around he doesn’t feel like the main focus. Season one expertly divided time between him and Fisk, but here Daredevil doesn’t seem to be the lead in his story. He feels more like Tom Hardy in Mad Max, a passive protagonist. This isn’t bad, but hopefully season three will give him more of the spotlight.
And let’s not even talk about the action. Which is still phenomenal. Episode three, “New York’s Finest,” delivers a sequel to last year’s ‘Hallway Fight’ that blew my mind. Daredevil thankfully gets a ton of ass to kick and the action is outstanding. Towards the end he gets his trademark billy club. The brief fighting he gets with that is incredible as well. But we see him expand new styles earlier in the season with his sticks. And wait until Daredevil gets to fight ninjas!
The weakest element of season two overall was its story. The Black Sky macguffin from season 1 returns, and while we certainly hear more about it, that’s not to say what is going on is any more clear. Stick returns, and what he is doing becomes clearer as well, but again, this feels like Game of Thrones with its perpetually approaching winter. A war is impending, but we don’t know enough about between whom and why. Black Sky comes around again, but there still isn’t an explanation for what it is. Hopefully, this isn’t a sign that the show will join the ranks of other shows where they put off some big event at the expense of living in the now. When it’s not about Black Sky, it’s focused on The Punisher. I’ll avoid spoilers, but suffice to say his story does also feel like it was written with specific ebbs and flows in mind. You’ll spend the middle of the season tapping your fingers and waiting for him to be unleashed again. I understand why Punisher in particular feels held back at times, but I still would have wanted more. This is that classic comic book universe planning syndrome though where they’re focused on the future as opposed to the present.
The story of the season starts to find direction about halfway through, and Elektra will become an integral part of that. But what the story ends up being doesn’t quite go anywhere, and ultimately it feels like Daredevil spends the season bouncing off of others rather than making any meaningful steps forward. Season two of Daredevil ultimately is about character and motivation over rather than plot. That’s not bad, but it could have been balanced better. And with the Punisher’s story, the Billy Club introduction, and the Black Sky elements, it reminds one of season one where these critical pieces all come into play at the end only to be paid off in the next season. Hopefully, this trend doesn’t continue. Despite all that, the show doesn’t make the mistake of holding back the hero. Daredevil spends a lot of time in costume and in the end that’s what I wanted more than anything. By the season’s end you’ll feel more in touch with all the characters, but ready for more story.