REVIEW: Daredevil Season 2

Daredevil is back! Did you binge watch already this weekend or are you watching the episodes in controlled doses? Yes, I downed the whole damn season in 1 day. Couldn’t help it!

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After a successful first season that laid the groundwork for Marvel’s Netflix universe, and the launch of a second hit on Netflix in Jessica Jones, Daredevil returned on 3/18 for Season 2.

The first season of Daredevil, a home run both critically and among the fanboys, was the grittiest and darkest property Marvel has ever done. Not only did the Netflix show resuscitate a B-level superhero but it also pushed the boundaries of the studio’s stagnating movie formula. Plus, now Marvel has a home on Netflix for properties that can’t fit into its PG-13 paradigm.

Okay. Review time!

REVIEW:

So let’s set the stage for Season 2, based on the trailers we’ve seen. In the last 6 months or so since Wilson Fisk’s downfall, Matt Murdock is balancing his dual life as a lawyer by day and street-level vigilante by night aka the Daredevil. While Nelson & Murdock is still strapped for cash, taking on cases where clients usually pay by way of food, Daredevil is now a beloved figure to the citizens of Hell’s Kitchen.

But there’s a power vacuum since Fisk’s downfall that the Yakuza is looking to fill. Even worse, the arrival of a new vigilante named the Punisher who straight up murders criminals forces Daredevil to question if his form of justice even works.

Making things more complicated is the arrival of that Greek girlfriend of Matt’s from college. Yes Elektra Natchios comes to Hell’s Kitchen and it turns Matt’s world upside down.

WARNING – HEAVY SPOILERS BELOW.

WHAT WORKED:

Frank Castle aka The Punisher:
Three attempts have been made to adapt The Punisher to the big screen. All three attempts failed. The Punisher is one of the most violent, lethal characters in Marvel Comics. He simply can’t be done in a PG-13 film. So he’ll fit right into the Daredevil mythos.

This Frank Castle is a former Marine whose family got gunned down during a botched drug deal between three separate gangs. Left for dead after getting shot in the head, Castle has come to Hell’s Kitchen and declared war on anyone connected to his family’s butchery.

Jon Bernthal is the Punisher. He owns that role heart and soul, bringing the intense, sociopathic and damaged soul that Frank Castle has to every scene he’s in. He kills those who need to be killed with no qualms or hesitations. But what also makes him interesting as a character is his philosophical differences with Daredevil’s method of justice. This all comes to a head in Episode 3 of Season 2, where Punisher has captured Murdock and the two have a very intense debate about lethal vs non-lethal crime fighting. In their own ways, both vigilantes have points. But at the same time both are wrong. In the Punisher’s case, one could argue how some criminals just need to be put down (HI JOKER!), but at the same time deciding to be judge jury and executioner makes one just as bad as the criminals they put away, especially when innocents get caught in the crossfire. In Dardevil’s case, killing criminals does not make one a coward. In fact restraint is braver than pulling the trigger. However, Daredevil’s method is not working and the criminals he is putting away aren’t staying in jail or even getting reformed. So who’s right?

Punisher’s initial arc runs through the first four episodes, but dominates a big portion of the season thanks to Nelson & Murdock taking on his multiple homicide scase. But by the end of the season, Punisher is on the run, has his white skull chest plate and reached a common understanding with Daredevil. Other than some unnecessary additions to his origin in the last few episodes of the season, I dare say that the new Punisher’s introduction was near perfect.

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Daredevil/Matt’s Struggle: A very big issue in the past with some superhero properties was that once a hero becomes fully formed, they have no where else to go as characters. Or Out of Character actions and nonsensical conflict are manufactured to keep the hero interesting. This was mostly not the case for Daredevil. Despite his big victory over Wilson Fisk and continuing to keep the streets of Hell’s Kitchen safe, Matt’s world is very isolated. The only other vigilante he meets thus far is at the extreme opposite end of the justice spectrum and he has yet to get an invite to the supercool Avengers club (they clearly have bigger problems anyway).

Matt feels a duty to the neighborhood that raised him. So even taking one night off means that people get hurt, people whom Daredevil could have protected. This, as expected, conflicts with his daily life as lawyer Matt Murdock. The only other people who know about his double life (Claire and Foggy) accept it…begrudgingly.

So its not unexpected for Matt to be sucked into Elektra’s orbit when she reappears. She knows that Matt is Daredevil and accepts that side of him wholeheartedly. Of course he will be drawn to her in almost self-destructive ways. Matt making some boneheaded mistakes shows that he’s human. However, there were areas where Matt seemed to have taken afew too many hits with the idiot stick. More on that under What Didn’t Work this season. But speaking of Ms. Natchios…

Elektra: We finally meet Matt’s infamous ex-girlfriend at the end of Episode 4, and we get full details about their relationship and breakup in Episode 5. After that Elektra plays a big role throughout the season in Matt’s life, the looming battle with the Hand and how her true nature could be used for evil or good.

Let’s just say that I was initially on the fence about Elodie Yung being cast, but I’m so glad to be proven wrong. Her Elektra was a martial arts master when she and Matt first met. She’s become even deadlier in the ten years since her break up with Matt. Elektra is a force to be reckoned with anytime she’s onscreen, a manipulative, deadly, sexy femme fatale who lives in the grey.

She swings back into Matt’s life, asking for help, dropping some much needed cash into Nelson & Murdock’s starving coffers. At first Matt wants nothing to do with her shenanigans. But as she sinks her claws in deeper, Matt can’t help but blow up his civilian life to help Elektra, especially when her mission involves Stick and the Hand. And I can’t really blame him. As mentioned in my earlier note about Matt, with Elektra he has someone who truly gets him and accepts both sides of his life. How can anyone not be drawn to that?

Especially when she looks like this?

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DD and Elektra’s onscreen chemistry sizzles and scorches even when they’re at odds or arguing. They compliment each other, work great as a team (as noted in Episode 6), even if they ultimately toxic for each other. Matt believes there’s good in her while Elektra sees a darkness in Matt that she’s just dying to unleash. Either way, Elektra injected a sense of fun and danger into Matt’s life that for once wasn’t him having to rescue another damsel in distress. But, just like with Punisher, she suffered from getting too much extra being added to her backstory..

Ninjas: I love ninjas. They make any action scene, TV show or movie better times ten. So when they showed up to wreak havoc on Hell’s Kitchen, I was beyond enthused. Their fight scenes with Daredevil and Elektra were sublime. However, sometimes there is such thing as too much ninja goodness.

Wilson Fisk: The Kingpin only appeared in two episodes. But it was a welcome appearance which reminded us how great of a villain and how big a threat he still is even imprisoned. After using Punisher to eliminate a prison rival, Fisk essentially runs the prison. Now the Kingpin of crime is counting the days until he gets free to take revenge on both Daredevil and Matt Murdock. Can’t wait for that.

Claire Temple: It is always great to see Rosario Dawson back as Claire Temple. Once again, she gets caught in Daredevil’s chaotic orbit, but still helps out despite her aggravation over it all. She appears in 3-4 episodes this season, and gives mention to Luke Cage (just say his name and point Matt in his direction already!). Unfortunately, her association with Matt leads to a Hand attack at her hospital. But Claire is so immune to this superhero drama that she barely flinched after Matt saved her from getting tossed out of the hospital’s third floor.

And when she doesn’t want to play along with the hospital’s cover-up of a Hand ninja’s undead nature, it costs Claire her job. Where will she end up next season of DD, and will she make an appearance on Luke Cage in September? No idea. Regardless, Claire Temple is always a welcome supporting player in the MCU.

Karen Page: Just like last season, Karen had a lot to do besides being the Nelson & Murdock secretary or a damsel in distress (which happened a few times, natch). Her evolution as a character was tied primarily to the Punisher arc, as she helped bring out a softer side to the stone-cold killer.

And after what looked like a promising start to her romantic relations with Matt, that all goes to hell when Elektra shows up. And with all the chaos surrounding Punisher, Karen has simply had it with Matt’s lies, disappearances and mysterious injuries. So that relationship is DOA, even on a friendship level.

And with Nelson & Murdock shuttered, Karen finds herself in a whole new career as a journalist working for Ben Ulrich’s old paper. A nice way to tie that storyline from Season 1 together. A few questions remain for Karen heading into Season 3.

1.) How accepting will she be now that Matt has revealed his secret to her? A light bulb seemed to go off in her head the moment she was told.
2.) Are we finally going to learn about her super-secret horrible past? We got another teaser this season but still nothing concrete.

The Rise of Foggy Nelson: Its been clear that while Foggy is a competent lawyer, Matt was the more talented of the duo and thoroughly kills it with opening or closing arguments. Well, with Matt basically sucking at civilian life this season, Foggy was forced to step up in major ways for the People vs Frank Castle case. And step it up he did, giving himself a major confidence booster as well as getting noticed by the law firm Jeri Holgrath (Jessica Jones) is a partner at. Foggy definitely deserved better than Matt’s disregard so I say good for him!

WHAT DIDN’T WORK:

This Season’s Big Bad: What made Season 1 work was the presence of a primary adversary for Daredevil. Wilson Fisk was that guy. This season, it looked like District Attorney Reyes might be a Big Bad or at least the emissary for the Bigger Bad. Nope. Then it appeared that the Hand was the the season’s Big Bad. They were, but they underwhelmed. I’ll explain more below.

The Hand: Like I said above, I love ninjas. So I was very excited to see the Hand get more exposure in Season 2. Given Elektra’s introduction and The Hand up to no good, things were looking to be awesome. Everything about their plot, including them posing as the Yakuza had so much promise. However, The Hand’s overall story arc and endgame were lacking at best…convoluted at worst. What they wanted to do with those children they drained of blood was never really clarified. The whole bit about Nobu’s resurrection and one of the dead Hand ninjas already being a corpse was never followed up on.

Even worse, their whole eternal war with the Chaste was discussed but where were the Chaste to battle these guys. Outside of Stick, Daredevil and Elektra, no other Chaste ninja showed up. Plus, whatever happened with that big hole in the ground they created? Almost a metaphorical plot hole if you will…

Elektra’s Expansion Pack Past: The way Elektra’s past was framed in her initial introduction made sense. She was the daughter of a richer than God Greek diplomat. She had oodles of martial arts training. What happened to her in the ten years since she and Matt broke up wasn’t widely known. Lots of room for revealing. Then things got weird and murky. Apparently she too was trained by Stick at a young age…and then got abandoned just like Matt. But sometime before she met Matt, Stick used her to bring Matt back to his cause. Then when she rejects his cause to side with Daredevil, Stick then tries to have her killed even though they had been working together for most of the season.

Even weirder, remember the Black Sky business from Season 1 that was mysterious and cool? Well apparently, Elektra is another Black Sky. And The Hand want her to lead them toward victory or greatness? Who knows?? Its not revealed what they need her to lead them toward. Only that Elektra has a date with a dark destiny which she can’t resist. What? We do find out is that Elektra’s blood lust is related to being a Black Sky. But we still have no clue what exactly a Black Sky is or what powers it possesses.

Either way, making Elektra a Black Sky really did not help her character. It actually actually took away from some of her more engaging flaws.

The Punisher’s Expansion Pack Past: As mentioned above, Jon Bernthal’s Punisher was probably the best part of Season 2. If they had ended his arc in Episode 4 with hints of his continued presence, it would have been perfect. If they ended his arc in Episode 10, with a Season finale cameo to help DD out with the Hand, still would have been perfect.

That was until the show decided to tack on more backstory to the Punisher than was needed. Castle and his family being caught in a drug sting gone wrong was enough. Wrong place, wrong time. Then came the revelation that Castle’s commanding officer was the drug lord ‘Blacksmith’ who purposefully made sure Castle and his family were killed for not getting onboard his drug-dealing express train. All those additions felt forced and unnecessary.

Matt Murdock: I hate saying this, but its true. Matt Murdock this season was kind of the WORST. Granted, there are moments where you see why his friends stick by him and why Foggy always felt inferior to him as a lawyer. See Episode 6 when he mops the floor with DA Reyes at the hospital. However, once Elektra shows up, Matt all but ditches Foggy and Karen at the worst possible moments. Don’t get me wrong, Elodie Yung as Elektra is mesmerizing. But given that these are Matt’s friends and colleagues, its asshole-ish and irresponsible to make them take the most important case of their careers only to vanish for the majority of the trial! Even worse, he’s lying to them constantly about the who and the what. It sucks for Foggy as he actually knows about Matt’s secret life, making Matt look like a bigger asshole. Because of Matt’s lies and unreliability, Nelson & Murdock is shuttered and Matt’s relationship with Foggy is essentially ruined.

Then there’s Karen, whom he just started dating and then all but drops once Elektra appears. The whole ‘I’m protecting you’ excuse for all his lie telling comes off weak where Karen Page’s concerned. The girl is a magnet for all things troublesome and murderous in Hell’s Kitchen. It makes no sense at this point to not tell her who Daredevil is. Matt does tell Karen at the close of the season, but it leads one to ask “Why not 10 episodes ago??”

What also doesn’t make sense is Daredevil’s no killing rule at least when it comes to ninjas. Him warning Elektra not to kill any Hand cronies almost got both of them killed. Does he really think a jail cell will hold these murder machines? In the Hand’s case, lethal force is essential.

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Foggy/Matt Drama Round Who Cares: While Matt was a crappy friend and colleague this season, the Foggy/Matt angst felt redundant. For all things not relating to Matt being an absentee partner, we already saw Foggy’s angst of him being DD in the fantastic Nelson vs Murdock episode in Season 1. Foggy should have already made peace with that part of Matt’s life, even if he doesn’t like it.

Dude, Where’s My Radar Sense? This season scaled waaaay back on Matt’s abilities, almost reducing him to a highly trained blind guy with four other heightened senses. Not exactly. Daredevil’s other senses are heightened to near-superhuman levels due to his accident, allowing him to ‘see’ the world in ways no normal person can. In fact, these heightened senses culminate in Matt’s ‘radar sense’, which is how he can ‘see’ despite being blind. This needs to be showcased more in future seasons as its a cool power that really separates DD from the rest of his superhero counterparts.

Shared Universe(?): This has been a big problem with Jessica Jones and now Daredevil. I get that Marvel’s Netflix properties need to stand on their own. But why do we only get vague mentions of the other shows and movies in this big shared universe? If these guys are all in Hell’s Kitchen and will eventually form the Defenders, let’s start seeing some actual crossovers, even if its a post credit. Get us excited for the Defenders! Marvel is supposed to be an expert at the long game tease!

FAVORITE EPISODES

Episode 3: This is the episode where Daredevil and Punisher have a true philosophical debate about their respective approaches to vigilante justice. It makes for some great television. The episode also features a sequel to the continuous shot hallway fight from Season 1, only better and more insane.

Episode 5: After Elektra appears at the end of Episode 4, we get a part-present day/part-flashback episode. Here we see how Matt and Elektra fell in love and how her twisted version of justice broke them apart. In the present day, after Matt pushes her away, he gets manipulated into helping her anyway. Even more interesting, Elektra knows Matt’s dirty little secret.

Episode 6: This is the episode were we see Elektra and Matt in action together. A good fight scene starts the episode off, followed by some fun banter with Matt trying to get his ex out of New York, capped off by a fun little heist which shows how much Matt enjoys being around Elektra despite his loud protests.

Episode 9: One of the best episodes of the series. We see great Punisher and Wilson Fisk interact. Fisk uses and recently imprisoned Castle to take over the prison. Then there is a balls out gory scene where Castle takes on a dozen or so inmates sent to kill him. My jaw was on the floor for like half an hour afterward!

FINAL GRADE:
I would give Daredevil Season 2 a B or B-. The action/choreography was fantastic, as were the additions of Punisher and Elektra. In short, this season had some great moments, particularly in the first six episodes. But the latter half of the season is where many plot holes and issues arise. Should be interesting to see where they take the Punisher, as DD Season 2 ended up being a backdoor pilot for his potential series. Let’s hope Marvel learns from their mistakes and makes a better Season 3 with a tighter plot and a better Big Bad.

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