If Marvel’s Daredevil season 1 was a study in how a man becomes a hero, then Season 2 (now streaming on Netflix) is a story of how that hero decides what kind of hero he wants to be. But, beyond that overarching theme, season 2 is as fractured as Matt’s poor body.
As I have mentioned before, these Netflix shows run like a 13-hour movie. But,
unlike Marvel’s Jessica Jones before it, Daredevil season 2 doesn’t really take advantage of it’s format. While the season has a lot going on, the whole thing feels very fragmented and not well thought out.
Without spoiling anything, the season begins with a gang being massacred by an unknown person. Bullets and blood are everywhere and the gore and unflinching violence that we saw in season 1 gets a serious upgrade. When the police get on scene, we see a detective who has never appeared before (and does not appear again) playing the quintessential “crusty cop.” His entire being says “getting too old for this shit” and his dialogue…well at one point he describes a bullet proof vest as being “thicker than [his] dick” so you know, it’s basically Shakespeare. But, this 2 scene character is a microcosm for the entire season in that he’s brash, jarring, intense, and sort of unfocused.
New executive producers Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez did have a daunting task ahead of them, creating a new story that expands on what we have already seen while avoiding all of the pitfalls of a second year show. They also had to add characters that are closely tied to the Daredevil mythos, The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra (Elodie Yung), into the mix without it feeling like a stunt or over blown like it did in, say, Spider-Man 3. On that note, I think it worked rather well as both characters fit in pretty seamlessly (and more on them later). But, they were never able to really expand on what was done before, beyond their lead,Charlie Cox, now sporting his full be-horned Daredevil costume all the time.
For example, the Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) character still has the murkiest of pasts which is only vaguely hinted at, again, as she is constantly imperiled ,some more, this season. Quite why they’re teasing this out in this manner is only leading me to believe that they have no idea what they’re doing with this character and are spinning their wheels. Then there’s poor Foggy (Elden Henson) who spends the whole season alternating between fighting his best friend and pushing his stupid hair out of his face. Foggy is the heart of this show, and in many ways the moral center, and his storyline is a neutered Law & Order episode and/or making excuses for his partner to not be around. It’s a shame really. By the nature of the show, Henson and Woll are relegated to the back burner – they aren’t superheroes after all- but the actors are so magnetic that you can tell the writers are bending over backwards to give them something compelling to do.
The writers in fact seem to have thrown all of their power at the new characters and boy do they work well. Bernthal’s work as the homicidal-but-for-the-right-reasons-? Punisher is amazing. His monologue in episode 4 (“Penny and Dime”) needs to be on his Emmy reel. The character’s story dominates the season in a whole host of ways and he is just so damn good. In the comics, The Punisher is someone I have never given much thought to. I knew the broad strokes of his story but his character, to me, was basically murder guy. But Bernthal’s portrayal is compelling and fascinating. Yes, the violence is…beyond reason in a lot of places but the counterpoint he provides to Daredevil, especially in light of the two-sides-of-the-same-coin theme they played with Kingpin (Vincent D’onofrio) last year, lets Bernthal and Cox really play some great scenes together.
Yung’s Elektra is also a fantastic new addition to the show. Both Punisher and Elektra push Matt to the moral line, with both of them forcing Matt to make a choice both on what kind of man he wants to be and what kind of hero he wants to be. But, Elektra specifically is the one character who is taking none of Matt’s crap at any point during the series. She is a take no prisoners, do what needs to be done, badass and in many ways forces Matt to put up or shut up. Sadly, to the detriment of Foggy and Karen’s characters as Elektra pushes Matt to realize that there is no line between the two sides of his identity. Additionally I would watch the hell out of a solo series for either if these characters should Netflix feel like ordering one.
Elektra also brings with her the new threat, The Hand, a mysterious ninja organization that is all over the place in the comics. The Hand basically embodies every myth, story, threat, and fear that ninjas have ever had assigned to them in all mythologies all wrapped up into one. While they are arguably the Big Bad of the season, they are also a capital-t-Threat that I expect to ripple throughout the the MCU now that they have been unleashed. In the comics, The Hand plays a large part in the Iron Fist stories, for example.
Speaking of the larger MCU, the events of Marvel’s Jessica Jones are vaguely referred to, even going so far as to bring in Carrie-Ann Moss’ Jeryn Hogarth for a cameo. But, Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple once again plays a significant role and sets up where we’ll see her next, September’s Luke Cage.
Ultimately, this season is about who Matt Murdock wants to be, lawyer or Dardevil. It’s made pretty clear to him that he can’t effectively do both and he is forced to reconcile that dichotomy over and over and over again. There is not a single character that doesn’t call Matt out at some point in the season. He is as beaten up by his friends and allies as he is by bad guys. Hell, at one point, he is so beaten down that he appears to go hysterically deaf (?) for a very short time.
And, while everything I have mentioned sounds strong and well done, the series plays very disjointed. Nothing dovetails into anything else in a satisfying way, Elektra’s entire section never really interacts with what’s going on anywhere else. Her whole plot feels sandboxed. There is no balance. And, stylistically the whole series radically amped up everything it did last year in violence, gore, and let’s call them “visual motifs” (As my friend Matt pointed out, falling water. It is so lovingly focused on you expect it to have a series regular credit) to a truly distracting degree (see the aforementioned hysterical deafness).
I don’t want you to misunderstand, Marvel’s Daredevil puts out a good second season. But, it’s more of a character study (and study in stomach churning violence) than anything else. Season 2 is the television equivalent of that thing comics do periodically where they high-mindedly pontificate of the nature of heroism. In comics, this works because it’s usually either in caption boxes that are skimable or only go on for a few pages. When you have 13-ish hours (because of the nature of Netflix, the episode length is non-standard) of it though you kind of want the show to pull its horned head out of its ass for 5 minutes and maybe punch more ninjas. B-