Daredevil Season 2 Review
Two staples of early spring in recent years have come around once again: a smattering of new and returning Netflix shows, and the reemergence of the big Marvel properties onto our screens, both large and small. The return of Marvel’s Daredevil to Netflix on March 18th managed to kill two birds with one stone.
After a promising but critically divisive first season in 2015, Daredevil returns to bring viewers more of the blind vigilante from Hell’s Kitchen, this time throwing in some of the comic’s most cherished characters. Did the team behind Daredevil improve upon their last season? Well, it’s complicated.
WARNING: From this point onwards, there’s going to be mild spoilers. Scroll down to the other big, bold, italicized warning to get my spoiler-free final thoughts.
The last season of Daredevil was a success, relatively speaking. While it had plenty of detractors that criticized its lack of meaningful character clash, confusing plotlines, and occasionally off-putting visual style, it also drew high praise for its immaculately choreographed fight sequences and its bravely gritty and substantive plotlines. Most critics posited that to make real strides, Daredevil needed to build on the tone it created with increased character conflicts and higher stakes.
Well, the writers for season two heard the critics. Unfortunately, in many aspects they overshot the mark. The new season had a big chance to reel in audiences by introducing us to two of Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s most beloved frenemies: Elektra, a sadistic ninja and Matt’s ex-girlfriend, and the Punisher/Frank Castle, another New York vigilante who’s hell-bent on murdering half of the criminals in the city. Their potential plotlines were obvious to many fans; Elektra would tempt Matt away from his day job as a defense lawyer and push him into full-time vigilantism, while the Punisher would make him question his deep-seated Catholic conviction that murder is never justifiable. The writers take these promising plot seeds and promptly drown them in a barrage of overwrought contention.
The return of Elektra, as expected, tempts Matt to devote himself entirely to his life as Daredevil, but with only the setup of a few well-written but sparse flashbacks of their past relationship. However, the story of Elektra and Matt’s inherent differences quickly devolve into a conspiracy riddled plotline involving a feud between two powerful and ancient factions, the Chaste (good guy ninjas) and the Hand (bad guy ninjas). The storyline brings back a fan favorite, Matt’s mentor and fellow blind warrior, Stick, and actually manages to stay fairly focused for a few episodes before quickly becoming a cluster of poorly explained revelations and expository flashbacks. What begins as a predictable but solidly written character interaction between Matt and Electra turns into a plethora of unfocused obstacles that never really find a real resolution.
In contrast, the plotlines involving the Punisher are focused and concrete. The tragic story of a war veteran and family man, Frank Castle’s descent into a bloody war on crime is a compelling one, and it’s treated far more carefully than Electra’s Wild Ride™. The character development comes slowly and deliberately, with the ideological differences between the Punisher and Matt taking the forefront early in the season, the trial and imprisonment of Frank occupying the season’s second act, and the final episodes focusing on his final grasps at closure before his full transformation into a justice-seeking killing machine. The writers work hard to cultivate Frank’s adversarial relationship with Matt and his sympathetic one with Karen Page, Matt’s sometime-lover and Nelson and Murdock’s law secretary. The writers even made the clever choice of pitting Frank against Kingpin/Wilson Fisk, last season’s villain, for a few episodes. While the show doesn’t exactly delve too deeply into Frank’s mind, often choosing to focus on Electra and Matt in later episodes, the Punisher’s story is still consistently compelling and linear.
In terms of ancillary characters, namely Karen and Matt’s law partner Foggy Nelson. Again, the conflicts escalate – Karen struggles with her sympathy for the Punisher and Foggy and Matt are increasingly at odds over the place of Daredevil in their friendship. However, the quality of the dialogue of the supporting cast is significantly poorer, with plenty of wincingly cheesy lines, especially in early episodes. Furthermore, Karen changes professions from law secretary to lawyer to an intrepid reporter in a matter of episodes and her relationship with Matt feels uncomfortably forced. The clash that was lacking before is here now, but so little of it feels organic.
The show’s acting remains solid from old players, with Charlie Cox remaining a convincingly tormented Matt/Daredevil and Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson bringing their all to the roles of Karen and Foggy, despite having to work through mediocre dialogue. Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin/Wilson Fisk and Scott Glenn as Stick are perhaps the most enjoyable returning actors, constantly commanding the viewer’s attention despite their limited screen time. In terms of newcomers, Élodie Yung is a decent Elektra, although she overacts the part more than once, but it’s Jon Bernthal as the Punisher/Frank Castle that truly owns this entire season, giving an unquestionably earnest and convincing performance of a shattered and violent man.
In terms of direction, choreography, and cinematography, Daredevil built upon an already visually impressive first season. The fight sequences from the first season are back and even more astounding, though perhaps a bit high in number for those who do not consider themselves action junkies. The lighting, while still noir-inspired, veers away from the overt darkness of the first season that led many to complain of not being able to see the action. Even the costuming seemed to take a major turn for the better, with Daredevil’s new costume exuding an unabashed feeling of badass. Perhaps as necessary compensation for its other weaknesses, Daredevil continues to be a technical marvel. Marvel. Get it?
END OF SPOILERS: Sorry, you missed the good stuff.
In any show made for streaming online, a sense of cohesiveness is important. Frequently changing the focuses of the plotlines and creating ever-changing conflicts is unhelpful when a show depends so heavily on being serial and consistent. Like Daredevil’s first season, season two had potential, and made the smart decision of acknowledging the complaints the first season received. However, season two made the error of trading in old errors for new ones, especially in terms of story, leading to a repeat of the slight dissatisfaction season one also provided. Ultimately, Daredevil still shows promise; it’s a visual darling with strong acting and it paints its characters with complexity. Still, a show can only wear the label of “promising” for a few seasons before it must either grow into something great, or wither into mediocrity. For Daredevil, the promise is still there, but time is running out.
Author's Note: I haven't devised a rating system yet. Feel free to share your special lil' thoughts in the comments section!