TV Review: Daredevil, Season 2
|Never ever knows where to look|
Fully costumed and riding high off of the successful takedown of Wilson Fisk, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen is faced with a new enemy more brutal and deadly than he is prepared for, along with an insidious evil hiding in the shadows, ready to bring ruin to the whole world. As Matt Murdock, though, he faces other threats: a larger workload, a strained relationship with his partner, a suspicious secretary with whom he is falling in love, a destructive ex-girlfriend looking for help, and a DA who threatens to bring Nelson & Murdock to its knees. This is the sophomore season of Marvel's Daredevil, which premiered Friday on Netflix.
The first season, by all reports, is Netflix's biggest success story, and was a big step for Marvel's Cinematic Universe. It brought groundbreaking fight choreography, a dark tone, quasi-religious themes, and much more. Can the second season possibly live up to that? In order to give it a go, the show has brought in familiar characters, The Punisher and Elektra. Though it name-drops Jessica Jones and offers a few tiny hints to the universe outside of it, the show still stands alone as one of the boldest, deepest, and most thrilling things Marvel has ever put together. Season 2 definitely doesn't change that.
|Just when you think you've seen it all, a blind man plays billiards|
For at least the first four episodes of the season, The Punisher (aka Frank Castle, who's moniker originates from the title of his FBI behavioral profile) is the dominant antagonist, literally exploding onto the scene in a hail of bullets and a body count that rivals many small wars. His tactics are incredibly vicious, and we see dozens of dead bodies left in his wake (including a few hanging from meathooks) before we ever encounter the man himself. When we do, it is jaw-dropping to say the least. All in all, this is both the most terrifying and the most plausible version of Frank Castle we've ever seen on film, with a surprisingly deep and layered character that reveals itself methodically. Speaking as a fan who feels the previous Punisher films were all disappointing in one way or another, I can say I am extremely happy with Jon Bernthal's performance--he's not just Shane from The Walking Dead again--and the fact that the writers absolutely nailed the character.
Because of The Punisher, this season is more intense and macabre than the first, and the show doesn't pull its punches when showing you the violence he is capable of inflicting. However, it doesn't stretch out the conflict between Daredevil and Frank Castle beyond the first four episodes, offering blessed relief from the intensity to focus on other plotlines. (Castle still remains a large part of the plot throughout the entire season, but he takes a backseat for a while.)
|Maybe not the best show for people squeamish about blood|
On top of that, the fight sequences are a little more stylized--there's more slow-motion and fewer lengthy, handheld shots--granting a small buffer between the fiction and reality to make it more palatable. This is both smart and disappointing, because the kinetic, hyper-realistic fights from the first season made the show stand out, whereas the fights feel a little more standard here. There are still plenty of amazing sequences to get your blood pumping--an early stairway sequence is obviously attempting to one-up the famous hallway sequence from Season 1--and the choreography reaches new heights later in the season, with the introduction of Elektra.
Immediately after Frank Castle fades into the background a bit, Elektra comes roaring out to the foreground, with a playful smile and an ability to disarm Matt Murdock in a way nobody else can. She is an old ex-girlfriend who has a bit of a naughty streak, and through flashbacks, we learn how she attempted to turn Murdock to the dark side long ago. In the present, Matt is inherently skeptical and impatient with her, but he is drawn into her plot nonetheless, fighting alongside her to take down a mysterious organization known as The Hand. Elektra is an endlessly fascinating character whose backstory is largely hidden until the final acts, so well-defined by actress Elodie Yung that all memories of Jennifer Garner are thankfully erased. She teases like a pussy cat, but hides a menace and deeply twisted sense of morality just beneath the surface. She has way more in common with Frank Castle than you'd think.
|She kicks all the ass|
As The Hand is a mystical cult of ninja assassins (the late Nobu from Season 1 was a member) and Elektra is an amazingly acrobatic fighter, be prepared to see lots of fancy spin kicks and shuriken-dodging rolls. Though this half of the plot goes further down the comic book rabbit hole than ever before, it shares its themes and ideas with the more grounded Punisher half, and the two seemingly disparate stories mesh perfectly, though they only ever intersect tangentially. Elektra and Castle both tempt Daredevil to become something more violent, and as his life as Matt Murdock begins to spiral away from him, those temptations begin to grab hold of his guilt-ridden soul.
Probably the most difficult thing to watch from this season--even including Frank Castle's foot meeting the business end of a power drill--is Matt pulling away from both Foggy and Karen. It's hard to talk about where these relationships go without getting into heavy spoiler territory, but if you're heavily invested in those ties, be ready to see them unraveled. On one hand, the argument between Foggy and Matt feels like a rehash of their conflict from late in the first season, but certain events really drive the wedge into their division in ways that are much harder to repair. As for Matt and Karen, the hints of a romance between them from the first season are quickly realized early on in the second, but when Elektra appears on the scene, things go from good to complicated to downright bad between them.
|Pretty spry for an old guy|
Aside from the main actors, there are many returning faces--including a few you would have no business expecting--and none of them feel like cameos (except maybe Madame Gao, who only appears in one scene). Most notable is probably Scott Glenn's Stick, the mentor of Murdock who appeared in a single episode in Season 1 but appears in multiple episodes this time around. His motivations are enigmatic, but when all is revealed in the last episode or two, they begin to make a certain kind of sense. You even get to see him do some more fighting this time.
In short, the second season of Daredevil does what the sophomore story of any comic book arc usually does--it puts a newly established hero through the ringer, has him doubt his identity, and then shows him rally back to take on his new and more difficult foes--but it does it with such confidence and skill that none of it ever feels cliché. Fans of the comics will see a lot of familiar stories in the mix, and it all reaches a satisfyingly epic climax that will reverberate well into the show's future. The Punisher stuff is intense and gritty, while the Hand stuff is surreal and comicky, but Daredevil meets them both in the middle with a season that is even more bingeable than the last.
The next season is going to have a really hard time topping this one, but I can't wait to see it try.
-e. magill 3/21/2016