With memories of Ben Affleck’s run as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen nearly forgotten, season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil quietly snuck in a week before the chaos that is Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. It did not, however, stay quiet. In season one, Matt Murdock, the titular Daredevil, grinded his way to victory against the brutal yet charismatic Wilson Fisk, and found his calling as the guardian of Hell’s Kitchen in the process.
Season two opens with Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock enjoying the laurels of his triumph over Fisk. There are still criminals doing what criminals do, but he believes he has broken organized crime in Hell’s Kitchen. Furthermore, his relationships with Foggy Nelson and Karen Page are at an all-time high even if their law firm is barely surviving. But as with any good story, this small slice of happiness did not last. And the beginning of the end starts with the arrival of Frank Castle- the Punisher.
The first four episodes of the season, introducing the Punisher were some of the best of the season. The story was tight, the pacing was smooth, and the action was incredible. Daredevil’s and Punisher’s interactions were fantastic to watch. Even their fight scenes were beautifully crafted as usual in this series. Of course there were certain camera angles where it was clear that none of the blows landed. But nevertheless, the fight choreographers’ attention to detail was marvelous. The way these two comic icons fought showed what kind of people they were. Matt fights like the ninja Stick trained him to be- using stealth and advanced martial arts techniques while holding back from killing. This puts him at a disadvantage against the Punisher, whose actions scenes show a merciless but ultimately orthodox military combatant. The Punisher can take just as much damage as Daredevil if not more and while he is not as good a hand-to hand fighter, he does not worry about killing. Their conflict eventually culminates with Daredevil chained on a rooftop and their physical fight deepens in to a battle of ideologies. This introduces the theme for the season. Matt has to prove his no-killing philosophy to the various forces that challenge him. And this starts with the Punisher.
The acting in episode three was superb. I could feel the tension emanating off Daredevil as he tried to defend his methodology helplessly when Castle forces him in to an impossible decision- either kill Frank or he would kill the criminal Nelson and Murdock swore to protect. This eventually led to one of the best action sequences of the season- a pissed off Daredevil taking on an entire gang. This was the hallway fight of season one taken to a new level with a new emotion. Matt did not have the burning desperation to save a little boy, who just lost his father, but he did have the wrath of failure. A man died because of him, because of Frank Castle. The fight scene was beautiful destruction, and along with the theme of questionable vigilante morality made episode three one of the highlights of season two.
As with most interesting cast decisions, when it was announced that Jon Bernthal would be playing the Punisher, there was a fair bit of criticism. Well, Bernthal was without a doubt the MVP of this season. He snatched attention from every other actor in whatever scene had the Punisher. The rest of the cast and crew did an incredible job, but Bernthal’s portrayal as the damaged anti-hero set the bar for this season. Bernthal became the Punisher. When necessary, he analyzed his situation with predatory precision and when necessary, he fought like a rabid beast. But when the scene needed Bernthal to show emotion, he did so with careful excellence, never going aboard. The best monologue of the season is without a doubt in episode four. At the end, leaning against a tombstone, tortured, bleeding, and waiting for the police, He told Daredevil what kind of man he was. “She’s holding me so tight; I thought I might bust a rib. The kids are wailing and shit, I’m worst of all. I’m a rubber-faced clown y’know. I cried so hard. But not my baby. Not my girl. You know. She’s my girl. She’s not crying. She’s holding me up. My girl’s keeping me on my feet.” In that moment, Daredevil saw or rather understood the Punisher. He walked the line perfectly, equal parts savage and heartbreaking. I could understand the Punisher. I could understand what would drive a man to ruthlessly hunt down those involved in the murder of his family. This is a man who went to war, who believed that he was protecting something wonderful and came back only to find it snatched away from him in one bloody moment.
After the end of episode four, the season changes direction, and we are introduced to the other iconic character of the season, Elektra. Credit given where credit is due, Charlie Cox and Elodie Yung gave all their effort in to their portrayals. The chemistry between Matt and Elektra is palpable. I could understand why these two were in love, why they fell out of love, and why they fit back together so easily. They both have similar pasts, raised to be weapons by Stick, alone in the world, and are desperately trying to find their place. But I could also understand why they repulse each other as well. While Matt constantly fights his desire to kill, Elektra embraces it completely. It is completely natural for her. If the Punisher is a shark, powerful and unrelenting, then Elektra is a leopard- precise and unpredictable. Elektra is full of impulsive energy and the only thing stopping her from killing is her fancy in any particular moment. This, plus the eventual realization that Elektra manipulated and lied to Matt from the beginning, complicates their relationship. But their hunt for information for what would be revealed as the Hand and the interactions between the two characters were fun to watch. When they teamed up, they were a venomous combination to anyone who stood in their way. But even then, their differences and history kept Matt at Elektra’s throat. Matt simultaneously feels completely free to be himself while also trying to balance Elektra’s murderous intent. This is further exacerbated by Stick’s arrival and the revelation that she is potentially and ancient weapon.
Though Elektra was a thoroughly refreshing addition to the show as a powerful new female character, the Hand, led by Nobu, fell flat as the primary antagonist of the season. But this is not to say they did not have their moments. Despite the stereotype of evil ninjas, the Hand was horrifying to watch. Unlike in Arrow, where the ninjas of the League of Assassins deescalated to little more than cannon fodder, these ninjas were terrifying and deadly. They presented new challenges to Daredevil, while also making sense in a world with gods, monsters, and aliens. Their main asset is stealth and fear and I could understand how they functioned in this world. The Hand is not directly powerful. They keep to the shadows and rely on mysticism and manipulation. Their blood children and their potential immortality presented new questions for the show. They also had poisoned weapons and the abilities to nullify Daredevil’s senses. They raised the stakes in the never-ending battle for Hell’s Kitchen.
And this is a battle that Matt did not win without a cost. As touched upon earlier, Matt struggles with the questions of his morality. Is it worth being Daredevil if he is not stopping the criminals effectively? How far does he have to go to defend the city he loves? What will he have to sacrifice? Who can he trust? And the answers to these questions eventually destroy Matt’s personal and professional life. It was painful to watch in the best possible way. As much as he tried he could not bear all the responsibilities he added on to his shoulders. Battling the Hand with Elektra, defending Castle in court, and nurturing his budding romance with Karen ultimately proved to be too much. He almost got killed multiple times, lost the trial, lost his relationships with Foggy and Karen, and even lost Elektra just as he told her he would run away with her. Still all these challenges dug up the true nature of Matt Murdock. Stick put it best in the final episode of the season, “Matt, you are the toughest son of a bitch I have ever met.” Ultimately, Matt stayed true to himself. Despite all his suffering, he still held true to his convictions. He proved that Daredevil is the best balance of order and chaos in Hell’s Kitchen. He is a necessary force without going overboard.
All in all season two was excellent, but it definitely had its flaws. These flaws are noticeable in the third act, but originate at the end of episode four. If the show completed the Punisher’s storyline first and moved on to Daredevil’s conflict with the Hand and Elektra, the show might have been better. Instead, it attempted to jump back and forth between Punisher’s trial and stint in prison to Daredevil taking on mystical ninjas. This led to plenty of good moments of course. The Punisher’s hunt for the Blacksmith was intriguing and the prison fight was the Punisher equivalent of Daredevil’s hallway fight. This much can be said, Netflix really takes advantage of the lack of parental ratings. It was fantastically gory- a true Punisher action scene. Still, the show became jumbled towards the end. The different storylines did not mix properly. I was taken from the Punisher struggling with prison thugs to Daredevil finding a ninja blood farm with no connection between the two, and when they eventually did connect, it fell flat. But even then, the Punisher’s plot did not link completely with Daredevil, and he seemed to appear for an assist in the final battle just for the sake of having the Punisher there.
Nevertheless, the climax had terrific action and if it was a show on the CW or ABC I would have been satisfied. It was a true comic book ending- a battle with an army of ninjas on top of a roof. But what makes season 1 of Daredevil amazing is that it is grim and realistic- never taking the excuse of being a show about comic characters. But it seems season two took that excuse. While I was entertained, it left somewhat of a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I loved seeing the awesome action sequences and watching the Punisher find his armory, but I could not help but feel if the show separated the storylines in to two different arcs instead of trying to weave them in simultaneously, it would have led to a more satisfying end. And unlike Wilson Fisk, the Hand was not potent enough of an antagonist to anchor the two story lines. While the show tried to use Daredevil to juggle the Punisher’s hunt for the Blacksmith with the war against the Hand, it did not quite have the desired effect. It felt forced.
Still, this is not to say season two was not fantastic, because it was indeed fantastic. Every character in the show developed, including the supporting cast. Foggy Nelson was amazing in the courtroom scenes and his tension with Matt was unforced. Karen Page was used to add tension to Matt’s love life and further the Punisher’s story. Also, the show developed her realistically with her hunt for the truth and her inner conflict over her murder of James Wesley. There was even the gracious appearance of Claire Temple who I hope will finally take on the mantle of the Night Nurse after she quit her job at the hospital. Another cameo by Jeri Hogarth adds another set up for the Defenders. Finally, Wilson Fisk’s appearance was an enjoyable surprise while also relevant to the plot setting up a comeback in Daredevil’s future. And it was not even a cameo. He was a terrific supporting character that only assisted the Punisher because it was a part of his own agenda.
Netflix’s marvel shows continue to give audiences the most gritty and relatable superheroes. Season one of Daredevil and Jessica Jones were thoroughly intoxicating and this season of Daredevil is just as binge worthy. It hits the ground running and though it slows and jars to the end, it is another marvelous piece of television. I even found it more addicting than season one with its bigger action sets and new characters even if I think that season one had the better plot and pacing. As is, this season was more of a character study of what makes superheroes. The three iconic characters represent the three different archetypes- Daredevil representing a classic vigilante with a strict morality, Punisher representing the darker side of the coin but with a code, and Elektra representing the struggle to balance the two. Each season has its strengths and weaknesses, and if that is understood, then Daredevil’s season two is just as good as season one.