Starring: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Eldon Henson, Jon Bernthal, Royce Johnson, Elodie Yung, Scott Glenn, Rosario Dawson, Michelle Hurd, Clancy Brown, Vincent D’Onofrio, Tony Curran, Peter Shinkoda, Carrie-Anne Moss, and more.
Directors: Phil Abraham, Peter Hoar, Andy Goddard, Marc Jobst, Floria Sigismondi
Running time: 13 episodes – 52-60 minutes
Not satisfied with being just a blind attorney, Matt Murdock leads a complicated life in a dark, dreary, and violent world that’s full of unpleasant surprises.
Christmas came early this year for genre fans, in the form of the second season of this dark, neo-noir crime drama/superhero series featuring a different man in red. The man in red is not the jolly bearded one this time around; he’s a blind vigilante with super sensitive senses created by a run-in with some radioactive isotopes as a boy. Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Cox) has earned the nickname “the devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” since we last saw him, as he goes about violently protecting the neighborhood he grew up and lives in now. He continues his crusade of targeting the criminals he tracks down and drives out in a brutally (and graphically) depicted fight between good and evil.
This series is staunchly noir in its portrayal of Daredevil’s fight against crime. Noir not only in the sense of the shadowy, dark depiction of the realm it takes place in but also in its portrayal of the people that populate it. These are people left without options, trapped on a path that leads them inexorably towards their fate, and possibly their doom.
Daredevil is the most successful of the tv shows that attempt to depict this sort of noir approach to the genre of superhero shows. The other series that use this approach, Arrow and Gotham seem like light fare compared to this ultra-dark series and the brutal shadowy and violent world it portrays.
The world it depicts is graphically expressed in episodes so saturated with violence, that the plethora of well-choreographed fights become almost mind-numbing to a degree. The battles become a parade of physical, violent encounters, in a world that is so explosively volatile; it seems like every conversation leads to a bloody, violent conclusion. The fights are epic in their portrayal, and the show attempts to escalate the ante with each one, but after a while this has the result of the violence becoming mind-numbing, at times, in its depiction. After a point, it almost seems as if this series is overly relying on its violent elements to a point where the violence becomes redundant and repetitive to an almost absurd degree.
The fights are a staple of this series, and admittedly provide a lot of the entertainment value it has, they are expertly done and masterfully choreographed, resulting in maybe the best fight scenes I have ever seen on TV. They almost conceal the real strength of the series, and how it masterfully crafts its characters and develops them. For example, it defines Matt Murdock by having him go through this epic shit storm he experiences, and how he responds to it, and by how he seems almost unaffected by it on the surface (except for all the bumps, bruises, and lacerations). He is a rock of moral certainty and stubbornly convinced that what he is doing, and how he is going about it is right.
The story and the season develop in stages, not unlike the acts in a stage play, so I have decided to divide this review into sections labeled in that manner. (*caution: some spoilers follow*)
Act 1 – episodes 1-4, The Punisher
The opening chapters of season 2 mostly concern themselves with the arrival of Frank Castle who quickly earns himself the title of the Punisher as police and Murdock as Daredevil try to track down this violent vigilante who has begun a killing spree in Hell’s Kitchen. His campaign targets criminals in no uncertain terms; he kills them. Eventually, when he and Daredevil meet, it is not just a battle for supremacy or an anthropological struggle for the role of alpha male that ensues. There is also a coincidental discussion underway in juxtaposition, a philosophical conflict taking place during the physical combat between the two over how to approach a solution for the crime that plagues the neighborhood, and how to go about getting rid of it.
The Punisher (Bernthal) is on a crusade of vengeance first, with justice as a secondary goal. He is the victim of an unfortunate coincidence that occurred when he visited Central Park with his family that happened to place them in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in the death of his wife and children. Castle himself is shot in the head but survives. He uses a copy of an x-ray of his skull as his calling card at the scenes of his crimes. Eventually, he adopts as a logo towards the end of the season when he paints its likeness on the bulletproof vest he wears. The incident that occurs to him gets covered up as part of a conspiracy that is revealed later in the season.
Bernthal is excellent in his portrayal of the tormented Castle. He conveys a sense of melancholy, weariness, and irony, along with the knowledge of the doom he will eventually face as a result of the path life has forced upon him that he has chosen. Castle is an ex-special forces soldier portrayed as a relentless killing machine strongly reminiscent of the Terminator. He does not look like a movie or tv star; he is not a handsome man in the conventional sense. His features are more like what you would think of as those of a dock worker, ex-boxer, or blue-collar guy of some sort. His appearance grows increasingly grotesque as the series continues until it resembles a fright mask as a result of the abuse and damages his face suffers at the hands of others.
Castle is waging a holy war against the gangsters he holds responsible for the death of his family. He attacks a motorcycle gang, The Dogs of Hell, as part of his crusade to kill anyone he feels was part of the incident that left his family dead.
When he and Daredevil collide, he eventually wins the fight and shoots Daredevil in the head. Murdock survives, partially protected by the helmet that is part of the costume he now wears. The damage done by the bullet leaves his senses temporarily impaired. He eventually gets new headgear for protection but makes do with the patched up old one in the meantime. Daredevil now wears a more refined version of the costume shown at the end of season 1. Along the way, he also acquires the multi-purpose billy club his classic comic book counterpart uses.
When Castle eventually captures Murdock, the two have heated arguments about the best way to deal with local criminals. Eventually, Murdock escapes, but not in time to prevent Castle from carrying out his agenda of killing and destruction. Their philosophical differences remain unchanged as a result of their lengthy discussion.
Without going into too much detail, the first four episodes of the season are a succession of bloody, violent events that slowly develop the narrative the rest of the season matures and evolves as it continues.
Another character, the DA Reyes (Hurd), is introduced, as a part of the story, and the cover-up of the incident involving the death of Castle’s family. She is a tough-as-nails modern woman with the only things about her that match her abrasive manner are her ambition and arrogance. She has a single-minded, self-righteous certainty she is the answer to the city’s problems.
Eventually, Castle bites off more than he can chew. When he attacks the local Irish mob, drawing their crazed leader’s Finn (Tony Curran) attention and anger, they capture him. Just as Castle is about to be killed, Daredevil rescues him from certain death, and together they defeat the mobsters and end the gang’s homicidally sociopathic and violent leader’s life. Daredevil turns Castle over to the police in the person of Sgt Mahoney (Johnson), a cop he has developed a fragile relationship with over the season. Castle is arrested and goes to the hospital to recover while awaiting trial.
While all this is going on Foggy Nelson (Henson), and Karen Page (Woll), Murdock’s associates, have been more or less put on the back burner in the opening episodes of the season, and are occasionally shown involved with the last surviving gangster from Castle’s violent campaign, named Grotto. Page shows a lot of smarts and is proved to have a real talent for digging in for the elusive truth in the case of Castle. Both Nelson and Page are both convincingly portrayed; their characters help make the series more enjoyable and serve to flesh out the series story overall.
Act 2 – episodes 5-7, Elektra
The show introduces Elektra (Yung) as an old college girlfriend of Murdock. She’s a spoiled, self-centered, shallow, thrill-seeking, daughter of a wealthy diplomat. She is not a likable person. She quickly gets Murdock involved in some stuff that seems to be just whimsical anti-social behavior on her part, things like stealing cars and other crimes bordering on felonies. It turns out her petty crimes have an agenda of turning Murdock to the dark side. The show flips between flashbacks and what is going on currently to portray the relationship the two share. She is an excellent martial artist with abilities matching Murdock’s, or maybe surpassing them.
Elektra represents the dark side that Murdock is perennially tempted to surrender to if he were not as committed as he is to the path he is on. Yung, whose exotic Mediterranean looks seem well suited to the role does the character justice. In one of the flashbacks, when she arranges to have Murdock meet the man that killed his father, she offers him the opportunity to kill him in revenge. Murdock beats him unconscious but refuses to kill him. Disappointed, she leaves him at that point, and their brief affair ends.
Back in the present day, Elektra manages to get Murdock involved with the theft of a journal from a Japanese company. At this point, the series takes a break from its brutal crime drama storyline and seamlessly shifts into some nice spy-fi stuff in this segment of the season. He visits her penthouse in the present, and when they are about to be attacked by Yakuza, she reveals she has stolen his costume and invites him to join in the coming fight as his alter ego, Daredevil, a battle which they easily win against the heavily armed gangsters.
Meanwhile Foggy and Karen visit Castle in the hospital where he has been since his capture, and they offer to defend him after meeting the all-but-useless public defender assigned to his case. It’s apparent Reyes is chomping at the bit to make an example of Castle for political gain, and to advance her career, but there’s something fishy going on and when castle Chooses to hire them as attorneys Reyes is not pleased. Murdock and Karen become closer as the season progresses.
Castle’s trial begins, but Murdock’s extra-curricular activities, cause him to neglect his work as an attorney and to miss his opening statements for the defense. Foggy covers for him but it is apparent their relationship is suffering because of Murdock’s activities as his alter-ego.
This segment of the season serves as a brief breather in the show’s pace as the aftermath of the events of the Punishers arrival and subsequent arrest. It serves as an eventful way of progressing the narrative, without missing a beat in the show’s violent journey towards the season’s concluding episodes
Act 3 – episodes 8-13, Nothing is as it seems.
The episode begins with yet another epic fight, as Murdock and Elektra find themselves knee-deep-in-ninjas, leaving Elektra wounded again, this time by a poisoned sword, Just when it appears the pair is doomed, they get saved by the arrival of Stick (Glenn). They rush back to Murdock’s apartment so he can save Elektra’s life with some special stuff he knows.
Stick’s arrival was no coincidence, he reveals he is the leader of a group called the Chaste which has been caught up in an ages-long battle with a group of evildoers called the Hand, and that Elektra works for him as part of this group. These events mark the beginning of the show introducing some more fantastical elements into the nature of the narrative it tells.
This group, The Hand, had found a way of conquering death and Murdock faces an old nemesis he had killed before in the person of Nobu the samurai/ninja he previously defeated in season 1. The Hand has an underground complex with a network of people attached to a system that drains their blood while turning them into zombie-like killers. It is not clear whether these people are affected by drugs or chemicals, or if they are merely in the grip of religious fanaticism.
Meanwhile, Castle’s trial has gotten underway, and forced to take the lead, Foggy, much to his surprise, is doing better than expected. The court scene serves to introduce longtime genre staple Clancy Brown in the role of Colonel Ray Schoonover who appears for the defense and paints a picture of Castle as a hero. Later it is revealed Schoonover is not the friendly ex-soldier he at first seems to be but wants to kill Castle in revenge for the death of his son at Castle’s hands because of a smuggling operation he was involved in that Castle refused to go along with that eventually led to his son’s demise.
Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin (D’Onofrio), makes a return appearance also in the course of events. Where I enjoyed his performance for the most part in season 1, this time around his performance as Fisk rang hollow in his portrayal, as blustering, overly pretentious and even almost laughable. He plays a role in the escape of Castle from prison. The Punisher is freed to continue his deadly crusade.
Other elements of interest in the concluding episodes included an escalation of the relationship between Karen and Murdock, which, when she visits his apartment and finds the ailing Elektra there, abruptly ends their budding romance. Karen has been transitioning to becoming a journalist. Foggy goes off on his own to set up practice with a new law firm, Nelson and Murdock is no more. The season ends with Murdock revealing the truth of his existence to Karen, that he is Daredevil, a cliff hanger that leaves us wondering how she will react to this news. There are also a couple of other tidbits thrown in, designed to further whet our appetites for season 3.
Daredevil Season 2 is an ambitious undertaking. In its span, season 2 goes about telling a story that goes from a crime drama strongly resembling a noir private eye story, to spy-fi, and finally, shifts into a ninja filled supernatural fantasy. During all of this, it also manages to introduce some pretty well-done courtroom drama elements into a season, that on the surface, might seem overfilled with subplots and storylines. There is a real chance it might end up confusing, as a result of trying too hard to remain entertaining, but that is not the case. The writing is so good; the season unfolds like a masterfully wrapped package that eventually opens to reveal the unique gifts it has hidden inside. The relentless pace, and constant over-the-top, graphically depicted violence work for the most part in a series that has consistently established itself as a top-notch quality production. The cast, the writing, and the direction, all add up to a very entertaining and engaging season of television done well.
*UPDATE* Season 3 is going to happen, but it’s likely the Defenders, another Marvel/Netflix production, featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist will arrive before that. You can see the SDCC 2016 sizzle reel below.