Review – Daredevil: Season Two by Jerry Whitworth
Following the success of Daredevil on Netflix, a second season was quickly ordered and fast-tracked into production. Coming four months after the premiere of Jessica Jones and six months before Luke Cage begins, the second season of Daredevil (one-quarter of the Defenders line-up on Netflix with Iron Fist recently cast in Finn Jones) premiered last Friday. Following the events of the first season which featured the emerging Daredevil (Charlie Cox) stifle Wilson Fisk’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) bloody gentrification of Hell’s Kitchen, the second season picks up the subplot surrounding Fisk’s association with a secret Japanese organization. Amidst this, Daredevil must deal with the appearance of the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and the return of a former dangerous associate. From henceforth, this review will feature SPOILERS of the content from Daredevil‘s second season. Lets take a look at this latest thirteen-episode offering and if it compares favorably to the groundbreaking first season.
Structurally, the first and second seasons of Daredevil are notably different. The first season went on something of a tour of Wilson Fisk’s empire as the show’s eponymous character tackled the Russians, Japanese, and Chinese before facing the head of the criminal organization itself. In the second season, it’s broken into separate storylines that eventually converge. Namely, the emergence of the Punisher and his capture followed by the trial of Frank Castle and the return of Matt Murdock’s lost love Elektra (Élodie Yung). Elektra leads to a confrontation with the Japanese organization Daredevil faced in the first season (confirming them to be the Hand) and the hero being dragged back into Stick’s (Scott Glenn) war. The series ends with the subplot of Castle’s escape as he completes his journey for revenge while the firm of Nelson & Murdock collapses and a final battle between Daredevil, Elektra, and the Hand plays out. In this manner, the formula of the show had changed. As with film sequels, the body count rose as action was ramped up which works for a comic book series but perhaps detracts a bit from what Daredevil was. The first season was something of a Shakespearean play blended with a Shaw Brothers kung fu picture. Season two largely peeled back on its dramatic aspects (though certainly it was still there, especially in terms of Frank Castle’s journey) in favor of a more noir-inspired story that seems like The Wire with mystical ninjas (and sprinkled with a little bit of Oz). Arguably, Daredevil season two was a Punisher series with Daredevil fighting ninjas in the background.
In many ways, the Punisher took over Daredevil‘s second season. A live action Punisher has been tried several times in the past. The earliest in 1989 featured Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Masters of the Universe) as the character where the film was panned for limited (yet poor) acting and predominantly featured action that was viewed as boring and lame with low-budget effects. This was followed in 2004 with Thomas Jane and 2008 with Ray Stevenson as the former was seen as joyless and hammy and the latter overtly violent with poor dialogue (in other words, the Punisher had a worse track record than Daredevil at the movies). Simply put, fans have waited decades for a Punisher that struck the right balance of violent but with a sense of pathos. The comic book community might finally have that with Jon Bernthal. Known for his role of Shane Walsh on The Walking Dead, Bernthal tapped into his Shane character of a good man consumed by a world of darkness (with a little Travis Bickle sprinkled in). The Punisher is unapologetic and ruthless but Bernthal managed to hit on the tone that, beneath the surface, he’s a man suffering with loss (adding a bit more emotion to the part than I had anticipated but the Punisher would become all business when playing his destructive role). What’s interesting is that it seems the writers went far out of their way to distance Castle from suffering from PTSD however did apply that the character suffers from a traumatic brain injury that helps account for his behavior (which seems a bit of a disservice, giving Punisher something of an out for his crimes rather than his simply choosing to kill).
In much the same way Daredevil targeted the Russians, Chinese, and Japanese, the Punisher offers a dark mirror in his deadly pursuit of the Irish, Mexicans, and Bikers. Of course, while the Chinese had a bit of mysticism and Japanese had a ninja in their favor, the Punisher also wields quite a lethal arsenal as Daredevil’s dismantling of Fisk’s empire took a season but Punisher accomplished much of his goals in four episodes. While imprisoned, Castle would learn there would be more to his family’s demise leading to his own Wilson Fisk character in the mysterious Blacksmith (played by Clancy Brown and which the Punisher goes on to eliminate by season’s end). Further, while Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) worked with Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) to help Daredevil in season one, the heroine now aligned with Urich’s editor Mitchell Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor) to assist the Punisher (leading Page on a journey to follow in Urich’s footsteps though the brilliant portrayal by Curtis-Hall was greatly missed in this season). Even Wilson Fisk, Daredevil’s hated arch-nemesis, would make an enemy of Frank Castle in prison when the Kingpin used him to eliminate a rival and left Castle to die at the hands of other prisoners (giving Castle his own version of season one’s hallway fight sequence). Fisk would facilitate Castle’s escape to help clear the field for Kingpin’s inevitable return which will undoubtedly be a poor decision in the long run (much in the same manner Fisk allowed Daredevil to operate relatively unchecked until the hero survived the liquidation of the Russians). If season one of Daredevil was the character’s Batman Begins, this season filled a similar role for Punisher. Castle’s use of a van as a mobile transport as in the comics is present, a cache of military-grade weapons is acquired at season’s end (as is his iconic skull emblem), Punisher aids in the battle against the Hand (demonstrating satisfying his vengeance did not fulfill him), and it is alluded he will connect with his in-comics ally of Microchip (who was previously mentioned on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an associate of the hacker Skye/Daisy). As noted, not only did this season introduce the Punisher to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so did it bring Elektra.
Teased in the first season by Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), Elektra Natchios was the daughter of a Greek diplomat who met Matt Murdock during his college years resulting in a whirlwind romance. Their relationship came to a head when Elektra tracked down the man responsible for the death of Matt’s father and tried to push Matt into killing him. When Matt refused to cross that line, Elektra would disappear. That is, until she popped up in Matt’s apartment after the vigilante brought the Punisher to justice. Claiming to want Matt’s help with a meeting with the Roxxon Corporation (the MCU’s go-to for a villainous corporation with a presence in Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Iron Man films) it turns out Roxxon is partners with the Hand and Elektra used the meeting as a means of manipulating Matt into helping her (revealing Elektra is also a student and ally to Stick). Stick reveals the Hand is an ancient organization that discovered the means of immortality and Stick formed a group called the Chaste to combat them. Both Elektra and Matt were trained to become members of the group but the latter lacked the temperament to kill (while the former derived pleasure from it). Near season’s end, Elektra is revealed to be the Black Sky mentioned in the first season that the Hand sought to serve. However, Matt’s mutual love for Elektra helped her stand by his side as the Hand’s Nobu (Peter Shinkoda) accidentally killed her. The turn of events led Matt to kill Nobu who would regenerate only to then be decapitated by Stick. Elektra’s body was shone to be recovered by the Hand where it’s implied it will be resurrected with the blood farmed from youths kidnapped by the Hand and injected with a corrupting substance.
If the writers of Daredevil do anything right, it’s that they seem to understand the characters they’re adapting from the comics. As with the Punisher, Elektra is portrayed wonderfully. Confidant, sensual, and deadly, Elektra was depicted as an adrenaline junkie who found pleasure in inflicting pain. However, in much the same way Murdock got under the skin of Stick (seemingly stoic, his affection revealed with his keeping a bracelet the young man made him many years earlier in season one), Murdock found a light within the deep darkness of Elektra and became a conduit for it. The feeling was seemingly mutual as the appearance of Elektra in Murdock’s life flipped his status quo upside down and by the end of the season, the hero was content because he had Elektra (it was also depicted how Elektra earned the love of Stick who sacrificed one of his brothers in the Chaste for her life). If there was a moment, however, when the plot of the season didn’t make much sense, it was when Stick ordered the death of Elektra. Stick was aware of Elektra being the Black Sky before he trained her but he seemingly went against the rules of his group so long as Elektra was loyal to him. However, when Elektra chose to leave the Chaste because of Murdock’s influence, the Chaste came for her life under Stick’s orders. This in a manner would become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy as this turn of events made the Hand aware of Elektra being the Black Sky and courted her for their side (as Stick’s betrayal became a catalyst for her to turn). It felt rushed in the same manner Kilgrave’s powers were greatly enhanced toward the end of Jessica Jones‘ first season as a means of forcing the narrative to a fast and abrupt brutal finale (whereas Daredevil‘s first season finale felt like a natural progression culminating into the final conflict). Already some have criticized how Bullseye’s part in the finale was filled by Nobu to which it should be noted much of that original storyline was unlikely from emerging (considering Fisk being imprisoned and Bullseye seeking revenge on Elektra for replacing him).
Before going into what the future of Daredevil could be, it’s important to make note that likely the Defenders series will have to be produced before a third season of Daredevil as of a contractual obligation on the part of Netflix (who has a finite time to fulfill this contract). It then becomes likely that as Daredevil was the lead-in to the Defenders subset of the MCU and much of the conflict with the Hand was not touched upon in the second season (as Jasson Finney’s Stone of the Chaste made no appearance and the massive holes the Hand dug were left unexplained), the Defenders could then deal with a war between the mystical ninja clan and the street level heroes of New York. In fact, it’s possible it could loosely adapt the “Shadowland” storyline which saw Daredevil possessed by the Beast (the entity the Hand serve in the comics) who declares war on the Big Apple and constructs a fortress called Shadowland (where, of course, Elektra would stand-in for Daredevil). While Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) seems to be the thread that connects all of the Defenders, there are other components in play. Daredevil himself has a connection to the Punisher while Foggy appears to have went to work for Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), an ally to Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). Jones, of course, has an ally in Patsy Walker (Rachael Taylor) and connection to Luke Cage (Mike Colter). Cage will feature Misty Knight (Simone Missick) in his series (where Knight was best friends with Colleen Wing in the comics). In the comics, Hogarth was a close friend of Danny Rand’s (Iron Fist) father as Danny would become best friends with Cage and date Knight. Both seasons of Daredevil would feature Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) who is speculated to be Crane Mother, enemy of Iron Fist and ally to his arch-nemesis Steel Serpent (whose symbol was stamped on the heroin in the Netflix series). Luke Cage premiers September 30, 2016 which will be followed by Iron Fist and likely The Defenders. A second season of Jessica Jones has been greenlit as a third season of Daredevil will likely be announced any day now (as rumors persist of a Punisher series). No word if the worlds of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Most Wanted will crossover with the Defenders series or if any of the Marvel Television characters will emerge in Avengers: Infinity War.