There’s a moment in the third episode of this season where, faced with fighting his way down a whole building of armed thugs, Matt Murdock gives a quick grin from under his mask, and then with a sudden violent and terrible fury he roars, smashing out the lights overhead. At this point, I almost unconsciously pointed at my screen, and whispered, “Here comes Daredevil, the man without fear.” Because this is a character with such a long history, with titans behind the page like Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, Ann Nocenti, Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, and Mark Waid, there are many different interpretations of the character.
So of course, Netflix’s Daredevil can’t be any one of those specific incarnations. But there is such love, understanding, and attention to detail being put into not only the incredible Charlie Cox’s performance but behind the camera as well that it’s just dazzling. Through all the years and runs of comics, the people on this show really know what makes Daredevil Daredevil. Not just the man, but the world he exists in and the characters around him.
Let’s start this review with the Punisher as portrayed by Jon Bernthal. Yes, this is the Punisher we’ve been waiting for. Episodes one to four of this season play like the Daredevil vs Punisher movie, and while I don’t mean to belittle the greatness of the remaining episodes, those first four make for a spectacular bit of television. Punisher is brutal, unforgiving, and terrifying. He’s also uncomfortably understandable, occasionally sympathetic, and at one point genuinely heart-breaking. Some of the best scenes of the season aren’t the (incredibly good) fight scenes, but the dialogue between Daredevil and Punisher, two figures who, in a way, are trying to do the same thing. In Matt Murdock’s own words, Frank Castle is actually a good man, he just doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong anymore.
Even though after the first four episodes, Daredevil and Punisher only directly cross paths a few times, that isn’t how it ends. Much of the middle of this season is taken up by the trial of the Punisher: Frank Castle vs the people of New York. This is where we get to see Elden Henson’s “Foggy Nelson” and Deborah Ann Wolf’s “Karen Page” shine.
Foggy is a real lawyer. This was a criticism of Daredevil’s freshman year, that the lawyer side didn’t get much… lawyering. This time we get some real lawyerly stuff. All throughout the trial, Foggy (who didn’t want to defend the Punisher in the first place) absolutely shines. He’s smart, sincere, and really sells it as a guy who only just now realized that he’s good at his job.
Karen, on the other hand, goes a different way this season. Honestly, it feels like the writers weren’t initially quite sure what to do with Karen this year. She and Matt strike up an almost-romance, but that kind of fizzles out. She also develops a rapport with the Punisher during his trial, because if last year taught us anything, it’s that Karen enjoys the company of dangerous men. (He dresses like the devil and punches? Nice. He straight up murders bad guys? Nicer). But eventually, it was her involvement in the old world of the New York Globe that I liked.
If there was any element of season one I initially missed, it was the grim, world-weary detective work of reporter Ben Urich. But slowly, Karen slips into his shoes. She makes a good reporter, and she was always a better investigator then secretary. So while this role is a departure from the comics, it’s a welcome one. Her interactions with Ellison, Ben’s old editor, bring a smile to my face.
The awesome Rosario Dawson also returns as Claire the nurse, as does Matt’s priest, Father Lantom (portrayed by Peter McRobbie), but both in a far more minor capacity. They are Matt’s voices of reason, and in a season of an increasingly unreasonable hero, it makes sense that their voices take a back seat.
But, when talking about this second half of the season, you might be wondering, “Where did Matt go?” Enter Elektra Natchios. Much of her background from the comics has been changed, but the important notes stay the same. She was Matt’s old college flame, she very much enjoys violence, and she’s got some secrets in the dark.
Elodie Yung’s “Elektra” brings a sense of escalating violence, of spinning out of control, and of the giddy embracing of a more fantastical life. She does it very well, and manages to bring more to the role, to create a far fuller and more interesting character than any version of Catwoman who supposedly tempted Batman on screen. She is continually there, like a younger echo of Daredevil’s old mentor Stick, reminding him his life in the mask is so much easier than his life in the dark-red glasses.
Unlike characters like Spider-Man, who constantly throw their costumes in the trash, Matt Murdock likes being Daredevil. That becomes a part of the conflict later in the season, as it becomes easier and easier to just put on the mask and beat a bad guy then it is to put on a tie and try to survive the world as Matt Murdock. This is why, unfortunately, we see very little of Matt Murdock in the Punisher’s trial, although when we do see him he is something to watch.
In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I’m going to avoid talking about the last few episodes of the season. However, I think it’s fairly okay to say that yes, The Hand (cult of evil ninjas) are the bad guys this season. They never quite match the threat or emotional investment of Wilson Fisk or Frank Castle, nor is their evil plan ever fully, properly explained, but I think we’re going to be seeing them again.
In a way, it feels like the writing room of Daredevil was as divided as the characters themselves, with half wanting to do the Punisher, and the other half wanting Elektra and The Hand. So we got both. I won’t complain, really. I do think that the two halves of the season could have coalesced a little more tightly. But I’m a guy who likes all the big names in one room. I can’t always get what I want.
While the action in Daredevil has always been something else, it’s easy to admit the dialogue and pacing in its second season are a big improvement. A problem near the end of season one was the pacing. It became very slow, almost stretching to the point where I have trouble remembering certain episodes. But this time around, the pace continues to pick up, getting faster and faster. The characters can talk about their different ideas of justice, and heroes, and their relationship to the city, without it ever becoming bulky or heavy-handed.
New York City is as much a character as Matt himself. He really does love his city. Daredevil manages to capture a bit of the superhero mythos that many of its big screen counterparts have lost. It’s that strange, possessive idea that the city belongs to its heroes as much as the heroes belong to their city.
“My city.” Matt says this many times throughout the series. Not “in my city”, “our city”, or “this city”. “My city”. It’s a sentiment echoed by Karen, and Foggy, and even the villains.
This is the way Daredevil feels about Hell’s Kitchen. It is a deep, emotional attachment to the roots of his city, making his city almost something mythic to be protected and understood. This, more than anything else, is who Daredevil is.
This is a show that understands its characters with incredible depth and nuance. This is Daredevil, and the Punisher. That is the Hell’s Kitchen of the Daredevil comics. Honestly, I think I can just say: job well done. When is season three?