I thought that the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil was spectacular, dark and complex and very adult, a triumphant declaration of intent for Netflix’s Marvel shows. Jessica Jones, the second Marvel show, was every bit as good, telling a wrenching story of a young woman trying to put her life back together after a terrible assault. (Click here for my review of Daredevil season one and Jessica Jones season one.) Luke Cage (a character introduced so wonderfully in Jessica Jones) is scheduled to be the third Netflix Marvel show, but I was delighted that first we got a second season of Daredevil.
This terrific run of thirteen episodes make Netflix three for three, as they have followed up Daredevil’s terrific first season with an encore that is every bit as compelling and thrilling as season one. I have read some reviews on-line that felt this season didn’t live up to the promise of season one, while others felt that it blew season one out of the water. I didn’t have either reaction — instead, I was impressed with how consistent in style and tone and quality this second season was to season one. (This is particularly impressive because of some behind-the-scenes change-ups that I have read about. At the start of this second season Daredevil was on its third set of show-runners, which is not usually a good sign.) I loved the vast majority of season two, and though I felt they stumbled a little bit at the end, this is still a phenomenal season of television and probably the best superhero TV show I have ever seen.
With the Kingpin off the streets, at the start of season two all seems well for Hell’s Kitchen and Matt Murdock. But that happy status quo is quickly upset by a series of challenges. While the city has begun to embrace the vigilante Daredevil, those tentative good feelings are shattered by the arrival on the scene of another, more violent vigilante, the Punisher, who murders criminals. Daredevil and the Punisher immediately come into violent conflict. Then, Matt’s long-lost love Elektra returns to the city and his life. Elektra is revealed to be involved with the same war against an ancient evil that Matt’s old master Stick has been fighting, and Matt soon finds his city overrun with the vicious ninjas known as the Hand. Will Elektra fight on Matt’s side or will she turn fully to the darkness inside of her?
Daredevil season two is filled with a LOT of plot and a LOT of characters, and I was impressed with how well the show was able to juggle everything. I commented in my review of Jessica Jones that, while I usually loved serialized shows, I felt perhaps that Jessica Jones had been a step TOO serialized, with little distinction given to any individual episode as each one led directly into the next. Daredevil season two found a better approach, I think. This season is certainly serialized. The thirteen episodes are structured to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, and many of the episodes end with viciously delicious cliffhangers. But, on the other hand, the individual episodes felt complete in a way that they didn’t always in Jessica Jones.
I was also impressed by how well the writers were able to weave all of the many characters and story-lines in and out through the season. Certain characters and story-lines step into the forefront for a time while other recede. Certain characters pop up and then aren’t seen for a while. But it all works in a way that kept me hooked throughout the run of thirteen episodes, without too much wondering about “when will they return to that character or that plot-line?” and, looking back now on the season as a whole, I’m pretty happy with how everything fit together.
I was also very happy with the way in which season two showed that the writers are starting to take a longer view of the show. This season feels complete, but it’s also clearly not an end. Quite a lot of stuff is set up for potential future seasons. I was very pleased that the show felt free to change things up and upset the status quo as the season went on. As we got to the final episodes, I was a little worried that everything would be re-set to just the way it was, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. Things are broken in this season that we don’t see magically fixed.
Season two succeeds in introducing two major new characters to the show: the Punisher and Elektra. I am happy and relieved to say they did a great job with both. Jon Bernthal is absolute perfection as Frank Castle, the Punisher. I was so excited when I read that he was cast in the role, and he is better than I had dared dream. Mr. Bernthal is perfect. He has the look, he has the voice, and he has the acting chops to be able to sell Frank’s killing-machine intensity and also the moments when the audience is given a glimpse into Frank’s broken soul. It’s magnificent work, and I really couldn’t imagine this being better. I wasn’t familiar with Elodie Yung’s work before this show, but she is also very strong as Elektra. She maybe doesn’t quite have the magic that Mr. Bernthal does — Elektra is a beloved, iconic character from the comics so this is a very hard role to fill — but Ms. Yung is really able to sell the magnetism of her attraction to Matt (and his to her) and she’s also terrific in the action sequences. She really grew on me in the role as the season progressed.
This season also brings back a lot of characters from season one, both major and minor. I won’t spoil who or how, but I’ll say that all of this made me very happy, as I love that attention to detail and the way the larger world around Matt Murdock/Daredevil is being developed by the show by creating this large ensemble of supporting characters.
Season one threw down the gauntlet with some extreme violence and awesome action sequences. The uncut hallway fight in the second episode of the first season was the moment I fell in love with the show (and it was one of my favorite episodes of TV from last year). I’d been wondering if season two would be able to top that, but I didn’t have long to wait, as the third episode of season three contains a magnificent, astounding fight between Daredevil and a biker gang in a stairwell that just goes on and on and on. It’s a triumph, vicious and brutal and intense. I loved every second of it.
I’m moving into SPOILERS territory with what remains of this review, so please beware. If you haven’t yet seen season two, know that it’s great and you should go watch it now instead of reading any further.
Everyone else? Let’s dig in.
I loved the introduction of Scott Glenn as Stick (perfect casting) in season one, and I was hoping to see him again in season two. The show doesn’t make us wait too long, and I was very surprised — but happy — by how substantial a role Stick has to play in the second half of the season, and the degree to which the show focused on Stick’s ancient war with the Hand. And yet, this is also a place where the show stumbled a bit in that I would have liked a little more clarity to exactly who was fighting whom, and why, and what the stakes are. How exactly is it that Elektra can be the Hand’s sacred Black Sky? What does that mean? What would she have enabled the Hand to do? Why did Stick — the practical, no-nonsense, no-emotions Stick — not kill young Elektra right away years ago? What exactly changes his mind halfway through this season, causing him to send Jacques to kill her? Why on Earth would Stick think one of his apprentices could kill Elektra anyway? All of this felt a bit muddled to me.
I loved the ways in which this season gently connected to Jessica Jones. Seeing Rosario Dawson’s Claire pop up in Jessica Jones season one was fun (albeit a bit awkward), but season two of Daredevil is filled with several fun little connections. I loved the idea that Foggy’s ex-girlfriend was working for Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss)’s law firm! And I almost fell off my chair when Carrie Anne-Moss herself popped up in the finale. That was so great.
Speaking of surprising returns, I had remained thankfully unspoiled that Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk would appear in this season. I’d thought that we wouldn’t see him again for a while, until some future season down the road. But I was thrilled, and super-surprised, when he and the Punisher met up in prison. And that episode spotlighting the Kingpin’s life in prison (“Seven Minutes in Heaven”) was magnificent, one of my favorite episodes of the season. Mr. D’Onofrio was fantastic, just as he was in season one, absolutely note-perfect as the Kingpin. In fact, he was possibly even better than in season one as this time, we see that Fisk isn’t having to pretend to be civilized around Vanessa. This is the tough, evil Kingpin, and when he destroys Matt Murdock during their holding-room encounter I was on the edge of my seat. Amazing stuff. And his last scene of the season, in which he asks to take another look at his files about Matt, was a tantalizing hint of where the show might go in season three.
After Rosario Dawson appeared in Jessica Jones, I’d expected her character, Claire Temple, to have a larger role in this second season of Daredevil. So I was glad she popped back into things in the latter part of the season. I hope to see more of her in season three.
I loved getting to see so much of Josie’s this season. I loved seeing Matt’s priest, and Nobu and Madame Gao, again. I loved seeing Melvin Potter again, and the way the show takes the time to show us DD having to get his gear constantly fixed up. And then there is Turk. How great is this show’s version of Turk? True Daredevil fans know that you’ve got to have Turk and you’ve got to get him right, and boy did this show get him exactly right.
One of my major complaints about season one was how disappointed I was by the reveal of Daredevil’s costume in the finale. I thought it looked very goofy. The mask in particular was all wrong, giving actor Charlie Cox’s face a weird look. Thank goodness they fixed that for this season. They made the costume look a little better in the first few episodes, and then they smartly wrote in a story reason for DD to have to change his look. The second costume, in particular the new mask, was much better. It’s still not a great superhero costume but it works much, much better now.
I mentioned at the top of this review that I felt the show stumbled a bit towards the end, and I think that’s the season’s biggest weakness. First of all, the whole business with the Blacksmith was a huge letdown and a big waste of time. They kept mentioning this secret figure’s name, but didn’t give us any reason to really care who he was. The revelation that he was Frank’s old commander was out of left field and it undermined Clancy Brown’s powerful speech from the trial about how Frank had saved his life. It was also a pointless muddying of the Punisher’s perfect origin. His family is gunned down in front of him and so he declares a one-man, take-no-prisoners war on crime. I don’t need there to have been a conspiracy that set up Frank’s family to die. That was a dumb and pointless plot twist. Usually any Clancy Brown is a good thing, and I loved his speech during the trial as I just mentioned. But I really hated everything going on with that character when he appeared again in the season’s second-to-last episode.
The show also surprisingly didn’t quite land the death of Elektra. All season long I was wondering how far this season would take her story. Would she die in the finale or would that be held for a future season? In the end, I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the path they chose. Elektra’s death in the comics, as written and drawn by Frank Miller, is so iconic and so memorable. To have Elektra die without the involvement of Bullseye, without him slitting her throat with the card, without his taunting final words to her — I was very surprised the show didn’t choose to be more faithful. Yes, they do have her die at the hand of her own sai as happened in the comics, but even that is in a much different manner than the original story, with here her choosing to sacrifice herself for Matt. It was a little too cheesy for my taste, and lacked the power of her death in the comics. I’m not really sure why you use Elektra if you’re not going to honor her death scene as depicted in the comics. I’d have preferred them to keep the character around, then introduce Bullseye next season and perhaps kill her off at the end of season three. Oh well.
I loved seeing DD get his trademark billy-clubs at the end of the season!
I loved how long they waited before showing us Frank Castle with a white skull on his chest.
The Punisher story-line kept me guessing all season long, which I enjoyed. I didn’t at all expect him to be captured at the end of episode four. That the show then shifted into “the trial of Frank Castle” was a surprise and a lot of fun. I wish the character had been more involved in the season finale (yet another weakness of the season’s ending) but over-all I was really happy with where the character ended up. Most of all, I was happy that the show avoided softening his edges too much. The Punisher isn’t a hero in my mind, he’s a villain, and I liked very much that the show — for the most part — treated him that way (while also taking the time to develop him as a three-dimensional character, just as they had done so successfully with Wilson Fisk in season one). There were a few points this season where I worried they were going to give Frank a change of heart and turn him into a good guy, but thank heaven they always avoided that. The only good thing about all that business with Clancy Brown’s character in the penultimate episode was when Frank shot him in the head in the shed, even while Karen begged him not to. That’s the Punisher, man. Perfect.
I like that characters on the show mostly refer to DD as “the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” but damn if I didn’t also enjoy the way more and more characters started calling him Daredevil towards the end of the season.
I liked that the show didn’t forget about Ben Urich, and I enjoyed seeing Ben’s assholish boss at the paper turn up again this season in a much-more supportive role for Karen.
I was surprised, but not unhappily so, by what a jerk the writers chose to make Matt Murdock this season, totally screwing up as a lawyer and ruining his relationships with most of his friends. And I was glad that the show didn’t find ridiculous reasons for his friends to stand by him, but instead broke up the threesome of Nelson, Murdock and Page. It was very sad for Matt and Foggy to be at odds for so much of this season — I love those two actors together and I hope that the characters will reconcile in future seasons — but it made for some great drama this season.
I loved the way this season hinted at a dark secret in Karen’s past. I can’t wait for that to come into play in a larger way in future seasons. And just as I wondered all season long about how far the show was going to take the Elektra story, I wondered about where the show will take Karen Page. Will she suffer the same sad date she did in the comics, both in Born Again and in Guardian Devil? I am very curious.
OK, time to wrap this up. Bravo to Netflix for producing such a spectacular second season of Daredevil. The show is adult, with a lot of violence and grim happenings, and it doesn’t feel the need to have to give everyone a happy ending. And yet, at the same time, the show is able to be fiercely entertaining, an exciting, fun adventure serial that I loved following from episode-to-episode.
I can’t wait for Luke Cage (the next Netflix Marvel series), and I also very eagerly await a third season of Daredevil, hopefully to come some time next year.