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Josh Reviews Daredevil: Season Three

Daredevil season three reminds me of the early days, when Netflix’s Marvel shows were exciting.  I was blown away by the first season of Daredevil and the first season of Jessica Jones.  These shows were adult, intense, and exciting.  They were gorgeously well-made, with great action and compelling drama.  They took the characters seriously but were still hugely fun pieces of entertainment.  But then things started to go awry, and while I have found moments to enjoy in the shows and seasons that followed, the Marvel Netflix productions settled into mediocrity.  And then Netflix, apparently no longer interested in shows it didn’t completely control/own, cancelled all of them.  (Daredevil was cancelled just a few weeks after season three dropped, despite the positive reviews the season received.  Jessica Jones hasn’t even released its currently-in-production third season, and that show has already been cancelled!)  All of this conspired to make me not exactly in a rush to watch the latest season of Daredevil.  But I knew that I’d loved season one (and enjoyed season two, despite its flaws), and so I did finally decide to watch season three a few weeks ago.  I am delighted I did, because it is TERRIFIC.  This is the strongest season of a Netflix Marvel show since those first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  If this is the last we see of this iteration of these characters, I am left completely satisfied.

Daredevil season three picks up the story from the end of The Defenders, after the First Midland building exploded and crashed down on Matt.  But other than that plot-point as the starting-point from the season, the show mostly ignores the events of The Defenders.  There were a few times when this was annoying to me, as I wondered why Matt didn’t call any of his new super-powered friends to help him in his struggles this year.  (This reminds me of the occasional problems in the first few post-Avengers MCU films, as it was hard not to wonder why each individual hero didn’t assemble the full Avengers team every time they were beset by a new super-villain.)  But as the season progressed, I grew to see this as a strength, as Daredevil threw off the shackles of having to maintain an interconnected TV-universe and instead focused back in on the story-lines and characters that made this series so great in the beginning.

The result is a phenomenal season of TV.  Everything I loved about Daredevil back at the beginning is back.  This is an unapologetically dark, adult show, in which bad things happen and things don’t go magically back to normal at the end of each episode.  There is great action, but it’s violent, ugly action.  When characters fight, it HURTS.  More importantly, the character relationships are adult and difficult.  All of the characters, even the heroes, are deeply flawed, and we often see them at odds and making dumb decisions.  Not in a stupid TV sort of way, in which characters do dumb things because the plot demands it, but rather in a sophisticated drama way, in which these characters with different personalities and different agendas have trouble seeing eye-to-eye and don’t always make the choices you’d expect.

Daredevil season three is the first and, I think, only Marvel Netflix show since that very first Daredevil season that doesn’t sag in the middle.  These thirteen episodes are structured remarkably well.  I didn’t feel like there was eight episodes of plot stretched to thirteen episodes, or that there was a lot of wheel-spinning in the middle of the season.  These thirteen episodes fit together enjoyably well, and the season unfolds with a terrific narrative energy.  Each episode leads into the next in a pleasingly exciting way, and it all wraps up satisfactorily at the end.  (More on that below.)

One of the best creative choices made this season was to bring the Kingpin back as the major villain.  As great as Charlie Cox’s Daredevil was in season one, a huge part of what made that first season so terrific was Vincent D’Onofrio incredible performance as Wilson Fisk.  His one appearance in Daredevil season two was a highlight of the season.  It’s a delight to see Mr. D’Onofrio back big-time in season three.  I haven’t tired of his performance, and this season finds several fascinating ways to continue to push and develop the character.  I love how dangerous Fisk is, both mentally (almost the entire season is Fisk’s cunningly executed plan to get himself out of prison and back in control of New York City’s underworld) and physically.  And I love how fragile we see him when he’s finally reunited with Vanessa late in the season, and uncertain of how she feels about him.  I mentioned Fisk’s season-long plan; this story-line is very well-written, and I enjoyed watching the pieces slowly fall into place as the season progressed.  It’s great when the villain is SMART.  It’s exciting and dramatic when it truly feels like our heroes are in an impossible corner.

The main new character this year was Bullseye, played by Wilson Bethel.  I LOVED how they brought this character to life.  I loved that he wasn’t immediately introduced as a villain, but rather as a highly-skilled FBI agent.  I loved that Bullseye’s story was such a slow burn, as we slowly watched his mental collapse and fall under Wilson Fisk’s sway.  Episode five, “The Perfect Game,” was a highlight of the season as we followed the heartbreaking story of Dex’s tragic childhood and backstory.  I adored the clever visual manner in which this exposition was depicted, as the scenes from Dex’s past came to life around Wilson Fisk in dreamy black and white.  This was such a smart, interesting way to present all this information to the audience, and I was bowled over at how skillfully they were able to give the creepy Dex a sympathetic backstory, so even while we feared and hated this character for his vile actions, we had some empathy for him as well.  (The only off-note in the whole Bullseye story was his ridiculously laughable name: Benjamin Poindexter.  Wowers!  I truly thought that was a joke at first.  His name is really Poindexter?  How could any character not laugh at that name?  I know that name has its origin in the comics, but seriously: that hasn’t aged well and should have been changed.)

The other main new character this year was Jay Ali as Agent Nadeem.  I loved this character!  When he was first introduced, I thought I knew exactly where his story was going — this money-desperate FBI agent was clearly going to offer his services to Wilson Fisk.  But time and again, the show surprised me with how his story unfolded.  As with Dex/Bullseye, this was a remarkably well-written and well-paced season-long character arc.  I loved the way the show gradually developed and deepened his character, so that I truly cared for Nadeem by the end.  I was very satisfied by how his story ended at the end of the season.  This was perfectly done from start to finish.

The main heroic Daredevil threesome — Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson — were all so great back in season one, but I felt the show lost them a bit in season two.  I felt season two struggled a bit to keep Karen and Foggy involved in the story.  Maybe I was just bothered by how downbeat season two was, and annoyed at how it drove apart these three friends.  Well, season three keeps the threesome apart for much of the season, and keeps life hard for all of them.  But I was glad that threesome were back in focus, and I enjoyed the story-lines that all three got.  And when they did finally reunite late in the season, it was very satisfying.

Let’s start with Matt.  Though the events of this season pick up right after the destruction of First Midland at the end of The Defenders, Matt seems to be in a wildly more depressed headspace than he was in that series.  This picks up more directly from what we saw in the downbeat season two, with Matt treating his friends very poorly and retreating from the world.  It’s hard to watch at times, as you want Matt to snap out of it already.  But I enjoyed seeing this character wrestle with his demons and his past, and the repercussions of his actions as a vigilante.  I enjoyed the focus on Matt’s Christianity this season (an aspect of the Daredevil character that makes him special), particularly in first few episodes.  I was fascinated by the discussions Matt had about God and about faith.

Poor Karen suffered this season perhaps more even than Matt.  But I was delighted by how critical Karen was to the season’s stories, and I was so happy that not only did the show explore the ramifications of Karen’s murder of Wesley back in season one (an event I thought the show had completely forgotten), but also the much-hinted-at backstory of her troubled past before coming to New York.  Episode 10, “Karen,” spent almost the entire episode in flashback, telling the sad story of Karen’s family and what had driven her to leave home.  Wow, what an amazing episode.  I was not expecting to see a whole episode devoted to Karen’s tragic backstory!  This was a long time coming.  I’d sort of given up on the show ever giving us the full story, and then wham, here it was.  This was such compelling drama.  There were no superhero costumes or slugfests in sight.  This would have been a standout episode of any great drama.

While Karen spent most of the season miserable, it was so great to see Foggy happy and successful!  I loved meeting Foggy’s family this season — his parents and his brother — and I loved the way we slowly discovered that the Kingpin had gotten to them, too.  Great stuff.  I love how moral and loyal Foggy is.  He’s the true north of the show, exactly as it should be.

Other thoughts on season three:

There was not a single super-hero costume to be found this season, as Daredevil was back in his simple black look.  On the one hand, I hate to see the show running away from its superhero trappings, as if it’s embarrassed by them.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe shows that faithful superhero costumes CAN work and look awesome on-screen.  That being said, the show’s DD costume, in its various iterations, never really worked and always looked awkward.  DD looked a lot cooler in this all-black look.  So I’m not really complaining.

Are we supposed to believe that Matt survived the collapse of First Midland relatively unscathed, but Elektra is dead?  That seems silly, though Elektra was nowhere to be found this season.  The season was so strong that I didn’t miss her.  (And I think the show wound up being stronger without any of the mystical Hand-Elektra-resurrection stuff this year.). So I think it was the right choice that Elektra didn’t return, though it’s a shame that they botched her death TWICE (at the end of Daredevil season two and at the end of The Defenders), and that they only introduced Bullseye after writing Elektra out of the show.  (In hindsight, it really should have been Bullseye, not the Punisher, who was introduced last season.  That way it could have been Bullseye who killed Elektra at the end of season two, as happened in the comics.)

I was intrigued that they kept us waiting all season for the return of Vanessa.  Though Fisk talked about her all the time, her absence turned her into an intriguing mystery.  Would we ever see Vanessa again?  Was she still in love with Wilson, or had she turned on him?  I was happy that we did get to see her at the end of the season, and I enjoyed her Lady Macbeth turn.  That Vanessa could be so brutal doesn’t seem quite in character with the Vanessa that we saw in season one, but it was an direction to take the character (and it helps explain how she could possibly be in love with the monster that is Fisk).  I only wish that Vanessa had a bit more agency in the season finale; she didn’t have much to do except watch Daredevil, Bullseye and Fisk fight.

I was delighted that Father Paul Lantom (played by Peter McRobbie), had a larger role this season.  This is a great character and I loved seeing him more involved in the story this year.  I was sorry to see him written out of the show at the end of the year, though that moment was powerful.  I wondered whether the fight in the church was going to lead to Karen’s death-by-billy-club as happened in the famous Guardian Devil storyline from the comics; in the end, that turned out to be a great fake-out for the comic-book fans in the audience, as it wound up being poor Father Lantom who was killed by Bullseye.  Speaking of the comic-book origins of this season’s story-lines, I was pleased with the aspects drawn from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s famous Born Again story.  This season was far from a direct adaptation, but there were enough echoes to keep me happy.

After teasing her at the very end of The Defenders, I was delighted that the nun Maggie was introduced this season, and wound up playing such a large part in the story.  I wondered whether the show would go in the direction of her being Matt’s mother, as she was revealed to be in the comics.  In was very pleased with the way her story played out over the course of the series; I think the show played this character, and her role in Matt’s past, exactly right.  Joanne Whalley was terrific as Maggie.  (Highlight moment for me: the heartbreaking scene when Maggie discovers Matt has gone and collapses, wailing, on his empty bed.)

Speaking of Matt’s past, I was happy to see the flashbacks in episode nine, “Revelations,” showing how Matt’s parents met and fell in love.  I loved seeing John Patrick Hayden back as Matt’s dad (reprising his role from the first two episodes of season one), and I quite enjoyed the narrative device of seeing Matt talk to his dead dad, as well as  conversing with an imaginary Kingpin.  Usually I’d find this sort of plot device (in which a character talks to someone who isn’t really there) tired or cliche, but the conversations were so interesting and complex, the actors so good, and the scenes so well shot, that it all really worked!

I enjoyed seeing Danny Johnson back as Benjamin Donovan, Wilson Fisk’s main lawyer.  (Donovan had previously appeared in Daredevil season 2 and both seasons of Luke Cage, where he was as one of Mariah’s lawyers.)  Speaking of Luke Cage connections, it was fun to see Annabella Sciorra as the criminal leader Rosalie Carbone, following up on her character’s introduction in the second season of Luke Cage.  I was glad that Amy Rutberg was back as Marci, Foggy’s blonde girlfriend.  She puts up with a lot!  I’d have loved to have seen her character have more to do; but I was happy to see Foggy in a steady, happy relationship.  I was also happy to see Matt Gerald back as Melvin Potter, the good-hearted but dim-witted criminal who created Matt’s costume.  It was so sad to see him abandoned by Matt in episode seven, “Aftermath,” after Matt learned that Fisk had gotten to Melvin.  That was cold.  I wish that the show had had time to return to Melvin at the end of the season, to show us that he was OK.

Each of the two previous seasons of Daredevil have had one stand-out single-take fight scene.  This year, that came in episode four, “Blindsided”, as we witnessed an incredible one-take extended ELEVEN MINUTE fight sequence as a drugged Matt Murdock took on inmates and police officers as a prison riot erupted around him.  (You can read lots more about the making of this insane sequence here.)  This was a truly jaw-dropping, special moment of television.

I’ve written a lot recently about how, in this age of streaming shows in which we might have to wait a year or more between seasons, I don’t have much patience for season-ending cliffhangers. I want each season to feel like it’s reached a satisfying conclusion.  This was all the more important for a show like Daredevil, which wound up getting canceled so soon after the release of this season.  I’ve invested years following this show, and I wanted it to reach a satisfying conclusion.  I am happy that the show crafted a solid ending, in which all of the season’s many story-lines and character-arcs found a satisfying resolution.  I was especially pleased that, while the main threesome of Matt-Karen-Foggy had been at odds since early in season two, by the end of the season they were reunited and again operating as a team.  I loved seeing Foggy write a new napkin, re-establishing Nelson & Murdock, with Page added this time, too.

The only downside was the actual final scene of the show, which was the worst scene of the whole season!  Ugh!  It’s a terribly stupid moment in which they bring back Bullseye in a thuddingly dull, hand-from-out-of-the-grave fake shock piece of stupidity.  After Bullseye’s beautifully well-crafted season-long story, this stupid bit of fan-satisfying obviousness threatened to undermine the whole thing.  We all know that Bullseye wasn’t necessarily dead, and could easily be brought back in a future season if they wanted to.  There was no need to waste any time on this dumb resurrection scene.  And for this to be the very last scene of the show?  Blech!  Luckily this is just one bad minute at the end of a terrific season of story-telling, and I can choose to ignore it.

I’m pleased that Daredevil has come to such a satisfying ending.  I’d love to see this cast and these characters continue on Disney+ or in another format/location in the future.  But if that doesn’t happen, I’m happy with what we got.

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