*Spoilers shall follow*
When Daredevil first entered the Marvel universe last year, it didn't do it quietly. It kicked the door down, beat everyone to a pulp, and then slunk back off into the night from whence it came.
And with Season 2 of Marvel's Daredevil, the formula remains largely the same, with the exception of a few new faces and a few new moral questions for the show to pose to its audience.
I'll happily admit to being completely floored by the debut season of Daredevil early last year. Charlie Cox and Vincent D'Onofrio nailed the parts of Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk respectively, and were surrounded by a fantastic cast along with some brutal violence and intriguing social commentaries.
With Season 2, Daredevil adds Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle/The Punisher, Elodie Yung as Elektra, and Michelle Hurd as Samantha Reyes, along with virtually everyone that made it out alive at the end of Season 1 returning.
First, let's talk about the 'big free agent signing' of Jon Bernthal as The Punisher. This casting announcement really turned heads in the middle of last year, and Bernthal's performance absolutely lives up to the hype of his casting announcement.
Bernthal is brutal and uncompromising as The Punisher, and comes off as someone who genuinely considers himself as doing the right thing in putting criminals down for good. The writers also cleverly never show The Punisher as being either arrogant or a 'bad person', allowing even the more morally strict audience members to consider siding with his cause.
And believe me, you'll consider siding with The Punisher, even if you absolutely condemn capital punishment in real life (as I do). The show presents cases both for and against what The Punisher does, bringing back Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk in a VERY clever way to prove The Punisher right, but also alluding to the fact that he may have killed an innocent along the path to justice.
Speaking of Fisk, he's once again up to total domination in Season 2 of Daredevil, albeit this time from behind bars. Well, to say he's "behind bars" would be generous, considering the fact that Fisk practically runs the prison our heroes confided him to at the end of Season 1.
After experiencing everything Daredevil sacrificed to put Wilson Fisk away, we expected justice, not to see Fisk merely continuing to operate from within the prison due to a failed justice system. Through this Season 2 of Daredevil very cleverly plays on the hopes of the audience, as everything our heroes achieved in Season 1 is utterly dashed through Fisk retaining power by being allowed to live.
This all goes to placing a moral argument on the side of The Punisher. If Frank Castle had had his way, Fisk wouldn't have been allowed to live, and therefore wouldn't have cheated the justice system after being seemingly locked away in prison. Like I said, even I questioned my stance on capital punishment after seeing Fisk again.
Perhaps it's because the writers didn't allow Jon Bernthal to merely be Jon Bernthal (see: The Walking Dead, The Wolf of Wall Street) that he succeeds so brilliantly as Frank Castle. I honestly didn't think he was capable of great emotional range until that monologue at the end of Episode 4, which had me absolutely sobbing, by the way.
Onto another fresh face: Elodie Yung as Elektra! I honestly didn't know what to expect from Yung as Elektra, being unfamiliar with either Yung's past work or the character she was portraying (you're damn right I haven't subjected myself to the Daredevil movie).
And the result is... mixed, but not because of Yung. She's great as a smooth talking killing machine, but it's the direction of the series that really lets her down. The show makes it so that Elektra actively courts every dangerous situation she finds herself in, and she also annoyingly sabotages The Punisher court case for Matt, Foggy and Karen.
Through this direction, I imagine some audience members really got tired of Elektra by Episode 10, because I know I was beginning to veer in that direction. What started off as an intriguing character turned into one that actively worked against our heroes at times, slightly to my annoyance.
But where the overall direction of the series really lets the character of Elektra down, Elodie Yung shines in each individual scene as her. Yung and Cox have fantastic chemistry as former lovers, and the former brings a great new antihero to a series that was in need of one.
Back to the established cast for a moment. Charlie Cox seriously deserves commendation for his emotionally layered performance of Matt Murdock. He portrays a character that just wants to do the right thing while protecting his friends, but ends up constantly questioning his allegiances and moral judgements. I'd say I'd like to see Cox's Daredevil in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but all he'd do is show up the other characters for being incredibly shallow in comparison.
Eldon Henson and Deborah Ann Woll are both back again as Foggy Nelson and Karen Page respectively, and they both add and subtract to Season 2. For a start, I thought we'd experienced the moral fight between Matt and Foggy, but it's sadly reared its ugly head in Season 2.
Actually, the plot concerning Matt, Karen and Foggy feels disappointingly familiar throughout Season 2 of Daredevil. There's the big bad guy for them to take down and fight over again, and it really feels like Foggy is more of a reactionary character instead of having his own agenda.
Karen and Matt become more intimate through the early course of Season 2, and while it was never destined to last, the show thankfully avoids the trap of the "awkward love triangle" between the three of them.
In the amount of time you've taken to read this post so far, about ten throats would have been slashed within the corresponding running time in Season 2 of Daredevil. The violence is something that Season 2 relentlessly pushes in the face of its audience, and I suspect that while some will find it "awesome!" others may find it gratuitous at points.
There were honestly times where I had to take a breather after certain sequences, in particular The Punisher torture scene and the prison fight sequence. Call me a pussy all you want (I really couldn't care less), but I recognise when a show is being violent for the sake of being violent, and that's not a smart thing to do, ever.
It's actually quite interesting that the extreme cases of violence all revolve around The Punisher. Sure, this might seem obvious, but it's almost as if the showrunners wanted to remind us what a killing force the character could be, and this isn't a smart thing to do, since all it does is remove the focus from his solid moral arguments about the use of violence.
I made a joke on Twitter that each season of Daredevil has a quota for "corridor fight sequences," and that this season had a quota for two of them. While I've already mentioned that the one concerning The Punisher in prison feels overly gory (I don't need to see him execute EVERY person, for Christ's sake) the one concerning Daredevil himself is utterly brilliant.
Once again it's in the one-shot style, panning through a corridor and down a stairwell as Daredevil takes out an entire gang of bikers sent after him through The Punisher's actions. The entire thing is beautifully orchestrated, to the point where you can simultaneously cringe and stare at the seamless action unfolding before your eyes.
So, a lot works in Season 2 of Daredevil, but a lot also falls flat. The Punisher and the moral standpoint he sets up is cleverly captivating, but Elektra is a mostly wasted and slightly annoying character at times. Charlie Cox gives a standout performance as Matt, but the arc that he, Foggy and Karen are put through feels very familiar.