Few shows that I can remember were as immediately and universally loved by critics and fans alike as Daredevil. Marvel Studios’ introduction to Netflix was a huge hit, one that opened up a completely new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Naturally, that level of success put the best kind of pressure on this second season. So was Daredevil Season 2 better or worse than its predecessor? Well…both. And yes, there will be spoilers here.
There’s some nitpicking to do later, but Charlie Cox and company blessed us with another fantastic season. Each character you already know and love takes steps forward that make perfect sense. We too often see shows move characters in transparent directions clearly meant to “advance the plot,” as Deadpool’s TJ Miller would say. Every single character’s motivations are not only evident, but justified. Foggy isn’t just the annoyingly concerned friend. In fact, I’d say he’s in the right throughout at least half of his issues with Matt. Karen is the character who could’ve most easily ended up useless if the show had been handled poorly. Instead, she slides in perfectly to the role filled by Ben last season while filling the journalist’s shoes with her own unique characterization. Matt Murdock is again unique in his ability to avoid both the overly charismatic hero trope and the stereotypically sulky loner. He realizes that the nature of a vigilante includes a life of solitude. But the show can’t hide his likeable personality, and they give him moments to let it shine. I had some concerns about the suit after the first season’s finale, but this follow-up made some serious improvements. They seemed to acknowledge the fans’ reaction by literally shooting Matt in the face in the first episode. The constant upgrades only got cooler and cooler. By the time he acquired the grapple/whip near the finale, I was completely sold on this Daredevil’s appearance and functionality. The already top-notch fighting will only get better from here. The tone is spot on, delivering Netflix Marvel’s already signature balance of fun and gripping suspense.
The season is definitely strong from start to finish, but I’d argue that it peaks in the third and fourth episodes. They manage to essentially recreate the incredible hallway fight from season one, this time descending several flights of stairs. They’re also very Punisher-centric episodes, and Jon Bernthal’s ruthless vigilante is absolutely the star of the show this time around. My first ever post here campaigned for some David Tennant award recognition for Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave. Now, I’ll say that if Jon Bernthal doesn’t at least generate buzz for a nomination but I have to watch Uzo Aduba walk away with another award of any variety, those in charge of these nominations will have committed a more heinous crime than the men who slaughtered Frank Castle’s family. The Punisher is an incredibly difficult man to play because you’ll fall into one of two traps. One: You end up playing an emotionless zombie with nothing more to offer than decent action that you cannot relate to at all. Two: You give him a heart and make him go soft, violating the very nature of the character. Sure enough, they perfect Frank Castle and give us the ideal interpretation of the character. Give the genre an award already. If you make it through that graveyard scene without catching a serious case of the feels, I hate to be the one to tell you this but you’re dead inside. Frank is uncompromisingly principled, beautifully brutal, and yet disarmingly compassionate.
The Punisher’s presence even made Daredevil a better character. The reasons for why they’re fighting are organic and believable. The juxtaposition of their conflicting ideologies is the blood that gives life to an all-too-little portion of this season that left me starving for more. Their chemistry provided some of the best hero on hero back and forth I’ve ever seen on screen. For what it’s worth, I think Punisher keeps the streets a little cleaner by getting them dirty. Daredevil’s unwaveringly nonlethal approach seems to open up the Batman door to all the villains escaping just to kill more innocent people. But that’s an entirely different conversation. The other stories deliver to an impressive extent, but this element set such an absurdly high bar that the rest of the season’s moments had to compete with. Vincent D’Onofrio’s surprise (I guess) return as Kingpin was another standout, one that has me very excited for next season. I’d actually love to see him as the Defenders arch villain that forces our Netflix heroes to come together.
Elektra is a tough character to analyze. I think she suffers from being the less captivating of two directions that Matt is pulled in. The Punisher simply had more to offer for fans who couldn’t wait to see either of them this season. But I do love her portrayal. The Daredevil/Punisher/Elektra trio effectively tells us a three-pronged story of three people with very different mindsets. One delivers violent justice, but draws a line in the sand just before killing. He believes that what he does is acceptable if he stays behind that line, whether or not it’s true. The second knows what it means to take a life from his military service, but unleashes his talents on the criminal underworld when his family is tragically taken from him. The third was raised in a world of killing, and cannot even fully grasp why it’s so frowned upon in the first place. She doesn’t really know what it means to kill someone, and actually makes a disturbing hobby of it. She effectively sparks the “nature vs. nurture” debate. The study of these three characters, at its core, is fascinating. But when they keep pushing each other to be better as far as storytelling goes, and one falls even a bit short of the other two, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite this, Elektra and Matt have great chemistry that makes me wish the show would tweak the comics and just set Karen up with Foggy who, on this show, is a better fit.
As Matt first denies but eventually says, Elektra is the only person who really understands him. And vice versa. I love how Matt’s relationship with both antiheroes evolves throughout the season. At first, they clash because they do things differently. By the finale, they establish a mutual respect for their differences and how they prefer to do things. Elektra changed her nature for literally one second, and nearly died because of it. Not everyone is skilled enough to defeat a horde of bloodthirsty murderers without killing a single one. Some heroes prefer to put bullets or blades in skulls. That last fight against Nobu and his men is incredible, with Daredevil calmly walking as bodies just drop around him from The Punisher’s cover fire. By the end, everyone accepts one another for who they are and who they choose to be. That’s a perfect resolution for a season built on these ethical differences.
As I said, this wasn’t a perfect season. For starters, if we’re calling Nobu the season’s villain, he’s painfully forgettable. Punisher and Kingpin pick up the slack, but Nobu is ultimately the big bad. And he’s remarkably bland. In fact, the entire Hand is both bland and unexplained. Kingpin’s eventual release was the only loose end I needed for next season. Why are they digging a giant hole? What did they do to those demon kids? How are they coming back from the dead? These aren’t skillfully crafted bridges to Season 3 or The Defenders; they’re sloppily unfinished sentences in a mediocre plotline. I never got bored of watching Daredevil adapt his fighting style and senses to fight endless waves of ninjas. I absolutely loved the moment after Stick coaches him through that one encounter and Matt lets out a triumphant yell after he takes everyone out. Human moments like that make superheroes feel like people, as well as get me seriously pumped up for more punching and kicking. But I find The Hand extremely lacking after the organization’s introduction.
Secondly, the Elektra would-be death is so rushed. Why are we doing this now? And why are we giving the boring Nobu an epic moment that should be given to Bullseye in Season 3? Then The Hand can go dig up her body. But let the legendary assassin kill the legendary assassin. They’re obviously not going to kill her again; this was their one crack at it. And it all felt rushed. We’re only just getting to know Elektra. Let’s fall in love with her before she’s “taken” from us. This season had more than enough going on without that, especially if they had taken the proper time to explain The Hand’s actions and capabilities.
To put my overall verdict on this season in perspective, I’ve already watched it twice in its entirety and am about to start it for a third time. There are episodes and moments that stand head and shoulders above the first season. But Season 1 was tight as could be, with a perfectly scripted beginning, middle, and end. The occasional loose end didn’t drag anything down because the main story was given closure. Season 2 has a beginning, and then a stretched out middle that rushes some things while moving too slowly elsewhere. The direct Jessica Jones reference made me giddy, and I’m thrilled by the fact that the next time we see Daredevil, he’ll probably be alongside the other Defenders. This corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is clearly in good hands, and I can’t wait to watch Luke Cage take us another step forward.