War changes people. Sometimes they see things they can’t unsee. Come home to find home’s not there anymore. It changed. Or maybe they did. -Matt Murdock
In the aftermath of Wilson Fisk’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) apprehension from Season 1, Hell’s Kitchen has been fertile land for gang wars. But Daredevil (Charlie Cox) isn’t the only one who’s got his hands full. There’s a new player in town, Frank Castle, they call him The Punisher (Jon Bernthal). Unlike Daredevil, he takes out his enemies with a finality. Puts them down for good. Cue the vigilante war and morality talk. Daredevil and Punisher face each other and the Punisher is apprehended.
Back in the daylight, the DA’s office wants to jail Castle and possibly even give him the death sentence. Nelson (Elden Henson) and Murdock (Cox) decide to take on the DA and act as Castle’s attorneys, and we can thank Karen Page who saw something human in Castle. A few court scenes and some battles here and there and we’re introduced to yet another new character: Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung). And a new (well old) player is thrown into the mix as well: the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia from season 1. Natchios and Daredevil work together on taking the Yakuza down and along the way discover a secret ancient organization called The Hand; their speciality? Immortality.
This leads to the epic showdown between all the parties where the fate of Hell’s Kitchen is hanging by a thread but eventually the city’s saved by its golden boy.
You don’t get to create danger, and then protect us from that danger. That’s not heroic. That’s insane. -Foggy Nelson
Season 1 had set up some high expectations that were hard to reach, and so in a way, season 2 was a bit of a disappointment. Even though I loved a lot of things about this season, I felt that it needed more work. So shall we begin?
Plot wise, this season was messy. We had 2, 2.5 different plot lines and story arches forced together into one season. On the one hand there’s the Frank Castle/Punisher story, then you have Elektra, and then there’s The Hand. And each plot line is separate from the other, they don’t naturally merge because each one is addressing a completely different set of ideals and exploring completely different themes. Trying to put them together only makes it worse. The parts were greater than the whole.
I would’ve been happy if this season was focused on just the Punisher. Give us a troubled Hell’s Kitchen with a new vigilante, have him run away, capture him and have a long court procedure. Delay his introduction, build up the tension, build up the dread give us only back shots and actions for a couple of episodes, mere allusions to him. Make us desperate. Then bring him in. One of the things that makes Daredevil stand out from other superhero (and action) shows/movies, is that it takes into account morality. Despite the gruesome deaths, the overall dark nature of the show, and the overabundance of violence, it’s not desensitizing it’s painful to watch. Every death, every fight hits you like a truck. The violence is supposed to make you uncomfortable, it’s supposed to make you think “is this the world we live in.” It’s repulsive rather than glorified. So why not explore that this season with Daredevil v. Punisher. It would’ve been an epic battle, not just a physical one but one of will and belief. Lawful good vs Chaotic good to use D&D terms. And this would also play nicely into the courtroom because once again we’re talking about morality and ethics, about the value of human life, about our corrupt justice systems. One thing this show is good with is exploring the nuances of the problematic issue of vigilantes, so why not take advantage of that and look more into it rather than just mention it in a few conversations between the cops and the jury. Why is one vigilante good and the other not, and it’s not just about the killing, there’s more to it, so why not explore that. There’s so much to do with it. Have Murdock defend Castle and then Castle discover the identity of Murdock and go through an existential crisis or dilemma of some sort. With this show, less can be more. Just focus on that relationship dynamic and then boom you’ve got yourself a phenomenal show that attracts superhero fans and non-fans alike. And it doesn’t have to be a full season of 13 episodes, I would’ve been elated with 8 or 10 perfect episodes.
The other direction this show could’ve taken is the path of the Hand (pun intended). Don’t introduce Frank Castle, keep him for season 3 or whatever and just focus on bringing Elektra back into Murdock’s life. Have him make questionable life choices (it would be great character development). Then take down the Hand and the whole mystic ancient war plot line. Even though that wouldn’t flow smoothly with the court lifestyle it can serve as a juxtaposition or a foil, the two sides of Murdock where he fully embraces his devil persona and the court serves as a distraction (they kinda touch upon that in this season but it falls short). If you want to have an epic war with mystic Eastern immortal ninja monks, do it! But do it right. The plot has to be tight and clean, stop stretching yourself too thin with many plot lines.
Now that plot’s out of the way, let’s talk characters and acting.
The development of Matthew Murdock and Foggy Nelson was great. Matt goes from a healthy individual (as healthy as the devil can get…) who balances his two lifestyles and is a staunch protector of the law to an obsessive vigilante who thinks that if he’s not out getting his ass kicked then he’s failing. He becomes a martyr-wannabe (is that even a thing?) Too self-righteous, narrow-minded, extreme, cold, even pompous. Eventually Matt loses touch with reality and lives in his own idealistic abstractions. We lose the lovable smart Matt from season 1. And although it is painful as hell, it is great in a masochistic way.
Foggy on the other hand changes from being the underdog who’s been living in Matt’s shadow to his own man. Foggy shines in this season and he becomes more confident and independent of Matt (and it’s heartbreaking at times because I love their relationship and to see it go that way is devastating). Anyway, watching him is like watching your (hypothetical) kid grow up into an adult and it’s bittersweet because you want the innocent, life-loving, compassionate Foggy but you know that with Matt the only way for Foggy to survive is to toughen up and lead his own path. It’s just a beautiful and heartbreaking relationship. Now another returning character is Karen, and let me tell you, she is bad….I know they try to make her the strong female character but it just doesn’t work. That’s partially because Deborah Ann Woll can’t act. Where Matt and Foggy are genuine, Karen seems fake. I don’t buy her act. She fails at elicit any emotional reaction from the viewer. It’s great that they’re making her the unsung hero, which kinda reflects the status of women in society, but the execution wasn’t great.
My personal favorite is Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) she is the most realistic, human, genuine, real character on the show. I just love her. She keeps Matt in check, or tries to, by trying to make him understand his…mortality in a way. She’s selfless but at the same time realistic and not crazy like Matt. In a way, as corny as this sounds, she’s the real hero. Claire doesn’t get much screen time and that suck because she not only add a “human” aspect to the show but her sarcasm and dry humor is fantastic. I really wish she would play a more major role in the series, whether it’s here or on Jessica Jones (or any other Defender series), we need more Claire Temple.
Another personal favorite is Elektra…damn. That woman is unhinged, psychotic, and reckless in every way possible. But damn. There’s something about her that just draws you in. It’s like that trope of sexy evil but this time it’s done right, where she’s not objectified (*cough* with flowing red robes *cough*) but rather performs in such an enticing way and ugh she’s so good. She’s an enigma of some kind. Underneath that darkness, there isn’t light, but something else. I don’t know what. She tries to get to the “light side” and be with Matt but reverts to her old self but there’s something about her that I can’t put my finger on and it’s frustrating. WHO ARE YOU kind of frustrating. But also I want to have a drink and a long talk and learn more about you. She’s seductive, attractive, and overall badass. Elodie Yung did a phenomenal job as Elektra, she has it all, the sprezzatura, the sly humor, the seductiveness, the chaotic evil nature, the accent; I mean she was born for the role. A+ for casting.
The casting team for Daredevil is freaking genius. And they’ve scored yet again this season by casting Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle. Good lord. He, like Elektra/Yung, seems to be made for the role of Castle. He has that soldier-like look on his face, that undying patriotism and desire for justice and law, but at the same time he’s full of passion and rage. His face speaks volumes, the look in his eye it’s just captivating. When he tells his story, what happened to him, I was almost reduced to tears…his performance is so heartfelt and beautiful it was one of the greatest moments in the show just seeing this huge bull of a man talking emotionally and not being afraid of expressing himself, it was beautiful. And his voice, damn. He should narrate a podcast or a book with Yung and I’ll listen to the crap out of that. But yes, Bernthal, was fantastic. He is able to switch between vigilante to passionate heartless killer, to raging monster to righteous soldier in a few seconds and we see different, thoroughly nuanced, shades of Frank Castle throughout the season.
On a side note: In one scene they bring up PTSD and Castle makes a statement about how mental illness shouldn’t be used as an excuse for criminal behavior and how that’s stigmatizing and my heart leapt with joy because finally we’re getting fair, long overdue, treatment of mental health on the screen.
Speaking of Castle and Elektra, they serve as possibilities or potentials for Matt. Castle tells Murdock, “You’re one bad day from becoming me.” And it just shows you how messy this whole vigilante business is. But at the same time Castle and Elektra are exact opposites. It’s a weird analogy but hear me out:
When fighting against (or with Castle) we can see the contrast between their fighting style. Castle is direct. He takes clear, clean shots. One shot, one kill. His punches land strong and directly. You can almost anticipate his moves (not in a bad way) but more like he has no hidden agenda, heck he doesn’t even wear a mask-and tells Daredevil about that. While Daredevil on the other hand, he’s always jumping and flipping around, kicking and punching from the dark. He’s ambiguous, unpredictable. Fighting from the shadows and hiding. In a way the difference in their fighting reflects the difference in their, I don’t want to say soul but kinda soul. Castle is fully sold on his mission, he won’t step back and is fully comfortable with what he’s doing, he’s conscience is in line with his actions. Matt’s situation is more murky. He’s pretending to be someone he’s not, by fighting at night he’s going against what he stands for: the law. This is another genius moment in the show where the characters are explored in different and indirect ways that makes me love it. Now Elektra shines a different light on Matt, she’s as ambiguous and unpredictable as he is but she’s more vicious and voracious. She is what Matt could be if he wasn’t so idealistic. Although she makes him seem like the good guy, in way she also shows how pathetic and weak he is in comparison to her. But at the same time where Castle shows Murdock what he could logically be, Elektra shows him what he is emotionally capable of experiencing. The passion, rage, and adrenaline spike that comes with the fighting.
Since I brought up the fighting style, there was another “hallway fight scene” in this season and it was great. But they ruined it by going on, and on, and on, and having Matt fight a whole gang and not just a few gangsters. The beauty of that scene was in its brevity, that’s what made it unique, it a quick but well articulated fight scene that packs a punch. When the scene goes on for what feels like eternity, it loses its power. So take note Marvel, keep your fight scenes short and sweet, and plenty. Another great fight scene was Castle in the prison, I won’t give much away but it was terrifying. The fight scenes in this season in general were great, lots of great moves, great punches and awesome ass-kicking kicks. But what gives these fight scenes their edge is the cinematography. The camera angles close up at times and give you a feeling of impediment doom and then pan out and make you see the inconsequentiality of the fight. Then add to that the dark lighting, the overcast blacks and reds that make it eery and thrilling. That being said, there were several fight scenes, especially ones involving Daredevil where I could tell that the punches weren’t landing and it was obvious acting. The “thwack” punch sound would be a fraction of a second before the punch or the actors falling back dramatically and it ruined the experience.
Okay even though I enjoyed watching this season I had my issues. First off, I hate that they’ve exaggerated Murdock’s “powers” this season. They made him almost meta-human with super-hearing and that way lame. It took away the realistic “just an ordinary guy who can kickass” tone of it and made him a superhero. Last season he could hear the heartbeats and all that, which is great but this season he could hear the whole city and isolate sounds and do stuff only Batman’s gadgets can do. I had trouble with my suspension of disbelief and that ruined the experience of watching it for me because I kept feeling “oh come on he couldn’t have possibly heard that!” Just make it practical rather than extraordinary, it makes him more interesting. Oh and the police were as incompetent as Stormtroopers in some scenes, they were missing shows in a ridiculous way and that was another moment where I lost it.
And although I love, absolutely love, the whole ethical moral dilemma, they somewhat over did it this season. And by that I don’t mean that there was too much of it, no it goes well with the mythos of Daredevil and all that but the way they showed it was a bit heavy handed where they would have conversations between Murdock and Castle or Elektra about morality and ethics and choice but they got a bit repetitive. So maybe find a new way to convey that instead of having the almost same conversation over and over again. They are good at “showing instead of telling” and we see that in instances where Matt prays or crosses himself subtly and those were beautiful moments so why not extend that technique somehow into the conversation about choice/morality/ethics, etc…
The way they treat women in the show is….strange. We have the all powerful Elektra whom I think was portrayed fairly. But then comes Karen. And although I don’t like Karen, she was in a way a manic pixie dream girl for Nelson and Murdock. Hard working, doing what they ask her to do, being bossed around by all the men in the show. Sure it’s realistic but maybe give her a backbone and not show it as if she’s enjoying being bossed around. She talks back at one point and says I’m not your secretary or something but then reverts to that servile nature which is upsetting.
Last thing: they do these cliffhanger like endings to each episode and I didn’t enjoy that because they felt sloppy. Like lets throw in a seconds from the next episode. Don’t do that, it becomes less of a cliffhanger and more of a preview. One of the things I liked about season 1 is that each episode was in a way it’s own world, and there was this overarching plot, it was tidy and well contained, if you’re going to use cliffhangers use them right the way you did in the last episode.