The premiere season of Daredevil is arguably the best thing produced so far by the MCU. Along with the also excellent Jessica Jones it provided a glimpse of the high quality superhero television can produce. Thanks to the path that Daredevil helped set, Netflix is now backing series for Luke Cage and Iron Fist. There is also a planned series for The Defenders, where all of these superheroes will team up.
With a strong visual style, incredible fight scenes, and strong characters all combined into a compelling season of television, it’s no wonder Season 2 debuted with high expectations. So how does it compare? As I’m sure many have found out since last Friday’s debut, Season 2 not only lives up to its predecessor. It arguably surpasses it.
“Bang” starts the season off, well, with a pretty big bang. We’re treated right away to an example of how the show’s crew and hero are operating at a higher level of skill and confidence as Daredevil takes care of a group of thugs. Each crook is subdued with the same style as the city around him. One thing that is clear from the start, and only increasingly evident with each episode, is how good this show looks. The interplay of shadows and light, the choreography, the colors, even things like the drip or spray of blood that makes you guilty for how much you enjoy it. This show continues with a highly impressive style.
Unfortunately for Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) himself, he is not so successful as his crime-fighting alter ego. We get a look of Nelson & Murdock itself, and our first appearance of Matt’s legal partner and best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), as well as their secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). The increased clientele in the aftermath of taking down Wilson Fisk has not translated to wealth. All the baked goods in the world are not paying the bills. We also get a glimpse of how Matt’s vigilante activities are still placing a strain on his friendships with Foggy, who knows, and Karen, who does not.
While the first season focused on the question of justice and the plight of the common person vs. the powerful, including the role of privilege for both, this season immediately places the role of the vigilante into question. No where is this question more vividly asked than in the activities of the most high-profile addition to this season’s cast, Jon Bernthal as the brutal Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher. We see his handiwork well before the man himself in the form of two brutal massacres; one of a bar full of Irish mobsters and again with Daredevil coming across cartel members butchered and left hanging from meat hooks.
(This leads to truly brutal imagery. One thing I can see turning some off from this show is that it is unapologetically graphic, both in the lethal and non-lethal methods used by its heroes and villains. The murder of the Irish mobsters leads our friends at Nelson & Murdock to the lone survivor, a scumbag by the name of Grotto who seeks them out. After passing out he is brought to the hospital, where we finally get our first glimpse of Frank Castle. Whatever his moral code or reasons for his actions, there is no mistaking Frank Castle to be a bad man. He stalks a fleeing Grotto, helped along by Karen, through the hallways of the hospital with shotgun in hand. It is here that Daredevil comes across Castle, and we get our first fight.
And boy is it a wonderful reminder of how good the fights in this show can be. Not to mention an exciting way to end a very good premiere.
“Dogs to a Gunfight”
“Dogs to a Gunfight” starts with Foggy finding a badly injured Matt and bringing him back to his apartment. Again, it is clear Foggy’s worry about his friend, a worry both professional and personal, is affecting their relationship. This is not simply a question of wanting his friend to be safe. Daredevil is a betrayal of the core beliefs he thought Matt held sacred. It is not a secret Foggy likes to keep and struggles to live with.
Of course, his friend’s safety has a lot to do with his worry. Matt suffers much more than a cracked helmet as a result of the gunshot to his head that ends the premiere. Bouts of temporary deafness plague him throughout the episode, a condition which comes back to bite him when he again confronts Frank Castle. We are treated to another splendidly filmed fight between these two as they trade blows while avoiding the bullets of police at the scene, until Matt’s deafness leads to him losing the upper hand and being taken captive to end the episode.
The police firing on Daredevil and Castle are a result of the story taking up the bulk of the episode, the efforts of Foggy and Karen to secure a deal with the DA to place Grotto in witness protection after The Punisher’s failed assassination at the hospital. We are introduced for the first time to District Attorney Samantha Reyes, who the observant may recognize from her brief appearance in the final episode of Jessica Jones. Reyes is the main legal adversary this season and establishes this immediately with attempts to stomp right over Foggy and Karen and take Grotto into custody. Is she a little hamfisted? Sure.
While this provides Foggy with opportunities to show his legal chops (which I won’t pretend to criticize or understand so long as it sounds half-realistic), it mostly provides a vehicle for Karen to be the terrific character she is. After defying the initial “damsel in distress” impression she gives in Season 1, Karen Page became one of the best characters on this show, and she continues to show the intelligence, empathy, and unstoppable drive for truth that makes her so easy to root for.
She gets to work her usual magic here as the face of Nelson & Murdock to Grotto and with her desire to see the good in a clearly terrible man. We also get her views on Frank Castle, as she considers one of the main questions of the season: whether Daredevil is the man responsible for someone like Castle doing what he does, and whether he is really a bad person. This is viewpoint drives much of her actions in season 2, and is a cause of contention between her and Matt despite their growing fondness for each other.
The dealings with Reyes eventually lead to the previously mentioned trap. Grotto is (unknowingly to Foggy and Karen) used as bait to draw The Punisher out. Our first scene with Castle comes in the aftermath of Karen suggesting The Punisher may be a good person gone bad. We see hints that maybe she is right, despite his clearly despicable methods. Castle buys goods from a pawn shop owner, only to turn around and presumably kill the man for selling child porn. We also see that Castle has taken a dog, used for fighting by the Irish in the first episode, back to his safe house to feed and bandage. It is the first hint that The Punisher is no mindless slaughterer. There is a moral code to what he does, as twisted as that code may be.
“New York’s Finest”
The final and finest of the episodes this weekopens with some (not so subtle) imagery of a nun and Jesus. We transition to a captive Matt chained atop a rooftop, where he is Frank Castle’s prisoner. This situation is really the bulk of the episode for these two, as they exchange their philosophies on vigilantism while Castle prepares for his next assault.
Matt tries his best to talk Castle down, while Castle makes his own argument. We do learn a bit more about Castle. We learn he is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, an expected change from his comic origins as a Vietnam veteran. We also find out he shares Matt’s Catholic upbringing. These glimpses tease something more with this Punisher, and Jon Bernthal is great in his conviction and delivery.
It’s really fun, if not original, with one Castle quote in particular providing the clearest difference between the two:
“You hit them, they get up. I hit them, they stay down!”
The question of course is whether this is a good thing. Do these criminals deserve another chance? What potential for good are they capable of? Who is truly doing more good with their actions, Castle or Daredevil? Is either doing any real good?
This leads to Castle eventually revealing a captive Grotto and handing a loaded gun to Matt with an ultimatum; if he won’t shoot Castle, Castle will shoot Grotto. The resolution is expected but it comes at the price of Grotto’s life. Would saving him have done any good? Maybe. Maybe not. Where these two men ultimately disagree is whether it is any man’s right to decide that.
The confrontation culminates in one more brief Daredevil/Punisher fight, which ends after The Punisher draws a biker gang out. Daredevil’s interference stops Castle from killing these men but draws them towards the roof. What follows is a fight scene that arguably tops the incredible hallway fight from Season 1. Daredevil proceeds to beat the hell out of these overmatched thugs while traversing down a set of stairs. It is an incredible scene, one making clear just how great fight coordinator Philip J. Silvera is at his job. In the end Frank Castle is still loose, and you’re left wondering just how effective Matt’s method of vigilante justice truly is.
On the legal side of things, Foggy and Karen face the DA’s wrath after the failed bust from the previous episode. Foggy gets a nice moment while searching for the captive Matt when he visits the returning nurse Claire (complete with a mention of treating Luke Cage! I love the shared universe they are establishing between these shows). A busy ER room sees two rival gangsters try to kill each other. Only through Foggy’s intervention does the situation cool. It is a good reminder that the often comic relief character is a charismatic lawyer in his own right. We see this continue throughout the season.
Meanwhile, ever the truth seeker that she is, Karen begins to dig into The Punisher’s past. While determined to protect Nelson & Murdock she is also curious as to who this man is. We get some of Reyes’s cold-blooded political history as Karen talks her way into information from Reyes’s assistant. I love how Foggy and Karen both have their own plots independent of Matt this season. It leads to developments later I really liked.
This is a terrific episode and one of the best in the show’s brief history.
Despite the high quality of the first season, a lifetime of disappointment worried me that Daredevil would fail. Some argue season 2 doesn’t quite live up to these episodes or the one to follow as the season continues. We’ll get into that later (and I don’t fully agree). While it may not appeal to everyone, I expect most comic fans will really enjoy what we’re getting here. A golden age of superhero TV is arriving, folks, and Daredevil is helping to lead the way.
– These Marvel shows have some terrific opening credits.
– Other returning characters; Turk the gun merchant and Brett, Foggy and Matt’s friend in the NYPD.
– Best quote, courtesy of Brett in “Dog to a Gunfight”: “Treat witnesses like mushrooms. Feed them shit and keep them in the dark.”
All images courtesy of Marvel Studios