Showrunners: Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez. (Drew Goddard consulting)
Starring: Charlie Cox. Deborah Ann Wolf. Elden Henson. Jon Bernthal. Elodie Young. Stephen Rider. Rosario Dawson. Vincent D’Onofrio. Scott Glenn.
Number Of Epsiodes: 13
*If i could afford lawyers they would advise me to inform you there are some big spoilers in this review. Please read after watching the series*
Unlike Matt Murdock’s conflicted emotions the general consensus on Daredevil season one was overwhelmingly positive. The bleak and gritty outlook enveloping our contrasting Crimson hero resonated with an incredibly wide and varied audience, nothing had arguably appealed to more people since the invention of Brad Pitt’s face. After laying such a sturdy foundation for the Netflix marvel universe however the tricky part comes next. Upon this foundation people now expect a more finesse-filled and elaborate design, carefully crafted as an onlooking audience crave more and look for any criticism attracting cracks. The addition of Punisher (Bernthal) and Elektra (Young) only piles on the pressure and new showrunners unsteady the cruise ship of entertainment on the choppy waters of public opinion. So how did our blind, crime fighting and criminal convicting hero fare?
The general plot finds Matt Murdock investigating a new and violent vigilante laying waste to the criminal social debris of Hell’s Kitchen. While doing this there is also the incessant task of swatting away the moral whining of Foggy Nelson (, perched upon the shoulder of Matt’s life like a whiny Jiminy Cricket with but less tact and without the great hat. Karen Page delves into Ben Ulrich’s world to investigate the past of the mercer are as well as searching fervently for her own relevance to our interest in this seasons plot. The infamous Hand are a turn for the strange as they emerge from the shadows of common sense to bravely take over our beloved Lawyers world. They claim to search for the the ultimate weapon that comes with no description except the name ‘Black Sky’, which makes it sounds like a vaguely sinister cocktail.
Like a sudden curb to our visually impaired hero it’s dangerous to overlook or even ignore the importance of Charlie Cox in the the lead role. His casting is perfect and he plays the balance of fierce outrage and morale desperation deftly and naturally so as to almost miss it like their downtrodden clientele miss their legal fees. He’s flawed but charismatic so as to make the frustration of his friends as believable as their inability to leave him. The script in the first episode is brilliant and you almost feel like they use all their good lines showcasing the relationship between the ‘avocados at law’ and their dutiful assistant Karen. The romance with Page was inevitable and faithful to comics but it’s hard to care too much as its doom is overly telegraphed. Foggy and Karen contribute and have their by human hero moments but this is sometimes in danger of being outweighed by their colossal and almost radioactive annoyance. Murdock’s two allies verbally prod, poke and spew tearful outrage onto him at every opportunity, this is fine with imagination but the record is well and truly stuck on the song of “if you do this you will die”. Their anguished, trope-ish lines of “I can’t stand by and watch” stops sounding like a threat and more like a glimmer of hope that they might leave. These conversations are cliche and worn and new conversational paths need to be taken to keep this approach relevant and effective. Sadly in this series they aren’t. It’s a testament that by the end of the season I still care about this fragile triangle of friendship but it needs to be managed more carefully, morale conflict is key to Daredevil but that doesn’t mean it can be take for granted and done lazily.
Speaking of morale conflict, the greatest victory of this series by far is the perfectly executed executor Frank Castle aka The Punisher. It’s always boggled my mind how this character has failed to translate to the screen well but finally someone speaks the language of dark and satisfying vengeance and it is a joy to witness. Jon Bernthal is captivatingly intense and skilfully simple as the broken, breaker of men. After the sometimes weakly written internal conflict of Daredevil it’s frankly wonderful to have a uncompromising force of unquestioning vengeance. Frank Castle is as unrelenting and tactless as the bullets he deals out as the only justice he believes in. He’s as blunt as a bully club to the crotch and just as effective. Guiding Page from the hospital the bullets is intelligent and different, his escape from the Irish mob is visceral and involving, his lengthy graveyard speech is simmering and gripping unlike other long drawn out scenes in this show. Even his apparent compromise in prison which worried me initially is clever, believable and another lesson in The Punisher’s strategic and masterful lecture of revenge. Netflix have apparently green lit a Punisher series faster than he can pull a trigger and ironically it would have been a heinous crime not to make an independent season of this television triumph.
Elektra is more difficult and less successful in the short term. Her chemistry with the proven romantic success that is Cox’s Murdock, is akin to slapping two saturated sponges together and hoping for sparks. Her accent is annoying and devoid of emotion like a robot reciting Jimmy Carr stand up. Her story is actually fairly strong towards the end of the series, it’s a solid investment in the future but so is learning algebra and that doesn’t make it fun now. In the comics Elektra is fairly bland despite her importance so i can understand the showrunners trying to inject some personality into the character but someone clearly forgot to tell the actress….or even to tell her that’s she is meant to be an actress. Elektra’s death was in my opinion awful, in the comic universe it’s a moment almost as defining as Matt getting super bleach in his eyeballs. The camera angles used here are rushed and awkward, the death itself is soft and impact less. For a moment that’s clearly meant to set up season two it is short sighted, if you hope to introduce Bullseye you just took away the core of his conflict with Daredevil for a pretty cheap moment. It’s as fundamental as having Murdock realising he’s accidentally had his eyes shut for years and is actually fine.
The world of Hell’s Kitchen is alive and well, the settings breathe with working class charm and industrial darkness in which character can be formed and crime can feed. Marvin is still active as Daredevil’s handyman which is a nice way to introduce new armour and weapons and remind you that the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is still a work in progress. It keeps season one close and relevant. Rosario Dawson still pops up to show how to make the most of very little and keeps the human element in the story as alive and well as her patients…well, most of them. The Irish mob are generic but fine and a nice inclusion from Garth Ennis’s Punisher world. Stick (Glenn) is back and a lot better written, a key and intriguing component instead of just being a grouchy Obi Wan mentor on a bad, hangover day. The Hand are refreshingly shameless, after treading the line of realism Marvel have thrown aliens and Gods around like wayward grenades from The Punisher on a sugar high. This opens the door for the stranger elements of the comic world and The Hand are this, with no hart eats and regularly harming our heroes it’s good to have a real threat on hand….sorry. Their build up feels rushed though and could have been more impending and sinister through both series i feel. Ben Ulrich is hugely missed as an underrated world weary presence and real voice in a setting of bizarre strangeness. His existence seems to have been traded in for a catalyst point in the first season, and now we all pay the price as Karen Nancy Drew’s her way through old newspaper articles. Gripping.
The pacing and plot have been as polarising as a Marmite sponsored Trump rally and the internet is rife with disagreement, imagine that! The legal element is a lot more prominent here and can sometimes slow things down to a crawl. It is a faithful part of Daredevil’s world though and not badly done by any means with moments for Foggy and Punisher to steal. The lack of Kingpin (D’Onofrio) and the pause in the Punisher narrative threatens to put a bullet in the head of interest for a while but there’s enough big moments to hit the refresh button most attention spans. Kingpin bursts back onto the scene like a Kool-Aid man of crime and his scenes with Punisher spark this season back to life with the impact and charge of a plot defibrillator. Fisk’s rise to power could have held its own for two whole episodes and his brutal meeting with Murdock is borderline iconic as the mind games turn to desperate threats and intimate beatings. The struggle as Murdock restrains his fightback to an in character Murdock boxing punch is subtle genius and painfully real to save his secret identity as he willingly takes brutal blows. His face etched in frustration and laboured breathing heavy with his hidden intent. The staircase fight scene rivals the iconic scrap of last season with fantastic choreography although it’s harder to suspend the disbelief that daredevil didn’t just murder dozens of people but didn’t let himself notice. Clean conscience for the win! The plot ends are for the most part entertaining and satisfying as heroes forged, villains regroup and cliffs are hanged…possibly not a phrase. Although the main story limps instead of bounds across the finish line, a huge suicide battle with hundreds on ninjas approaching dissipates into a dozen easily killed henchman and muffles the impact of a seasons worth of investment. The cliffhanger is well timed and interesting without being frustrating and the next season is something I still eagerly anticipate.
The verdict: Like Matt Murdock’s punch drunk father this lands some heavy hits but whiffs on it’s fair share too. Not as consistently good as the first series but better than Jessica Jones. This is still one of the more entertaining shows on TV and even though it’s closing argument is weak it has this jury of one convinced.