Daredevil Season Two: A Spoiler-Light Review

In the past, I’ve warned that I might occasionally use this blog as a vehicle to showcase my other interests, especially those of the nerdish variety. This is one of those times. So let’s take a little break from rejection and writing and such, indulge our inner nerds, and talk about goddamn superheroes!

Daredevil

Like many of you, I just finished binge-watching the entire second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, and I generally enjoyed it. What follows will be a fairly spoiler-light review of the second season. Note, I haven’t read a single Daredevil comic (or that of any of the other characters in the show), so my review will not address how well the show sticks to the source material and whatnot; it’ll simply be based on the Netflix’s adaptation of it.

Like I said, my review is spoiler-light, but if you’d rather not know anything about the season, stop reading here.

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Quick & Dirty Synopsis

The second season primarily revolves around the escalating violence in Hell’s Kitchen, due in large part to a continuing (and expanded) storyline from season one and a couple a new storyline introduced for season two. The continuing storyline deals with the Hand, the shadowy group of ninjas Daredevil encountered toward the end of the last season. Stick returns and a new character (to those who aren’t familiar with the Daredevil comic), Elektra, is introduced. The Hand is after some super weapon called the Black Sky, and there is much ninja-fightin’ shenanigans as they tear the city apart looking for it, drawing Daredevil into a whole mess of mystical ninja mojo and forcing him to deal with some of the demons of his past (see Elektra).

The new story line is Frank Castle, a.k.a., the Punisher. He’s a former special forces military badass seeking revenge against the criminal organizations responsible for the death of his wife and children. He’s a pull-no-punches, scorched-earth type dude, who basically murders the shit out of those he believes have wronged him. Obviously, Daredevil is not too keen on all the killing, even if it is a bunch of bad guys he’s hasn’t managed to get rid of himself. So he scraps with the Punisher, gets his ass handed to him a few times, and as the season progresses, we learn more about who Frank Castle really is and what is really driving him.

Foggy and Karen are back as well, aiding Matt Murdoch mostly with the Frank Castle storyline and adding more emotional turmoil to make Daredevil’s life more difficult.

The Good Stuff

This season has a lot going for it, and it’s generally quite good all the way through. Here are my three favorite things:

1) Frank Castle/The Punisher. Holy shit, what a character. The Punisher is played by veteran character actor Jon Bernthal (you might remember him from The Walking Dead), and he simply hits it out of the park. Frank Castle is brutal yet sympathetic, and his story is at times downright heartbreaking. He is the epitome of the antihero, and, honestly, this is Emmy-winning stuff right here. Bernthal gets the Punisher’s physicality down to a tee as well, and his action scenes are some of the best of the series. There’s a scene in a prison that is one of the most brutal five minutes of TV (in a good way) I’ve ever seen. Frank Castle also delivers the best lines in the season, and there’s a couple of scenes that just crackle with emotion and depth. He’s by far my favorite part of the series so far.

2) Elektra. Another complex and emotionally charged character, Elektra, who is played by actress Elodie Yung, presents an interesting complication in the life of Matt Murdoch. She’s a window into his past, and through her, we learn a lot more about his training with Stick, and, more importantly, its purpose. Like Frank Castle, she’s a bit of antihero, and there are some good scenes with her and Matt, as they are often at odds with their approach to fighting the bad guys. She kills; he doesn’t. There’s a romantic relationship here that works much better than the failed attempt to create one with Karen, which rang a bit hollow for me. Elektra’s action scenes are quite good, and seeing her and Daredevil fight as a team can be fun at times. The performance put in by Elodie Yung is solid and believable, though it doesn’t approach the majestic mayhem of Bernthal’s Frank Castle. In short, she’s a good add to the series.

3) Foggy and Karen. In season one, Foggy annoyed me to no end; his goofy demeanor just grated on me. He is much improved this season largely because they’ve given him something to do, and he is no longer simply attached at the hip to Matt Murdoch. We see Foggy developing into a character with a little more depth, especially when he’s calling Matt Murdoch/Daredevil on his bullshit, specifically for not being there for the Murdoch & Nelson law firm and generally fucking up some of the good things Foggy is working on.

I liked Karen last season, though I thought she was underused. They fixed that this time around, and she has a major part to play in the story. Her scenes with the Punisher, for example, are very good, and the connection between them is believable as she tries to keep Frank Castle from becoming the monster everyone (including himself) believes him to be.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

There were definitely some missteps this season, and I found certain elements to be either boring, irritating, or both. Here’s my top two:

1) Daredevil/Matt Murdoch. Sadly, he’s just not as interesting as the secondary characters, especially Frank Castle, who absolutely outshines him in every scene they share. He’s also irritating because of his “code,” that prevents him from actually killing anyone. There’s a scene where The Punisher accuses him of being a “half measure” because Daredevil “hits them and they get back up,” where as he “hit’s them, and they stay down.” There’s a simple and brutal truth to this, and one that is explored quite a bit in the second season. Even Karen, who is not exactly prone to violence, wonder at one point if the Punisher’s way isn’t the more effective way.

The problem is that Daredevil suffer from the Batman syndrome. His code actually impedes his ability to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen because the super-powered bad guys always come back. In this season, for example, with all the crazy cult ninjas, just beating them up really doesn’t do much, and let’s face it, there isn’t a prison cell that could really hold them. (We also see all the bad shit that can happen when you do actually manage to put a super villain behind bars. It ain’t good). So, if you’re like me, you are put into a situation where Daredevil comes off a bit dense because he can’t see that killing these fanatical ninjas is really the only way to stop them. The showrunners must understand this too because they let Elektra and The Punisher do all the killing for Daredevil, which makes him character look weak and ineffectual if you ask me. I know the whole no-killing code can be somewhat controversial in comics, and your mileage may vary here, but I really got tired of Daredevil reminding everyone not to kill the crazy murderous ninjas trying to kill them about halfway through the season.

2) The Hand and its one million ninjas. You’d think a bunch of ninjas might be fun and interesting, but after what seemed like endless battles in dark underground places with a ton of faceless assassins, it really wasn’t. It became rote, and the bad guys never really felt like much of a threat (unlike Wilson Fisk in season one). Their leader, Nobu, also bored me in that “we’ve seen this all before” kind of way. In addition, the Hand’s shadowy mission really isn’t adequately explained, and it felt more like the showrunners were being intentionally obtuse rather than trying to build up tension for a big reveal, which never really happened (at least to my satisfaction).

Summary

In all, season two was solid, and I’d rate it a solid B or 3.5/5 stars. The best part of it for me was Frank Castle, and I really hope Netflix gives us a Punisher series. There’s so much dark, ugly emotional goodness to explore there, and the Punisher’s merciless brand of justice really does it for me. (Again, your mileage may vary here.) Bernthal’s excellent portrayal of the character only makes me more eager to see what he can do with his own show.

So, that’s my take on season two. Tell me about yours in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Daredevil Season Two: A Spoiler-Light Review

  1. I binged the whole season on Friday and Saturday. I really enjoyed it but I agree with most of your observations. I didn’t expect to like Frank Castle as much as I did, and I didn’t buy into the Matt/Karen relationship. I hope season 3 (I assume there will be one) doesn’t bring us more of Foggy/Matt breaking up over and over again – it started to grate. More Punisher and bring on Luke Cage!

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    • Good point about the Matt/Foggy breakup stuff; that really did get irritating. Daredevil did get renewed for a third season, and I believe they ordered thirteen episodes of a Punisher standalone series.

      I’m looking forward to Luke Cage as well. I really liked him in Jessica Jones.

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  2. I thought season 2 was well done. It moved at a good pace, didn’t forget about character development, and introduced 2 major new characters from the comic series.
    The Punisher has had 3 movies with 3 different leads over the last couple of decades, none of which held the charisma, viciousness, and emotion that Bernthal was able to bring to the character. If they can make a series with some of the depth they showed then Netflix will have yet another winner.
    Elektra was a favorite that I was always intrigued by. I thought her character was pretty well done, but not to the degree of the Punisher. I did enjoy her scenes and felt there was good chemistry with her and Daredevil.
    Daredevil himself continued to develop and I enjoyed most of his scenes. I enjoyed the toll that working nights took on him and how it affected his day job. nice to see this.
    I do wish Netflix would releases these weekly instead of all at once. This would allow the series to stretch out for 3 months and be in the spotlight longer, not that i mind binge watching.

    Overall for me 4.5 out of 5. The dark and gritty was there, characters, etc… My only complaints would be similar to those mentioned above; the Hand grew boring, DD warning about killing got old.

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    • Yeah, I think you and I are on the same page for the most part. I’m just having some issues with Daredevil himself; his code is not just annoying, it actually works against his primary goal: protecting hell’s kitchen. I know this is an integral part of the character’s makeup, but when compared to the Punisher and Elektra, who, let’s face it, are way more effective at keeping the bad guys down, it starts to make DD’s code look a little shortsighted and unrealistic.

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  3. Your statement about Daredevil’s refusal to kill being a weakness of the season misses the point. Killing is the easy choice. Killing is something that Daredevil wants to do, something he knows he’s capable of doing, but something that he struggles against every time he confronts the villains. Why?

    Because killing these people, as Murdock himself observes in the season, leaves no room for the good in these people. It is easy to ignore when the antagonists are faceless ninjas, biker gangs, or et cetera, but don’t lose perspective that all of these individuals are people. People with families, aspirations, and complexity. While we don’t see these facets as the audience, in the fiction of the series, they are absolutely aspects of these people’s lives.

    Killing them is the easy, but wrong, answer. Daredevil’s relationship with Stick, the Punisher, and Elektra show us that Daredevil is aware of the option of killing his enemies. He knows that he wants to do so, but chooses not to fall into his base, brutal instincts. He comes from a background where his father was willing to take the more difficult, more moral road of fighting instead of taking a dive, despite the consequences it might present. He comes from a world of *law*, where he’s willing to defend the Punisher despite the provable crimes the man has committed because reality resists simplicity.

    Daredevil not killing isn’t boring, nor is it a failing of the series. It is the core debate of the show. Can he keep to his code, despite the ever-increasing temptations to break it? That’s the most interesting part of this season to me.

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    • Hi there. Thanks for commenting.

      So, I understand why DD doesn’t kill, and the show does make an attempt at contrasting his methods with those of the Punisher, Elektra, and Stick. The problem is that Netflix, in my opinion, has done a poor job of demonstrating why DD’s no-kill policy is the more noble choice.

      The Punisher’s methods are clearly more effective because the bad guys stay down and there is no collateral damage to innocents (in the show). Therefore, his permanent solution appears like an actual solution when compared to Daredevil’s beat ’em up and throw them in jail. And, as we see in this season, putting super-powered villains in prison doesn’t stop them from doing heinous things.

      The other issue is that Matt Murdoch’s fierce belief in the justice system is flawed because time and time again, we’re shown how unable it is to cope with the threats facing Hell’s Kitchen or that it’s completely corrupt and controlled by the bad guys he’s trying to get rid of in the first place.

      Then enter the murderous army of ninjas, hell bent on killing anyone who gets in their way. These are guys that absolutely will not stop unless a more permanent method is used, but DD sticks to his guns, and the showrunners must have seen it as a problem because they let the Punisher, Stick, and Elektra do all the necessary killing for him. This, in my opinion, makes Daredevil look weak and ineffective, which is not a great recipe for success in your main character.

      Ultimately, DD comes off looking selfish rather than noble. He is presented with a choice of two evils: kill the bad guys and ensure no further innocents are harmed or don’t kill because you believe it is morally wrong no matter the consequences. In the show, for me, he consistently chooses the wrong one and places more innocent people in danger because of it.

      Had the show give us some proof that DD’s methods had a positive outcome, his no-kill policy would make more sense, but they consistently show the opposite, and, as I said, they make a big mistake by letting the Punisher be so damn effective (although I loved that murderous son-of-a-bitch).

      Now, I’ll admit, inflicting real-world ethics and situations on comic book heroes isn’t exactly fair. They weren’t designed to operate under those conditions. I’ll also admit that the no-kill code just sticks in my craw, but, hey, it’s my review, right? 😉

      All of this said, I did enjoy this season of Daredevil, and I thought Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of the Punisher was Emmy-worthy. I really hope he gets his own series.

      Thanks again for chiming in.

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  4. FINALLY got to this! So I think the term “isn’t adequately explained” is my biggest pet peeve about this season. Now that Daredevil Season 1 was a hit, as well as Jessica Jones they went into this one knowing that they had room to expand and set up stuff for the big crossover they intend to do later on. So everything is left open ended and frankly, half-assed in terms of a solid conclusion for either of the two main story arcs.

    I knew it was a bad idea to split focus between The Punisher and Elektra this season. I could’ve easily watched an entire courtroom drama with Frank, but it felt like higher ups said “There’s no action in that! We need the Daredevil to fight crime!” Ok, well, what if we have Elektra fight the Hand? We can set up what’s coming with Iron Fist and — “Great! Do that!” Ok, so we’ll scrap the Punisher and — “No, no! We need the Punisher! We cast him! He’s this season’s big draw!” But– “Do both!” Um… ok…

    It just feels a little like they half-assed both storylines. I could’ve easily watched 13 episodes with each of them separately and even a combined season like this could’ve worked if they had tied it all together the way Fisk was juggling multiple crime syndicates for a greater purpose but the Elektra plot and Frank’s plot never overlapped. One was constantly pulling focus from the other, and by the end I just felt like way too much was going on – even the cop was like “I’m over this shit, I just finished pulling bodies out of the river why the hell are there a bunch of damn ninjas on my roof the next day?”

    Also… there’s no real antagonist. Not… really. Frank’s never really pitted against Daredevil for very long and the resolution with the bad guy he’s chasing that orchestrated the carousel incident went by so fast I’m not even sure I understood what happened. Meanwhile, the Hand works in mysterious ways, looking for something that may or may not exist according to Matt (and you can’t say it’s a real threat if your MC doesn’t even believe in it), and when they find it it’s… really? Elektra says “oh, that all makes sense!” but then they have to show you a flashback to explain why she feels that way, so it isn’t really an “a ha!” moment because they didn’t have time to build that up ahead of time.

    Not to say that this season was bad. It had good parts, but I felt like it’s a part of a bigger whole and the lack of closure at the end of it really got to me, especially because I feel like they could’ve had a much more satisfying ending for everyone if they had just picked one storyline to focus on.

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