“Daredevil” (2016): Not so Red as he is Painted (Season 2) (Episodes 1 – 6) (TV Review)
I am six episodes into Daredevil, Season 2, the end of which is, I think, a good breaking point for a review. As we did last year, Sverrir will take the second half of the season, starting with Episode 7.
The first season was overall about as good as anyone could have realistically hoped for. It also smacked of Batman a lot, whether it was a case of heightened senses turning into a kind of detective mode, sleepless nights and secret identity bachelor-isms, or even the “Why I fight” mantra. So of course, Season 2 presents a case of necessary escalation with violent mafia feuds in the wake of a power vacuum, then summoning the attention of other weirdos to Hell’s Kitchen. But the new showrunners, Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, aren’t interested in mining the Batman parallels any more than they need to for an autonomous story.
They also aren’t as complacent of the marathon method of television viewing. The first season plotted gentrification more effectively than most stories and wasn’t afraid to be weird, but it also meandered, not always clear of its immediate direction. The most powerful moments were the usually the mid-climaxes like the Oldboy hallway fight, Murdock and Fisk’s first conversation, the entirety of Speak of the Devil and Nelson v. Murdock, and Urich’s house surprise. Season 2 hits the ground running. The action is as good as you remember it, though with maybe one too many attempts at blatant one-upsmanship. Charlie Cox’s mischievous smile and quiet brooding in between his battered recovery is more confident and inspired, as is Deborah Ann Woll with Karen Page. She’s far better put to use in doing Urich’s work from the first season herself on her own, and the sense of danger it adds to her drive (along with the memory of what we know she did in Season 1) fuel the chemistry behind her spark of romance with Murdock.
Then there’s the Punisher.
There will be more to say about Frank Castle when the season is done, but it must be noted how great his characterization thus far is. If you’ve seen any fifteen minutes of Punisher: War Zone, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for in the beginning, but the real treats are what come after. He may already be as developed in these six episodes as Fisk was over the course of the entire first season, despite Castle going two episodes with barely a word of dialogue. Jon Bernthal, well in his element for a role like this, masters the thousand-yard stare and then the dark jokes. Whether the actor and character rise to Vincent D’Onofrio’s high bar remains to be seen, but Bernthal sells the Punisher’s place and purpose in Hell’s Kitchen well, as well as the terms of his adversity with the Man Without Fear.
Season 1 didn’t always rhyme, but there was a great poetry to Murdock’s nighttime vigilantism against the violent peons at the bottom interplaying with (and overlapping) his daytime idealistic legal crusade against the syndicates at the top. That poetry is faster and doubly dangerous in Season 2, with Nelson & Murdock Law facing imminent bankruptcy from all their pro bono work as well as burial by a suspiciously overeager District Attorney, with the Punisher himself as the catalyst for their conflict. Yet he is as much a victim to it, and this season does a good job finding creative ways to sideline our hero just as the conflict intensifies.
Lastly there’s Élodie Yung’s Elektra, teased in the trailer, although if you’re familiar with her comic background, the one in this show is Elektra in name only. She has a different backstory, love history with Murdock, motivations, and even combat methods. I like her, but also a distraction, which I suspect is something of a hidden joke at this point. And the Daredevil costume still feels like the show’s going backwards. At one point early on we’re made to think that the showrunners noticed the hate for it and wanted to shoehorn in new designs. Nope…
Still, Daredevil, by the end of it all, may end up remembered more for its villains than its heroes. That’s a trait sorely lacking in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one many for sure will hope see brought to the screen for the features. With six episodes behind me, I already like Season 2 better, even with many threads still dangling. There’s energy to its silence as well as those few moments where it redoes events from the 2003 movie and puts it to shame. Whether you’re invested in it for the Marvel continuity or not, give this a shot.