Recurring Cast: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, Elodie Yung
A large part of Daredevil’s charm is that it never does the expected thing. Season Two was pitched as a clash between two beloved heroes, Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, rebooted beyond recognition from his poor stint in cinema as a gritty, down-to-earth vigilante, and Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, a.k.a one of the public’s most treasured anti-heroes: the Punisher. And for the first four episodes of Daredevil, we are given exactly that. As mob bosses rush to fill the void left by Wilson Fisk, they find themselves being picked off by an invisible army. While Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page decide to represent the one survivor, Daredevil takes to the streets to bring down this new enemy. It turns out that this new threat is not an organisation, but one man, the Punisher. Left for dead by a mob and betrayed by a government trying to cover up his family’s death for reasons unknown, Frank Castle is left to fend for himself and he does so by adopting the Daredevil’s vigilante quest, with the small exception that he leaves criminals in a bloody mess on the floor. And those first four episodes are nothing short of brilliant. The Punisher comes across as the unstoppable boogeyman, almost superior to Murdock. The only reason he doesn’t kill the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is because Castle saves his bullets for the bad guys. These four episodes are tense, explosive and feature some incredible scenes. Last season, we were given plenty of fight scenes, but one stayed in the mind: the one-shot punch-up in Episode 2. Netflix replicates that battle in one glorious episode that ups the stakes dramatically and does nothing short of satisfy.
And then things come to a grinding halt. Daredevil stops trying to impress with its well choreographed fight scenes and slows down into a court-room drama. The theme of the day is: should the public support vigilantism? Murdock might have a pure goal, but his actions have inspired Frank Castle and allegedly others (remember Jessica Jones is set in New York City too), creating the mob war that kicks off the season. The topic is stilted slightly as almost every superhero story discusses it (as well as the forbidden love angle and reveal of the hero’s identity scene), but Netflix, for the most part, keep things ticking over. Jon Bernthal is asked to captivate audiences not with his actions, but with his performance. It is a mesmerising turn from the actor, topping his other roles (sorry, Walking Dead), and easily becoming the best Punisher ever depicted outside of the comics. No, Daredevil no longer tries to be the show you want it to be, but becomes a more thoughtful, slow-burning affair. There are still some impressive displays of action to be had, as a new threat lurks in the shadows. Matt’s old girlfriend, Elektra, shows up and anyone that has touched a Daredevil comic, knows that when she is a part of the plot, things aren’t going to stay quiet for too long. But it is the story that reigns supreme. This works wonders for Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson, who are constantly threatening to be forgotten due to the three impressive vigilantes sparring each episode. When the action shifts to the law firm, Foggy comes into his own, while the Punisher storyline is tied up with Karen Page’s investigation into his past. Deborah Ann Woll is endlessly interesting this time around, seeing as she acts as a perfect foil to the vigilante discussion. As Matt hammers home his point about never taking a life, Karen is still guilty of her dark secret from last season, killing Fisk’s most prized accomplice to save her own life. It puts her bang in the middle of the debate, the more human side to Murdock’s and Castle’s extremes, as well as acting as a neat driving force for the season. So no, Daredevil isn’t the show you want it to be, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
But the most exciting thing for Daredevil’s second season for me is that despite all of these new introductions (the Punisher, Elektra, the reveal of the true season baddie), it was Daredevil himself that remained the best part of the show. Charlie Cox might have been cruising through on his actions and charisma last season, but here, he comes into his own. It’s his internal struggle that grounds the show, keeps us tuned in each week. Some prefer their heroes to be trapped in that grey morality spectrum, much like Frank Castle or Jessica Jones, but having your hero so anti-killing is actually quite interesting. Throughout the entire season, from the Punisher’s logical rationalising to Elektra’s kill-or-be-killed attitude, Matt finds his morals being tested. He tries to find the good in others, but often imagines the best in people, a flaw that trips him up almost constantly. And as our hero tries to handle both the Punisher and Elektra at the same time, he ends up being pulled in two different directions, pushing his friends away, to fully become the Daredevil. Again, this part of the show hurts slightly, because of its over-use in other shows. Hell, Arrow brings the conflict up almost every week, although Netflix never play it so heavy-handed. Still, if the narrative fails to compel, Cox’s performance will. The actor is always struggling with his devotion to stay good, to prove himself as a hero. That is what makes Daredevil so riveting. Seeing the world stomp down on a man trying to do good and seeing how far he can be pushed, before he breaks.
Final Verdict: While the season slows down halfway through, it survives the change in pace through the strength of its writing and performances.