Okay. You’ve probably already read about 600 reviews of Daredevil since Season 2 aired, like, weeks ago, but guess what? Now you have mine! And mine is clearly the best because it comes with way more words and, like, a whole numbering system!
I’ve read a lot of wildly different opinions about this season, with some people praising the hell out of it and others calling it a sophomore slump. But while there are aspects I liked (the Punisher, for instance), I’ve got to be honest with you: this is not going to be one of the more positive reviews.
Sorry, guys, but this one comes with SPOILERS, since basically everything I want to talk about includes them. (This includes minor spoilers for Jessica Jones, as well.)
1. Daredevil, Season Two, starts pretty well for me.
In general, I enjoyed the first four-episode arc where Daredevil is hunting down the Punisher. There are some exceptions to that–the rooftop scene with Tied Up Daredevil comes with a few lines of pretty clunky dialogue that even the actors can’t quite manage to overcome–but the overall story works pretty well.
And just like basically every other review has said, Jon Bernthal is a godamn force. It’s not so surprising, really, at least, not if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead. Bernthal brings all the psychotic, violent intensity you’d expect from the dude who played Shane Walsh, but he really hits the emotional beats, too, like that monologue from “Penny and Dime,” I mean, Jesus. That’s the standout moment of the whole season, and he delivers it so, so well. I don’t really think that the Emmys are ever going to nominate anyone from a superhero show, especially one that aired so far from award season, but if anyone’s got a shot at Best Supporting, I suspect it would be Jon Bernthal.
2. Unfortunately, as soon as that arc wraps up, we introduce Elektra (Elodie Yung) . . .
. . . and, for me, the series never really recovers.
I want to be very clear here: absolutely none of my problems have anything to do with Yung’s performance. I quite liked her, actually; she was violent and funny and badass. I adored that moment where she and Daredevil kick some bad guy butt, and then she looks at Matt with this huge smile on her face and asks, “Hungry?” I also enjoyed many of her fight scenes, though I did sometimes feel that the show was giving her the Sonya Blade Treatment, where she fights off one bad guy while Matt fights off five. Super annoying.
But with Elektra comes many, many problems, my primary one being that Matt Murdock basically becomes a dick.
So, this is my thing: team dynamics and found families are basically what I live for as both a fan and a writer. I don’t mind when my favorite characters are fighting–for Christ’s sake, my favorite episode from last season was probably “Nelson vs Murdock”–but I have to buy their reactions, why they’re fighting, or else I call bullshit. And I’m calling such serious bullshit on basically everything that happens between Foggy, Matt, and Karen past the fourth episode.
It goes like this: Matt persuades Foggy to take Frank Castle as a client, and then basically entirely ditches him throughout the trial because he’s too busy dealing with Elektra’s shit. Foggy is, pretty understandably, pissed off about the whole thing. Karen, too. And if I bought the necessity of Matt’s ditching them, that he tried and tried and couldn’t find a way to play both lawyer and vigilante crimefighter at the same time, then absolutely, I’d be on board.
But Matt really never seems to be trying all that hard, like he says sorry a few times, sure, but the show never bothers to spend much time on Matt trying to do his actual job, which, let’s be clear here, is hardly a series of menial and meaningless tasks. Matt’s a defense lawyer. He doesn’t do his job properly, his clients could die. Abandoning cases is pretty damn irresponsible, not to mention how it massively screws over his best friend and partner. We spent a huge chunk of last season establishing the epic bromance that is Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson, only to have Matt screw him over here for . . . what exactly?
3. There are two basic motivations you can cite for Matt’s uncharacteristically shitty behavior:
A: Matt’s still so in love with Elektra that he gets completely wrapped up in her life and is willing to throw everything else away–his career, the past however many years at law school, the people who have mattered the most to him–to take care of/be with her.
B. The threat of The Hand is so dire that if Matt hadn’t skipped out on the crime fighting for a couple of days, the whole city would have burned to the ground or something.
I feel like the show is going for some mixture of the two; unfortunately, neither work well for me at all. I’ve never read Daredevil comics (only Alias, where Matt Murdock guest stars), but I do know that Elektra’s supposed to be the Big Love of his Life and all. Still, I expect the show to actually sell that to me, and they didn’t. The actors have perfectly decent chemistry with one another (certainly more chemistry than Matt and Karen, anyway), but the flashbacks don’t at all convince me that they share a bond so strong that Matt would be such a complete dick to Foggy and Karen. Matt and Elektra’s relationship here strikes me as a sad outline of an Epic Love Story.
And as far as The Hand goes . . . shit, Matt fucks up at court well before he knows that he’s fighting The Hand. He just thinks he’s fighting the Yakuza, and I’m not trying to say that the Yakuza aren’t important, but, like, they’re probably not plotting Imminent Demise for the Entire City, either. They’re bad guys, not supervillains, which means you totally have time to show up at court for your fucking opening statement. (Seriously, it’d be one thing if Matt had been late because he’d been shot or something, you know, like what happens at the end of 2×01. But it’s something else entirely that he just overslept.) And besides . . . what the hell was The Hand even doing, anyway? If I don’t understand what the villains are really up to by the end of the season, it’s hard for me to attribute any real importance to the hero’s actions in stopping them.
4. Seriously, almost everything about The Hand fails for me.
I’m a nerd. I like to think that’s apparent by now, and usually, I feel like I’m on board with a comic book movie or TV show being game enough to utilize some of the more “out there” elements of the original material. So when first season of Daredevil basically promised us crazy, mystical ninja wars in the future, I was all like, “Bring it, baby.”
But between The Hand’s evil and incredibly vague goals, the Chaste’s entirely silly ancient origin story, the Mysterious Chamber that was obviously some kind of resurrection chamber, and everyone urgently repeating the words “Black Sky” while refusing to actually develop the concept past Ultimate Living Weapon . . . it’s just all so bland, so generic. I didn’t actually think you could make ninjas boring, but somehow Season 2 managed to do just that for me. The only time I was really interested in The Hand was that cliffhanger when all the ninjas were awesomely invading the very same hospital that was currently housing Matt, Claire, and injured Foggy . . . only to be disappointed by how quickly that cliffhanger resolved.
I’m one of the rare people who was not a huge Wilson Fisk fan, but I’ve got to admit that he was a much more compelling villain for Daredevil than anyone in The Hand ever was, including Resurrected Nobu.
5. Speaking of Wilson Fisk, I was actually pretty happy with his surprise appearance. I didn’t think I would be–I thought the show really needed a Fisk-free season–but I didn’t see him coming, thought he worked pretty well in the story, and was happy he didn’t overstay his welcome, only appearing in a couple of episodes.
Still, I was basically legally obligated to mock Fisk’s speech patterns. I couldn’t help myself. He’s just SO. OVER. DRA-MA-TIC. IN EVERY. SINGLE. LIIINE.
(Also, a poll: who says Fisk is released from prison and outs Matt Murdock as Daredevil next season? Yeah, good going, hero. Way to piss off your enemies and get your ass handed to you for absolutely zero return. Meanwhile, how Matt’s face seems basically untouched after that incident, but Frank Castle’s face is more bruise than skin by the end of the season is beyond me. Meditation really works wonders, I guess?)
6. But back to the dissolution of Nelson & Murdock: one of my other problems with this storyline is that I’m not sure it feels like a second season story to me.
In the first season, Matt keeps everyone at arm’s length, and Nelson & Murdock almost closes its doors when Foggy finds out about Matt’s secret nighttime activities. By the end of the season, however, the BFFs find a way to move forward, and the doors stay open, with their symbolic Nelson & Murdock sign hanging up out front. The whole season is really about Matt learning that he doesn’t have to go it alone to be a hero.
Season 2, meanwhile, is like, “Fuck you, we’re going to literally forget ALL that shit in, like, two weeks.”
(Disclaimer: I actually have no idea how much time Season 2 is supposed to cover. But it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s very long.)
In an expanding universe, the loss of Nelson & Murdock makes sense and, actually, is a pretty interesting shake-up. I’m excited by the idea of Foggy working with Jeri Hogarth, and I adore Karen as an investigative journalist. (More on that in a bit.) Even the idea of Matt giving up his job to be a full-time vigilante (I guess?) is kind of neat. Admittedly, I have zero idea how he plans to pay the rent, but regardless, each are going after truth, justice, and the American Way in their own method, and I like that.
But the disbanding of a team is a lot more powerful when we actually get to see the team in action, and the thing about Nelson & Murdock is that they are a brand new firm in the first season. Karen is their first client (who quickly becomes their first and only employee) and they really only have the one case. (I guess technically they have three, but each revolves around Wilson Fisk, so it really feels like one.) In second season, enough time has passed that their waiting rooms are practically bursting with clients, but as we never get to see any of those cases, The Defense of Frank Castle really feels like it’s only their second actual job. And we barely get to see the time that’s past with our heroes hanging out after hours, living it up at Josie’s bar–sure, we get a few pictures to symbolize those Happy Times. But that’s not the same thing as watching the scenes ourselves.
If you think of Daredevil like a romance–just go with it–the first season is like the setup; it’s the first date, the potential of a great relationship. You’d think second season would be about the relationship itself, but instead we go straight to the Big Breakup, and I think that’s kind of a shame. It’d be much more compelling, natural, and heartbreaking to see the team split after a full season of them actually working together, settling into a groove, and really becoming that found family they began in Season 1. It would also give the show a lot more time to really emphasize how Matt’s struggling between his two jobs, like, it’s not enough for me to have someone throw out an Edna St. Vincent Millay reference, you know? I want to actually see the guy burning his candle at both ends, not just be a vaguely apologetic dick about it. (In a similar vein, I really wanted to like that scene where Matt’s all, “I’m done apologizing for being a vigilante. This is who I am” or whatever. I did like it, actually, out of context. In context, though, I’m like, “You don’t need to apology for being a vigilante, Matt. You need to apologize for being a terrible fucking lawyer and friend.”)
7. And speaking of relationships . . . everyone agrees that Matt and Karen are the most boring couple ever, right? I mean, I like both actors. Their scenes together as friends are fine. But their relationship stuff in the first four episodes? Massive yawn.
But then, oh my friends, then a new ship was born.
Punisher & Page, you guys. I wasn’t expecting it, but suddenly, there it was. I absolutely ship Punisher & Page. (Just pretend that’s Frank’s hand.)
Well. Except for this one diner scene towards the end of the season. The two are sitting at this table, right, and Frank’s like, “It’s obvious you and Matt are hot for each other,” and Karen’s like, “Yeah, well, Matt hurts people,” and Frank’s like, “Suck it up, Princess. Love ain’t love unless you’re hurting the other person,” and I’m like, “Oh my God, fuck you very much.” I mean, seriously. Karen’s whole “Matt hurts people” thing is a bit of a melodramatic reach, but Frank’s “I know absolutely nothing about your relationship, but I’ll just ignore the very real possibility that you’re referencing physical or emotional abuse, because hey, my wife was murdered, so I get to be authority on the heart and tell you all about my Love is Pain bullshit philosophy?” UGH.
Other than that unfortunate scene, though, I love these two. They have chemistry like whoa. It’s gotta be at least 1000 times more chemistry than Matt and Karen have.
8. Karen’s actually pretty awesome all around this season.
Admittedly, I liked her last season, too, when it seems that most people didn’t. (Well. I did hate that awkward ass scene with her asking Foggy to fake-blind feel up her face. But other than that.) This season, though, Karen especially came into her own. Her stuff with Frank was great, not just because of the actors’ natural chemistry, but because Karen’s connection to him is clearly fueled by both her own guilt over killing Wesley (which I can’t believe she hasn’t told anyone about yet) and whatever her secret hometown history is. And I adored her turn as an investigative journalist; she and editor Ellison (Geoffrey Cantor) were just great on screen together. I would happily watch more of them; hell, I could probably watch a spinoff series or movie about Karen Page, Intrepid Reporter.
I will say, though, that by the end of the season, Karen’s in danger just a few too many times for my liking. I’m not convinced she needed to be taken hostage by Clancy Brown OR kidnapped by The Hand, let alone both. They could ease up a little on the damsel shit in the next season, that’s all I’m saying. Not that she can’t ever be in danger, just, you know. Space that shit out, Jesus.
Also, just because I can’t help myself: determination, grit, and awesome research skills do not necessary a great writer make. I’m not a journalist. I’m not an editor. There’s a lot I don’t know about that particular industry, but I still feel like I might have asked for a writing sample before I hired someone on at my paper, no matter how much zeal for the truth this plucky young thing displayed. (And, okay, did anyone else think her writing was actually kind of awful? Ellison’s all like, “You have to write your own truth,” which is fine, but her truth turns out to be some vague nonsense about how everyone in Hell’s Kitchen is a hero, and I’m just like . . . okay, this seems pretty trite, but worse, uh, it’s kind of not news? I know, I know, Ellison’s saying she has to do more than just deliver already reported facts; she has to tell them something new. But what she says doesn’t sound like anything new or exciting to me. It sounds like a bad self help book.)
9. And as far as Claire goes, well. It is always, always a treat to see Rosario Dawson, and I pretty much continue to have my epic girl crush on Claire. But a lot of her stuff with Matt feels like forced angst bullshit to me, because it seemed that they were actually on much worse terms here than how I remembered them leaving things last season. Like, there was some tension at the end of first season, sure, but I guess I wasn’t expecting full-on Angry Ex-Girlfriend, maybe because she seemed pretty casual when she talked about Daredevil in her Jessica Jones cameo? It wasn’t awful; it just felt artificial, like we’re really pounding in that whole ‘Matt has no one who gets him, boo hoo’ thing. I found it disappointing.
On the upside, though, I was really happy with Claire’s own mini-arc, that she’d been in trouble for helping out Jessica Jones, and now after The Ninja Adventures, she’s out of a job and, presumably, going to open up her own clinic? Oh my God, I know it won’t ever happen, but I would watch the HELL out of that show. Like, I’d way rather see that than Karen Page, Intrepid Reporter, and I could totally genuinely watch Karen Page, Intrepid Reporter, you know?
10. Finally, let’s end on a series of more random mini-notes:
10A. Despite all the bullshit angst that I didn’t buy, Foggy had some very nice moments this season.
Anytime Foggy gets to be the Surprising Badass, I’m pretty happy. The scenes where he nailed the opening statement or faced down the DA, those were awesome. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really think Elden Henson was well-cast, and I need more scenes between him and Carrie-Anne Moss, not to mention Foggy and Jessica Jones. ZOMG, that needs to happen.
10B. One thing I forgot to mention before about Elektra was that her whole redemption arc, or whatever, seemed pretty wonky. I was okay with Sociopathic Socialite Elektra and I was pretty into Homicidal Ninja Elektra, but then Matt gives one or two “killing is wrong, and you don’t have to be this way” speeches, and suddenly Elektra’s all, “Actually, I don’t want to be this way; I can be like Matt and do things HIS way!” and I’m like bleh. And that lasts, what? Maybe an episode before Elektra’s like, “I am who I am, Matt! I’m meant to be a killer!” The whole thing feels super wishy-washy and cliché to me, and that’s not even including the whole Black Sky thing (which totally doesn’t help) or how she predictably makes the Sacrifice Play at the end.
10C. I was disappointed that we barely spent any time with Father Lantom this season.
Last year he was such a big deal, and I enjoyed his and Matt’s confessions/lattes. This season, he’s in, what, one episode? It’s not a huge problem, but it did bum me out.
10D. The fight scenes were pretty fantastic once again. It’s hard, too, because after the amazing fight scenes last year (especially the Hallway Fight Scene), you can basically just feel the choreographers thinking, “Well, shit, how are we supposed to one-up that?” Especially because they’ve lost any element of surprise–people watching Daredevil now expect those amazing fight scenes.
Regardless, I still enjoyed all the fight choreography. At present, the scenes that stand out to me the most are a) the first Punisher vs Daredevil fight, and b) the Big Stairwell Scene. The Big Stairwell Scene had maybe a tiny whiff of that “need-to-one-up-last-season” desperation, but I can’t deny that it was still pretty cool.
10E. I will never, ever complain about seeing Clancy Brown because I absolutely adore that guy and his gloriously deep voice . . . but . . . couldn’t we have saved him for a slightly more important part? The whole thing with the Blacksmith felt a little mishandled. It wasn’t a big problem for me, but he also didn’t feel super necessary to the story, and when you’ve got Clancy Motherfucking Brown at your disposal, you know, give him something to do, right? I mean, did you see that guy playing an evil military dude being mind-controlled by a telepathic gorilla? I know that sounds like a joke, but he was fucking amazeballs.
10F. I’m not always a huge fan of courtroom stuff. Sometimes, I enjoy it, but other times times the anticipation of waiting for the proverbial rug to get pulled out from under our heroes’ feet doesn’t do much for me. So as a general rule, I’m much more interested in watching Matt, Foggy, and Karen work behind the scenes than in court . . . but still, for something that’s called the Trial of the Century, you’d think it’d feel bigger, right? I was a little underwhelmed by the whole thing.
10G. Speaking of the trial . . . I’m utterly confused on why Matt and Foggy wanted to go with a ‘battle fatigue’ version of PTSD for their defense, when they could have just as easily argued that Frank was suffering from, you know, general PTSD from the holy shit traumatic event of watching your family get murdered in front of you before getting shot in the head. Like, what? I know it’s a condition we most often associate with soldiers, but uh, it’s not actually Post War Traumatic Stress Disorder. Trauma and stress are kinda widespread. Lots of people who aren’t soldiers have PTSD. For instance, like people WHOSE FAMILIES GET MURDERED IN FRONT OF THEM AND THEN GET SHOT IN THE HEAD. For Christ’s sake, show.
10H. All TV programs should use the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at some point in their show. I approve, Daredevil. I approve.
10I. Finally, the big cliffhanger where Matt reveals his secret identity to Karen? I want to be interested, I really do, but right now, with the way Matt’s acted the whole season . . . I just can’t seem to bring myself to care. Um. Maybe next season I’ll give a shit?
Cop: “It’s going to take weeks to process this shit! And where is this asshole’s hand?”
Grotto: “You gotta run home now. You ain’t got the balls for what’s coming.”
Karen: “Slide into bed, sweetheart, and settle in. Because I am the best chance you’ve got in the world right now.”
Matt: “There’s no need to worry.”
Karen: “Yeah, you know that doesn’t help, right?”
Matt: “Could I get some aspirin?”
Foggy: “You sure you don’t want an x-ray? Maybe a psych eval?”
Matt: “An x-ray’s fine, buddy.”
Daredevil: “You know you’re not the only one, right? Who did you lose? Huh? Was it someone you loved? Well, boo-hoo. Let me tell you something, buddy: everybody’s lost someone. Doesn’t mean you have to do this.”
Punisher: “You see, the whole time you’re thinking you’re gonna be scared, right? But then, you’re not. See, that part of it was always easy for me. Killing. Even watching my buddies die, it just didn’t mean nothing. The first time I got scared was on a plane on the way home. I kept thinking God was gonna pull the rug out from under us, you know? Shit, that’s his kind of funny, you know.”
Wilson Fisk: “The physician says that your condition is grave, that your lungs are filling with liquid. In a few hours you’ll likely suffocate on your own blood. But you won’t suffer alone. I’ll be here. Because you were right. In prison, there’s only room for one kingpin.”
Father Lantom: “We rush to say one life’s gone, but each of us is a world. And today, a world has been lost.”
Ellison: “Ben was a real pain in my ass. So it follows his friends would be too.”
Daredevil: “No killing.”
Punisher: “Altar Boy.”
Matt: “Did you go back to the gym?”
Foggy: “Hell no. Do I look capable of making healthy life choices?”
Matt: “It’s not underwear, Foggy. Underwear is comfortable.”
So, yeah. Season 2 worked for a lot of people, but clearly it didn’t work for me. There were things I enjoyed about it, and I acknowledge that high expectations play a role, but if you can’t sell me on character motivation (particularly when they’re characters I like inexplicably doing stupid shit), well, you lose me. Not to mention I think the story just had structural and coherency issues in general.
Think it has to be Jon Bernthal this time around. But Deborah Ann Woll was a close second.
I don’t know. Be who you were meant to be? Bromances are easily broken? Killing is wrong, except for when it’s not? Seriously, I know the guy has a tendency to come back to life and all, but for a dude who loves talking about how killing is wrong, Matt sure doesn’t seem to have any big regrets about flipping Nobu over the side of a roof.