Sean Mason offers his belated perspective on Daredevil’s second season and looks ahead to the future of the Netflix Marvel shows.
Less than perfect but never less than compelling, Daredevil season two struggled to balance it’s myriad of stories and characters but delivered when it mattered.
This season proved to be the back door pilot for a solo Punisher show that we all thought it was and Jon Bernthal’s take on Frank Castle was utterly absorbing. Whilst it may seem odd to complain to the chef for giving us such a delicious meal, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. The writers were clearly having a blast at writing the Punisher that they allowed his story to overshadow Matt’s.
The season started off well with a clear focus. Daredevil vs. The Punisher, two sides of the same coin. It was fun, complex, difficult storytelling. Was Matt right? Or Frank? Then Elektra appeared, a beguiling femme fatale with a dark past. It was sexy, compelling television. And then the show lost it’s focus and clarity.
Part of this may be the fault of new show runners Doug Petrie and Macro Ramirez who took over from the first season’s Steven S. DeKnight. The pair have since moved on to become showrunners on The Defenders series leaving Daredevil in a state of flux – though a third season is almost certainly guaranteed. Petrie and Ramirez were certainly angling to run The Defenders, as this season left a lot unanswered. The season fell into the same trap as Iron Man 2; full of great, crowd pleasing moments and still excellent entertainment, occasionally masterful drama but unfocused in it’s presentation and structure.
The returning cast members each had plenty to do. Charlie Cox continues to shine both as Matt Murdock and Daredevil, a complicated, conflicted man trying to save his city. Deborah Ann Woll had one of the strongest arcs this season as Karen Page was the first to see there was more to Frank Castle than just a kill happy vigilante. Whilst Elden Henson had moments of greatness, Foggy was the character most left on the sidelines this time round, barely factoring into the last few episodes.
Jon Bernthal and Elodie Yung were both fantastic as The Punisher and Elektra. Bernthal’s wounded animal was thrilling to watch though his story limped to a conclusion after the third “ah, but actually you want to kill this person…” The two threads of Punisher’s origins and Matt and Elektra going up against The Hand were so disconnected that the show struggled to balance both and give each equal weight and meaning. Too much of a good thing. It thankfully never tipped into the Punisher show guest starring Matt Murdock, but when you try to service multiple big characters and so much story there are going to be casualties. All this, and showing us Matt’s complicated love life (in the comics he also once had a thing with the Black Widow – I wonder what she is up to post Civil War).
It is great to see that the characters and costumes are still evolving. Thankfully the show’s designers were able to fix Daredevil’s mask and his costume now looks fantastic. However, there is still plenty of room for change; it wasn’t until the last episode that Matt was given his iconic billy clubs and how exciting it was to see him swinging across rooftops. The Punisher also didn’t get his full costume until the last episode. It would have been better to see the various plot strands come together in a more satisfying way but what we got was still fun to watch.
Heroes are just as good as their villains and perhaps the same can be said of Netflix Marvel shows. This season simply lacked a single adversary. First it was Matt vs. Frank, then teaming up against the criminals, then Frank had his own battles whilst Matt and Elektra battled the corrupt Roxxon corporation, which was working with The Hand and Nobu who kept refusing to die (until Stick took him out Highlander style – perhaps the writers should pay more attention to that film and remember with Villain’s there should be only one). With such a nebulous series of villains the show lacked a really meaty, impressive big bad. The brief return of Wilson Fisk served only to remind us of how much the show missed having him around.
Overall this second series was flawed yet never less than thrilling small screen superheroics. It consistently delivered on action and the cast also delivered dramatically. We can only hope that the show has a better sense of direction when it returns instead of feeling like set up for future installments. The first season may have been an origin story but felt more of a complete work than this second year.
So where now for the Netflix arm of the MCU? We’re likely to get The Defenders before a Daredevil Season 3 and it feels like The Hand/Black Sky are going to play a big part in that series. Foggy has moved to Hogarth’s firm so expect him to appear in either Jessica Jones Season 2 (if it happens before The Defenders) or, more likely, the forthcoming Iron Fist series. Claire has left the hospital, potentially to take on the mantle of Night Nurse, providing medical aid to those in the vigilante community. Expect her to appear in the forthcoming Luke Cage which is due in September. The teaser scene and bold titles suggest a strong vein of humour and perhaps a slightly lighter tone than Daredevil or Jessica Jones. This season of Matt’s adventures raised big questions and hopefully The Defenders deliver satisfying answers. Foggy is also the character that was told about Jessica Jones and Luke Cage and is about to meet Danny Rand. Is he going to be the one who brings the heroes together?
Don’t be surprised if the established Netflix shows continue to be used as testing grounds for other lesser known heroes in the marvel cannon. Especially Moon Knight and, maybe even Ghost Rider. The Punisher series is likely to land after The Defenders and the writers may want to look at the underrated and shortlived Greg Rucka run for inspiration. That arc saw Frank helping another soldier deal with loss and revenge in a deeply personal, human story, that also featured a crossover with Daredevil and Spider-Man which would be a blast to see in some form. And, purely because it would please me immensely, with Spider-Man active in Queens, it would be nice for a passing reference or for the Bulletin to have rivalry with the Bugle. It would certainly help add to the feeling of connection between the various aspects of the MCU. Netflix has recently signed a deal to become the official home of streaming Marvel, Disney and Star Wars content and hopefully this allows them to better position their shows in the wider MCU.
What can we hope for the future of Daredevil? Everyone is hoping that Bullseye may soon make an appearance, if that’s true then Karen should probably look out (though she is likely to go through the wringer as much as she did in the comics). Brian Michael Bendis helped shape the first season and there is plenty from his run on the book – and the subsequent Ed Brubaker run – to draw from, particularly Matt’s outing as Daredevil (before Civil War hit comic stores) and his incarceration alongside The Kingpin. The two formed an uneasy alliance as Matt was caught up in a revenge plot orchestrated by Vanessa Fisk. This arc also featured the Punisher and saw Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, take up the mantle of Daredevil to confuse the authorities and provide and alibi to Matt.
But really all it needs to deliver is a stronger narrative direction that serves it’s characters well whilst continuing to have some of the best action on the small screen.
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