I virtually never binge TV, preferring to take my time and view a maximum of two or three episodes per sitting. But this past Saturday, before I even realized what was happening, I had sat threw 10 damn hours of Daredevil Season 2 with little to no breaks. This show just took control of me. In spite of all of the complaints I’m going to bring up shortly, this was an undeniably effective season of television in that I was not bored for even a single second throughout these 13 hours. Never did I restlessly check to see how many minutes were left in any given episode, and at the end of the day, whether a piece of art kept you engaged is what’s most important.
In a lot of ways, Daredevil’s second season is superior to the first, while in other departments it fell short. Overall, I’d argue the two are roughly equal in quality, and enjoyable for slightly different reasons. The sophomore year certainly wasn’t a decline in quality, nor did it blow the first out of the water.
Assuming we can remember any individual moments from this hazy 13-hour experience, let’s run through a couple of this year’s highlights and lowlights.
From here on out, expect spoilers for the entire second season of Daredevil.
Highlight: Jon Bernthal
It is evidently a Daredevil tradition for the side characters to overshadow the titular hero. Poor Charlie Cox. Just as Wilson Fisk was the clear MVP of Season 1, this time around that title belongs to Jon Bernthal, who delivers a jaw-droppingly good performance as The Punisher. Creating a complex antihero takes work, and it’s not as simple as having a seemingly evil dude spout off a tearful monologue about his tragic past. Bernthal plays Frank Castle as a man we fear and sympathize with at the same time, rather than a character who starts off as Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 1 and suddenly turns into Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.
In an alternate universe where the Emmys recognized genre shows like these, the clip shown before Bernthal’s introduction would most definitely be his scene with Matt at the graveyard at the end of “Penny and Dime.” Even after all of the comic-book insanity to come, looking back, this ten minute conversation between Daredevil and The Punisher is my easily favorite sequence of the entire season.
Matt and Frank, two men with a surprising number of things in common but who very nearly killed one another multiple times, leave the graveyard with a profound respect for one another. “You’d have made a hell of a marine, Red,” Frank says to Matt, invoking his nickname that began as a sarcastic insult but has become a term of endearment.
Frank recounts a heartbreaking story, but not about seeing a buddy die in the war or even the day that his family was killed. Sometimes the most dramatic moments in life aren’t the ones that endure in our minds; the simple ones do. In this case, Frank can not stop reliving the night he was too exhausted to read to his daughter.
“The first time I felt how tired I was, you know, I was just…tired, you know? You ever been tired, Red? It’s just, I couldn’t do nothing, you know? All the things…I couldn’t take my wife to bed. Ball with the boy. Shit…I was too tired, I couldn’t even drink a goddamn beer, you know.
But not her. My girl was up. See, she wanted me to – she wanted me to tuck her in. She outgrew it, she knew it, but she didn’t care. She wanted it. She had that book. Her favorite book was out on the pillows. One Batch, Two Batch…Penny and Dime. Yeah. I read her that book every night before this shit. I read it every single night, but see, that was over now because Daddy’s home now. She looked at me and she begged me, Red. She begged. She begged.
I said ‘No. Daddy’s too tired, see. But I’ll…I’ll read to you tomorrow night. I’ll read to you tomorrow night, I promise.’ Never think that…for her there was not gonna be any tomorrow, see. The last time I’d see her, I’d be holding her lifeless body in my arms.”
A lesser series might have had Frank recall his family’s death in brutal detail to manipulate the audience, but reflecting back on the night before makes Frank’s pain land even harder. And never do we get the sense that we’re watching an actor recite a monologue that a writer composed specifically to make us cry. We’re watching a defeated man struggling to put words to a feeling that has been stuck inside for too, too long.
Lowlight: Too Many Unanswered Questions
With the last few episodes of the season, it’s difficult to become particularly invested when we have no idea what the hell is going on. What the hell is Black Sky? What does it mean that Elektra is Black Sky? Why is that important? What is the Hand’s end goal? Why do they want Elektra? What’s going on with that giant bottomless pit? What’s up with those kids, and what is draining their blood accomplishing exactly? What is happening?
Obviously we aren’t supposed to know for sure, and I’m by no means opposed to setting up a broader mystery that I’m assuming will become the Defenders’ version of Thanos and the Infinity Stones. But the problem is that I didn’t have nearly enough information to a be worried about what was going to happen because I had no clue what the stakes were. Even a brief explanation of what Black Sky is, and why Elektra being Black Sky is a big deal, would have been an enormous help.
Highlight: Karen Becoming A Reporter
Among the three leads, Karen has always been the most talented investigator, and so the decision to make her a reporter rather than just an assistant to Matt and Foggy was such a pleasant surprise. I’m pumped for more of her being a kickass journalist in Season 3.
Although one gripe with this is that it made me even angrier at the decision to kill off Ben Urich. How cool would it have been to see Ben and Karen working side-by-side as fearless reporters? With Ben gone, the show has to awkwardly build up a rapport between Karen and that other dude, a guy who we spent all last season thinking was a complete asshole. Karen and Ben already had a nice dynamic going on, so killing him off now feels even more like it was done for shock value rather than it being what was the best move from a storytelling perspective.
Lowlight: Lack of Matt Lawyer-ing
A big part of the conflict of the season was Matt destroying his personal and professional life because of his whole “beating zombie ninjas up at night” schtick, but it was kind of a wasted opportunity that we got basically zero examples of Matt doing his job as a lawyer. I was so excited to see Matt throw down in the People vs. Frank Castle case, but then he just stumbles into court late every day and Foggy has to improvise some bullshit. Not a big deal considering this was probably necessary for Matt’s arc this season, but it’s still something that left me mildly disappointed.
Highlight: The Action
Hot dang was the action satisfying. A few of the fight scenes in the Season 1 finale – as well as the action depicted in Season 2’s cold open – were sloppily executed, and so I was nervous that Daredevil would never again come close to topping the hallway fight. I was so delighted to be proven wrong.
The stairwell brawl in Season 2 Episode 3 is even more impressive than the Season 1’s hallway battle, and I couldn’t stop smiling like an idiot through the whole thing. Here’s just a brief rundown of some of the shit that happens:
- Matt, using a chain that’s attached to his arm, hits a dude right in the fucking face, knocking him out instantly.
- Matt kicks the shit a dude out in a doorway and then smashes the door on him over and over.
- Matt uses his chain to knock the gun right out of a dude’s hand, then lassos the chain around the guy’s neck and pulls him over the edge of the staircase.
- Matt knocks several guys out with a goddamn wrench, which he then throws across the room to hit a fourth guy.
It’s just god damn nuts, and as visceral and exhilarating as the original hallway fight. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like a shameless retread, though; adding in the element of Matt making his way down a set of stairs establishes the fight as a spiritual successor, and something that’s unique enough from what came before.
Although one gripe about this: it’s meant to appear as one long continuous shot, but all the cuts are very poorly hidden. Ever see Hitchcock’s Rope, where he disguises the edits by just zooming in to the back of someone’s shirt until the image darkens and then zooming out again? This was as obvious and shitty as that.
Lowlight: Too Many Monologues About Morality
The theme of the season is the idea that Daredevil and The Punisher aren’t that different, and there’s no way you didn’t understand that because they really beat it into your god damn head. Yes, they’re both vigilantes who take out criminals and who are inspired by a tragic past, but while Matt throws the perps in jail, Frank takes them out for good. We get it right away, but this point is reiterated again and again over the course of these 13 episodes, with just about everyone weighing in on how “What if The Punisher is the creation of Daredevil!” and “What if The Punisher and Daredevil are basically the same!” Even the excellent third episode featuring Frank and Matt conserving on the roof hits this point bit too hard and too often.
Highlight: The Return of Fisk
What a lovely surprise this was. Going in to Season 2, I assumed Wilson Fisk would never show up whatsoever, or if he did, it would just be a brief cameo. But no, not only does he appear, but he plays a major role in the season! When Frank enters the gym in Episode 8 and Fisk turns around to reveal himself, that is a magic TV moment right there. Thank God nobody spoiled it for me.
Vincent D’onofrio is, of course, as amazing as ever, and it’s entertaining as hell to see Fisk slowly rebuild his empire from prison and take out that asshole Dutton. How about the exchange between Fisk and Frank in Episode 9? I love how Frank is the one person to not take any of Fisk’s crap. Fisk enters the room and starts off on a monologue about prison turning people into savages, only for Frank to interrupt as if to say, “Yeah, yeah, let’s just get this shit over with.” And then shortly after, he just fucking headbutts Fisk without skipping a beat. The inevitable out-of-prison confrontation between these two is going to be incredible.
Lowlight: Reyes’ Storyline
A significant part of Karen’s investigative work in the early episodes is about trying to figure out what Reyes, the District Attorney, is covering up, and so this will presumably lead to a huge revelation about her being in league with one of the season’s many villains or something. But the end result is underwhelming. It turns out Reyes covered up the fact that she sent a cop undercover in the massacre that killed Frank’s family, and also ordered a DNR when Frank was in the hospital. I mean, yeah, that’s certainly terrible and something that could get her in a lot of trouble, but as a plot point, it was a bit of a “so what?” after all those episodes of buildup around a massive DA conspiracy.
Highlight: Stick Killing Nobu
Just an individual scene from the finale that I loved: Nobu’s eyes opening, making us all groan at how predictable this was. Of course Frank throwing this dude, who has literally come back to life before, off a roof wouldn’t do him in. So the whole final battle accomplished nothing and Nobu will just come back next season. Lame.
But nope! Stick shows up out of nowhere and chops the dude’s God damn head off. What a badass cap to his Season 2 storyline.
Lowlight: The Final Battle is a Letdown
Just like last year, the closing battle is a disappointment. As Frank and Elektra talk in the hallway about how utterly screwed they are, we’re assuming there are literally hundreds of ninjas behind the door and we’re about to experience the most insane showdown in the show thus far. Hell, maybe in the entire MCU thus far. Here we go!
But then they go outside and there are only a few dudes. I think we’re supposed to feel that Matt and Elektra are completely and totally fucked, but this honestly didn’t seem that much more perilous than any one of Matt’s fights up to this point. I was far more anxious during the early fight when Matt lost his powers than during this one.
And plus, by this point all the showdowns with the ninjas have basically blended visually speaking and have gotten kind of boring. And why are all the ninjas just sort of attacking one at a time here? There’s one shot where we see Elektra fighting a bunch of them in the background, and they’re all just taking their turn, with a few literally standing there waiting. It looks very stupid. Once again, action wise, the season peaked with the hallway fight. Even the battle with Nobu is not as exciting as last year’s.
Oh, and after Frank stumbled upon that massive armory, you’d expect him to come in with one of those machine guns and fucking tear a bunch of ninjas down. Instead he just picks off a few with a sniper and that’s it. Matt probably would have been fine had Frank not showed up at all.
Highlight: Matt and Foggy’s Friendship
I loved the fact that Foggy didn’t hold his tongue and put up with Matt’s unprofessionalism all season. Yeah, he should be pissed that Matt is bailing on something that is so important to him and Karen after continuously promising that he’ll be there for them. At the same time, Daredevil is a part of who Matt is, and so it’s tricky to ask him to just give that up. Seeing their friendship falling apart is tragic but earned, and it doesn’t feel like a contrived piece of drama.
Lowlight: Karen Not Figuring Out Matt’s Identity On Her Own
Okay, Karen apparently has a knack for investigative journalism, but she never manages to figure out Matt is Daredevil? At a certain point it becomes so painfully obvious that I was convinced Karen did know and was simply waiting for the right time to say something, but when Matt reveals his secret in the finale, she seems genuinely shocked. I know that the fact that Matt’s blind might prevent her from ever thinking along these lines, but especially after their fight over how cool and good and sexy Daredevil is, you’d think she’d at least consider it.
Lowlight: The Lack of One Main Villain
Another aspect of this season that was a step down from the first was the absence of a major antagonist whose threat is hanging over every episode. We had Wilson Fisk last year, but who’s the villain this time around? At first it’s The Punisher, but he very quickly turns into an antihero. We’ve got these various criminal organizations, but they don’t really do much on screen except for the Irish mobsters kidnapping the Punisher and then disappearing. Maybe it’s Reyes? Well, not really, it turns out she isn’t all that evil. Oh, is the villain Fisk again? Nah, he sort of fades into the background after two episodes. I guess the main antagonist is Nobu and the zombie ninjas, but they don’t become a factor in the season until eight damn episodes in.
As a result, the story seems kind of aimless for a while, as we’re just bouncing around desperately hoping to settle in on one plot as our big threat. By the time we get there with Nobu, we’re already so far into the season, and besides, it’s so confusing anyway that we aren’t even clear on what the threat is.
Well anyway, that’s a wrap for this season of Daredevil! I’ll probably have more to say later in the week, but after about 10 straight hours in the MCU, I need to go remind myself of what the sun looks like.