This review, like our DaredevilSeason One review, does not contain spoilers. In fact, I’m not even going to tell you all of the cast members from this season. So there.
In my opinion, it absolutely is, but your mileage may vary depending on what you liked about the first season. If you enjoyed the action, just stop reading now and start watching immediately (Editor’s Note: Jack, please don’t tell people to stop reading our content…. this is why we can’t have nice things. Everyone else, keep reading). If you enjoyed the multi-layered character development and solid world-building, you’ll be happy, but may want to stick around for further discussion. If you found all of that tedious and boring the first time around, there isn’t anything here that is likely to change your mind.
The show was created by Drew Goddard, and the showrunner for Season One was Steven DeKnight. DeKnight is replaced this season by co-showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, who were both promoted from their writing duties on Season One. Petrie is yet another alumnus of Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse along with Goddard. Ramirez is in demand after stints story editing on Orange is the New Black and as a consulting producer on Season One of Fear the Walking Dead. I mention this only because it seems pretty obvious that Netflix was concerned with how to manage the uptick in characters and plotlines in Season Two, and bringing on two guys well versed in both certainly must have seemed like a good idea.
Probably so. Season One wasn’t exactly light on characters or plotlines, but this second season makes it seem positively anemic by comparison. One of the things that made Season One so impressive was its willingness to keep a measured pace and build a solid foundation for the show, before piling on loads of subplots. We spent several hours with Matt Murdock before Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk was even on our radar. If I have one nitpick with Daredevil’s otherwise brilliant sister show, Jessica Jones, it is that we never got a sense of the main character before her nemesis, Kilgrave, arrives on the scene. It was less of one long arc than the same small arc repeating itself again and again, with gradually increasing stakes. Season Two of Daredevil wants to have it both ways. Much like the first season, the show shifts its focus every few episodes, but this time there are multiples twists with multiple character additions and in some ways it feels like several short seasons butted up against each other. It is propulsive entertainment, but at times it does feel like too much, too fast. Can’t we just enjoy finally having an excellent onscreen version of The Punisher for a minute before we move on to finally having an excellent onscreen version of Elektra? No? Fine.
Not really, as last season left us with some big holes to fill. Charlie Cox returns as Matt Murdock/Daredevil. Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson return as legal associates Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. Woll comes into her own with renewed focus on her character and her own storylines. Elden Henson continues to be saddled with the yeoman’s work of being both comic relief and the show’s moral conscience—and neither is particularly well fitting for him. Marvel’s movie theater spectacles have succeeded in large part because of the chemistry between the leads. When Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. verbally spar, the bond between them is believable because their exchanges have the ring of truth to them. When Foggy and Matt talk, it feels more like an audition than a lifelong friendship. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it stands out as a missed opportunity. There are other first season folks that I’ll mention like Rosario Dawson, but the rest are more fun to discover on your own.
More notable are the new additions. Losing Vondie Curtis-Hall’s Ben Urich and Toby Leonard Moore’s Wesley last season means there is a big void to fill, as both of those actors brought a metric ton of weight and charisma to the proceedings. Urich’s everyman decency falls to Woll this season and she is up to the task, but things are even better on the criminal side of the fence. Rarely has there been as much unified rejoicing over a popular comic character’s casting than when Jon Bernthal was cast as Frank Castle AKA The Punisher. That joy was not misplaced. He is easily the best thing about the second season, even if his presence presents some minor hurdles for Netflix to overcome as they plan their future calendar of shows. Perhaps equally good is Élodie Yung as Elektra Natchios (the unnamed Greek college girlfriend of Matt’s, briefly mentioned in Season One).
If anything, the problem isn’t the number of characters, it’s the quality. Charlie Cox is extremely good as Matt, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that he is being forced to be the straight man as more interesting characters take the spotlight. Then again, it isn’t that surprising, since Daredevil’s closest DC Comics analog often has the same problem. Let’s do a thought exercise: close your eyes and imagine a masked vigilante with a pointy cowl who runs along rooftops at night scaring and beating up the criminals who threaten the good people of his city. He is often joined by a female counterpart who is alternately a love interest, partner in crime-fighting, and adversary since she straddles the line between hero and criminal. Our hero is motivated primarily by the death of a parent and, as I said, is often upstaged by charismatic villains. Now you tell me, is the guy you’re thinking of wearing red or black? It isn’t news that Daredevil and Batman share characteristics. After all, both characters defining modern incarnations were written by the same man, Frank Miller—the same Frank Miller who happens to have created Elektra Natchios. Having two new really compelling characters isn’t a negative, but it does mean that the creative team needs to think very carefully about Season Three and how to keep Daredevil from becoming a secondary character on his own show.
There is a palpable sense from the start that everything good from Season One needs to be ratcheted up a notch, and while that can be initially thrilling (the tour de force fight scene at the end of episode three is the best of the series), it doesn’t leave the show anywhere to go. It’s hard to escape the sensation that a plateau develops in the middle of the season, and that said plateau continues through the finale. That said, it is a really high plateau.
Daredevil isn’t a perfect show, but it gets far more right than wrong and its flaws are manageable. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but in this case the creative team has amplified the best parts, while keeping the flaws down at Season One levels. Hopefully Season Three will alter that dynamic by keeping the good parts as they are, and fixing those flaws—ultimately taking the show to even greater heights.
#13hours. Just go ahead and post it to all your social media accounts so that people will know how long you’ll be unreachable.
It isn’t as if the show hasn’t always had a least some supernatural tendencies, but you may notice a renewed emphasis, as well as characters just flat out telling you that you need to get used to the idea. It’s pretty hard to imagine that this isn’t a direct ramp up leading to Iron Fist, which is really supernatural in nature and it’s nice to see the creative team making sure those seeds are firmly planted now.
There is plenty of other connected tissue being stretched across the Marvel television universe. Neither Jessica Jones nor Luke Cage make an appearance (though don’t be too quick to log out of Netflix after you finish the finale), but both get lip service. However, don’t be surprised to see other familiar faces cross into Hell’s Kitchen for a visit.
I don’t really want to bring politics into this, but it’s also worth noting that—so far this year—the most nuanced and reasoned debate regarding the effects of violence on a society took place between two costumed vigilantes on a rooftop in a fictional universe. And we have had more than a dozen political debates this year.
Much like last season, there are TONS of easter eggs making reference to other Marvel properties either in the form of dialogue or visual cues, but the more interesting stuff is how extensive the NON-Marvel references are. It isn’t surprising to see some Batman riffs on this show, but there are some intentional homages early on to Nolan’s Dark Knight series that are pretty significant echoes of whole scenes. It doesn’t stop there. Late in the season there’s a sequence taken directly from the beginning of The Usual Suspects, complete with a burning tanker. None of this is necessary, of course, and it probably won’t be apparent to the vast majority of viewers, but it’s nice to see the creative team wearing their influences on their sleeves and making some nods to the pop culture-obsessed among us.
Jack McKinney is a professional camera salesman by day and a freelance filmmaker, Paste contributor, and amateur prestidigitator by night (and occasionally weekends). You can cyber-stalk him on Twitter.