DAREDEVIL (Season 2) – Punishingly Entertaining

In Season 2 of the standout Netflix/Marvel superhero drama, Daredevil, both the show and its titular hero begin to get comfortable with themselves, for better and for worse. Matt Murdock is tougher, more cocky, and is noticeably beginning to actually enjoy his violent escapades. Gone is the doubt and self reflection that plagued him in Season 1, which simultaneously makes him a more powerful hero and an insufferable know-it-all. What he’s gained in street cred, he’s lost in his ability to connect to others. Matt’s misguided descent in the world of his alter-ego is a crucial and purposeful part of his arc this season, but what’s interesting is that these same qualities extend to the show as a whole.

Daredevil Season 2’s superheroics are stronger than ever. It mostly improves on the slow-ish pacing of Season 1 by dividing its time between several arcs involving The Punisher and Elektra, The 13-episode season still feels about an hour overlong, but this is more due to a few episodes that feel like they could have been shortened by 10-20 minutes to tighten some plot elements and character beats. Some of Frank Castle’s best moments in particular feel like they would have improved with brevity. The Punisher works best when he’s to-the-point. That said, Jon Bernthal is simply amazing in the role! He is the definitive Punisher, equally sympathetic and terrifying. Newcomer Elodie Yung similarly kills it as Matt’s muderous, sociopathic, and intolerably sexy ex-girlfriend, Elektra. With fellow crime-fighters like these, who needs enemies? (Hopefully not Daredevil, because the actual villains of this season are frightfully dull compared to Season 1.)

While the multi-plot structure improves the pacing, it does hurt the show noticeably in its later episodes as it starts to trip over all its loose threads. With Matt spending more and more time in the company of killers and sociopaths, the show increasingly relies on Foggy and Karen as the “straight-men.” The upside to this is that the two really step up, both in agency and likability this season. The downside is that Matt occasionally feels like the B-plot in his own series. I appreciate that the show didn’t try to ham-handedly tie all its plots together (e.g. The shadowy organization Elektra has been hunting are the ones that killed Punisher’s family!!!). But cross-cutting the finale between two completely unrelated climaxes was both distracting and a disservice to both plot-lines.

Additionally, the further into the season we get, the more apparent it becomes that a lot of the mystery, intrigue, and great character drama are masking an unnecessarily muddled plot. Major mysteries are unveiled to anticlimactic resolutions, or not really resolved at all. (Seriously… what the hell is a Black Sky? It seems super important to everyone but the writers.) Normally, I’d cut a normal TV series some slack in these areas. Long-form episodic storytelling is incredibly difficult, as it demands set-ups for payoffs that will never be completely fleshed out until later. That said, when an entire season of a show all drops on one day, it seems like the creators should have had more control over the product as a whole.

Despite these flaws, there’s a hell of a lot to like about Season 2. While Matt is trending as less relatable, he’s certainly no less interesting, and Charlie Cox is still fantastic in the role. An argument he has with The Punisher about why killing criminals is crossing the line is woefully underdeveloped, essentially amounting to just “That’s not our decision to make! Some bad people have good in them!” I originally thought this was a result of weak writing. Now I think it’s because Matt as a character still can’t quite quantify his method or his madness, which is something that becomes clearer as the season progresses. Polygon’s Susana Polo wrote a great piece on Why Superheroes Don’t Kill, which outlines the differences better than is ever outwardly voiced in the show. Matt doesn’t kill because deep down, he believes the system can and must be fixed. When Frank calls him a “half measure” that won’t finish the job, his response should have been that killing active criminals is only a half measure, and that upholding and reforming the system is the only way to ultimately win. But The Punisher is right when he tells Matt “You’re only one bad day away from being me.” Understanding what Matt actually stands for, it’s terrifying to watch him continue to undermine the relationships and career that keep him on the path he really cares about, and from crossing into a dark path.

What works so well about this season is that it preys on the specific areas that Matt is weakest. He has only recently established not just his identity, but his code of honor in Season 1. The Punisher’s philosophy scares Matt, and since he can’t succinctly quantify his own, it sends him overcompensating into confused arrogance. This makes it all the more believable when Elektra is able to get her claws in him. An emotionally balanced Matt Murdock would have sent Elektra on her way without a second thought, rather than teaming up with and attempting to redeem her. The emotional roller-coaster he sends himself on is clearly the result of his need to prove something not just to her, but to himself.

Despite some elements of sloppy storytelling, Daredevil remains a riveting show. The action and cinematography are on par with the first season, with the benefit of some additional superhero flavor. And once again, this element peeks with the finale, begging us to return next season for even more refined superheroism. If this is the last season of Daredevil we’ll see before he teams up with The Defenders, it will have left him in a great place both as a hero and a character to continue the drama. He’s never packed more punch and he’s never been more reluctant to ask for help.

This should be interesting!

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Daredevil (Season 2)
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