Binge 'n' Purge - Daredevil Season 2
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not Agents of SHIELD bad…or Gotham bad, but Daredevil season 2 apparently has been met with rave reviews on the internet…and I just didn’t feel that. [Of course, you ARE someone that liked Batman V Superman, so this combination of facts CLEARLY means there’s something wrong with YOU. Just sayin’. – Ed.] Overall, I felt there were great moments, great performances and great casting…but ultimately none of it really gelled into a cohesive whole.
I would honestly make the argument that the biggest flaw in this season is the lack of cohesion between the storylines involving both of the major guest stars; Elektra and the Punisher. While I’m sure their intentions were good, thus giving the road to Hell a fresh coat of asphalt, this season suffers from two well known ‘Achilles’ Heel’ issues prone to superhero media. First up is too many antagonists resulting in too many story threads. This results in said threads fighting for screen time…which only diminishes both of them. You have DD’s physical and philosophical conflict with the Punisher leading to Murdock & Nelson representing him at his trial…then you introduce Elektra, the return of Stick and the emergence of The Hand. Each of these threads could’ve EASILY been their own season, but it almost seems like the writer’s room ran out of ideas for each one…so they tried to be clever and weave them both into some sort of tapestry. For me, at least, it didn’t entirely work. I can’t help but wonder if this is due to the change in the showrunner position from Steven S. DeKnight to Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez. This first issue leads to the second: Overstuffing your burrito all the while bringing attention to your glaring omissions. There are several examples of this. The return of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin for a couple episodes highlights just how much you’ve missed him. The fact that we follow Karen Page moonlighting as a New York Bulletin reporter clearly displays how much of a mistake killing Ben Urich off was. Foggy’s given some great character moments during the trial of Frank Castle…then virtually disappears, only to return from time to time to remind Matt how crazy this all is and to nag at him some more…which feels incredibly unfair to the character that was built in season 1.
Fortunately, between the casting and the displayed basic understanding of each character’s core, the season pulls itself up from potential train-wreck to good-but-flawed entertainment. Jon Bernthal makes an excellent Punisher and the writers generally knew how to handle him. This is a ruthless vigilante that is on a one-man war of revenge against any and all criminal elements. The show does stumble into its handling of him though. First off, in the trial, Nelson & Murdock find a neurologist that explains that some brain damage that Castle suffered when a bullet passed through the periphery of his brain impacts why he does what he does. Sigh. Bullshit. Look, me and comic book fans everywhere have been sold for many, many years that the “hey, my wife and kids were gunned down in front of me while we were having family time in Central Park” is all the goddamn reason Frank needs to want to put a bullet into every thug, gangbanger, drug dealer, etc. that he can lay his sights on. That’s it. The end. Hell, if you factor in what’s been part of Frank’s story for a while now, that he was formerly a soldier and saw some pretty hairy shit during his term of service, now we get to factor in some PTSD. Again, part 1 was sufficient but if you want to lay on part 2, again, sure, I buy it…and that’s that. But to add more…now you’re setting off the bullshit alarm. You’re almost layering on a bit of Stan Lee-ism in that every comic character has to have a pseudo-medical basis for how or why they do what they do…and you don’t need that with the Punisher. Sometimes a violent reaction and disposition is just that, a violent reaction and disposition. The other flaw in Punisher’s story is the conclusion to his hunt for ‘The Blacksmith’. Having it be his former CO that orchestrated the whole killing of Frank’s family just to recruit him into his drug empire is…well…seriously contrived. Not only that, but it bypasses making use of already established Marvel characters. Why not use any of Marvel’s ‘street level’ villains, like say Tombstone or Jigsaw? There are plenty to choose from. It’s not all bad though as it’s during this Blacksmith thread that we get some good character work between Castle and Karen Page, but again, given the unsatisfying nature of the plot thread in general, it almost feels like it’s there for no reason. Lastly, as this particular thread reaches its apex, I’ll admit that the lonely little shed where Frank finds what will become the Punisher’s gear and arsenal is a definite WTF moment. Was this shed on Schoonover’s property? It seems pretty far from the main house. Granted, sure, thanks to his drug empire, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he has a large estate in upstate New York…but, again, the way the story is shot and how it comes to its conclusion makes it feel like there has been some drive away from his place. So, is this just some random shed full of gear and guns? A Unibomber wannabe? An ISIS/Al-qaeda sleeper cell store house? There’s no way to tell and, I’ll have to confess, that at this point in the watching I just rolled my eyes due to my dissatisfaction and moved on. Still, Punisher providing cover sniping during DD’s final assault on The Hand was soooooo goddamn perfect.
Elektra also has her ups and downs. To her credit, Elodie Yung plays a fantastic femme fatale. Helping matters is that her mixed French/Cambodian heritage gives her an amazingly exotic look, making her more believable in the role than her predecessor, Jennifer Garner. This mix also gives her amazing skill at the martial arts credibility. [That’s racist. – Ed.] Still, there’s that minor nerd-nitpicking that wonders if they couldn’t possibly cast someone, you know, Greek. While the push/pull nature of her relationship with Matt Murdock was handled well…the ultimate nature of their relationship, well, let us say I simply disagreed with. I guess this would be as good a time as any to point out that I have no great historical reference on Daredevil. I checked in on the comics from time to time, usually missing all the landmark runs/teams. But I always felt that the Daredevil/Elektra relationship was more of a tragic/starcrossed tale…whereas this season plays it more as a ‘girlfriend who was a bad influence’ sort of thing. Another aspect I took issue with was the story beat that revealed that Matt had been Elektra’s mission from Stick all along, since their very first meeting. I felt that really cheapened everything. The plot surrounding her, The Hand and the ninja Nobu, much like the Punisher’s tale, could have been in and of itself an entire season’s arc. Sure, we get some continuation on the Black Sky/human weapon concept introduced in season 1…but many of the questions about The Hand and their apparently zombie/undead ninjas are left dangling. Yes, I get that you have to leave something for season 3, but the Netflix binge-watching experience allows for TV shows to be structured more like Anime, where yes, there is serial storytelling but it allows for a single arc per season…with each season being like its own volume or, in the terms of comics, its own trade paperback. Instead, they opted to go a more regular American television route, leaving dangling questions to be answered in future seasons…you know, if the writers remember them or if they’ve actually planned in advance.
I bring up that little dig because, as I alluded to earlier, these two intertwining antagonists actually do significant harm to series regulars Foggy Nelson and Karen Page. As Matt’s time is increasingly consumed by Elektra during the trial of the Punisher, Foggy is forced to shed his doubt in his own abilities as a lawyer…which hints at they’ve been relying on Matt’s radar sense while in court. This is great character stuff for Foggy…but it’s almost as if the writers, sensing that the character was growing, forced him back into a nagging presence in the series. Look, Matt and Foggy really already had it out over his night-life in season 1…which makes rehashing it AGAIN in season 2 feel like a retread. What seemed like a friendship turned into an uneasy alliance in season 1 could’ve simply been allowed to slowly dissolve the partnership in this season. Instead, the writers opted to rehash the yelling, angsty arguments until the dissolution of Nelson & Murdock feels like a divorce and viewers are steered toward the conclusion that, yeah, Matt was the bad guy here. Had they opted to go the slow dissolve route, it would’ve been more sadly tragic with no one really to blame…it’s just the way things end sometimes. As for Karen, the only common thread between a legal assistant and a journalist is research. Other than that, I have a friend with a master’s degree in journalism that can tell you there’s more than likely a hell of a lot more to being a reporter than a hunch and access to a newspaper’s archives. Basically, she becomes Ben Urich by proxy. Given how much I loved how Ben was portrayed in season 1…and how much I hated seeing him killed…this proxy-ism is almost a confession on the writers’ part, owning up to the fact that, yeah, maybe we shouldn’t have killed him off after all.
Whether or not I agree with the plot decisions and in spite of all the negativity above, there are some great character moments here and strong performances all around. Yes, Daredevil season 2 fails to reach the heights of season 1 or Jessica Jones, but come on, there’s a reason why there’s an actual cliché called ‘the sophomore slump’. It happens to the best of us. The big question is whether or not Daredevil can rebound or is this a sign of things to come from not only DD, but for the Marvel/Netflix series entirely. I hope not. I want the Marvel/Netflix stuff to succeed as much as I want the DC/Berlanti stuff to. [Okay, maybe not AS much…being more of a DC fan and all. – Ed.] But this is a question that only the future can answer. In the meantime, sit down, take in what are probably the best portrayals thus far of DD, Elektra and the Punisher [Which sounds like damning with faint praise…but it really isn’t. They ARE really good! – Ed.], enjoy the strong character moments…but temper your expectations. It’s just not as good or as cohesive as the previous Marvel/Netflix entries.