Last year, the Netflix release of Marvel’s Daredevil took superhero fandom by storm. The set of episodes that comprised Daredevil’s freshman year breathed new life into a fairly moribund television landscape. In a genre suffocated by network trappings and poor scripting, the work of Drew Goddard, Steven S. DeKnight and their capable cast and crew was a veritable light at the end of the tunnel for viewers hoping that the televised versions of the their favorite four-color characters could finally be done justice.
The second season, which hits Netflix on March 18th, has quite a bit to live up to. A few things have shifted around behind the scenes, DeKnight is out as showrunner, replaced by Doug Petrie (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Marco Ramirez (Sons of Anarchy). The core cast basically remains the same, on the other hand, barring one very notably missed exception and a few additions. With a head full of steam, we head into Daredevil’s newest season, which births new challenges for its titular hero, while also magnifying some of the series’ current shortcomings.
As of this writing, The Beat has seen the first seven episodes of Daredevil’s second season, and while we have to be pretty careful about what we can say due to the risk of spoilers, we can say up-front that, based on what we’ve seen already, Daredevil Season 2 falls short of the high quality set in its first season and by the subsequent first season of Jessica Jones. That’s not to say we’re dealing with a low-quality show though; in fact, the season picked up right around episode 5 and felt significantly closer to its freshman run by that point. But after an eventful and solid premiere, episodes 2 through 4 zoom in on only one topic: the Punisher. And unfortunately the television rendering of this character, while very well-acted by Jon Bernthal, fails to match the ferocity and depth of his comic book incarnation.
It’s a clear struggle of wanting a strong anti-hero, one viewers can be both afraid of and rooting for. Straddling that line isn’t easy, and the Punisher is weighed down by the constant attempts to make him sympathetic. Last year’s villain, Wilson Fisk, was successful not because he was relatable, but because he was interesting, horrifying, and well-written, and that’s missing here. It may also just be a sad reflection of our own society, but a man with the ability to shoot large groups of unsuspecting victims isn’t as shocking as it should be – on the contrary, it feels very real. While Fisk was personally responsible for a lower body count by his own hands, his violence always felt more personal and menacing.
The Punisher’s ethics, as a concept, are clearly very intriguing to the writing team. Several episodes are devoted to exploring the idea of a gray morality as opposed to Daredevil’s very strict adherence to law and order. Even when well presented, that quandary can only take you as far as the story and plotting on which it rests. In this case, that plotting is thin but takes up the entire breadth of the show through episode 4, giving little for Foggy, Karen, and supporting characters to do while Daredevil wrestles with the morals of the Punisher. While the Punisher wasn’t served as well as he could have been, it’s actually Foggy who’s let down the most by this so far. While Daredevil’s job is trying to convince people that murder isn’t the answer, Foggy’s job is to be disappointed in Matt Murdock. Last season, the chemistry between Elden Henson and Charlie Cox lent some levity and and warmth to the grimdark proceedings of the show. But here that relationship is played for conflict, which diminishes one of the more positive aspects from season 1.
All of that complaining about episodes 2 through 4 aside, there is a light at the end of the initial set of episodes, and that light’s name is Elektra. From the moment she arrives, she breathes new life into both the cast and the narrative structure of the season. Daredevil works best when there is a balance between fighting in the dark and fighting in the courtroom. Elektra’s appearance marks the point at which the story gives us more actual “lawyering,” thereby giving Foggy and Karen a better function within the confines of the overall conflict. Elektra’s also just plain fun to watch, as she plays the role with command and humor. With the combination of more legal-related plots and humor provided by Elektra, the middle of the season suddenly starts to feel more multidimensional and mysterious.
We can also very gladly say, as to the costume: It gets better.
It’s worth noting that every season of these Marvel Netflix shows has had a few episodes that felt like a lull in an otherwise very strong run. It’s very possible that the middle portion of episodes we saw early were that very run for Daredevil season 2; by episode 7 we were all in and ready for more. So take that as a grain of salt with the overall concern about a dip in quality for season 2. Overall, Daredevil season 2 is more violent, more action-focused, and ups the romance factor, but so far none of those elements are more important than what season 1 has in spades: a complex, well-written villain.
Season 2 of Daredevil premieres Friday, March 18 on Netflix.