Season 2 of Daredevil premiered on March 18th, 2016 on Netflix. It is the third overall installment in Marvel Studios’ Defenders franchise following the series’ stellar first season and the also stellar first season of Jessica Jones. Season 1 showrunner Stephen S. DeKnight left the series to work on other projects. Showrunning duties for this season were taken over by Doug Petrie, known for his work on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. The cast once again includes Charlie Cox as the eponymous hero, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, with Jon Bernthal, Elodie Yung, and Stephen Rider joining the cast as Frank Castle, Elektra Natchios, and Blake Tower, respectively. Other featured cast members include Vincent D’Onoforio as Season 1’s main antagonist Wilson Fisk and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, who serves as connective tissue for each individual Netflix series, having a one episode appearance in Jessica Jones and soon to have what seems to be a much larger appearance in the upcoming Luke Cage.
This season picks up some time after the previous season left off. Nelson and Murdock are barely scraping by due to taking on several cases pro bono, and the Avocados at Law are in very dire financial straits. Meanwhile, Matt Murdock’s vigilante career as Daredevil is now in full swing. Aspects of both of Murdock’s lives are thrown into utter chaos following the emergence of a murderous vigilante taking the fight to the criminals of Hell’s Kitchen, with little to no regard for collateral damage and the return of a group of people profoundly important in shaping Matt Murdock into the man he is today. Granted, Matt hoped never to cross paths with them ever again, and for very good reason.
The majority of Season 1 was, logically, a set up and introduction to the characters of the series and their lives. As such, Matt Murdock’s two lives were neatly separated and the conflict mainly laid in Daredevil’s battle with the Fisk. With almost all introductory character arcs now firmly and neatly behind us, Season 2 proceeds to throw Matt’s life directly in the toilet in every way possible. Much of Season 2 deals with Matt’s attempts to juggle his duties as a lawyer and a hero. Most of the time, he fails this juggling act miserably, and much of the season is spent watching this extremely empathetic character struggle with the seemingly never-ending downward spiral occurring in his life. As before, the writers do an excellent job of making you feel for and care about everyone in the season, especially a very notable new character.
Frank Castle is a former U.S. Marine, and a very good one. Frank spent three tours in Iraq, and at some points was seconded to Special Forces and conducted covert operations. The highly decorated Castle returns home to his wife and two children after his third tour. Frank is shot in the head and his family tragically killed in a gang related shooting. Surviving on nothing but sheer force of will, Castle, who should be dead, declares war on crime, dispatching anyone who dares get in his way. Law enforcement has taken to calling this mysterious and deadly vigilante “The Punisher.”
The Punisher is a looming force of doom and dread for the first four episodes of the season. Bernthal, with minimal dialogue, is effectively intimidating, terrifying, and awesome throughout the season. His introduction in the final moments of the season premiere is a major highlight of the entire series, and a highlight of all the Defenders series so far.
The Punisher continues his reign of abject terror against crime unabated without a single shred of remorse, expertly dispatching anyone he pleases, from a pawn shop clerk to Daredevil himself. The Punisher is a menace to society, murdering, torturing, dispatching, and assassinating remorselessly without a second thought. He is a monster. These are things Matt Murdock and Company, so the viewer by extension, believe. That is, up until the severely wounded Punisher has a heart to heart with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
With one eight minute monologue, one of the major antagonists for the season goes from The Punisher, a brutal, violent force so unstoppable he is nearly the personification of Death, to Frank Castle, a war veteran who had the rug pulled out from under him; a man who lost everything and is just doing something he spent years doing for his country, something he happens to be very good at. This is not the first time the character switches emotional gears, so to speak, and it will not be the last. Make no mistake, as brutal, violent, and unrepentant of a character as he is, Frank Castle is, without a doubt, the most relatable and empathetic characters in the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, end of the discussion. This is entirely due to the acting skills of Jon Bernthal. He is certainly going places. Bernthal is the perfect Punisher. No man before has done the character justice, and I doubt any man after will, either. Sometimes dismissed as “Batman with guns,” the seemingly one-dimensional Castle is probably one of the most difficult fictional characters for anyone to work with in any medium. Antiheroes aren’t villians. They are characters that walk the line between good and evil, sometimes in service of a greater good… or of a greater greed. Frank, though, is a man in service of no one, sometimes it seems as though he is not even in control of himself, and he probably isn’t. Frank is a truly unstoppable force of nature, and that is extremely difficult to effectively convey. Ultimately, it comes down to the man portraying him, and Jon Bernthal does so effortlessly. I doubt any other actor would have done anywhere near as good. Berenthal’s performance is right up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker or Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man. The former Walking Dead star will have you weeping sympathy tears right before you gasp in absolute horror and amazement. The Punisher is the standout highlight of the season.
Bernthal isn’t carrying this season alone, though, don’t worry. Series protagonist Charlie Cox plays both the personalities of Matt Murdock and Daredevil to such an effective degree that I’m suprised and perplexed I had no idea who he was until last year. He and Bernthal have such a commanding screen presence, both together and individually, you darn well better not miss any time either of them are onscreen. Deborah Ann Woll, yet another name I am not familiar with, continues to impress me, acing the sweet and innocent (but not at all) character of Karen Page. Her continuing love triangle between Matt and Foggy seems like it would feel forced and manufactured, but it doesn’t, and, get this, actually has me invested! If you know me, getting me to care about a love story… it doesn’t normally happen.
The action sequences this season are phenomenal. As I said in my review of the first season, Daredevil features the best fight sequences of any television series, and can at times surpass some feature film fight sequences. I went into this season thinking there’s no way they can top the now-famous one take hallway fight, but they did…
Unlike Jessica Jones, which featured some lackluster action that was made up for by a great story and well-crafted character drama, you will hear of no such complaints from me concerning Season 2 of Daredevil. Every fight scene is excellently crafted and simply breathtaking. You know, because of the countless collapsed lungs.
All this well-deserved gushing isn’t to say the season is entirely without fault. This season clearly suffers from too much ambition. Nearly every TV show suffers from this at some point. Season 1 set the bar unbelievably high. This makes everyone think that, in order to be successful, they have to raise the bar for subsequent seasons. Daredevil attempts to raise the bar by adding multiple story arcs and multiple brand new characters, which are meant to be equally as important and impactful as the arcs and characters already set up.
Halfway through the season, while dealing with the Frank Castle crisis, we are introduced to Matt’s old flame, the Greek sophisticate and femme fatale Elektra. It turns out that Elektra is a part of an evil clan of terrorist ninjas called The Hand. She half-seduces, half-coerces Matt into assisting in her endevors, leading to a plot on top of the Frank Castle stuff. It isn’t a bad subplot, and is actually very engaging. The problem is that this newly added subplot (Elektra is introduced at the end of Episode 4) completely derails the pacing for the show, turning it into a race to the finish, leading to somewhat underdeveloped plot points and very little time for the viewer to digest what is actually happening. The writing isn’t bad, there’s just way too much there to unpack in 13 episodes. The season finale, in particular, was very disappointing in comparison to Season 1 because, with the breakneck pace at which this season ended up running, the conclusion approaches way too fast and is filled with way too much stuff to be satisfying. Another caveat for me was Elodie Yung’s performance. The French actress and martial artist is inconsistant in her performance as Elektra. There are points at which she is very good, and other points where she isn’t. Also, Elden Henson’s Foggy is given much more of a role this season, and the way his character was written made him seem, at certain points, like Matt Murdock’s overbearing mother rather than his best friend and partner.
In some cases, Season 2 of Daredevil does live up to, and at some points even surpasses, the phenomenal first season. There are more flaws evident in this season than the previous one, flaws that can easily be improved come the third season. These flaws are also dwarfed by epic performances, most notably by Jon Bernthal, and even more epic fight sequences. Though I will admit it could have been better, season 2 certainly left me desperately wanting more. Thankfully, as it turns out, I will actually be getting more than I asked for.