Now out for your binge watching consumption the Marvel Studios and Netflix Daredevil takes the gritty, street level superheroics of season one and amplifies them for the second season. Fans of the first series can breath a sigh of relief that the show runner Drew Goddard and crew have avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. If anything, the first four episodes demonstrate a clear improvement and progression for the show as well as hints as how the “Man With No Fear” fits into the larger Marvel cinema universe.
The show picks up months after the end of the first season. Wilson Fisk rots in a jail cell awaiting trial. The vacuum his absence created leaves the remaining criminal element fighting to fill the void. The Irish mob looks to return to its former role of prominence, but they have to deal with the Mexican drug cartel and Dogs of Hell biker gang in order to stake a claim.
While Matt Murdoch might struggle to separate his daily life as an attorney for the underdog class with his nightly paroling the streets as Daredevil, it’s clear that he’s enjoying himself and shows no signs of slowing down. However his presence has given rise to copycat vigilantes. While most wash out after getting a punch in the mug ,a new breed of psychopath is tearing through the criminal underclass. Armed with military grade artillery, this new figure shows none of the restraint Daredevil does when it comes to killing criminals.
The first chunk of season two is all about The Punisher and goddamn if it’s not four hours of the most exhilarating television to come along in ages. John Bernthal as Frank Castle represents pitch perfect casting. For the first two episodes Bernthal plays the Punisher less like a human being and more like the shark from Jaws, never wasting a step and mowing down opposition with precision. He’s the perfect killing machine, and the growing list of bodies put him and Murdoch on a crash course. Bernthal is so good, so compelling and so tortured on screen it can’t be long before Netflix inks him to a series deal for The Punisher. It needs to happen.
Thus far the second second season explores whether or not Daredevil’s brand of vigilantism does Hell’s Kitchen more harm than good. While overall crime numbers have dropped the ferocity of the criminal element has grown in order to combat threats against them. The police force resent being seen as a joke unable to keep citizens safe. While Daredevil only apprehends criminals, believing that the justice system is the ultimate arbitrator of guilt or innocence, his presence leads to a newer breed of vigilante that do not share his view. The largest difference between Murdoch and Castle is the former believes people can be redeemed while the latter sees crime as a disease to be extracted with terminal prejudice. Castle and Murdoch argue whether or not men can be redeemed, and given the level of violence of the suggest Matt’s clinging to redemption is naive. We see this when Castle drags out a thug that Nelson and Murdoch have taken on as a client after he convinces them he was a low level cog in the mob that wants to go straight. With The Punisher holding a gun to his head, the mobster confesses he was in on a number of hits, and even executed an elderly woman who saw his face and could point him out in a lineup. This was information he had withheld from the firm when making his deal.
The moments of breathless action and martial arts combat that punctuated the first season have actually improved in season two. The hand to hand combat between Daredevil and The Punisher is brutal in execution. Daredevil continues to act as a super hero that gets his ass handed to him over and over until he can finally find an exploit a weakness through guile and sheer force of will. The ballet like quality of certain action sequences also returns here. It’s most evident in the third episode, when Daredevil has to fight from the rooftop to the ground floor exit through an endless wave of pissed off and armed bikers. It’s like The Raid in reverse and the fight spills out through hallways and cramped stairwells in a single take that captures seemingly impossible angles given the cramped quarters. It’s technical brilliance paired with adrenaline that offers proof positive television can be every bit as exhilarating as movies.
The first few episodes of the season serves up more conflicts that will play out over time. Murdoch and Nelson find themselves on the shit list of an ambitious district attorney who may have had a role in creating the “Punisher” problem. Murdoch’s former flame Elektra (the stunning Elodie Yung) looks to play a much larger role in the next stretch of episodes. The Kingpin might be behind bars but there’s no shortage of bad guys looking to step up.
Murdoch’s crew is still rounded out by best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and their assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). Nelson has become one of my favorite parts of the show. He’s in on Murdoch’s dual identity and you can see the worry for his friend stitched on his face. Nelson also serves to keep the firm grounded. As Matt continues to devote more energy to his nighttime activities, it’s up to Foggy to keep the doors open for the firm. He also puts himself into dangerous situations with a mix of false bravado and pants shitting fear, and he has to use his lawyering skills to talk himself out of numerous beatings just four episodes in. You have to figure his luck or appreciation for his oratory skills will run out at some point. Woll serves as the show’s moral compass so far. Her Karen Page refuses to look at things on their surface level, often digging deeper to uncover the truth while pulling Foggy and Matt along.
The first four episodes of Daredevil represent a neat arc. We’ll look at the next set of episodes later this week, but here’s to hoping the show can avoid the middle episode dip that both it and Jessica Jones took before strong closing arcs. The second season is off to a great start, and proof positive that the smaller, “street” approach Marvel has taken with its heroes on Netflix can be every bit as compelling and exciting as its fantastical cinematic universe.