Daredevil has pretty much always been a second-tier character in the Marvel Universe. It’s honestly a shame as Daredevil is one of the most morally complex superheroes in existence, not merely in the confines of Marvel. All of that started to change last year when Netflix and Marvel debuted Daredevil, a 13-episode series that saw Marvel exploring the dark corners of its ever-expanding Cinematic Universe. The show proved to be a hit and was promptly renewed for a second season by the streaming giant. And the second season raised expectations with the announcements that Elektra and The Punisher would be included in the next chapter of the fight for Hell’s Kitchen. As so much of the dialogue is being focused on the R-rated mayhem of Deadpool, the second season of Daredevil is making great strides in crafting superhero fare for adults, operating with a dark edge that is unseen in the Marvel Studios movies.
To be perfectly clear, Daredevil is my favorite superhero. Matt Murdock is a character so full of contradictions he could be referred to as the Thomas Jefferson of superheroes. He’s a lawyer that masquerades as a vigilante, a blind man that can see more than anybody, and a Catholic who takes on the alter ego of the devil. The first season of Daredevil hit on some of these marks, but not quite all of them. If I were awarding it a letter grade, I’d bestow the first season of Daredevil with a solid B. In watching the first four episodes of the upcoming second season, I was stunned with just how much improved the show has become. All of the pacing problems that plagued the inaugural season have been briskly pushed aside, making Daredevil Season 2 more thrilling and engaging that its predecessor.
And fear not, dear reader, for Netflix has peppered me with a litany of documents to sign ensuring that this very review is SPOILER-FREE. Please know that any information in this review should be regarded as bereft of spoilers. And if you want your viewing experience of Daredevil to remain fully intact, just what in the hell are you doing reading this in the first place?
When we last saw Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox) he had just vanquished the Kingpin (Vincent D’onofrio), sending the crime lord up river to the penitentiary. But taking down one big bad guy doesn’t solve the problems that engulf Murdock’s native Hell’s Kitchen. In fact, it creates more problems than it has solved. The toppling of Wilson Fisk’s criminal empire created a power vacuum, with the varied gangs of Hell’s Kitchen preparing a war to seize control of the wide open black markets. Only there’s a catch: a new vigilante is waging his own personal war against the gangs of Hell’s Kitchen, leaving nothing but an ever-growing pile of bodies behind. Who is this man? You guessed it – Frank Castle, the Punisher (Jon Bernthal). The police claim that the Punisher is the most violent of the “Devil Worshipers,” a growing trend of vigilantes inspired by the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
Meanwhile, the law offices of Nelson and Murdock aren’t exactly thriving, constantly teetering on the brink of financial insolvency. The relationship between best friends Matt Murdock and Frank “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson) have been strained since Foggy discovered Matt’s alter ego. In order to keep up appearances, Foggy has told their faithful secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) that Matt has a drinking problem, explaining away his absences and the visible cuts and bruises on his face. But with a war brewing, the law firm of Nelson and Murdock will have to do more than keep up appearances to survive.
In just about every conceivable way, the second season of Daredevil is just more confident than the first. Where the first season took far too long to introduce Kingpin and his subsequent bombing of Hell’s Kitchen, this time around the show cuts right to the quick, wasting no time in establishing the dynamic of conflict between the Punisher and Daredevil. The inaugural episode concludes with a drag out fight between the two anti-heroes, and the fight direction and choreography is simply impressive, the Man Without Fear moving with the speed and grace of a Klaus Janson splash page. Along with a lengthy battle in the third episode that challenges the hallway fight in the first season, Daredevil is pushing the boundaries of the genre with eye-popping action.
The first four episodes of Daredevil focus on the conflict and moral duality of Daredevil and Punisher. Here we have the show diving into the moral complexities of its characters, with ol’ Hornhead’s view of good and evil challenged by a vigilante without limits. There’s a darkness at the heart of each of these characters, and each believes that traversing the darkness will bring them to the light – nothing more than the two following the path down their power fantasies. Though the two have different means, they each aim for the same purpose – justice – but the definition of justice remains subjective in the eyes of the two characters.
Of course, Daredevil is already teasing a number of Easter eggs in the early going of its second season. From last season, Matt Gerald reprises his role as Melvin Potter, the costume maker who constructed the costume at last season’s end for the eponymous hero. But in the books Melvin Potter is later driven mad and takes up the mantle as the murderous villain The Gladiator. It’s a turning point that occurs when Matt Murdock breaks his promise to protect Melvin’s beloved Betsy, a relationship that is teased in the early going. But there’ll be no bigger revelation within Season 2 than inclusion of Elektra, the character created by Frank Miller and played by Elodie Yung. However, Elektra is barely in the early episodes of Daredevil, only briefly appearing at the conclusion of the fourth episode. Though her appearance in unconnected to the events of the Punisher’s presence, this cliffhanger ending teases the escalation for the second season, that moment when the reckoning teased by the presence of the Punisher just reached epic proportions.
It can’t be understated just how much more assured the second season of Daredevil is compared to the first. This is a show that over the course of its first four episodes has made great leaps and bounds in terms of what it attempts to achieve with its story and how it executes it. Between Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Marvel is carving out its section of its Cinematic Universe that treads in the areas that movies just can’t dare. They’re creating stories that deal with darker themes without the burden of having to be oppressively dark and grim. If this upward trend continues for Marvel’s collaboration with Netflix, there’s no telling how exciting the series for Luke Cage, The Iron Fist, and The Defenders will be. In this second season, though, the new showrunner team of Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez have taken the work the of previous showrunner Stephen S. DeKnight and greatly improved upon it. Petrie and Ramirez have found the tone and pacing for the show, and they’ve found the complexities of its characters. In only its second season, Daredevil is now a show fully worthy of its character – dark, contradictory, and complex. I wouldn’t have it any other way.