Though Daredevil is the show that started off the whole union between Marvel and Netflix, the character has been scarce over the past couple of years. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) was presumed dead at the end of Netflix’s big Marvel team up The Defenders, though it was revealed that the Man Without Fear survived his moment of self-sacrifice. That’s what sets the table for, finally, the third season of Daredevil, which sees the lawyer-turned-vigilante living in the shadows following his brush with death as enemies old and new arise in his corner of Hell’s Kitchen. Over the course of six episodes made available for review, the third season of Daredevil starts out rather slow before building its momentum. Whether or not this season of Daredevil builds its momentum towards something worthwhile is impossible to say as it’s entirely possible that, like so many other of these Netflix shows, it unravels after finally hitting its stride.
Matt Murdock has been pulled from the wreckage of the massive hole in New York City where he and his fellow Defenders defeated The Hand. The wounded vigilante recovers from his injuries in the Catholic Church he stayed in as an orphaned boy. The aftermath of his injuries have debilitated his sense, which affects his superpowers. As he heals, Matt Murdock also tries to reacquaint his sense with the help of Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley), a nun that Matt has known for many years. Within the dusty corners of the church, Matt Murdock finds himself completely disillusioned at the idea of being a sterling hero and embraces the darkness around him as the only means to which battle the evil that runs rampant on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.
Elsewhere in the world of Daredevil, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) are struggling to move on with their lives as they believe Matt to be dead. Karen still works as a journalist and Foggy is still a working lawyer, each focused on exposing corruption in their respective occupations. In prison, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), the Kingpin, yearns to be with his beloved wife and free from his dank, solitary cell. The scheming villain arranges to cut a deal with Rahul “Ray” Nadeem (Jay Ali), an FBI agent whose financial issues have put him on shaky ground at work. Desperate to impress his bosses, Nadeem agrees to use Fisk as an informant against the various Albanian gangs of New York. Breaking the code of silence among criminals leaves Fisk as a target behind bars and he’s then moved to house arrest in his penthouse at Nadeem’s request. While Fisk is being transported to his penthouse, the Albanian gangs attempt to exact revenge and only a sharpshooting FBI agent Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter (Wilson Bethel) is able to save the lives of Fisk and Nadeem. The Kingpin sees something in this unstable FBI agent who just can’t miss and slowly works to groom him into an ally.
The first three episodes of this new season of Daredevil are pretty rough. They’re lethargically paced and moments of action are rare. Erik Oleson takes over showrunner duties for the new season, and the first few episodes seem as if he’s trying to orient himself in this world while simultaneously reintroducing the audience to these characters and their varied struggles. The result of that is a number of scenes that are just deadening expository dialogue in order to setup things for future episodes without doing much to make the current episode that engaging. I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers get a bit impatient and jump ahead.
Some of the new characters thrust into the realm of Daredevil have potential to be fascinating but over the course of six episodes none have seen that potential realized. Rahul “Ray” Nadeem is an easily manipulated FBI agent, and the attempts to provide a sense of depth to his malleable ways are rather rote and unengaging. As for the other FBI agent, Dex Poindexter, who is a well-known Daredevil nemesis that I won’t giveaway here, is given ample backstory. In fact, they give this character way too much backstory. Over the course of a few episodes Poindexter is given ample psychological depth as the character begins to lose his grip on his sanity. It’s a mixed bag as some of the background is compelling and other aspects superfluous.
It’s in the fourth episode of the new season that Daredevil picks up. That episode features a lengthy fight scene in a prison that unfolds in a number of shots spliced together to look like a single continuous take. The fight is brutal and unrelenting as it’s reminiscent of the hallway fight in the first season of Daredevil. This is the turning point for the season as everything that follows has a level of intensity missing in the first three episodes. It all culminates to a bloody, equally impressive fight sequence in the sixth episode that left me wonder where the show is going to go from there. I’m still mixed on Season 3 of Daredevil because I was only rapt by the final three episodes of the six made available for review and fear that it may regress when it picks back up. But that big battle in episodes four and six will have people talking, and rightfully so.
Some of this season of Daredevil is taking its cues from Frank Miller’s run on the character, though I’ll give Oleson and his team of writers credit for subverting some of the worst aspects of Miller’s stories, especially when it comes to Karen Page. The trailer for this season did seem like it was teasing Miller’s Born Again storyline, but unless the later episodes of the season follow that story more closely it’s likely that was a misdirection – which is not a bad thing! Daredevil, like Batman, needs to move away from the shadow of Frank Miller’s work as it has dominated how these characters have been portrayed on the screen for decades, especially when ol’ Hornhead has had fantastic runs by Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and Mark Waid in recent years.
It’s two actors that anchor Daredevil when its writing and direction fail to build momentum. Charlie Cox is so great at embodying the duality and contradictory nature of Matt Murdock. Here’s a lawyer who is a vigilante at night, a Catholic who dresses up as the Devil. Cox is able to present the cerebral side of Matt Murdock when on a case but can flip right into the simmering rage that drives his masked vigilantism. Vincent D’Onofrio is equally compelling as Wilson Fisk, a violent brute with a cunning mind. D’Onofrio’s Fisk is fascinating because of his ability to alternate between a quiet stoicism and violent rage. All of the subplots in Daredevil aren’t even half as compelling as the battle of wits going on between Daredevil and Kingpin.
Daredevil is still the best of the Marvel shows on Netflix, but these shows have grown too alike and all suffer from pacing issues. Perhaps Season 3 of Daredevil bucks that trend by having its lull happen in the first three episodes before ramping up the tension and action. It does that over its first six episodes but whether or not it sustains that over the final seven remains to be seen. I’m so close to completely checking out on these shows and Daredevil is my last hope. The fourth and sixth episodes have some truly great moments that I’m not checking out just yet. If anyone can save my interest in these shows it’s good ol’ Hornhead. Don’t let me down, Matt Murdock.
Over the course of the first six episodes of its third season, Daredevil features some lethargic storytelling at first before giving way to some thrilling action in later episodes. Even when Daredevil falters, it’s anchored by two strong performances by Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio.