Daredevil Season 2 Review: Different Kinds of Heroism

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In the first episode of Daredevil‘s superior second season, the hero in question is shot in the head while fighting the man who will become the Punisher. He survives, obviously, as there’d be no show without him, but the incident leaves a crack coming down his red mask, resembling a scar. It makes for an interesting visual. Sure, superheroes destroy their suits and replace them on a regular basis, but Matt Murdock leaves the scar on his mask out of necessity for an episode or so. What does this tell the criminals he beats to a pulp? Does a superhero wearing one of his biggest failures on his face send the message he or she intends to? Daredevil doesn’t explore this, it just teases it, which is why it remains a good show and not a great one.

The second season lost a few things. Steven S. DeKnight stepped down as showrunner for season one writers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez to take over. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is locked away from the action in prison. The first two episodes are worrisome. Serving as an extended introduction to Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), a.k.a. the Punisher, these two entries barely let the new face in town talk, with the rest of the cast pretty much on autopilot waiting for something bigger to happen. There’s a lot of Foggy fumbling around in these episodes, which remains the most unbearable thing about this show.

But then, in episode three, things finally start to click, and Daredevil resumes and even surpasses its quality from last season for almost the entire rest of the season. It all starts when the Punisher captures Daredevil and the two debate their respective brands of heroism. Bernthal is fantastic in the role, invoking the anger that turned a soldier into a murderous vigilante while also keeping him firmly likable. Daredevil season two in large part feels like The Punisher season one, which isn’t a problem until the final episodes struggle to weave Frank back into the larger plot that developed around Matt. But The Punisher season one is very, very strong. After his bouts with Daredevil, he’s mostly paired with Karen, which takes her character to a lot of fascinating and unexpected places.

But after the first four episodes, Daredevil and Punisher start down two very different paths. For Matt, that means an old flame returning to wreak havoc on his life. Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) knew Matt in college, but is now an assassin with her own large-scale agenda in Hell’s Kitchen. Yung doesn’t quite make the impact that Bernthal does, but she certainly helps us forget Jennifer Garner’s Evanescence-fueled portrayal in the maligned Daredevil movie and subsequent spinoff from over a decade ago. This version of the character is much more fun, but also smartly layered once the season’s plot starts to center around her. Fans of the comics will get a kick out of Daredevil and Elektra fighting alongside each other, as they have now for decades on the pages.

Still, as the season moves along, the big bad is revealed, and it’s really underwhelming. The new heroes are the best thing about Daredevil for their lack of traditional heroism. Punisher and Elektra are killers and that’s something Matt has to work through when fighting them or working with them. That’s when season two is at its best. As Frank puts it, Daredevil is just one bad day away from being the Punisher. This discussion of superhero morality has been seen before, but not quite as extensive as this. Unfortunately, the show comes up short in actually having something to say about it. Instead, it goes for a sweeping generalization about heroism that hope to please everyone. But when the show spent so much time comparing these heroes and antiheroes, it needs to have a little more there to actually say.

So what we’re left with is a sophomore year that stumbles at the start and finish, but has such an excellent center that it’s forgivable. Daredevil is no Jessica Jones, but this season puts it ahead of some of DC’s CW shows. It’s nothing all that new for anyone bored by superheroes, but it does bring some key Marvel players into this wide-open universe (remember, there’s a raccoon and a tree fighting in space somewhere). The acting is still solid and the show looks gorgeous. Daredevil isn’t quite must-see TV, but it flirts with it all the time. Here’s to hoping season three finally pushes it there. Grade: B+

Some SPOILER-Y Points:

  • The whole “Trial of Frank Castle” portion of the season was fantastic. With Matt unable to help thanks to Elektra and Foggy and Karen having to get serious about their role, there was some serious drama mined from it that made the show fascinating.
  • Nobu was a boring final villain for the show to have. As for the Hand itself, that was much more interesting. They’re a creepy organization with interesting ties to Stick and Elektra. It worked, but their forced humanization in the face of Nobu was boring.
  • I didn’t love D’Onofrio’s Kingpin last year, but his reveal late this season was fantastic. Now he’s the version of the character that’s most lethal and exciting, all while he’s still in prison. I can’t wait for when he’s out.
  • Elektra had to die. It was all too good to be true. How the Hand resurrects her and where that takes her character are mysteries I’m excited to see unfold.

By Matt Dougherty

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