TV Review: Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 2 (USA, 2016)

In 2015 Netflix teamed up with Marvel to bring us Marvel’s Daredevil, and it was a revelation. Not only was it a gritty realisation of one of the comic world’s dark anti-heroes but it showed that viewers weren’t just interested but eager to see this sort of grimy real-world depiction of the character. This was followed-up later in the year by Jessica Jones which also scored both critical and viewer reviews. So now in the Marvel Television Universe they have Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and soon to come Luke Cage and Iron Fist. It’s a solid stable of shows with a lot of characters and the realm of television allows us to explore them all a little more deeply.

In Daredevil Season 2 we get to see a new challenged and conflicted side to Daredevil as he tackles new foes and an ever-growing conspiracy that threatens to destroy Hell’s Kitchen itself.

When we return to Hell’s Kitchen we see team Nelson and Murdock – Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deboran Ann Woll) are busy at work representing some of the poorer people of the neighbourhood. But just when things start to feel like they’re settled, the arrival of The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) shakes up their entire world. The Punisher, a man intent on delivering brutal revenge upon the men involved in killing his family turns the streets into a war zone. Whilst Elektra, a woman from Matt’s past seeking his help, becomes caught up in a conspiracy involving a mysterious Japanese cult called The Hand and a secret war that’s soon to come.

As we mentioned in our initial thoughts article the first episode titled ‘Bang’ starts off explosively, and for the first few episodes of the season it continues this trend. Showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez have responded to the success by continuing on from where Season 1 showrunner Steven S DeKnight left off. It’s definitely more violent and gruesome than the first season. When you’ve got dozens of Irish mobsters killed in a gunfight, and members of a Mexican cartel left to die on abattoir meathooks, and The Punisher shooting up a hospital all within the first episode, you can see that the writers want to set the tone early. And not so surprisingly the fight and stunt scenes are just as good, if not better than what we’ve already seen. In Episode 3 ‘New York’s Finest’ the cinematographers bring us a long one take fight sequence of Daredevil taking on an entire bikie gang starting from a hallway and moving into a stairwell. It’s very reminiscent of that hallway fight scene from Season 1 Episode 2 ‘Cut Man’ but this time the stairwell with its multiple levels and camera moving vertically up and down adds an almost three dimensional feel to it. Rip off be damned the execution is still flawless.

Speaking of execution, one of the reasons for the show’s initial success was the gritty, dark, noir tones the show delivered. Season 2 is still the same, keeping it visually dimly lit with lots of shadows and angles. It’s pretty in a very different way because it purposefully leaches the colour in order to emphasise the mood. Sometimes it’s actually hard to tell the time in the show’s universe but I guess it makes sense that for a show that treads dark moral lines it should be dark to watch. The MTVU is also slowly but surely tying its characters together, we see the return of Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) who drops hints about running into Luke Cage. And some very crucial characters from Season 1 also make return appearances, but I don’t want to spoil the fun.

It’s not all punch ups and shootings though. There is a distinct shift in pace when The Punisher aka Frank Castle is apprehended and has to go to trial. We see team Nelson and Murdock doing their attorneys-at-law thing when they end up representing him. It’s a noticeable change but it’s necessary in order to delve into the complex conspiracy surrounding The Punisher. And surprisingly it’s the conspiracy that sheds light on his motives that paves the way for one of the key themes – vigilantism – being examined in the series. A rather amusingly set D&M between The Punisher and Daredevil occurs where they discuss methods and Punisher makes it clear that he kills people who deserve to be killed, calling Daredevil’s methods ‘a half measure’ that results in the criminals getting back up and doing it all over again. It gets brought up a few times with each of the characters having their own opinion on whether vigilante justice is right or wrong and ends up becoming a rather divisive issue.

Like with any television series the beauty is the character development, and both of our new entries in The Punisher and Elektra are wonderful studies. Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle is a powerhouse, he manages to create just enough sympathy for his character to make you question his sanity and motives. He comes across initially as brutal and without any feeling but in fact he actually feels way more than he lets on and has just buried it all down so deeply. Whilst Elodie Yung as Elektra is cold, constantly calculating and manipulative. She comes into Murdock’s life like a tornado and tears things up like one also. But unlike the other women in his life, she is equal to him in strength, but also in psychological complexity. Both of these characters are so layered that without a 13 episode arc it would be almost impossible to see their growth.

To add to this there’s our leading trio. Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil begins to really show his Catholic guilty conscience and it particularly comes into play when he’s going up against The Punisher. Not to mention his insistence on being a martyr to the cause of protecting Hell’s Kitchen. But the biggest change is in Deborah Ann Woll’s performance, we see her willing to take risks and go toe to toe with some dangerous people as well as being a damn good investigator. Though I’m still not entirely sure how she goes from being secretary and legal assistant at Nelson and Murdock to suddenly taking over Ben Urich’s old job at the New York Bulletin, it just sort of happens with no real explanation. And Elden Hanson finally gets more to do then just play third wheel, since it’s basically his bad-ass lawyer skills that manage to keep the trial sections of the show interesting.

Even though Season 2 has a lot of intrigue going on, it does suffer a little under the weight of its own narratives. There are two very distinct stories being told, that of The Punisher and what happened to him, and also that of Elektra and her involvement with The Hand. If you can manage to separate the two and follow along it sort-of dovetails together at the very end. But for the most part the season does seem a little jumbled up as they try to push out these two stories side by side. They easily could have done either one of these characters and story arcs across one season each but oddly enough they chose to roll out the two of them together. Then there’s also the story surrounding The Hand and what they’re up to, not to mention the zombie ninjas who are a little too close to being unbelievable, but it appears that they’re building this up towards Season 3.

Season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil certainly manages to supersede the first in many ways, but in others it stumbles. The show retains its gritty feel, it still likes to tread those morally grey lines and it delivers the violence aplenty. But to a degree it feels like a bit of a disservice to have two such pivotal characters crammed into the one season, which causes it to feel a little messy and jumbled.

Regardless of some of the flaws (which are minor complaints at best) the show is beginning to give the MCU a run for its money when it comes to delivering superhero stories that are engaging and exciting to watch.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Marvel’s Daredevil is available to stream all 13 episodes of Season 2 (and also Season 1) on Netflix Australia.

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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.

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