The following review contains massive spoilers for the second season of Daredevil. Feel free to finish binging. Our site will still be here when you’re done.
This is the year of the superhero brawl. At least, that’s what everybody has been saying. A week from now, we’ll see the Dark Knight and the Caped Crusader duking it out in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A little further down the road, we’ll see the Avengers form a broken caucus in Captain America: Civil War. And right now, waiting for you in your Netflix queue, you can watch Matt Murdock go toe-to-toe with the Punisher in the second season of Daredevil.
But each of these works is about more than just brawls. Batman fears Superman because he doesn’t trust metahumans. The Avengers are split over what essentially boils down to a political debate, continuing the theme of thinly veiled Patriot Act metaphors that we already saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And Daredevil might trump either of these because its debate focuses on something that strongly ties into our everyday lives without necessarily centering on politics—it all comes down to ideology.
In the second season of Daredevil, neither the Punisher nor the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen are under the delusion that what they are doing is legal. The question is far simpler, a debate between what is right and what is wrong. The first three episodes excel in this department. Unlike the first season, Daredevil encounters his antagonist early on and proceeds to battle him in consecutive episodes. By Episode 3, they actually get a chance to talk about their differing religious views and whether or not they believe criminals can be reformed (okay, so it’s a little bit political). Probably the best bit of dialogue is as follows:
Daredevil: What about hope?
Punisher: Oh, fuck.
The dry humor will likely make more cynical viewers laugh, but this quickly subsides when you realize the deeper context. Frank Castle is a man without hope. His family was taken away, and he blames himself every bit as much as he blames the shitbags who shredded his wife and children in a hail of gunfire. In describing the death of his little girl, he mentions that the meat was spilling out of her. This image is horrifyingly gritty, but it also represents the world in which Daredevil and the Punisher are living. This isn’t your classic comic book world, where edged weapons hardly ever spill blood and granny cursing is about the most extreme language you’ll ever hear. This world is dark, and treating it as anything other than a war zone is what Frank Castle considers to be a half-measure in the fight against evil.
Daredevil doesn’t just introduce us to this world through its dialogue, either. If you were surprised by how far they took the blood and gore in the first season, you won’t be anywhere near prepared for this one. In one of the later episodes, Castle gets into a prison fight that quickly becomes more graphic than anything else you’ll probably see on a Marvel television show until the R-rated Punisher series premieres. It practically topped my list of fight scenes for this season from the moment Frank stabs a prisoner in the balls with a shiv, but that turns out to be one of the tamer moments. The fighting doesn’t look clean. It doesn’t look choreographed. It’s just bloody and filled with rage. Never before have I seen an action sequence so perfectly mirror the emotional and mental state of its hero.
That’s not to say this season is without its choreography. With some of those fancy moves Murdock likes to pull off, it’s only inevitable that you’ll be able to feel the wires on a few of his jumps from time to time. But if you were a fan of the Oldboy-style hallway fight at the end of the second episode in Season 1, you’re going to absolutely lose it when you see what they do at the end of the third episode in Season 2. I had read when the show was in production that they were going to be doing a similar fight scene, but I had no idea just how magically epic it would be.
That’s where Season 2 really succeeds. It manages to achieve a sense of balance between the magic of comic books and the grit of the real world. In one corner you have a man with superpowers who dresses in costume and believes that anybody can change if you give them a chance. In the other corner is a normal man in a t-shirt and jacket who believes that some people just need to die. It seems impossible that two such people could ever work together, yet Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal share their scenes together extraordinarily well. And in the spirit of everything Matt Murdock stands for, they wind up in court at one point. After the one trial we got to see in the first season, I was hoping Season 2 would do the same thing. It absolutely did, and it was fantastic.
Unfortunately, everything outside of the Daredevil/Punisher conflict is a bit shallow. Elektra feels like a bit of a tool, someone Murdock is just using to prove to himself that he can turn a killer into the type of hero that he considers himself to be. Her story involves her prior training with Stick and the Chaste, as well as their ongoing war against the Hand. There are a lot of scenes in Elektra’s story that just feel like filler, and the important ones are often either boring or just plain confusing. For instance, Black Sky plays a bigger role in this season. But don’t let that excite you too much, because we still don’t know what the hell it does. In fact, Murdock proposes a theory at one point that it might not do a damn thing.
The interoffice relationships also feel a bit stale in this season. Foggy still doesn’t trust Matt, and they may actually be parting ways for good (until the show gets renewed and Foggy gets shoehorned back into the storyline). Karen still flirts with both Foggy and Matt, the difference being that she actually moves forward with one of them. Matt juggles two romances in this season (neither of which is Night Nurse), and neither one of them is satisfying. As much as I hate it when romantic storylines are drawn out over multiple seasons, Daredevil swung the pendulum a bit too far in the other direction. Fans will barely even have time to start shipping these characters before their relationships have already ended. And when do they end, anyway? The beginning of the season talks about the heat as if it’s summer. Yet after a story that moves fairly quickly, it seems to end around Christmas. Weird.
As for other minor characters—well, I’m frankly hesitant to talk about them. Even with that spoiler warning at the top, I don’t want to mention a couple of the characters you’ll be seeing. One thing I’ll say is that Karen goes deeper into her love for journalism, which means Ben’s boss gets a chance to redeem himself after having been framed for douchery at the end of Season 1. Now that we know he’s a good guy, we can enjoy him a lot more. He has a lot of great dialogue, and I almost hope the show gets renewed just so we can see more of him. And we get some interesting new characters, such as a morally nebulous district attorney with a pretty intriguing storyline that ties into the Punisher. Brett also returns and becomes far more important after Episode 4. Unfortunately, Father Lantom is barely present at all—which is odd, since Matt seems to have fully embraced his Catholicism in this season.
Daredevil Season 2 is definitely worth watching, but you have to take the bad with the good. Elektra really isn’t that compelling, and the Hand could have been done a little better. But the Punisher, one of the season’s primary draws, is executed with near perfection. We also get a little tease for one of the characters that will likely be showing up when Castle gets his own series. And while the last ten minutes of the finale succeed in very little other than setting us up for plots that we don’t get to see yet, this potential weakness isn’t enough to outweigh the strength of the season as a whole. If you can get over the redundant “Karen and Foggy don’t trust Matt” scenes and the sometimes heavy-handed dialogue in the show’s ideological discussions, you’ll find that your thirteen hours of binging were far from wasted.