It almost goes without saying that the first season of Daredevil was a hard act to follow. The inaugural installment of Marvel’s collaboration with Netflix featured a fascinating hero, an intriguing villain, a pitch-perfect supporting cast, and a story that made it one of the finest premiere seasons of any series in recent memory, no matter the platform.
Indeed, Daredevil set what seemed to be a lofty mark for a show’s first story arc — and now the second season has done the same for follow-up arcs.
[Note: While the following review will avoid mention of specific plot points in the second season of Daredevil, it assumes readers have watched the first season.]
Season Two of Daredevil picks up some short, undetermined time after the events of the first season’s finale, with crime boss Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) serving time in prison while blind attorney Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) moonlights as the costumed vigilante Daredevil. When a new player arrives in Hell’s Kitchen with a more lethal approach to fighting crime, Matt finds himself questioning his own role in dispensing justice and the precedent he sets — a concern that grows even more pressing when a former lover on a secret mission returns to his life.
Meanwhile, a sinister force grows stronger in the shadows, and the law firm of Nelson & Murdock faces its biggest case yet.
With the second season introducing not one, but two major characters from the Marvel Comics universe, the underlying fear among fans is that the series would — like so many movies based on comic book properties — stretch itself too thin with origin stories and squander the goodwill it had accumulated among fans. Fortunately, the show’s creators are as adept at juggling characters and their story arcs as Daredevil is at dispatching rooms full of thugs.
A batch of (mostly) well-crafted characters
The more compelling of the two newcomers, actor Jon Bernthal’s gun-toting crimefighter Frank Castle (a.k.a. “The Punisher”) provides one of the season’s narrative through-points, with Matt Murdock and his supporting cast being drawn into Castle’s bloody, bullet-riddled quest for vengeance time and time again. Unflinching in both its graphic depiction of The Punisher’s methods and the trauma that pushes someone to become a one-man war on crime, the season is as much Frank Castle’s story as it is Matt Murdock’s, and Bernthal proves himself more than capable of carrying the weight of the series on his shoulders.
Although Elodie Yung’s deadly assassin Elektra receives significant screen time in the second season, her role feels a bit less developed than that of The Punisher — less due to any shortcomings on the part of the actress or her performance, and more due to how large Bernthal’s character looms over everything that happens in the second season. Yung handles both the action and the repartee demanded of her performance with ease, and Elektra’s story is one that leaves you wanting more, not wishing for better.
As for the returning cast, Cox follows up his debut season as Marvel’s “Man Without Fear” by delivering more of what earned him a warm welcome from fans the first time around. It’s easy to see him settling into the role a bit more comfortably, and he’s able to pull a bit more depth out of the character with the opportunities he’s given. He certainly has more opportunity to emote in the new season, but sometimes the evolution he brings to the character is as simple as having Matt Murdock tilt his head to pick up sounds in ways he didn’t last season.
After a somewhat tentative first season, Cox seems to have invested himself in Daredevil in much the same way many of the other Marvel movie actors have taken to their roles, and the series is better for it.
The series is also better for the presence — and evolution — of the other half of Nelson & Murdock, actor Elden Henson’s Franklin “Foggy” Nelson. Although Henson had a few memorable moments in the first season, he was often relegated to comic relief in the show’s first story arc, and a not-too-subtle counterpoint to the gritty realism of the show. In the second season, however, Foggy Nelson truly comes into his own as one of the reluctant keepers of Matt Murdock’s secret and a force to be reckoned with on his own, in the courtroom rather than the streets.
Sadly, despite getting more screen time in the second season, True Blood actress Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page once again feels like the weak link in an otherwise strong show. After serving a damsel-in-distress role for much of the first season, her character is given a bit more room to grow in the second story arc, but it occasionally feels like the show’s creative team doesn’t quite know what to do with her. At times, Karen Page is one of the most clever characters in the show, and at other points she comes across as one of the most naive. The series seems inclined to make her a sympathetic character in one episode, only to make it near impossible to understand what motivates her in another.
It’s hard to say whether the fault lies in Woll’s performance or the script she’s working from, but the flaws in her character appear more prominently in an otherwise expertly crafted show.
Villains and vigilantes
One of the elements that makes the first season of Daredevil such a success is the remarkably nuanced performance of D’Onofrio as the “big bad” looming over the entire arc of the series’ inaugural season. The second season suffers somewhat from the lack of an easily identifiable villain, and spends more time ruminating on the nature of vigilantism and morality than some audiences might prefer, but it does an effective job of making up for the areas where it might be lacking with extra helpings of elements that fans (and critics) adored about the first season.
The fight choreography in particular takes a big step forward in the second season — which is no small achievement, given how much praise the first season received in this department. The Daredevil fight team seems hell-bent on letting fans know that they were just getting warmed up a year ago, and not just one but multiple fight sequences in the new season feel like contenders for “Fight Scene of the Year” recognition.
Without spoiling too much, the new season of Daredevil also seems a bit more at ease with its place in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, and along with dropping the occasional reference to its Netflix peer Jessica Jones, the season also features a few — albeit, still subtle — nods to a much larger world outside Hell’s Kitchen.
If the conflict at the heart of the first season was between Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, the second season is probably best described as a battle between Matt and himself — specifically, the consequences of his actions. And there might be no better testament to the talents of the series’ cast and creative team that even without a “big bad” in the background, the second season of Daredevil is still very, very good television.