‘Daredevil: Season 2’ review
By Adam Tatelman, Arts Editor
The first season of Daredevil was a welcome change from Marvel Studios’ typical slate of chaotic CGI phantasmagoria, thanks to its neo-noir plot and searing fight choreography. Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as Wilson Fisk was the standout, and his sheer presence was compelling enough to make up for the uneven script. Without that performance, season two must stand on its own merits. Although it has improved on everything that fans liked about season one, it has also managed to emphasize the show’s weaknesses as well.
About one year after Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Woll) exposed Fisk’s criminal empire, rival crime syndicates rush to claim his territory. Enter Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), an ex-Marine with a personal vendetta against every crook in the underworld. Lacking Murdock’s moral code, he’s cool with blowing away anyone he deems evil, putting the vigilantes at odds with each other.
The conflict between these characters echoes the ongoing debate surrounding capital punishment: who is to decide who deserves the death penalty, and when does misguided justice become self-righteous vengeance? It’s a great hook for a show about a hypocritical lawyer with an Irish-Catholic messiah complex, and the themes are especially faithful to Frank Miller’s violent, pulpy vision of the characters.
If the first few episodes outshine the rest, that’s because of Jon Bernthal. His performance is by far the best thing about season two. Unlike other film depictions of the Punisher, he showcases a broad emotional range in a number of affecting character moments that contrast his frightening psychotic outbursts. He feels like a damaged, unpredictable everyman, and the screen trembles with tension whenever he’s around. His closing monologue in episode four tops the series’ dramatic moments so far.
The introduction of Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), the crazy ex-girlfriend Matt can’t say “no” to, splits the show’s focus down the middle. Though she’s every bit the seductive, thrill-seeking femme fatale Miller envisioned—leaps and bounds ahead of Jennifer Garner’s girl-next-door portrayal in the 2003 film—her B-plot only serves to distract Murdock and the audience from the deepening conspiracy surrounding Frank Castle.
Despite some bizarre plot-related liberties taken from the original character, season two’s Elektra isn’t the problem. It’s the plot threads that hang about her every move. Predictably, Stick (Scott Glenn) returns to make good on season one’s ominous ninja-war foreshadowing, and it is impossible to escape the feeling that this plot could have been better executed if it were a season of its own. Elektra’s plot, and by extension Frank Castle’s, deserved more care and attention, but they’ve been slapped together haphazardly.
The thing people seem to like most about Daredevil as a series is its unapologetically straight-faced mashup of somber crime drama and ’70s martial arts flick ninja-flippery. If that didn’t draw you in the first time around, then season two’s inconsistent writing will do little change your mind, unless you’re a big Jon Bernthal fan. For the proud residents of Hell’s Kitchen, season two won’t quite match the tight plotting of season one, but there are enough surprises and standout moments to keep even the most jaded of fans entertained.