Daredevil Series 2
(Spoilers. BIG FAT SPOILERS!)
(Spoilers – seriously)
With me now having a job that gets me home before half past five on weekdays, the opportunities to binge-watch television series have never been so ripe, and the stars were clearly aligned when Netflix released Daredevil in its entirety on Friday. Pyjamas were on, takeaway was ordered and I was settled down in a duvet mountain all before half past six.
I’m not going to bore you by reviewing each individual episode in turn, mainly because spoiling each individual episode in turn is a bit rude and you probably don’t really care that much about this review enough to read 13 separate breakdowns. Alas this will be a review of the series as a whole and feel free to yell or argue in the comments below because who doesn’t love internet keysmashing.
We start where we left off in the first series. Fisk is off the streets and in jail, Nelson and Murdock are still a struggling, though now infamous, law firm, but as predicted Fisk’s incarceration has created a power vacuum in Hell’s Kitchen. A vacuum in which Kitchen Irish, the Cartel and the Dogs of Hell are battling to fill through various methods of intimidation and violence.
Series 2 wastes no time in introducing the Punisher into the mix. The Irish are brutally gunned down by an unseen assailant assumed to be an army of men but turns out to just be one man. Frank Castle. It’s all neatly done with Frank’s face unseen until the very end of the first episode but it is a bit bloody obvious who it is in the first place. This kicks off the first major arc of the series, and the first major philosophical questioning of Matt’s/Daredevil’s methods of justice in comparison to the Punisher’s more bold and aggressive methods of termination. Kudos must be given to Jon Bernthal because holy moly mother of God. As a big Punisher fan I was mildly reticent when Bernthal was cast. Having only really known him from The Walking Dead where he played that piece of shit Shane, I didn’t know if he could carry off the Frank Castle I was hoping for and expecting. But, fuck me, I was so wrong. He absolutely owns the part. While he doesn’t match the comic version of Frank in terms of stature, his physicality is still impressive; he looks like a man who was has fought all his life, he has the swagger of a man with a purpose, and in the moments of calm introspection he brings a gravitas and emotional resonance (see episode 3 for the rooftop scenes and episode 4 graveyard scene). He and Ray Stevenson will now have to arm wrestle to decide who the best Punisher is.
The fight sequences are as vicious as usual, both men bleed and groan (LIKE NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS), both get hurt, and the scenes are surprisingly (in a good way) economical. We don’t get unrealistic 10 minute fight scenes for the sake of it, to show off some fancy camera trickery or to show how good the stuntmen are. We get short, sharp shocks of cruel violence and it’s all the more potent for it (Episode 9 in particular has a particularly astounding fight scene in a prison). The writers wisely keep this philosophy throughout the series and, while this is undoubtedly a violent piece of television, the scenes themselves never feel like they overstay their welcome (compare that to the end fight sequence from Man Of Steel where I left the cinema with blunt force trauma after been visually assaulted for about 25 minutes).
The main Punisher arc finishes as quickly as it seemed to come and for me this is where series 2 lost a little bit of its focus. Elektra (Elodie Yung) is swiftly introduced and a rash of links of events in series 1 begin to reveal themselves. Fisk, Nobu (!) and Stick all emerge from the sidelines to muddy the waters of some sort of conspiracy. Then we have another murky unknown baddie called The Blacksmith who seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s all a little bit too much. While in series 1 we had our conspiracies and dirty dealings, they all lead to one major source in Wilson Fisk. He was the main antagonist, the main focus for our love/hate/whatever floats your boat, the spider in the middle of the web as it were. However, in series 2 there is just so much hovering in the background (post episode 5 / 6 especially) it is hard to know where to look or focus. We have Elektra, we still have the Punisher (who makes a welcome return to the fold further on), we have Fisk, we have Stick (who may or may not be a good egg), we have Nobu, we have The Blacksmith, we have The Hand, we have something called Black Sky that is randomly referenced about 3 episodes from the end, we have a massive hole in the ground that is seen but never referred to again. And i understand we need to have a puzzle, a loose thread in the weave, but we also need a locus and we get no indication by the end of the series what exactly that is.
Elektra’s arc is nicely played if a tad underwhelming on the whole. I don’t think this is a fault of the actress (Yung nails it) but the writing is rather clunky and a lot of her scenes feel extraneous. I did enjoy the flashbacks with her and Matt in college, showing us Matt’s less than perfect moral compass as a student and his weakness when it comes to women.
The series hits its stride again once Fisk joins the proceedings. D’Onofrio is, as per usual, as absolute juggernaut and it was nice to see in a spoilerific world of the internet that I can still be completely caught off guard. The scenes between Fisk and Frank fizzle with tension and the distrust between the two men is palpable. Bernthal holds his own however, and while he doesn’t say much during their exchanges, you know exactly what he is thinking.
We also learn more about Frank’s backstory through Karen’s own investigative poking about after she is hired by Ellison to take Ulrich’s (oh Ben) role as researcher for the newspaper. Frank and Karen’s relationship one of the most interesting ones to develop in this series, as she fights for Frank’s humanity, desperate to believe that there is more to him than just violence and hatred, while he simultaneously thwarts her attempts to do so. Whether it be out of respect for her or loneliness he lets her occasionally with some deftly played discussions about love and redemption, but soon shuts it down before she gets too close (see the diner scene).
Like a drunk man on stilts, the series wobbles at the end. So much is stuffed into the last two episodes it feels like you’ve gorged on a box of Ferrero Rocher then nicked a box of Quality Street. You feel like sick, probably got diabetes and you are no further forward with your life. We are left with very little closure, the bad guys Matt has been fighting throughout the series are still there when the credits roll, Frank has one vaguely cheesy moment and then stalks off into the night; yeah, The Blacksmith was disposed of but he was probably the tip of a very large iceberg. The only thing I really got from the last two episodes is Matt’s decision to give in a little bit more to his Daredevil persona and less to his Matt Murdock lawyer persona, and while that does set up things juicily for series 3, it feels like a bit thin for 2 hours of television.
Overall, the second series of Daredevil is a success on the most part. The pacing problems inherited from series one are still present and the finale was a little on the rushed and underwhelming side, but the pros outweigh the cons. The Punisher was fantastically done, Matt’s struggle with his own identity and persona added an interesting sharp edge to his friendship with Foggy and relationship with Karen and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the third series, Foggy was a delight as always and it was nice to see him strike out on his own instead of being at Matt’s beck and call, the inclusion of Fisk was a masterstroke, and the fight sequences were bone-crunchingly good as always.
Best episodes 3, 4, 8, 9.