We might as well put this up front: if you liked season one of Netflix’s Daredevil, its second season is ready and waiting to welcome you back into its bruised and bloody embrace. All the ingredients its first 13 episodes threw in the pot to make it unique and memorable are back – and while this doesn’t leave us as raw and shocked as it did last year, it’s still got enough plates spinning to satisfy our Daredevil itch.
So let’s do a quick inventory. Charlie Cox is great once again as Matt Murdock and Daredevil, somehow managing to add even more layers to his character. Meanwhile the rest of the Nelson & Murdock crew are back, trying to save Hell’s Kitchen one bad decision at a time. In our season premier in fact, law partner Foggy and office secretary Karen pretty much nail why they’re so vital to the whole show working. Without the heart, humour and normality (compared to nighttime crime fighting at least) the pair provide, Daredevil‘s underworld exploits could easily become exhausting to watch.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. What’s different about this second outing? Who’s causing grief for the devil of Hell’s Kitchen this time? Last year, crime boss manchild Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) had his hands in everything. This time though, the guy stirring up trouble is a mysterious gunman taking down New York’s criminal underworld with ruthless military precision. If you’ve kept up with the hype you’ll know who this is already, and for what it’s worth The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal manages to flip The Punisher from heartless mass murderer to sympathetic anti-hero scene to scene with surprising believability. Whether he tops D’Onofrio’s Fisk remains to be seen, though.
For those who haven’t watched Daredevil in the year since season one, it might be a struggle to remember the watercooler show of last Spring. Five episodes into season two and the answers are visible in trademark yellow lights. Daredevil has hallmarks: slow methodical builds to outstanding payoffs, surprisingly grounded characters, and cinematography that makes Hell’s Kitchen a character in its own right. Seriously, Daredevil stalking past a corridor lined with oblivious Irish gangsters has absolutely no right to look this good.
How much you appreciate these touches will more than likely determine just how much time you’re willing to give the series as a whole. Trust us though when we say things can go from a steady second gear to doing 90 on the freeway at the drop of a hat.
Last year, in my review of Daredevil’s first season (one of my first articles for Cultured Vultures), I likened Matt Murdock to Bruce Wayne. Both are enigmatic men on a moral crusade against crime. With season two though, the comparison feels less and less meaningful. Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock has slightly more in common with Marvel sibling Captain America than the Dark Knight. Despite all the brutal violence and vigilantism, Daredevil has the heart of a misguided boy scout. Matt Murdock really is that good a guy because he just can’t quite get over the guilt he feels for not quite saving everything.
It’s an interesting direction to go, and it allows for a compelling and ever-evolving character dynamic between Daredevil and The Punisher.
If there’s any central criticism to be had of Daredevil season two, it’s the show’s relentless focus on very serious men being very serious about either doing or stopping crime. Yes, that’s basically the entire world of the show and nine times out of ten that’s fine. It does, however, mean the show’s lighter characters become even more important when on screen. Eldon Henson’s Foggy becomes even more important here, and when called upon to do something serious for an episode it can mean a long time between moments of levity. It also means that Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen is too often relegated to the periphery of the show (as in season one, she spends at least one episode looking for answers Daredevil and the audience have already found).
This grim seriousness also leads to a handful of moments that feel like laughable misfires. Aspirin tablets falling in dramatic slow motion onto a shelf? Less immersive than it is laugh out loud hilarious. There’s perhaps one moment like this per episode, and while it doesn’t break the intrigue of the show it is curious from a creative team that gets so much of everything else right.
The supporting cast are used effectively, if a little too sparsely, but it’s interesting to see where certain ‘throwaway’ characters from last season fit this year and where they’re headed. Nelson and Murdock’s frenemy cop Sergeant Mahoney in particular seems to have an interesting journey ahead of him. Meanwhile Rosario Dawson shows up again as Claire Temple to remind us why she’s one of the most underutilised talents working in Hollywood.
As for new characters, Jon Bernthal’s version of The Punisher will be getting most of the attention on the internet for good reason. Bernthal delivers a level of realism to the psychology of his character that separates him from previous actors to take the role. Also joining the cast is Élodie Yung as Daredevil’s dangerous old flame Elektra. Yung bubbles with charisma, and has alarmingly believable chemistry with Charlie Cox – in a series of flashbacks the pair feel like a pair of young lovers daring themselves to be more and more reckless.
If you’re still on the fence about Daredevil‘s second Netflix run, it’s worth noting that the season premiere feels a lot like a microclimate of the series as a whole. Everything that makes the show what it is has been condensed into one episode, right down to the reveal of a mysterious new villain and bone crushing fight scene finale. This year the show won’t be hailed as a masterpiece, but don’t doubt it. Everything that had it labelled a game changer last year is still here. More of the same won’t always earn you critical praise, but in this case it definitely adds up to good TV.