I have one word for you all regarding this season, and the word is tight. The costumes, the plots, the fights, the characters. They are all tight. Honed. Sharp as the katana edges of all the ninjas (seriously, the number of ninjas in this season borders on ridiculous) that Daredevil must fight. The second season of Daredevil expertly ups the game of the first season, appropriately increasing the stakes for the characters and for the city, wasting no time each episode as it draws us through all the moral tangles and brutal battles the denizens of Hell’s Kitchen must face.
Let’s start with the battle scenes in this season. The violence is more brutal and visceral, explicit and bloody. This was, at first, exciting and hard to watch, but as it increased in frequency and gore factor, I actually started to find it repetitive and less meaningful. If anything, by the final few episodes, I was violenced-out. The actual fighting itself feels real: compact, tactical, efficient and skillfully filmed. There are some amazing long-cut close quarter shots, great use of lighting and environment, and excellently choreographed fights that don’t like they have been choreographed. They feel organic, more like a real MMA fight (albeit stylized). This is especially true when Daredevil fights street thugs or gang members, less so with ninjas (but that’s because ninjas have mad skills). The first season of Daredevil was finding out how to make the best use of this style, the second season has refined it.
What was more brutal than Daredevil’s physical journey was his moral one this season. Season 2 asked the questions of whether or not being a vigilante is worth the cost of his professional and personal life and of whether he can be an effective force of justice without crossing the line of killing the evil-doers. As Daredevil struggles through fight after fight against mounting foes, his faith in the justice system that he has sworn to uphold is repeatedly challenged. Corrupt cops frustrate him, the influence of his old nemesis Kingpin (Vincent Denofrio with a gratifying mid-season cameo as Wilson Fisk, a definite highlight of the whole arc)
reaches out to destroy him, his new nemesis, the Punisher (ferociously played by John Bernthal, Shane from Season 2 Walking Dead), questions his hold on Hell’s Kitchen and his no kill policy, and Elektra appears out of his past with old secrets opening old wounds and new secrets making new wounds as her vendettas and machinations threaten to destroy what Matt has built as a lawyer and as a masked hero. And as he makes more and more compromises for his life as Daredevil, Matt Murdock’s relations with everyone he cares about, especially Foggy and Karen, begin to suffer horribly and implode, making him fight to hold on to his very sanity and nature as a good, just person. It is a masterfully crafted slugfest, emotionally, morally, and visually, that is compelling to watch and gut-wrenching to feel. Charlie Cox’s acting is top notch as he has come into his stride as this character.
The other main characters have equally compelling arcs that see them suffer, change and grow this season as well. Foggy, disturbed more and more by Matt’s absences from the firm and injuries as Daredevil, has to step up and grow professionally as a lawyer and be more confident in his abilities as an independent person, as Matt can no longer take the time to help him. This both enrages and empowers him, and places major stress on their relationship. He bonds more with Karen , but awkwardly, as he moves away from Matt. Ironically, she is drawn more and more to Matt as he becomes more inaccessible. Foggy grows more daring, placing him in danger, but also rewarding him unexpectedly towards the end of the season with an unforeseen consequence.
Karen grows professionally too, but more towards the investigative journalist side, eventually replacing Ben Yurick at the Bulletin after impressing the editor with her work on the Punisher’s case. She and Matt finally display their feelings for each other, but their relationships gets tenuous when Matt disappears more and more to see Elektra, who she eventually finds in his bed. This pushes her away towards the Punisher, and as their firm represents him during his trial, she is the one who gains his trust and bonds with him, and to whom she is drawn to more and more once Matt and Elektra start pursuing their own ends. Deborah Ann Woll does a great job of mixing independence and strength both physically and intellectually with the softness and compassion that often shape the reasons behind her characters’ difficult decisions.
The Punisher, AKA Frank Castle, is a surprisingly complex character, who the viewer is never really sure how to handle. He is ferocious, single-minded and merciless regarding his crusade against the gangs and people responsible for the death of this wife and child, but surprisingly compassionate when actually addressed about it. He has a wry sense of dark humor, but you’re never quite sure what dimension of him will appear when or to what end. He keeps you on your toes, and Jon Brenthal did a great job of displaying that multi-dimensionality.
The plot of the season is complex and winding and I won’t spoil it here, but needless to say it doesn’t disappoint. No time is wasted. My only critiques are that they might have swung into needless hyperviolence, undercutting their point by displaying too much of it. The endless ninjas also got old after a while, kind of like fighting zombies after a while. That was the only time I felt the stakes in the fight scenes were lowered. The last few episodes felt a little padded by fighting, but not too much. Elektra’s performance and arc was the weakest, as she went from debutante to assassin and from vice to redemption, seemed the most predictable and least interesting, although the role was competently played by Elodie Yung.
There were plenty of nods and winks to the previous season, to Jessica Jones, and to the Marvel universe in general, which are fun to pick out, so I won’t spoil them here. But be on the look out for places, references, phrases, and background items that have appeared in other parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Overall an absolutely amazing work of comic book screen adaptation and well worth a weekend binge or maybe even a day off work. And if they catch you, you can tell them the Devil made you do it!