I had a difficult time believing that the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil could outdo the first, which was mature and complex as well as intelligent and incredibly grounded for what it was. It never felt like a comic book adaptation and not simply because of its literal and thematic darkness; Drew Goddard and Co. seemed to take the source material earnestly without forgetting that storytelling isn’t just about beating your audience about the head with seriousness and themes (House of Cards, I’m not so much nodding in your direction as I am staring at you with piercing, accusatory crazy eyes). Storytelling can also be, you know, fun. It’s escapism. And as horrible and violent as Hell’s Kitchen seems to be at points, you never want to look away from the screen. It’s oddly beautiful in its own way and populated, lived in. Like these characters are living and breathing even when we aren’t around to see. I was wrong about Season 2. It not only embraces what was strong and effective about Season 1, it finds a much steadier and consistent tone, expands on an already great cast, and, like any good literature, explores some very interesting and divisive ideas, namely when, if ever, is killing in the name of justice justified.
It’s such a thrilling time to be a comic book fan, when comic book shows and movies are being made by other comic fans rather than adapted and watered down to satisfy a larger audience by people who seem to have a disdain for the source material. Mostly. Drew Goddard, again, did a great job as a writer and producer on the first season and has gone on to be nominated for adapting The Martian, so things are on the up and up for him. But he is also a Joss Whedon alum which is a good and a bad thing. The knack for story structure is there and he is still exec producing on DD but the humor, specifically the quirky, witty, often self-deprecating dialogue always felt a little forced to me when it’s coming from anyone but Joss. In Season 1 it often nagged at me, particularly coming from Foggy and the evil Warden from The Shawshank Redemption. With Whedon you are either all the way in his world or not at all, and one of the first things I noticed about Season 2 was an absence of that humor. This could have been a dangerous thing in an already dark and violent show that is introducing one the most dark and violent “heroes” in the Marvel Universe, Frank Castle as The Punisher, but it never seems to matter as the writing succeeds in accomplishing what it sets out to do. Of the three live action attempts at the character, all have succeeded in pissing off one audience or another. I would argue that the Thomas Jane film is not nearly as disastrous as people make it out to be and that I actually kind of liked it but I also don’t really want to be hunted down in the streets. So let’s pretend that I did not.
My opinion of Jon Bernthal was complicated in that during his run on The Walking Dead I hated his character. I was uncomfortable when he was on screen, even frightened of him as he was clearly becoming more and more unspooled but the funny thing is, as soon as he was dispatched from the story (spoilers, omg that’s like five seasons ago wth) I suddenly realized that I missed him. Desperately. He was the only interesting and compelling character at that point. While everyone else was hand-wringing and whining about all the things, Shane was quietly going insane which was awesome. And where Charlie Cox’ Daredevil is all focused and peripheral awareness when suited up, Bernthal takes that quiet rage that he bottles up so well and absolutely kills it as Frank Castle. The dynamic here is fantastic, I felt like a kid reading the page again simultaneously rooting for them to fight but also wanting them to become BEST FRIENDZ.
This season also improves the presence of supporting characters Foggy and Karen, who, up until this point in the show again, have been about as interesting and compelling as two characters named Foggy and Karen. The latter did have some kick ass moments in Season 1, but this time around she has actual agency and I found her interactions with Frank to be genuinely touching. Foggy also gets something to chew on this season, rather than being just the comic relief/complaining best friend, although he has not left that all behind just yet.
When it was announced that Elektra would be introduced my first thought was, there is no way that they can top the action/sexual tension of the film version, it’s impossible. And of course they pulled this off by ending their first confrontation, this time in a boxing ring, with its logical conclusion (minor spoiler alert): boning. To be fair, all they really needed to do to top the film in terms of drama and action was roll two russet potatoes down a slight incline and film it. The worst part? Affleck and Garner got married. How do you miss out on sexual tension between two people that are legitimately sexually attracted to each other? I digress. Elodie Yung is a definite improvement on the character and an exceptional femme fatale: at once bored and intelligent, deadly and sly. Like a….spider? A sexy spider. (Do not google ‘sexy spider’. Oh Lord.)
So that conversation about killing, essentially a dialogue about the death penalty, is handled pretty literally. I remember being in support of it most of my adult life but now I am less convinced of its utility. Oddly enough, it was a comic book hero from my youth that introduced me to the debate years ago in the Spider-Man series Maximum Carnage, spread across 14 different issues and publications. Basically, the symbiotic offspring of Venom named Carnage goes on a mass killing spree through New York City and Spider-Man has to team up with a ton of other heroes in order to stop him. But every time Spidey catches up he stops short of killing the bad guy and instead tries to apprehend him which invariably leads to another escape, and another spree. More innocent deaths. I was confused by this as a kid and asked, as some of the characters do, at what point is Spider-Man responsible for some of those murders? For not taking that final step? It’s never quite resolved or explained well enough but years later, I have a better answer than what was offered before. The fundamental difference between Daredevil and Punisher is doubt or an absence of. It’s a subject the first season explored to great effect and what makes Daredevil the hero that he is: as a lawyer and a vigilante he is perpetually in conflict, constantly questioning the validity of his actions, much like the law should in a free society. When they have their showdown, their opposing ideologies come into conflict and where Castle is eager to play the role of executioner, Murdock makes his case. What about hope. Redemption. It’s real and it’s possible. The people you kill deserve another chance…to try again.
Season 2 of Daredevil is a phenomenal success and, again, raises the bar for what comic book properties can deliver in terms of dynamic, exciting storytelling. This may be a bold statement but with Phase 3 of the MCU set to kick off with Captain America: Civil War, the film universe will have its work cut out for it.