Marvel’s new lineup of Netflix shows stormed onto the scene last year with the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil, where Charlie Cox, Vincent D’Onofrio, and company delivered masterful portrayal of the iconic hero, as well as a dark and gritty look into the world superheroes at large. The violence and moral ambiguity of vigilantism and the horrible depravity of the criminal underworld led to some truly innovative scenes, pushing the superhero genre further than it had ever seen on television or in films. The frills and bombast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) keeps its heroes fun and witty, fighting more with lasers and well-timed quips than beating their enemies to a bloody pulp. This is not a criticism of the MCU, as I greatly enjoyed the vast majority of their films (see a full review here), but the tone and intended audience is quite a bit different in these Netflix shows. The mature content drives plots to more complex and distressing topics like sexual and domestic abuse, human trafficking, and other horrible things that can occur in the underbelly of a major city. This first season was incredible and highlighted a whole new world of content made available to Marvel fans like myself. A resounding applause to the whole creative team, led by Jeph Loeb.
After the wildly successful and creative first season of Daredevil, Marvel followed it with another new show six months later. This time, the title character was a little-known super-powered woman named Jessica Jones, a foul-mouthed, aggressive, functional alcoholic with a dark past. Marvel’s Jessica Jones pushed mature themes even further, as Jessica served as a sort of antihero, reluctantly seeking an odd and occasionally disturbing combination of justice and revenge. Her interests were sometimes selfish, her approach can only be described as unorthodox, and her treatment of friends and lovers was not always the nicest. The depth and complexity of Jessica’s character, delivered by Kristen Ritter, was perfect. She is the most complex and dynamic character Marvel has developed to date. The whole show, anchored by opposing performances by Ritter and David Tennant as the horrifyingly evil Killgrave was an absolute thrill. These two shows set the bar so high for following seasons in Marvel’s Netflix line, that it seemed the sky was the limit.
Following another six month gap, we arrive at the present. Marvel’s Daredevil released a second season to follow its incredible inaugural performance. Anticipation had been building for months, as casting decisions for the next two entries (Luke Cage and Iron Fist) were gradually announced. Marvel confirmed a second season of Jessica Jones would be on its way as well. Marketing and trailers revealed that two of the most iconic members of Daredevil’s supporting cast would be making their small screen debuts: the Punisher and Elektra. I had March 18th marked on my calendar. I was ready!
The start of the season brought the same incredible drama that had drawn me in so completely in the first season. A new, unknown force (clearly the Punisher) was taking down large swaths of the criminal underworld in a massive, execution-style take-down. Naturally, Daredevil finds himself at odds with this brutal riff on vigilantism, leading to an epic ideological struggle. This first arc lasts for about six episodes, centering on the contrasting worldviews of Matt Murdock and Frank Castle, the latter of which, played perfectly by Jon Bernthal, absolutely stole the show. The rooftop scene where Frank and Matt first debate their competing visions of justice and vigilantism is iconic. Daredevil is chained to a chimney, while the Punisher tries to convince him that he is “just one bad day away from being me.” The contrast between Castle’s callous brutality and his severe emotional damage made for an extremely compelling character. He was terrifying and yet pitiable, a murderer and a hero. I can’t say enough about the handling of the Punisher’s character and that whole first arc.
Unfortunately, the second arc of the season was not quite as well fleshed out. The introduction of Elektra (played by Elodie Young) did work pretty well, and Young brought a certain crazed energy to the character that seemed true to source material. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Elektra and Matt’s earlier romance, which cleanly provided the background audiences needed in order to understand the present-day relationship. The show’s decision to downplay the mystical elements of Miller’s original writing was a good one. Though the mysterious “Black Sky” did leave mystical or spiritual possession on the table for an explanation of Elektra’s blood-lust. I appreciated Marvel’s willingness to show Elektra as an erratic, thrill-seeking and borderline sadistic woman, though I never understand the romantic interest in such tropes. But beyond the characterization, much of the plot of this second arc was underdeveloped. The Hand seemed to appear out of nowhere and the question of their zombie-like “raised from the dead” status was more opaque than necessary.
All of that being said, my largest problems of the whole season came during the final episode, when it felt as though the show took some shortcuts in an attempt to wrap up many story lines at once. Needless to say, this paragraph will be largely *SPOILERS*, so just skip to the next one if you have not yet watched. First, why does Karen continue to go off alone and get into danger? I think it undermines the development of her “street-smart” persona if she continues to be so careless. Castle’s house, the Colonel’s house, abduction by the Hand… is she a strong, enabled character? Or just another damsel in distress? I would prefer the former. Second, the rekindling of Matt and Elektra’s romance seemed abrupt. He resisted romantic interest for most of the show then just decided he loved her again at the end? Eh, kind of lazy. Plus, that dialogue when they were trapped on the roof was oozing cheese. And not in a good, fresh nachos way. Worst of all, though, was the very end. Reminder, this is definitely a *SPOILER*, Elektra’s death, while expected, was kind of odd. The choice to kill her seemed reasonable, but after Daredevil and Stick had seen the Hand resurrect Nobu and all of their ninjas without heartbeats, did they really think burying Elektra was a good idea? They were fighting an enemy that was able to resurrect the dead and they didn’t think to at least cremate the body? A more believable outcome would have been if the Hand carted her body off during the fight. A funeral scene, while maybe more dramatic emotionally, made our heroes look like chumps. Seemed odd.
All of that being said, this show is mostly great and there are far more positive things to say than criticisms. For instance, the supporting cast was incredibly good. Foggy Nelson and Karen Page are always tremendous, and personally, I loved that the show gave Foggy more of an opportunity to show his strengths as a lawyer and to show him as a brave person, rather than relegating him to the pudgy and pathetic comic relief that the comics so often do. Elden Henson is such a perfect fit for Foggy that the real stars of this Daredevil show continue to be the casting directors. Karen’s character continues to grow, though her inability to anticipate danger and leap headfirst into ridiculously risky situations has become a bit repetitive. I think for a character who is supposed to show some investigative smarts, she sure seems surprised by danger a lot. Next season, they should have her stop being the damsel in distress so much, but Deborah Ann Woll was great, yet again, and continues to show some serious emotional range. Rosario Dawson is always fun and believable, though her part seems to serve more as the binding for Marvel/Netflix’s Defenders crossover than to further individual plots at this point. But, once again, the absolute show-stopping performance of Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin was probably the highlight of the season. Unexpected and largely forgotten by the time he showed up mid-season, he instantly reminded viewers of his cold and terrifying performance from the first season.
Overall, the second season isn’t quite as perfect as the first one was, but sequels usually have that problem. It is still a great show and I will certainly watch it again at some point. Much like with the MCU, the cohesiveness of this show’s plot is somewhat impacted by the desire to flesh out the network of characters to build into Defenders and even spin off into their own solo series (Punisher, Elektra). This is somewhat of a reflection of the growing pains of an interconnected universe, and shouldn’t be criticized too much, since the resulting web of shows is sure to continue at a high level of excellence. It has a few weak points, especially toward the end of the season, and certainly more than season one or Jessica Jones, but some tremendous acting and Jon Bernthal’s Punisher help to make this still one of the best shows out there.
Season Two Rating: 8 of 10