The first season of the superhero show Daredevil on Netflix was not terrible. It had a likable cast, contained a few decent fight scenes, showed the necessary progression from a homemade costume of active wear to a protective crimefighting suit, and paid decent respect to the hero’s day job as a lawyer. Its best feature was Vincent D’Onofrio as the main villain the Kingpin, a compelling character who was both mastermind and animal, wise man and raging child; they even gave him a love story. Marvel Comics’ film arm could take a pointer from this, as virtually all of their movies have the most impotent, uninteresting villains.
Anyway, the first season of Daredevil also got some things wrong. Most notably, it suffered from what ails most television: filler. Many of the episodes were compelling, but some were clearly mid-season padding, and others were all build-up with no payoff. My main beef with television these days is that latter point, the fact that people don’t enjoy it as much as feel compelled to see what happens next, because they’re promised something great over and over. I walked away from season one thinking Daredevil was mostly fun to watch, more gritty than the Marvel movies, but still a pretty silly way to spend some time.
Season two of Daredevil just arrived on Netflix and corrects most of the problems of season one. Most importantly, there’s virtually no filler. Almost every episode is interesting to watch in its own right, not because of what it promises or teases for later. They’ve increased the number of fight scenes, given the peripheral cast more to do, and introduced new, interesting characters.
By far the best addition is Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. The Punisher issue #10 was one of the first comics I ever bought, and it essentially serves as a template for the first four episodes of this season of Daredevil: Is it better to trust in a legal system that often fails (a la Daredevil), or to murder criminals before they can hurt anyone else (a la the Punisher)? Heroes at odds!
These sorts of pop philosophy battles show up all the time in TV and film, and often fail in their execution. Here it works for two main reasons: 1) Jon Bernthal was an inspired choice for the Punisher, and delivers a performance that is way, way above par for superhero shit (seriously he’s incredible); and 2) the show is smart enough to render the Punisher’s solution as understandable but grisly and awful. If the first season was roughly a PG-13 affair, this season has some seriously R-rated moments of violence, with drills perforating feet and faces visibly blown off by shotguns and so on. Interestingly, the show constantly reminds you that the things the Punisher does are horrible, horrifying, and not at all heroic. It’s a smart choice, because it means that even if the Punisher’s character is sympathetic, he’s also terrifying, and his presence never undercuts or eclipses the main character on the show.
So the first four episodes of the season are basically perfect, interesting television if you’re into action and willing to watch mild superhero melodrama. The rest of the season is also quite good, and spends an increasing amount of time focused on ninjas, a volatile ex-girlfriend of Daredevil’s (i.e. Elektra), and some other “secret war in the shadows” kind of nonsense. It’s OK viewing, and for eleven episodes or so, I was enjoying myself.
The show is a bit flat in the last two episodes, mainly in its inability to connect all the threads in an interesting way. It’s not as bad as Jessica Jones, a series with a much more interesting premise but that falls completely apart by the end of it. But there are some stupid jumps in logic (even by superhero story standards), a pretty lousy monologue, lots of tears and burning things for no reason, weak closure on big story threads, and impossible odds that don’t end up seeming very impossible. Kind of a disappointment, but because I was mostly enjoying myself throughout each episode of the season, it didn’t sting so badly.
I’ve got a few friends who seem to have watched everything. I have no idea how they do it. I just spent thirteen hours on this and I feel like I never want to watch television again. How the hell do people find time to watch x seasons of Mad Men and y seasons of House of Cards and z seasons of Game of Thrones? Anyway, as far as TV goes, there are worse ways to spend your time than season two of Daredevil; it’s not brilliant filmmaking but it’s low-filler entertainment. Still, maybe consider balancing it against getting some fresh air or something?