Blind To The Grind
Oh, how I loved Daredevil season 2. Now flip it, reverse it, take out the formatting and we’ll discuss my feeling for Daredevil.
Damn, Daredevil is a jerk, and this series of words is brought to you having watched thirteen episodes of him being a jerk.
When season one of Daredevil dropped last year, it broke the mould for the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (or whatever the fuck they’re calling it these days.) It wasn’t all light and fluffy like the movies with their lack of stakes, emotion and danger, all played in smirk and a quip. Nope, a couple of episodes into Daredevil, Wilson Fisk smashed someone’s head in with a car door. Sure, we’d seen violence before this, but that was one of many defining moments for this series (the other was that hallway fight, more on that later.)
The Netflix methodology really worked for a series like this: encouraged binge-watching, allowed the odd bit of ultra-violence and gave us a real sense of developing the characters and their interactions. Over 13 episodes, we got to know Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page pretty well (for a TV show like.) And yeah, I guess we got to know Wilson Fisk too.
Were there ever really any questions about there being a second season? I didn’t have any doubts: the only notions I had were whether this storyline would lead to a full season or be combined with other beats, all building for the mooted Defenders series.
We got season two. It dropped March 18th. And when you’re busy and have other things going on in life, you can still get through a thirteen episode run pretty quickly if you watch two a day. That’s like a movie every night.
What I expected: ninjas; Frank Castle, aka the Punisher; more ninjas; Elektra; even more ninjas; and guns. (I watched the trailers a lot, so it’s not like anything was a surprise.)
I got all that and a hell of a lot more.
Kicking off with the aforementioned Punisher, the series takes a lengthy (and somewhat laboured) look at Daredevil’s morals that is at once understandable and incredibly frustrating. Matt Murdock, the lawyer behind Daredevil’s mask, has been raised an Irish Catholic and his faith still means a lot to him. Now, writing this as an Irish man who was raised a Catholic (emphasis on the past-tense here), I can get that: you spend a lot of time and energy watching people say one thing and then doing the opposite. Hypocrisy is nothing knew to the Irish Catholic. But there comes a point when said hypocrisy really needs to be called out.
Matt is a man who thinks he (as Daredevil) can save Hell’s Kitchen, but only if things are done his way. He and Punisher have the same ultimate goals, but their methods are very different and this second season opens with Punisher taking out multiple gangland targets.
With his guns.
But Daredevil doesn’t like dead people (or guns.)
Daredevil dislikes the notion of killing people so much that he comes to blows with Punisher a few times, and this difference of opinion provides the story for the first quarter of the season.
The problem is, Punisher and Daredevil are flip-sides of the same coin. This is pointed out several time and by several people, sometimes to Matt, sometimes just said in a way to hammer the point home to the audience. But to Matt, Punisher’s form of justice is hugely different from his own, and he’s offended when the two are likened.
This is where the irony and the hypocrisy start to turn thick, forming a cloudy miasma over the remainder of the season that labours on one of the key parts of this Daredevil: he is a big, horrible hypocrite.
There is, of course, shitloads of irony in the fact that the blind man is blind to his own behaviours: the stubborn martyr-complex that drives Matt Murdock is the exact same drive that would drive me to become a super-villain if I knew him, just so I could justify punching him in his pretty little face.
(As an aside, Daredevil/Matt Murdock is especially pretty, let’s be honest. He’s always drawn to be rather attractive, and Charlie Cox serves some serious otter-realness in this role; more than once, I remarked on his ass both in his Daredevil costume and in Murdock’s suit.)
But enough of that nonsense.
Matt Murdock is a man pretty incapable of compromise. Not only does he want things done his way, it’s got to be his way all the freaking time. Firstly, it’s a big no to death, whether it’s at the hands of the Punisher’s guns, the ninjas or the death penalty.
But Daredevil and Matt Murdock live in a world where they have to deal with death. And like a good Irish Catholic, Matt just doesn’t like doing that. Matt would prefer to punch other people and things (or sometimes to get punched) than to acknowledge that there is space for some grey in his little black-and-white world.
As Matt’s notions are challenged, Matt is pushed into a corner where he has to face his hypocrisy, and much of that comes from his faith. He’s such a good little Irish Catholic that he sees huge differences between his actions and those of the Punisher: but although Frank Castle might be a killer, he can ultimately be forgiven and absolved.
Everyone can be saved. Everyone can be good. Even as Elektra flirts with murder in every breath she takes, he sees her as pure, chaste and totally worthy of his love.
Ironically, Punisher is the only character who has some justification for his actions, a standard revenge trip after the murder of his family. Matt on the other hand is driven solely by his martyr-complex, while Elektra provides the yin to Matt’s yang, a wild force with a good core that is as powerful and opposite as the piety with which Matt represses his dark centre.
In the real world, I should probably admire Matt Murdock, a man who has been through so much shit that he’s still embracing his faith and living by it. Of course, in the real world, I’d also call him out for being a big horrible hypocrite who’s incapable of seeing how much of a hypocrite he’s being (I might have to feel bad about saying that. What with the blind thing.)
One of the joys of Daredevil though is that you don’t have to put up with its title character for long. Cox’s Daredevil may be infuriating, but he is charming (and pretty) enough to make it work just long enough to remain bearable. The fun of this series is rather that everyone around Matt knows what a complete hypocritical mess he is, and they are ready, willing and able to call him out on his bullshit. (Cox has this expression that just stubbornly screams “lalala, I can’t hear you.” It works surprisingly well when Matt is confronted with the harsh realities of his life.)
Cox is the weakest link in this cast, probably more to do with the character’s limitations than his own. Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen is eminently watchable as the most driven employee of the Nelson and Murdock legal practice, although the character remains close enough to True Blood‘s Jessica that it is a natural switch.
Elden Henson’s turn as Foggy Nelson is the heart of the show for many reasons, one of which is because, fisticuffs aside, he is a billion times better at everything than Matt. He also has the added bonus of humility that Matt desperately needs to show. As this season continues to grow Foggy as a humble and charming lawyer, it also gives him some moments of confidence that are enough to move him beyond the realm of “sidekick.”
Added to our core three, Jon Bernthal plays a broken Frank Castle/Punisher. Without the benefit of sunglasses or a mask, Bernthal would be more than capable of stealing the show if he had more face-time. There are moments in these thirteen episodes that Frank feels forgotten, but when on screen, he proves capable of carrying his own spin-off series, or recurring elsewhere in the Netflix-meets-Marvel brand.
My favourite bit of this entire show, however, was Elodie Yung’s take on Elektra: she is at once playful and dangerous, sexy and vulnerable, full of rage and fire while always in the shadow of some other story (until she gets her own, anyway.) Matt is at once madly in love with Elektra while being incapable of dealing with everything about her: in other words, he feels the same way about her as I do about his character. Yung’s physical presence, her affected accent and nuances command the screen, and much like Bernthal, I really hope we see more from this character in the future.
In amongst potential love-triangles, civic chaos and the ninjas that I’m trying not to discuss for fear of spoilers, Daredevil does put a few steps wrong. The first season was capable of bringing different stories together as it reached the climax, but this season’s package isn’t as tight and neat, leading the whole to come across contrived. (It’s a TV series created specifically for Netflix, of course it’s contrived!) Story-beats are paced far too well with a subtle change in pace and direction coming every few episodes: rather than 13 individual episodes, the series could equally work as four feature-length mega-sodes (I don’t know if this is a word, but I’m running with it), four movie-length beats, each of two-to-three episodes and each setting up and then dealing with an internal story of its own.
Such is the Netflix way of story-telling now. All hail our all-knowing, all-gifted Netflix overlords.
Visually, the series left me wanting more as well. That’s not to say that it was bad, but there were some beats to the first season that really stood out (namely the car door and the hallway fight that I already mentioned. Told you I’d come back to that, didn’t I?) The fight-scenes of season two have just a little bit more to them (usually in the way of more enemies) but they all call back to that hallway scene. If anything, now that Daredevil has his armoured suit, the show really needed Matt to face lot more danger, more blades and katanas and chains with pointy ends.
No, wait. Not more. Different. One such difference comes in an escapade where Elektra and Matt try industrial espionage, but this episode feels like an exception rather than the rule.
Elektra and Punisher get their fair share of the action, having some fight scenes of their own and others where they play opposite or alongside Daredevil. But there are no scenes truly breath-taking enough to stand up to expectation: when I want to re-watch a fight scene from this series, it will still be from season one.
Similarly, the ultra-violence perpetrated by Vincent D’Onofio’s Wilson Fisk in season one stood out because it was a furious storm after several episodes of calm. That moment coloured Fisk’s future appearances: after several episodes of composed perfection, we were now waiting to see the next time he would break. That assault-by-door was defined not just by its violence,but because of the way it had been set up. Visually, there are a few similar scenes in season two, headshots and drills a-plenty to make the squeamish look away. But none of them truly have the shock and tensions of that scene from season one.
Daredevil season two had it’s flaws. That’s not to say that I didn’t love it though, because I did.
But when you set the bar so high with your first season, that bar can’t just stay high on repeat attempts: it needs to go higher. The show has already embraced violence and ninjas and sex and Irish-Catholic-guilt, all in a way that was shocking, brutal and oh-so-much fun. Give me more, Daredevil and Netflix, and blow traditional TV out of the water in the process.