Binge Review: Daredevil Season Two, Part One

Guys... I like the Punisher and I don't know how to feel about that...

Okay. Hello!

I just spent a substantive portion of my busy weekend binging all of season two of Daredevil on Netflix. Below you’ll find some thoughts and feels and a bit of a review for episodes 1-6. If you haven’t gotten into season two yet, here is what I loved about season one of Daredevil.

The following is raw — I just finished up the finale about twenty minutes ago — and it’s late. So if it gets a little loopy, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Spoilers to follow for the first half of Daredevil season two.

“Bang”

Bang! Excellent.

Let’s start at the end and say that finishing off the first episode with the Punisher shooting Daredevil in the head is fantastic. I happily support the title as appropriate on both obvious levels. Well done.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First episode we get Daredevil back to his old tricks, and a walk-and-talk cheerfully establishes that Matt/Foggy is still the most important relationship of the show, and that Karen cares for both of them.1 Then, Irish mobsters monologue and are mostly murdered. Nelson and Murdock take on a surviving Irish mobster as a client. Foggy faces down bikers for the sake of information and Daredevil faces down meathooks because meathooks are fucking scary. The Punisher comes after said client, and Karen helps the client escape. Daredevil and the Punisher have their first knock down knuckle fest — ending with the afore mentioned headshot.

Ah! It’s good to be back in Hell’s Kitchen.2 And it does feel like we’re back. I love this shows consistency when it comes to minor characters — the arms dealer’s reappearance and Police Sergeant Brett’s ground the show. There are also verbal nods to the first season that are nice and hold the world together.

Karen is clearly going to spend time mooning over Matt Murdock. Which, I’m told, is text in the comic books. I’m not a fan of the choice, but it’s being done well. And by that I mean: subtly. More importantly Karen continues as a competent character when she isn’t glancing hopefully at the blind man. Her ready lies to the hospital and flight out of said hospital reestablished her as one of my favorites in a show of great performances.

The affectionate and funny banter from Foggy to Matt ranks with the best writing across the season and it’s good to know the heart of the show is still going strong.

When we do see the Punisher, he’s gotten some build up via the trails of bodies the audience has seen.3 But not so much that the audience is rolling their eyes when the “army” turns out to be one guy.

It’s me, so I’m going to talk about the fights. Both Daredevil and the Punisher get action sequences early on: a running battle and a massacre respectively — both function as character work, and in both scenes we don’t actually see the character inflicting violence. The effort Daredevil puts into his fights is obvious, even when the audience does not see the hits. Punisher mows people down and is taken for an army. It’s our first comparison of the two, and it works. Frankly, adding the Punisher into the mix felt a little like throwing the gatling gun into history.

Our first episode wraps up with a Daredevil vs. Punisher battle. Letting the Punisher hold onto his gun after first contact gives us a sense of how dangerous he is — generally Daredevil takes away his enemy’s firearms in the first hit. And I’ve already expressed my feelings on how I feel about the ending.

 

“Dogs to a Gunfight”

A brief recap for episode two: Matt deals with the consequences of being shot in the head — including a concussion. Foggy and Karen try to get their Irish mobster client into witness protection. We meet the villainous DA, make a deal with her and watch it go south.4 Then Daredevil proceeds to lose to the Punisher again.

I love consequences. The scene where Matt temporarily loses his hearing (and therefore “sight”) is harrowing. Foggy running manically around the neighborhood and lying his way onto rooftops is a heartbreaking consequence from last season. Karen’s nervousness in the face of someone called “Punisher” lightly touches on her murdering James Wesley. All good.

DA Reyes is an excellent antagonist for the ‘law and order’ portion of the cast. She’s clearly tough and powerful and willing to throw them all to the dogs if necessary. A good thing Foggy is there to be a thorn in her side. And he’s a wonderfully well spoken thorn.

Anyway, here’s my first large surprise for the season. I liked what little bits of the Punisher we saw in episode one. I enjoy efficient badasses and he’s clearly good at what he does. But I wasn’t expecting to like the Punisher. I knew he was going to be a badass ex-military type with a dead-family backstory — and that’s not my favorite cliche by a long shot.

And yet. First! We get the suggestion — which the episode bears out — that the Punisher meant to knock Daredevil down, not kill him. That implies as much of a moral code as Daredevil is sporting and gives some nuance to his violence. Second! We get the character work while he buys a police scanner and shotgun. I enjoyed that whole scene, from the little note of his paper coffee cup to the final shot of the Punisher turning around to beat the man who offered him child pornography. Less than a full episode after the Punisher shoots Daredevil, I find that I like him. Bravo!

We get one main action sequence — another Daredevil vs. Punisher fight. I found myself laughing at this one: These two dudes so intent on hitting each other that they aren’t bothered by the SNIPER FIRE coming at them is a touch over the top. Superheroes, am I right? Ridiculous machismo aside, it’s another good fight — although I cannot condone the use of slow motion. I just can’t.

 

“New York’s Finest”

Recap: The captured Daredevil and the caffeinated Punisher shout their philosophical differences. Foggy teams up with Claire and does a fantastic words/smarts over violence bit. Karen tries to help their client while he’s on the run after the DA’s setup fell apart by finding out more about the Punisher. We wrap it up with an extended fight scene — reminiscent of the hallway fight from season one, but with stairs!

This time, I shall start with the fight. All the fight work in the show is good (so far) and giving Daredevil a gun duct-taped to his hand and a chain is a nice change of pace. Adding the stairs: also good. It doesn’t have the clean containment of the hallway fight (from ep. 2 of season one), but running too hard towards replicating that isn’t likely to have worked.

The show continues to give Foggy and Karen agency — keeping them effective in a world of powered people. Team Foggy and Claire worked really well, and establishing a timeline in relation to Jessica Jones pulls the Netflix/Marvel world together. Poor Claire. She just seems to be in the wrong/right place when dangerous, self-destructive folks with weird abilities are running around. Love it.

Now. Our debate on the ethics of murder vs. beating people nearly to death.

There were a few lines in here that made me wince — and I have thoughts about the back and forth, but I’m going to hold off. With the way the Punisher has been set up, this shouldn’t be an argument that goes away and I’m going to wait until I can talk about how it plays across the whole season.

Their discussion is the main substance of the episode. I appreciate taking the time in the show to let them talk. It reminds us who Murdock is and continues to build on the Punisher’s character. Acting on both sides is great. I love that the Punisher carries a thermos.

 

“Penny and Dime”

Ya’ll know the drill. Recap! The Irish mob are back and they are annoyed. They capture the Punisher — who, aside from all the murder, has stolen money from them — and torture him.5 Karen keeps digging for information on the Punisher, with the ghost of Ben Urich on her shoulder. She finds, among other things, the Punisher’s house. Daredevil goes to rescue the Punisher — succeeds in doing so, and then turns him in to the police. Also, Matt and Karen kiss. In the rain. Cue Elektra showing up.

We get the Punisher’s backstory this episode. We get it in monologue and in Karen’s view of his house. This show is not afraid of the flashback — in fact the flashbacks in season one that give us Wilson Fisk’s backstory are perfect. But I’m so glad we don’t get a Punisher flashback here. His past is played for sympathy, but getting to see him in better times would feel like shorthand compared to the monologue, the empty house and his capture in front of the carousel. I hope that doesn’t get blown later.

Battles? My favorite to date is the first time we get Daredevil and Punisher working together. I love that Daredevil is able to fight effectively and keep the Punisher from killing people — that choreography was great.

This episode wraps up a mini-arc for the Punisher and I’m sad to see him possibly sidelined for awhile. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t expecting to like the Punisher. He’s generally not my character. But the actor and the detail he gets have me on his side.  I believe I shall miss him.

 

“Kinbaku”

Recap: Elektra is here and she’s crazy. This episode gives us the story of Matt and Elektra in flashbacks. Ah, true love tragically cut off by unfulfilled homicide…  In the present, Daredevil follows Elektra around, trying to figure out what she’s up to. Karen continues researching the Punisher. Karen and Matt have their first date!

So glad to see Marcia again, and pleased she’s working for Hogarth. Given the overlap in professions and places-they-spend-time-in, the occasional reminder that Jessica Jones lives here too fleshes out the world. Also reappearing this episode is Ben Urich’s editor at the Bulletin, and it’s nice to see him pulled back into these shenanigans.

This episode takes Elektra from powerful and unscrupulous ex to oh-she’s-actually-crazy over the course of its hour, and by the time we hit the crazy part, I’m on board. I didn’t find Elektra particularly compelling until she takes Murdock’s justice/revenge into her own heels. It’s also a nice reinforcement of Matt’s choices not to kill people and gives us a little more context than ‘he’s the good guy’ for that choice.

Murdock/Daredevil is not an unpredictable character for the audience. What keeps him surprising to his fellow cast is that they’re generally only aware of Daredevil OR Matt. Letting Elektra successfully manipulate him because she doesn’t separate those two parts is great, and keeping her one step ahead of Matt lets her be more interesting than if she was actually just asking for help in an obtuse and passive-aggressive way.

Also, as I footnoted above, I’d rather Karen and Foggy were on a real date, but if we must have Karen and Matt be a thing then at least it’s being done well. Their horrible awkwardness at the fancy restaurant endeared their togetherness to me a great deal.

Fights… Well. We have our combat-as-foreplay fight, which comes right after the same concept on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and shows how sorta terrible the S.H.I.E.L.D. one was. I would like to state here and now that a relationship between two healthy adults who enjoy some kink would be nice. Though I’m guessing seeing that in a superhero show is probably a ways off.

 

“Regrets Only”

The Punisher is back! Huzzah! Recap!

Elektra and Matt go to a fancy party and steal a ledger from the Yakuza. Nelson and Murdock take on the Punisher’s case.

Okay, that one’s really short, but that’s pretty much it.

If you’ve read my discussion of the first season of Daredevil, you know that I think the greatest asset of the show is the many connections it makes between all of its characters. Telling a story where not every relationship leads back to the protagonist is way more interesting to me. So watching the first four episodes, with their Punisher mini-story, I was worried about him remaining unconnected to the rest of the cast. It was going to handicap him as a character. Putting him with Karen fixed that.

I also stand by my admiration for the way the show fills in his backstory and character without flashbacks.

As for fight sequences, we have the first fight with the Yakuza and then a string of running battles at the end of the episode. These were solid, but there’s not a whole lot of personality coming from the antagonists. The fight at the beginning featured some interesting hair, but that was sort of it.

Murdock and Elektra look fantastic in their fancy clothes. They also work well together — and not just when they’re fighting, but during the sneakier sequences. Their competence is fun. It doesn’t bode well for Matt and Karen, however, that Matt is lying about a mystery ‘client’. Or for Matt and Foggy.

Okay! I’ll be back with the second half of my reviews soon. Cheers!

  1. Romantically and platonically respectively. Cue my sigh of annoyance at the inevitable. I liked her better with Foggy.
  2. Actually, it’s good to watch the action in Hell’s Kitchen from a safe and comfortable couch.
  3. *shudders* meathooks…
  4. Fargo flashbacks when the truck’s driver turns out to be duct-taped to the steering wheel.
  5. I was worried about the dog. Am glad they did not shoot the dog. Am also aware of how possibly disturbing it is that violence towards a dog feels more extreme than violence to people? That’s a nasty combination of training by media, degrees of helplessness and choice along with moral priorities for another day.