Binge Review: Daredevil Season Two, Part Two

The trial of Frank Castle and more ninja than you can count.

This is part two of two. You can read part one here.

Below you’ll find some thoughts and feels and a bit of a review for episodes 7-13. If you haven’t gotten into season two yet, here is what I loved about season one of Daredevil.

The following is slightly more considered — I’ve had a few cups of coffee and decent sleep since I wrote the reviews for episodes 1-6. But I still reserve the right to get a little loopy. Because I can. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Spoilers to follow for Daredevil season two.

 

“Semper Fidelis”

Now. Where were we? Ah! The trial of Frank Castle is about to begin. Matt is supposed to prepare an opening statement, but goes galavanting off with Elektra to threaten a professor instead. Matt oversleeps and Foggy has to improv an opening statement. Foggy’s reasonably pissed about Matt missing the trial. Matt tries to make it up to him by taking point with questioning the medical examiner — whose testimony is tainted by Elektra threatening him. Matt finally tells Foggy about Elektra with predictable results. Then Elektra and Matt find a really, really big pit.

Let’s see… Karen shines in this one. She nails her speech to Foggy about ‘being Frank Castle’, but arguing with Matt about the Punisher’s choice to murder people without realizing she’s having the argument with Daredevil is fantastic. This was a great continuation of the conversation begun with Daredevil and Punisher on the roof. By falling on the Punisher’s side of things, even a little, Karen is poking hard at Murdock’s philosophy. He can write off the Punisher’s position because Frank Castle is a crazy person. Same for Elektra. But he cares about Karen, he likes or loves her and wants her to agree with him.

It’s good to see Foggy bringing the lawyer skills. It’s also good to see him calling out Matt on his bullshit. There are too many shows where Matt would be quickly forgiven, since he is the hero. On the other hand, it’s painful to watch. Murdock/Daredevil is breaking down his relationships and unless the show pulls a hard left, they’ll be difficult to repair by the end of the season — if they get repaired at all.

Fight sequences… Elektra and Daredevil against various ninjas and yakuza enforcers. Again, solid fights, but nothing particular that stands out in the choreography. So I’ll take this moment to talk about Elektra’s fighting style. I like it a lot. Her spinning and kicks have momentum and impact. She doesn’t have the raw strength, height or poundage of Daredevil and Punisher, but she makes up for it with a bit of mania.

 

“Guilty as Sin”

Recap: After leaving Matt and Elektra on the edge of a precipice, we return and bring them ninjas. Elektra is injured and Stick appears in time to help her. We get testimony about Frank Castle’s military career and mental state. Matt misses more of the trial. Stick tells us about the Hand. Sort of. Karen meets Elektra and Stick! Sort of. Then the Punisher tanks his own trial, Karen and Foggy ditch Matt, and Elektra breaks up with Stick. It’s Matt’s turn to be injured, so he gets stuck with a poisoned arrow. Last, and most importantly, Frank Castle meets Wilson Fisk in prison.

Okay. So. I was never a fan of Stick, but giving Elektra a connection to him adds depth to both characters. I’ll take it. I also like that their relationship is clearly different from Matt and Stick’s. The crazier the disciple, the less shitty Stick is? Anyway. Stick letting Karen in so that she sees him and the wounded Elektra in Matt’s bed is a fantastic gut punch to the emotional strings around Matt.

Now. The Hand. That was all pretty vague. With the addition of Fisk to this season’s cast, maybe we’ll see him pulling the strings from prison. But if the finale’s villain is going to be the Hand, we’re going to need more in the way of a worldbuilding and/or exposition.

And Elektra. Oh, Elektra. Last two episodes made her a lot of fun, and I like her decision to try to stay with Matt and be ‘good’ — except she turns around and slits a kid’s throat about two minutes later. So. Why?

If there’s a solid explanation for that, great. I love the crazy face she’s got as she asks Matt if he still wants her.

Now. Back to Frank Castle v. the People of New York. The testimony from both Castle’s CO and the medical professional are great — but Foggy decides he wants Matt to question Frank when he takes the stand. Now, my knowledge of courtroom etiquette and rules is pretty basic AND it’s not really something where I’m hunting for accuracy. But. But. Treating a witness as hostile doesn’t mean you monologue to the jury. This was such a dive off the deep end of ‘wtf’ that as much as the monologue was well-delivered it made me flinch all the way through. Frank Castle losing it was appropriately scary. 

Good job Karen and Foggy. You should be pissed at Matt. He is being an ass.

There were brief ninja fights, but I don’t have much to say about those.

Finally: WILSON FISK IS BACK SQUEEEEEE!!!

 

“Seven Minutes in Heaven”

Let me start by saying, again: WILSON FISK IS BACK SQUEEEEEE!!!

This episode starts with a flashback to Fisk arriving in prison and gives us an update on his life. He is the one who talked Castle into losing it at the trial and points Castle towards his in-prison rival, who was involved with the deaths of Frank’s family. That proves even more effective than he intended and the episode ends with Fisk getting Castle back out of prison. On the outside, Elektra and Matt ‘break-up’ because of all the murder. Foggy and Matt ‘break-up’ because Matt has been a terrible lawyer and friend. Karen teams up more officially with Ben Urich’s old editor, Ellison. Matt captures the Yakuza/Hand’s accountant and then helps the accountant break out his son from a creepy blood draining cage. And surprise! Nobu’s not dead!

Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk is fantastic, and having him back helps a good show be great. He’s fantastic and I delighted in the little details of his arrival to prison and the business he finds important while on the inside. Putting him with the Punisher this episode has a very “immovable object vs. unstoppable force” vibe. Everything from their first conversation in the gym to their last confrontation is tense, specific and dangerous.

When I started the season, I hoped that Karen’s arc would have to do with her past — who was it that she shot before gunning down James Wesley? But I’m loving her investigative reporter arc. Ellison is another example of fidelity to a minor character from the first season paying off. I do appreciate that Matt and Foggy both suggested law school as an option for Karen, and also that Karen is inclined to do something else.

The Hand. The Hand is creepy, but the vagueness of the threat, their goals and the level to which the mysticism is real/powerful means that it’s difficult to care all that much. Creepy young adults in cages are sad and horrifying. Nobu being back was expected — and of the six villains from season one he’s the one with the least personality.

The scene with Elektra and Matt parting ways is well done, but I do feel like Elektra’s attempt to be ‘good’ was truncated. And is no one going to mention to Matt that his ‘not killing people’ philosophy nearly got her killed? I’d be happy to see that little grey area more explored.

The breakup between Matt and Foggy is less dramatic than the one last season, but entirely crushing — since it has the feel of a friendship becoming unrepairable.

The fight sequences: Matt takes out his regular handful of Hand agents. The highlights are Punisher’s two fights — the one in the prison hallway and the one between him and Fisk. Most of the fights are gratuitous exercises in choreography and surprise. They are well crafted exercises in those things, but I recognize that simulated violence for entertainment is a more complicated topic than ‘oh man! Look at all that blood!’. This isn’t an essay on violence, but I wanted to point out the difference I’m most interested in when it comes to these two fights. The first is pure brutal violence — an exercise in choreography and surprise. The second fight, between Fisk and Punisher is still both of those things — but it’s also two (unhealthy) men coming to understand each other. There’s character in how and when the fights starts and stops. It’s not about killing the other or putting the other down. It’s working something out and has a twisted honesty to it.

As much as the hallway fight is more impressive when it comes to creativity, timing and choreography, the brief one between Punisher and Wilson Fisk serves character along with being violence for entertainment’s sake. Doesn’t absolve it from the discussion of violence in media, but I find the juxtaposition interesting.

Also. Can I just say that the artist behind the Punisher’s bruising makeup is brilliant? Awards, please, for that person.

 

“The Man in the Box”

Okay. Things are getting intense and here’s how episode 10 goes: Matt takes the people he rescued from the Hand to Claire’s hospital. Sneakily, of course. DA Reyes summons Nelson, Murdock and Karen to assist in the recapture of Frank Castle. Unfortunately, Reyes is gunned down in front of them. Foggy is shot as well. Later, Karen finds that the medical examiner from the Punisher’s trial is also dead. Matt visits Fisk in prison, continuing his trend of questionable choices. Elektra is accosted by an assassin, sent by Stick to kill her. Never one to casually oblige, Elektra fatally stabs the assassin. Frank Castle finds Karen and says he did not, in fact, kill the DA. She believes him when someone starts shooting at them. Claire tries to talk Daredevil out of being so reckless to no noticeable effect. Fisk eats steak. Ninja climb the hospital and the rescued patients perform a ‘creepy children in a horror film’ schtick.

We’ve built up a lot of bad will for DA Reyes. She’s been a pain for the heroes since she showed up and she has exactly one scene to turn all of that around. And she does it. Yes, her choices are terrible. Yes, her cover up was worse. But she’s so well written and played in this scene that when the shots inevitably come, you feel for her. Now the question is who fired those shots? We’ve established that the Punisher doesn’t do collateral damage, and with Foggy wounded, we can rule him out even without waiting for his scene with Karen. And firearms aren’t really the Hand’s style.

I find it difficult to care about the Hand’s accountant, since he wasn’t given a personality (especially compared to Leland from last season). All the kids are creepy, and I am now worried for Claire — who I do care about.

Matt Murdock has successfully alienated most of his friends and now he’s working on getting rid of Claire. It’s hard to watch and I’m not sure where they’re going with him emotionally this season, aside from ‘down’. He’s decided not to be connected to people — which ought to have been something he learned was a bad plan last season. His decision to go see Fisk and then threaten Fisk was… well. It got his head smashed into a table. Not his shiniest moment. From Fisk’s side of things. Well. Fisk is still an awesome character and we all know he reacts poorly to someone threatening Vanessa.

Claire continues awesome.

Why on earth would Stick send only one assassin after Elektra and why on earth would he get that close to her? And why would he tell her who sent him? A sniper was called for there. Seriously.

But. It was fun fight work. I know, I know. I just answered my own question. There hasn’t been a whole lot (or any) fight sequences for just Elektra and this one is pretty great — not least because you can see all of it. And now Elektra has her sais.

There are ninja climbing up the hospital, so I’m sure that’s going to be a battle. But that’s getting into the next episode:

 

“.380”

The ninja bust up the hospital and rescue their five zombie kids. Claire quits her job when she’s faced with the hospital’s corruption. Matt continues to alienate people, including Madame Gao. Karen unwittingly plays bait for Frank, so that he can kill and question the Blacksmith’s guys. That info leads Frank to the docks where he runs into Daredevil and then blows up a ship. Stick prepares to face a pissed off Elektra.

This episode we got the most we’ve seen of Claire Temple in her own story and even if we don’t get much, the show doesn’t waste her screen time. She’s as effective as we can expect in her fight with the ninja. She pulls off integrity without falling into self-righteousness or condescension. That’s all pretty impressive. By the end of the episode, she’s headed off to Luke Cage’s world and I look forward to seeing her there. The Netflix/Marvel people choose a great crossover character and the perfect actress to portray her.

Madame Gao was probably the least consistent return of a minor character. In the first season, respect was something she values. Daredevil walking in and being rude shouldn’t have gotten him the answers he was looking for. The small battles in the dry-cleaners were neat and surprisingly creepy.

Looks like my favorite parts of this season are shaping up to be Frank Castle centric. The conversation between him and Karen in the diner is great writing and acting. The following fight is excellent brutal choreography. His surprise at Daredevil’s naive suggestion that just this once it’ll be okay to kill someone followed by the explosion on the boat are all wonderful.

Let’s talk about Daredevil giving in to the whole murder thing. The central theme to the season is the lines between villain and hero and what is ‘going to far’ or ‘not far enough’. The conversation started between Daredevil and Punisher in episode 3. We get a great continuation of it between Matt and Karen in episode 7 and reestablish the line for Matt when Elektra slits the ninja’s throat in episode 8. Now maybe, we’re supposed to think that the Blacksmith coming after Karen pushed him over the line. But that’s very subtext. So why does he make this call? I’m not sure and that might be a problem. Curious to see where the last two episodes take it.

I don’t object to the direction, just maybe to the arc of Matt’s philosophy. Feels like we missed a step.

Easily my favorite ninja fight this season was the one in the hospital. When Claire goes out the window, there’s not much lead up to it. No flourishes. And Daredevil is out the window right behind her. When they crash back into the hospital neither is bouncing up. This ranks as one of my favorite bits of fight business this season.

We also get the diner fight with Punisher. Having Karen in the back, hearing the violence is a great lens for the sequence. Too often we only see the violence through the characters that are committing it or desensitized to it. Karen’s reactions are our reactions, when we the audience are honest with ourselves.

 

“The Dark at the End of the Tunnel”

Okay. Penultimate episode. Here we go:

Part of this episode is devoted to Elektra’s back story and her relationship with Stick. We find out that she is the/a Black Sky. In the present day, Elektra tries to kill Stick, but he gets kidnapped by ninja. Daredevil goes to rescue him and Elektra goes to kill him. Karen thinks that Frank is dead. She continues pursuing her story about the Punisher and accidentally finds out that his former CO is the Blacksmith — the heroin dealer they’ve been looking for and who set up the meeting in Central Park which got Frank’s family killed. Frank rescues her and shots him. Daredevil convinces Elektra to keep Stick alive and they all escape the Hand.

So we get a resolution to the Punisher’s story. Sort of. Making Clancy Brown into the big shadowy bad we’ve been pursuing came a little too fast. It felt more convenient to the end of the season than like something we built up to. That said, when Karen gets in the car and Ben’s music starts playing, it’s a great moment. We also got a few hints that a) killing Frank’s family was deliberate so b) it’s not the conflict we thought it was and c) it started a much longer time ago. It’s a lot of new information to throw down with only one episode to go, so it’s set up for a season three, which doesn’t help Punishers story from feeling rushed.

Personally, I was hoping that Frank’s story would tie into the crazy super soldiers from Jessica Jones and I guess that may be where this goes. But if it is going there, we didn’t get enough substance for the connection. Which is a shame, since he’s been a really strong part of the season.

Daredevil is back to the ‘we don’t kill people’ side of things. Sort of. He’s stopped caring if Elektra kills their opponents — which, to be fair, his original stance got Elektra near gutted in episode 7. So is this his new line? He doesn’t kill people but doesn’t mind when his allies do? 

The story of young Elektra was good, but it didn’t feel like it resonated with modern day Stick. He flipped to killing her pretty fast. He also flipped to killing her when she told him she’d decided to stay with Matt and not kill people. Priorities, Stick, priorities…

Elektra as the Black Sky is interesting. Now we just need to know what a Black Sky is.

More ninja battles. Some fun choreography in the first fight with Stick, Elektra and Daredevil. Second one, we kill Nobu and watch him stand right back up. Not as effective as it should have been. Nobu’s fight with Daredevil in the first season is one of the most intense, skin-crawling bits of violence in the show. Nothing he’s done this season has come close to that. And his lines are pretty painfully cliche.

But. We’re nearly there. Last episode, here we go.

 

“A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen”

The finale! Yay! Except this means there’s no more new Daredevil… boo…

Alas. All good things and whatnot.

In our finale: The Hand rounds up a bunch of the people — including Karen — Daredevil saved in order to lure him into a trap. Daredevil and Elektra walk into that trap after Daredevil spends some time talking Elektra down from the Black Sky revelation. They rescue the hostages, have a last fight with Nobu and Elektra is killed. Foggy has a conversation with Jeri Hogarth about his future, Karen writes her article, Frank burns his house down, Matt tells Karen he’s Daredevil and the Hand get their Black Sky after all.

H’okay. Where to start…

Given that we haven’t spent much time building up a single villain to defeat in the finale, putting the people Daredevil rescued in danger is a really good choice. It would have been ridiculously more effective if we recognized more than three of those hostages though. Imagine if each episode spent two minutes on a rescue and all those faces in the bus were familiar. Where was the kid from last season’s hallway fight or the girl from the church in episode 1 of this season? Not saying this wasn’t done well, it just seemed like there were a few obvious ways to up the ante if this is what the season was pointing towards.

Anyway. Daredevil has definitely gotten to a ‘I don’t kill people, but my friends can’ line — and we didn’t see him get there. Which is a shame, given that it was core to the season’s philosophical debate. He also doesn’t hesitate throwing Nobu off a roof. Maybe the whole resurrecting thing makes Nobu an exception to the Matt Murdock rule?

Poor Karen. She gets kidnapped twice in the last two episodes. I appreciate that neither time gives her much in the way of damseling, but still. Poor Karen.

Huzzah for the Carrie Ann Moss cameo! I still appreciate all the little things Daredevil did to reference Jessica Jones and I am glad Foggy is finding a home over with HCB. I think he would be an awesome addition to Jessica Jones season two.

I have a new personal rule for superhero shows/movies: NO VOICE OVER UNLESS YOU ARE RORSCHACH! Please! I love Karen as a reporter and Ellison as her friend, editor and mentor, but I hate the voice over as she starts writing her article. Part of this is damage from hearing a “I’m Barry Allen…” over and over and over again, but part of it is just that it’s really hard to do well. Relying on just a voice when these pieces trend towards directly addressing themes and ‘deep’ thoughts just gets ugly fast.

Final fight sequence is well done, but lacks impact. The conversation between Matt and Elektra just before they hit the roof might as well have been:

Elektra: So, I’m about to die. Can we be sweet and heartfelt so that it’s worse when I do?

Matt: Absolutely. Run away with me?

Elektra: Sounds fab!

It’s also diminished because Elektra comes back — something you might know from the comics, guess from the whole “the Hand can resurrect people” thing or her empty grave at the very end. Which means we had no impactful character deaths this season. I do appreciate that the show didn’t pretend that her death was permanent.

The casualty of this season was Nelson and Murdock. And its long slow death came well before the finale. While a character death is not necessary to a successful finale, the deaths of James Wesley and Ben Urich were so well done last year that I was surprised everyone survived. Especially Stick.

Small moments I enjoyed in the finale: Elektra’s last lines, Stick chopping off Nobu’s head, the horror of a blank screen for someone writing, the red-wigged Hand agent, and Hogarth!

I also realize I haven’t talked much about Detective Brett. Brett is great. I love that he gets a promotion and I hope he appears in all the shows set in Hell’s Kitchen. A fantastic example of attention to a minor character. Also, a brief shout out to Melvin Potter as being very cool as well.

At the end of the day, I think there’s a lot of things to look forward to in future seasons, without leaving too many plots as loose ends.

Okay. That’s it. Second season of Daredevil is a wrap and it’s very good. I realize that my reviews of the last two or three episodes are less enthusiastic than those before it, and it’s because I felt like they were the weakest in the show. But ‘weakest’ is a comparative statement. Daredevil is my favorite superhero show and I think it’s at least as good as anything in the MCU and probably better than most of it.

Worst part of all of this is knowing it’s going to be a year til we get another season (I’m guessing we will get another season). Of course, we’ll have Luke Cage in the meantime. Happy binging everyone!