Daredevil Season 2 Review: A Crowded Hell’s Kitchen

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In the tradition of recent superhero films such as Batman v. Superman and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Season 2 of Daredevil broadens its scale by adding more characters, cameos, action, and subplots to its already crowded universe. The chaotic collision of these new elements can be exhausting at times, culminating in what can best be described as a minor sophomore slump.

Helmed by two new showrunners, Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, Daredevil Season 2 picks up shortly after the downfall of Wilson Fisk—also known as Kingpin—who is now imprisoned for the crimes he committed in Season 1. With Fisk subdued, various threats in Hell’s Kitchen have promptly emerged to take his place. This upsurge in crime forces Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer with superhuman senses, to suit up once again as Daredevil and defend his city.

Charlie Cox reassumes the role of Matt, who is still struggling to balance a law career and personal life with a crime-fighting alter ego. Understandably, this dilemma ultimately jeopardizes the relationship Matt has with his close friends Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). If you felt that Season 1 sidelined Foggy and Karen, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that they are both given more to do in Daredevil’s second season. They quickly grow tired of Matt’s dishonesty and, unlike in Season 1, they refuse to be dragged along as baggage.

Personal drama aside, Season 2 shows us Hell’s Kitchen in a state of turmoil. In addition to several resurfacing gangs, Season 2 introduces the Punisher—a mysterious gun-wielding vigilante who, unlike Daredevil, doesn’t object to killing criminals. We quickly learn that the Punisher is none other than Frank Castle, who seeks retribution after his family was tragically killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout. Played by Jon Bernthal, the Punisher is a brutal anti-hero, and his character is largely responsible for Season 2’s astronomically high body count. His presence in Season 2 makes for some of the most violent television I’ve seen to date, so be prepared. And while Bernthal’s performance as the Punisher is excellent, I imagine that people will either love or hate his character. Frank Castle is a hyper-masculine killer with a one-track mind, which might be frustrating for some viewers. I kept hoping that Frank would listen to reason and change his demeanor, but he’s a man who ultimately refuses be persuaded.

Alongside the Punisher, Season 2 also features Elektra Natchios—a highly trained assassin who, as it turns out, has a history with Matt Murdock. Played by Elodie Yung, Elektra is a genuine badass with a sardonic edge. She invigorates Season 2 with energy and charisma, a welcome divergence from the Punisher’s dark and brooding vibe.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with Season 2 is its inability to tie the Elektra and Punisher threads—as great as they are individually—together into one cohesive story. The first half of the  season focuses primarily on the Punisher arc, while the second half suddenly shifts gears to develop Elektra. Aside from the fact that both characters challenge Matt’s moral compass, there’s hardly a moment where the actions of Elektra and the Punisher feel related in any way. As a result, Season 2 may leave you feeling as though you just watched two separate seasons rather than one.

Given the prominence of these two anti-heroes in Season 2, Daredevil also struggles to give the title character his due screen time. In fact, there are entire episodes where the Punisher and Elektra seem to take center stage entirely. Both of them are given so much depth and development over the course of 13 episodes that Matt Murdock almost becomes a secondary character in his own show. Unfortunately, the emphasis on Season 2’s exciting new anti-heroes demonstrates just how bland Daredevil can be in comparison. Matt’s double life dilemma and “no-kill rule” are tiring elements that epitomize the superhero cliché. His modus operandi is all too familiar, rendering just about everyone around him into far more interesting characters.

Speaking of interesting characters, Season 2 had me more sorely missing the commanding presence of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk from Season 1. Replacing Fisk as the “big bad” in Season 2 is an organization called The Hand, an ancient clan of ninjas. Aside from their pursuit of a weapon known as “Black Sky”, The Hand’s motivations, unlike Fisk’s in Season 1, are mostly unclear. While I’m sure Daredevil will reveal more answers in future seasons, the current ambiguity of The Hand makes it difficult to see them as a menacing threat and therefore makes them less engaging.

Shortcomings aside, Season 2 is still sure to entertain. The action, which is incredible by the way, provides genuine eye-candy on an episode-to-episode basis. Each fight is so expertly edited and choreographed that you might forget you are watching a television show and not a big-budget blockbuster. I should also, without spoiling anything, mention that there are some very satisfying surprises and callbacks to Season 1 scattered throughout. It’s just a shame that the story simultaneously falters. Season 1 succeeded by telling a tight, small-scale narrative, but Season 2 abandons this format to create something more expansive. Introducing both Elektra and the Punisher in one season is an ambitious gamble, but the result is an uneven story with an underwhelming payoff.

For better or worse, Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen is becoming an increasingly crowded space; I just hope that the narrative has an easier time keeping up with the congested chaos in future seasons.

Featured image courtesy of screencush.com.

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