A Hallway Fight with Something to Say, or, Daredevil Season 3

daredevil season 3

This. Devil’s on FIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!

I’m pretty far behind on the Netflix Marvel Microverse. I’m about two episodes into the season two of Jessica Jones, I haven’t started the second season of Luke Cage despite my best intentions to do so and I’m just never going to watch the second season of Iron Fist. But gosh darn it I love me some Horn Head, so when Daredevil Season 3 debuted on Netflix last Friday I dove in, continuity be damned.

Two episodes in I was bemoaning the creative decision to make these shows ensemble affairs, rolling my eyes through subplots and characters I never would have given the time of day to had I encountered them on wild television with no Daredevil in sight. It’s a shortcoming, akin to stretching what could be done in ten episodes out to thirteen, that is present in this season of Daredevil just as it is in every preceding Netflix MCU entry.

You will get to know the friends and family of Daredevil’s friends and family. You will have character backstory laid out beat by beat over the course of meticulous flashbacks that all fail in efficiency and effectiveness in comparison to the character background provided by Jon Bernthal’s stunning monologue in last season’s “Penny and Dime.” You will sit in on so, so, so many meetings in so many offices in New York City.

But in the end, Daredevil Season 3 flourishes in spite of these familiar faults.

There were moments in the season’s second episode in which I found myself thinking “I hate this.”

By the end of Episode 3 I’d stumbled upon a cautious optimism that, by the end of Episode 4, bloomed into elation and appetite that sustained me through a frenzied viewing of the rest of the season.

Where Daredevil has, in its previous two seasons, proven less concerned with the world outside our windows than the likes of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, or even the Punisher, here it dives full-bore into the bewildering state of American politics in 2018.

In its waning episodes, when the show most directly states its ideas and concerns, they feel earned, organic, even profound. The ideas and discourse throughout the season are by no means hidden, but I for one never felt myself being lectured to or beat over the head with an ideology, and so when Matt Murdock finally declared “some people are so rich and powerful the system cannot handle them” it felt frighteningly true, like an inescapable, outraged epiphany.

Here, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk is almost revealed anew, an already established villain and a lauded performance recontextualized by real world events far beyond Kingpin’s control. Daredevil Season 3 gives us a chess match between leviathan economic, social and legal constructs, calling the worth of all of them into question, casting the Man Without Fear, and thus the audience, adrift in the uncertain waters between them.

What if this is the end of the system? The end of the old rules? Of how things are supposed to work? Of establishment? What if the human contrivances built to impose justice and morality have abandoned us?

Fisk demands Matt Murdock and company grapple with these questions and in doing so enflames very contemporary insecurities. More impressive than just how ably the show hammers at these insecurities, however, is that despite these nagging uncertainties still dangling like loose story threads in the real world, Daredevil Season 3 actually manages to arrive at something of a satisfying, thoughtful ideological conclusion.

The profundity of that conclusion, and the insecurities that lead to it, are sold in no small part by Charlie Cox turning in a spectacular, career-best performance as Matt Murdock. The places he goes and the authenticity he brings with him throughout these thirteen episodes is astonishing. Also of note is Jay Ali’s FBI Agent Rahul Nadeem, who feels as though he walked through a door in our world directly onto this operatic, philosophical battlefield. Ali is an actor I’ll definitely be on the lookout for in films and television to come.

Though this season of Daredevil is still hindered by the aforementioned, tradition Netflix MCU shortcomings, the usual slump that occurs a little over halfway through these shows is nowhere to be found here. Once the season kicks into gear around Episode 3 the stakes and intensity rarely, if ever, stagger, building to a momentous final confrontation.

Season 3 of Daredevil pushes itself to be more than gritty and adult, coming to the table thoughtfully and confidently with something to say about the world, and these thirteen episodes greatly benefit from that push as the comprise the best season of Daredevil yet.

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Daredevil Season 2, or, Turns Out I’ve Been Playing “Seven Minutes in Heaven” Wrong

daredevil season two

Marvel’s Daredevil

A quick note before the piece proper: while I don’t go into specific plot points here there’s perhaps “thematic spoilers” regarding Season 2 of Daredevil, which is to say I do go into how I feel some of themes of the season resolve. So, I don’t know. That happens.

In a summer blockbuster season poised to be a war of battles between superhero ideologies last weekend’s opening salvo may ultimately prove to be an early and decisive victory.

This week Batman and Superman will duke it out over “what it means to be a man” and in May, Captain America and Iron Man will clobber each other over government oversight, but Dawn of Justice and Civil War both have their work cut out for them, because the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil has the Man Without Fear and The Punisher waging an ideological fist fight between life and death. It’s a conflict that not only proves exciting for a Daredevil story, but ultimately necessary for the health of the superhero narrative at large.

There is no perfect superhero. Whether their code is one of great responsibility or sheer willpower or truth and justice there is no superhero that can take on every shade of evil world has to offer. For instance, heroic as he is there’s a cruelty to Hell’s Kitchen that Daredevil’s acrobatic beatings just can’t account for. There are crimes that a black eye can’t avenge. Rather than cover up this glaring hole in Daredevil’s modus operandi and let it slowly eat away at the credibility of the character and his world Daredevil Season 2 shines a skull-shaped spotlight on it in the form of The Punisher.

The Punisher is the kind of guy who’d call Batman out on his bullshit and blow the Joker’s brains out with a sawed off. He ends crime by ending criminals. Season 2 of Daredevil is largely built on top of the fundamental conflict between The Punisher’s more absolute methodology and Daredevil’s “Beat The Shit Out Of ‘Em And Let God And/Or The Criminal Justice System Sort ‘Em Out While They Recover In A Hospital Bed” strategy.

As a society we want to believe in Daredevil’s methods because in a sense civilization depends on Daredevil’s methods. Civilization depends on a belief there’s a good reason Batman doesn’t kill the Joker. We want to believe that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, but it’s an argument that never completely closes the loop around that last gnawing inch, that feral, animal cruelty of the world that defies logic and philosophy. There’s a certain inhuman brutality the world can display that Batman and Daredevil just can’t salve. A brutality that can seemingly only be punished with an equal and opposite severity.

Enter The Punisher.

Jon Bernthal turns in what may be his best performance, no small feat for an actor of his caliber, as The Punisher. His Frank Castle is the fourth live action iteration of the character but the first to really take on The Punisher’s larger mythological connotations – the personification of the Old Testament justice that stirs in our gut in the face of particularly pungent sadism. The Punisher’s world is one of absolutes. It’s a streamlined world free of checks and balances but it’s also free of accountability. It’s free of aspiration and hope and ascendance because it depends on reacting to the world we have rather than striving for the one we want.

Daredevil’s methods may leave victims wanting, and it may let the worst society has to offer off easy, but they also account for higher ideals like hope and redemption. Daredevil’s ideology hinges on a faith in the world that The Punisher’s doesn’t allow for.

Matt Murdock and Frank Castle’s philosophical fisticuffs boast no shortage of thrills and excitement but they also prove incredibly thoughtful. The master stroke of the show’s second season is that Daredevil is never proven right and the Punisher is never proven wrong. The end result is a nuanced and open-ended meditation on the imperfections of justice that proves to be one of the best stories Marvel has ever put on film.

Daredevil Season 1, or, Marvel’s New DC Movie

One of the myriad tricks to Marvel’s cinematic success over the better part of the last decade has been the careful curation of a sort of in-house tone, an ever-present throughline that helps a millionaire being kidnapped in a Middle Eastern warzone and a talking raccoon in space feel somehow connected. There’s a spectacle to it that, as big as it gets, never outgrows being poked and prodded by sassy quips. It’s a big tone, and a funny tone, and at this point Marvel has it down to a science, ably applying it to the skeletons of various film subgenres to great effect. But in the recently unveiled first season of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix the subgenre skeleton to which Marvel has applied their magic may have been too potent for even the most sardonic Whedonism to overcome.

Iron Man 3 was something of a buddy cop movie. Thor: The Dark World wove threads of heavy fantasy. Many touted The Winter Soldier as a political thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy was a straight up space opera. Yet all of them felt distinctly similar. Distinctly Marvel.

With Daredevil, Marvel has taken their fun, quirky blockbuster personality and applied it to the grit and despair of a Batman Begins or a Man of Steel, and with all the talk of “this city,” and “my city,” and “your city” Daredevil regularly feels like a spiritual sibling to Arrow. Daredevil feels like Marvel’s take on a DC Comics movie.

A XENOMORPH

A XENOMORPH

The grit in question isn’t exactly out of left field given the subject matter. Despite Daredevil’s current comic book adventures by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee focusing on overcoming despair, Daredevil was brought to prominence decades ago by Frank Miller, whose time with the hero focused on wading in it.

The Daredevil TV series smartly avoids the more preposterous depths to which Miller took Matt Murdock, at least for now. The writer’s maverick street savior ideology is still very present, but at its most extreme it’s funneled into the character of Stick, rather than dispersed throughout the show as a whole.

The darker, grittier works of writers like Miller are largely responsible for the clout that began to surround the words “graphic novel” in every other movie trailer in the late 00’s. They boast a psychology that Christopher Nolan masterfully adapted in his Dark Knight Trilogy, but it’s the same psychology that many Man of Steel detractors cite as having ruined Zack Snyder’s take on Superman, and with each successive darker, grittier take on a proven character or franchise that cornerstone characteristics of DC’s film output seems to be trying audiences’ patience and growing more and more outdated.

So how successful is the blend of Marvel’s box office conquering fun and DC’s arguably outdated grit?

Pretty damn successful.

Daredevil is a kick ass show. Charlie Cox instantly proves himself both a charming Matt Murdock and a badass Daredevil who commands an audience’s attention whether he’s brutalizing junkies or getting a latte with a priest. Cox’s supporting cast isn’t hurting for acting chops either. Vincent D’Onofrio in particular turns in a fascinating performance as The Kingpin, his Wilson Fisk feeling almost like Charlie Brown. Almost. The fight scenes on display here are next level and the cinematography and score are consistently inspired. But by the end of the 13 episode first season it’s hard to deny that the DC influence seems to have overtaken that patented Marvel tone.

I love this show. Its release last Friday wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule throughout the entire week. I’m a caffeinated beverage away from tying a black T-shirt over my eyes, suspending a trash bag from my ceiling and punching the night away. But Daredevil isn’t exactly fun. It’s exciting and suspenseful and badass but towards the end of the season in particular the show feels less like Marvel’s take on a gritty crime drama than just a straight up gritty crime drama. There’s nothing wrong with that, but where I found myself excited by the prospect of Tony Stark meeting Rocket Raccoon while I watched Guardians of the Galaxy, watching Daredevil I thought of Matt Murdock crossing paths with Captain America and the pairing felt undeniably strange and disjointed.

Is Groot really flying around somewhere above those antlers?

Is Groot really flying around somewhere above those antlers?

I can’t wait to get more of Daredevil flip-kicking punks all over Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s worth noting that I’m more inclined to believe that Daredevil and his city are bouncing back after being devastated by two brooding Kryptonians than I am to believe it’s the same city the Avengers defended from Loki.