Usually, when a TV show is on its third set of showrunners before its second season has begun, it's the sign of major creative trouble. With Netflix's Daredevil – which almost everyone (myself included) really liked last year – it's been a sign that the previous showrunners were too in-demand to stick around for very long. Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods, The Martian) started out as the man in charge, but left early in the first season to work on the (since-canceled) Spider-Man spin-off movie The Sinister Six. Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight came in to steer the ship for the rest of season 1, but didn't want to stick around long term, given other opportunities (one of which turned out to be directing Pacific Rim 2).
So now Daredevil has turned to a pair of writers who worked on the first season – Doug Petrie (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Horror Story) and Marco Ramirez (Sons of Anarchy, Orange Is the New Black) – to run the second, which debuts on Friday. In addition to bringing back Charlie Cox as the eponymous hero, plus Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll as his friends and law office colleagues, the new season features a pair of Marvel characters who have appeared on screen in different forms before: Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead as homicidal vigilante The Punisher, and Elodie Yung as Daredevil's ninja ex-lover Elektra.
I'll have a review of the new season later in the week, but in the meantime, here's a brief conversation with Petrie and Ramirez about the transition from one Daredevil creative team to the next, to the next, why the new season is structured differently from the last, and more.
Were you both on season 1 the whole time?
Doug Petrie: We were both on season 1. You kind of went in and out a little bit, but you were there.
Marco Ramirez: Yeah, because it was initially the Drew Goddard thing, and then once the Sony Spider-Man thing happened, then Steve DeKnight came in, I want to say… what was that, like two, three months in?
Doug Petrie: Early. It was like April of 2014.
Marco Ramirez: Yeah. And then Doug and Steven came in, but we were both on season 1.
Because one of the things I wondered, if you go back and you watch the first couple of episodes, it seemed like Drew was setting up, for instance, more of a Foggy and Karen flirtation, and that seemed to go away around the time I assume that Steven came in. I don”t know if the switch was as cause and effect as that.
Marco Ramirez: I don”t know if it was ever that direct. What happens a lot, especially on a new show, is the first two, three episodes happen, and you start to read scripts, and even before we shoot anything, you start feeling like, “Oh, this would be exciting” or, “This would be interesting.” Or the first two episodes are already written before the writers' room really came into it, so once you have new voices in the room and different voices adding on other ideas and stuff in there, you find you carve out other journeys and stuff to go with.
So just using that element in particular, do you remember there being discussion about Foggy and Karen as, maybe, being a couple at some point?
Marco Ramirez: Or at least that you know the relationship is important, and it”s in the comics, too. That tension – that awkward triangle – is in the comics, so that was always there.
Doug Petrie: Yeah. He”s always held a little bit of a torch for her, and even in those early episodes, he kind of joked about her being out of his league by his own standards and you know, by his own measure. That”s always been there.
Okay, so when Steven decides he”s not going to continue and the two of you got the nod, were you given any marching orders, or were you just told, “We”re giving you the keys to Daredevil, do what you want with it”?
Doug Petrie: We did know that we would be getting Elektra and The Punisher, and that was a pretty big Christmas morning moment. We”re really, really happy with that, and creatively, I think we were given a lot of room to map out Matt”s journey. That's the bedrock of the whole thing: what can we do to this guy emotionally and what paces can we put him through? But we were given pretty free reign in terms of how to plan it out.
Marco Ramirez: And we starting planning, which I think is an important thing to note, the second season before the first season ever even launched.
Doug Petrie: That”s correct. Yeah. It wasn”t out there yet.
Marco Ramirez: So reviews were slowly about to trickle in when we were on, like, week three of thinking, “What is season 2?” So I actually think the fan and press reaction, the critical reaction to embracing the violence on the show – we even in the room were kind of like, “I don”t know that this is going to be a big mainstream hit. There”s a version where this it too dark for most people.” So that always depends on, climate-wise, what does the world want right now? Sometimes, they embrace the violence, and sometimes they don”t. So we just knew we”re going full, all-in on what we wanted to do season 2, and then season 1 was embraced really well.
Structurally, season 1 is entirely Matt versus Fisk. This year, you”ve got two characters who have functioned in the comics at various times as antagonists to and allies of Matt. Is it structurally similar, like he”s going after one of them and the other weaves in and out, or is it maybe not as monofocused as the first year was?
Doug Petrie: We knew, by definition, that we couldn”t repeat the structure of season 1, because that was a really successful slow build towards a giant, On the Waterfront-style confrontation between these two titans of New York. Here, because we had two giant new characters who are going to test and push and confuse Matt Murdoch, we felt more like orchestra conductors, where it was like, “Okay, we”re going to raise this part and lower this part…” So rhythmically, we kind of raise the volume on one while lowering it on the other and then we had to weave them as we went along.
Marco Ramirez: And by the end of season 1, we ourselves and the audiences had already kind of fallen in love with Foggy and Karen, so it”s really not just Matt/Elektra/Punisher this season. We”ve also got these two characters that, if we lost them in the shuffle, the audience would be pretty upset. So it was weird, like the family was growing and we wanted everyone to coexist, and how do you narratively make that make sense?
But if there”s not one thrust, how does that change the way you structure, say, individual episodes? Because there are some Netflix shows where they”re basically treated as a 13-hour story, and there”s not necessarily a lot of differentiation from hour to hour. How did you approach that this year?
Doug Petrie: We never really thought about it consciously in that way, but in every episode, I feel like the difference between this season and last season is that we were juggling far more plates in season 2, and so we had to build episodes where we would show one character and then cut away to another storyline, and it was more interweaving of independent storylines than just this one big punch in the face.
Marco Ramirez: And I think also because of the way that Netflix launches their shows all at once and the 13-episode structure, which is kind of a relatively new structure in how we write and watch TV, we came in season 2 after having watched it from that perspective. It was my second Netflix show. It was Doug”s first time in the all-at-once thing, so as storytellers, it was really exciting to step back with a completely clean slate and say, “Thirteen episodes, how do we structure this?” So we did build it story-wise, we wheeled in chunks, purposefully, as an orchestra of it, like, “Oh, this will be the big swell here and then this other hook will take us for this next movement,” and that can sometimes be two episodes, and sometimes it can be five, but we did that a lot.
Doug Petrie: And you know, Marco is classically theater trained, I come from a theater background, and I think we definitely think in terms of a three-act structure. On a network model, where you”re doing it as, “Here”s your first 12 and then you have the back nine,” and that kind of thing, we knew that we had 13, and it was almost mathematical, where we were kind of like, “Okay we have three acts. We have 13 episodes. How are we going to parse this out?” It was pretty fun.
But if you look back at season 1, there were some very clearly delineated episodes: here”s the Stick episode, here”s the episode where he meets Claire and he spends the whole hour in her apartment. Is there as much of that delineation, or do you think that that doesn”t really matter if people are watching the show in the binge?
Marco Ramirez: I think there is definitely is, like, “the one where this happens” or “the one where the entire A story is this,” absolutely, on this season. With that said, they all do serve this larger 13-episode arc, which we mapped out early. For example, these two characters will have a journey of sorts here, and then, by the time that comes to a close, then this other thing will have developed here. But on that journey, in those individual episodes, absolutely. We both worked on one-hour shows long enough to know “the one where this happens.” We have a couple of them this season, and I mean, Doug worked on Buffy, and that”s one of the things that makes a show like Buffy so magical.
I”m trying to imagine what Buffy would even look like if it was made directly for Netflix now. Do you think it would be very different?
Doug Petrie: No. I think we would have structured it very similarly. I think it”s the same kind of similar thing where we were given the freedom to tell the story that we really want to tell, and I think we were very lucky to be able to tell the story that we wanted to tell, and I was like, how do you fit it in this 13-episode box, and it”s such a boon as a storyteller to have all 13 at once.
There”s one episode pretty early on in season 1 that”s the “Matt and Foggy are lawyers” episode, and then there”s not a lot of other sort of courtroom stuff in the rest of that season. This year, is there more of it or you”re juggling so many elements that that doesn”t happen?
Doug Petrie: Well, we knew we couldn”t repeat ourselves with Nelson and Murdock, but we”re very aware that they are lawyers and we didn”t want to drop that ball completely, so yeah, there”s definitely going to be more. But we”re building upon what happened last year, and also, because they took down Fisk at the end of season 1, they”re known. They”re not just the nobodies who have that crappy office. They”re the somebodies who have that crappy office, and they”re still working for the good people of Hell”s Kitchen, which is a tricky concept.
Finally, on Buffy, you dealt with the idea of secret identities, and who knows and who doesn't. Karen, at least as we start this season, is not in the loop. I talk a lot with producers of different superhero shows. This is the dilemma: when do you let people in? At what point does the audience maybe turn on the character who doesn”t know, even though it”s not their fault for not knowing? So how did you decide when or if Karen should be brought in the loop?
Marco Ramirez: I would first add the other problem, in addition to when should they be brought in the loop, is also does it strain credibility to a certain extent, to go seven seasons and not have Lois Lane realize, “Wait a second. Take those glasses off. Oh, shit. It”s you.” So it is really problematic. We just want it to feel as organic as possible. Anything we want to do, it”s kind of an inorganic setup of sorts, any superhero setup, so making it as gritty and organic as possible was important to us, and season 1, when Foggy finds out, it comes from Matt hitting rock bottom. Matt is completely in over his head and (Foggy) realizes, “Oh shit. You have a problem.” In the allegory that we tell there, that”s very clearly born from character, not just from circumstance. He just doesn”t happen to walk in on Matt while he”s putting on the mask and, “Oh, crap. You weren”t supposed to be here.” So really, as long as it always comes from a cable sensibility, a character-driven place, in the room, at least, that”s how we always looked at it. We couldn”t look at it like this is when we want some big comic-booky moment to happen or not happen.
Doug Petrie: It was never external. It was always character-driven.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com