Last week, I published my review of the first half of Daredevil season 2. Over the weekend, I watched the remaining six episodes, and I have some more thoughts – first general, non-spoiler ones, followed by more specific and spoiler-filled thoughts on each episode – coming up just as soon as I inherit the tapes with the car…
In some ways, the back half of the season was an improvement over the first, thanks to the arrival of two strong characters, and the rapid shift away from a few story threads (mob war, Reyes' vendetta against the law firm) that never worked in the first place. But in others, it continued many of the problems I had through the first seven hours. It was still too cluttered and flabby, while Daredevil himself remained one of the least interesting parts of a show that bore his name. Also, the later episodes focused more on Elektra than Punisher, which wasn't a great trade-off, and the increasing focus on the Hand was a reminder that an endless army of faceless, personality-less ninja warriors is a lot more fun on the comics page than it can be on the screen, especially since many of those fight scenes took place under such darkness that it was hard to appreciate the usual excellent work of the Daredevil stunt team.
So, on the whole, I'd stand by that original assessment from last week.
But now let's get into a lot of spoilers as we go episode-by-episode through season 2:
EPISODE 1: BANG
The season opens with an cleverly staged action sequence that keeps Daredevil on the periphery of the frame for most of it, illustrating how much faster and more agile he is than his average opponent, while also wisely keeping us from having to look at the lame original costume too much. (It improves slightly later in the season after Melvin Potter has another go at it, but it's never great; the all-black outfit inspired by The Man Without Fear comic worked much better.)
“Bang” is burdened with a lot of exposition about the state of the firm, and of crime in Hell's Kitchen post-Fisk. A lot of it drags, other than the occasional bursts of violence involving either Daredevil or Punisher – or, at the end, Daredevil vs. Punisher. Castle shooting Matt in the head was a good cliffhanger.
EPISODE 2: DOGS TO A GUNFIGHT
The idea of a temporary hearing loss making Matt feel blinder than ever was an interesting one, but kind of got lost in the shuffle of a very busy episode. Also, as with a lot of the business later in the season about Matt struggling to hear Hand ninja heartbeats, it seems the show would rather we forget the existence of Matt's radar sense, which only came up briefly in season 1 and wasn't featured at all this time around.
With Matt out of action for a long stretch, the hour gives us a lot more of Jon Bernthal as Punisher, and that stuff's good – and much better than a lot of sloggy material about Foggy cutting a deal with DA Reyes, Karen hating Daredevil (and Matt not telling him the truth only because it's a comic book trope) – given that he's a strong physical actor (he's excellent, for instance, at working with props, whether guns or the Greek coffee cup he's so often drinking) playing a character who, by design, shouldn't talk much. Doing two “Did Punisher just kill Daredevil?” cliffhangers in a row, especially for a show meant to be binged, was probably not the best decision.
EPISODE 3: NEW YORK'S FINEST
Most of this is an adaptation of a story from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's “Welcome Back, Frank” miniseries, but a more balanced version of that. Ennis loves taking the piss out of traditional superheroes, and the comic story is designed to make Daredevil look like a complete sap who ultimately is goaded into giving up his ethics and trying to shoot Punisher (with a gun that doesn't work). Here, it's more of an even debate, and Matt finds a use for the gun that Frank didn't plan, even if it's too late to save the life of Grotto.
But honestly, if the episode had just been 50 minutes of Foggy negotiating a deal with Reyes, followed by that extended hallway fight scene – a successful attempt to outdo the similar brawl from the third episode of season 1 – dayenu. That was incredible, with Daredevil's trip down the building's steps adding a new dimension rather than making it feel like a simple expansion of the previous one.
Also good to have Claire Temple back (in an episode that in many ways parallels the structure of her introductory episode a year ago, with Matt stuck in the same place for most of the hour), even if she then vanishes for most of the season.
EPISODE 4: PENNY AND DIME
Some incredibly graphic material here, including the drill going into Frank's foot, Frank having a razor blade under his skin, and Frank blowing the face off one of the mobsters responsible for his family's death. The most effective material, though, didn't involve on-screen violence at all, just Frank in the cemetery telling Daredevil about his family and his return from combat. Great work from Bernthal in that monologue.
Karen, meanwhile, starts snooping into Frank's backstory, because the show needs to give her something to do and she does have a history of being nosy. Karen and Matt's perfect night walking home in the rain was a mixed bag: great chemistry between Woll and Cox, but also so obviously heading for a complication, because Matt is never allowed to be happy for more than five seconds.
EPISODE 5: KINBAKU
Enter Elektra, and… meh? Elodie Yung is good in the combat scenes, but this is the one area where the last screen incarnation of these characters has a clear leg up on the current depiction. On the plus side, though, Elektra's presence allows Cox to play Matt Murdock, rather than Daredevil, even in fight scenes, which is an improvement from when he's just being growly and brooding.
Meanwhile, the show keeps making reference to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the Bulletin's archives were wiped during the alien invasion in Avengers, Marcy is now working for Jeryn Hogarth from Jessica Jones) without overdoing it, which is smart. Reward those who are watching everything, but don't alienate those who are only watching your show.
And the subplot about Reyes using the powers of her office to crush Nelson and Murdock never really works; even when a later episode better articulates what it is she's doing, the people we've seen Matt and Foggy take on as clients don't seem the type to be in any way influenced by what Reyes would say.
EPISODE 6: REGRETS ONLY
It's half a caper episode, half a legal drama. Surprisingly, the legal half feels livelier, in part because Matt, Foggy, and Karen can never find completely solid footing in their attempt to defend Punisher. Still, the Daredevil/Elektra fight scene behind the frosted glass looked pretty cool, but a piece-mover episode overall.
EPISODE 7: SEMPER FIDELIS
The hour dives even more deeply into the conflicts that come from being both a masked vigilante and a criminal defense attorney, with Daredevil's adventures continually getting in the way of Matt's attempt to keep Frank Castle off Death Row. Some good Matt/Foggy conflict in this one, but Karen's growing attachment to Frank – and the impact this has on her budding romance with Matt – does feel like too quick a reversal from her stark anti-vigilante stance earlier in the season.
Also, the discovery of the deeeeeeep pit at episode's end doesn't really amount to much in the later episodes.
EPISODE 8: GUILTY AS SIN
Enter Stick and Wilson Fisk, and suddenly everything's a lot more interesting, isn't it?
It's amazing to think that Scott Glenn can be so convincingly badass at 75, but the man keeps himself in phenomenal shape, and he's been training in martial arts for a lot of his adult life. More importantly, though, there's a mix of world-weary gravity and sarcasm that lends a very necessary dose of humanity to what's otherwise a pretty goofy and sketchily-defined storyline about the war between the Hand and the Chaste.
The courtroom stuff doesn't work nearly as well in this one – Matt asks for permission to treat his own defense witness as hostile, and then essentially gives a closing argument rather than continuing to ask Frank questions – but Fisk was a great answer to the question of who would be powerful enough to convince Castle to tank his own trial.
Also, even for someone with non-super hearing, how does Karen not hear Foggy's reference to Matt being “off in vigilante land” when she's standing a foot away from both men? I had hoped that she would piece together Matt's identity on her own, especially given how much of the season is devoted to her becoming an investigative reporter, and here she just had the story of the century practically shouted into her ear, and she doesn't notice?
EPISODE 9: SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN
Punisher + Fisk = the season's strongest overall hour. Vincent D'Onofrio is, unsurprisingly, outstanding again as Fisk adjusts to his new circumstances, and proves himself incapable of meekly hanging back and avoiding trouble while his lawyer works to ensure his release. William Forsythe's Dutton introduces the idea of “Kingpin” as a nickname that Fisk may go by in the future, and Castle's brawl with all of the other cons on Dutton's cell block is yet another winner in the special Daredevil sub-class of fights in cramped corridors.
Though there's been a lot of Punisher til now, this is the first episode where it feels as if Matt is a very special guest character on Frank's show, as he and Elektra further investigate what the Hand are up to, in the background of all the prison material. Karen going to work at the Bulletin comes a bit out of left field, and I'm annoyed at how long they're dragging out the revelation of whatever Karen's deep dark secret is, but Deborah Ann Woll did a great job of playing Karen's humiliated reaction at realizing that Ben Urich learned her secret before he died.
EPISODE 10: THE MAN IN THE BOX
An outstanding Matt/Fisk scene – and one that suggests season 3 could involve Fisk learning about Matt's other identity (“Born Again,” perhaps?) – is the hour's highlight, though I did also smile broadly at the cliffhanger, with Matt limbering up for a big fight as we see dozens of ninjas scaling the hospital's walls.
EPISODE 11: .380
The payoff isn't quite as impressive as the cliffhanger (again, the ninjas are more exciting in conception than execution), though Matt leaping out a window to rescue Claire was pretty nifty. The business with the stereotypically craven hospital administrator driving Claire to quit (and thus be available for whatever Luke Cage needs her to do) was pretty lame.
The Punisher stuff was strong, though, both Karen realizing he had used her as bait (followed by another very graphic fight scene where he kills one of the Blacksmith's men with a coffee pot), and Matt finally getting the better of him physically (as he pretty much always should, when guns and surprise aren't factors) before trying to compromise by offering to let Frank kill just the one guy. As Frank notes, it doesn't work that way – and later episodes needed to do a better job of dealing with Matt being okay with Elektra and/or Frank killing various Hand ninjas to help him – but that was a good scene overall, even if the ship explosion and the death of the apparent Blacksmith was muddled because they were saving his true identity for the next episode. And speaking of which…
EPISODE 12: THE DARK END OF THE TUNNEL
Hands up, everyone who saw Clancy Brown testifying at the season's mid-point and assumed he would turn out to be more villainous than he seemed because… he's Clancy Brown. Though the only flashbacks we get in this hour are to Elektra as a young girl training with Stick, the hour – and the season – functions most effectively as a Punisher origin story, climaxing with him seizing the colonel's weapons cache and body armor in further pursuit of his mission.
EPISODE 13: A COLD DAY IN HELL'S KITCHEN
Like much of the season, the finale was a mixed bag, with some impressive action – particularly the stuff involving Daredevil using Melvin's new billy club design, which now has all the functionality from the comics, and allows him to swing around Manhattan a bit like a more famous Marvel urban superhero type – but with the stories not overlapping wonderfully. After all the Punisher set-up of the previous 12 hours, his sole purpose in the finale is to pop up at the end of the fight to shoot a few of the remaining ninjas after Daredevil got tired. And Elektra's sacrifice would have felt more potent if Nobu had been a more well-rounded villain, as opposed to the cryptic leader of this cryptic group, and/or if it hadn't been quickly undone through the Hand's magical resurrection sarcophagus.
Also, and this is just the former newspaperman in me, the opening to Karen's article works much better as narration for closing montage of a season of Daredevil than it ever would as something the Bulletin would publish. But I do like the idea of Foggy going to work for Hogarth, and thus potentially guest starring in Luke Cage and/or Jessica Jones season 2. A Jessica/Foggy scene would amuse me greatly, I think.
What did everybody else think? How do you feel season 2 stacked up to season 1?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org