In a pivotal early scene from the first season of Daredevil, the titular hero explains to a member of the Russian mob why he’s been torturing him. Alongside the nurse who found him in a Dumpster and tended to his wounds, the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” says, “I need you to know why I’m hurting you… I’m doing this because I enjoy it.” It’s a scary sentiment to hear spoken by a so-called hero — for the audience, the nurse and especially the mobster dangling over the edge of an apartment building. Less than a year after Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) first uttered these words, both he and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) are back for the second season of the hit Marvel-produced Netflix series, as are a bunch of other characters new and old. And the Russian? Best not to worry about him.
The “I enjoy it” scene set the tone for Daredevil‘s first season, especially because so much of it dealt with Murdock becoming the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. He struggled to discover who he was whenever he donned the black mask then, in the finale, the iconic red suit. By the time season two rolls around, however, Murdock is comfortable with who and what Daredevil is, and everything the mantle requires of him. Hence why, early in the new season, he smiles and laughs to himself before taking on a biker gang singlehandedly in a hallway and down a stairwell. He still enjoys what he does whenever night falls over New York. He wants to find trouble, and he wants to hurt it.
Whether or not Murdock will be able to maintain this sentiment throughout the new batch of 13 episodes remains to be seen. Not because of the constant nitpicking of his best friend and legal partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), or the flirty concerns of his office assistant, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), but because of the arrival of several new players. While Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is nowhere to be found, the villain’s past aggressions pale in comparison to what a vigilante known as “The Punisher” has in store for Murdock.
Of course, the real trick is that this new antagonist isn’t really a clear-cut baddie like Fisk. He isn’t gunning for Daredevil, and he isn’t targeting Karen, Foggy or anyone else Murdock cares about. The Punisher, real name Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), only kills and maims (then kills, because the injured are merely the ones that got away) gang members, drug dealers, smugglers, killers, rapists and anyone else with a rap sheet long enough to snuff out the possibility of future good intentions. Or at least that’s the way Castle sees things, per his rooftop explanation to Murdock during a heated debate regarding their drastically different methods.
This debate doesn’t happen until the second season’s third episode, but everything preceding it leads straight to it. And when it finally happens, Daredevil overcomes many of the same problems the first season suffered, minor issues like unnecessary subplots and the occasional slow bit of plotting. Hints of both appear briefly at first, but as soon as Castle’s boots hit the hospital floor in pursuit of a gang member-turned-Nelson & Murdock client, such concerns fall to the sidelines and almost never return to the foreground in the seven second-season episodes provided to critics by Netflix.
Much of this has to do with the story and the performances driving them. If Daredevil was all about realizing a hero in 2015, 2016 is the year said hero confronts a turn of events so challenging that the nature of his very occupation — and maybe his soul — comes into question. Cox’s second round as the blind lawyer/vigilante is just as good as the first one, if not better. He remains confident in both his character’s convictions and abilities, and when Bernthal’s excellent Castle puts these to the test, Cox makes the internal struggles palpable. The other members of the returning cast are all great in their own right, too, but the show is stolen by Bernthal and Elodie Yung, who plays Murdock’s former flame Elektra Natchios. The former’s Punisher is as dark, violent, moody and complex as fans had hoped for — if not more so. And Yung? Her Elektra is as strong as she is manipulative, and her performance more than makes up for Jennifer Garner’s version in the 2003 Daredevil film and 2005 spinoff, Elektra.
At least a dozen well- and lesser-known names pop up with “executive producer” credits in the opening sequence, which could suggest that perhaps too many hands were in the cookie jar this time around. However, most of these (like Stan Lee) are honorary in nature, and new showrunners Marco Ramirez and Douglas Petrie — who served as co-executive and supervising producers, respectively, under Steven S. DeKnight during the first season — have done a fine job of utilizing (or ignoring) such a large pool of talent for the benefit of the story and the characters. They’re able to isolate and expand on what worked in the DeKnight-run season, and minimize or excise what didn’t while adding a few touches of their own. Arriving on the heels of the excellent Jessica Jones, Daredevil‘s second season finds Marvel going from strength to strength, assuring the grittier corners of its universe should have a home on Netflix for a long time to come.
All 13 episodes of Daredevil‘s second season premiere Friday, March 18 on Netflix. Until then, here’s a preview.