Monday, August 8, 2016

Daredevil Season 2 Review

So, at long last, we have Daredevil, season 2, reviewed on the blog. That only took ... five months.

This was a strange season, overall, and not because of the content so much as how it was handled. While season 1 had a great, brilliant buildup of the antagonist and the protagonist, ramping up to an inevitable collision of two men who really were mirror images of each other, season 2 was a little all over the place.

Hi, my name is Frank.
I'll be the sniper for this evening.
To start with, we have the introduction of Frank Castle, the Punisher. He's running around Hell's Kitchen, massacring the three gangs involved in a massive shootout that butchered his wife, his daughter, and his son, and left him for dead in a hospital. Daredevil, on the other hand, believes in law, order, and the possibility for redemption, and generally objects to this approach. In fact, you could say that the primary motivation for Daredevil going after the Punisher is purely philosophical, because it's bad enough that the NON-lethal vigilante is running around, doing the cop's job for them, but having a professional killer wiping them out en mass starts to sound like a recipe for mob rule, complete with torches and pitchforks. When the Punisher is caught, Frank Castle is represented by .... Murdock and Nelson.

On the other hand, there's the plotline with Elektra -- Matt Murdock's crazy ex-girlfriend, who's first going up against a corrupt corporation and ... spoilers ... sort of ... is going up against The Hand, magical Yakuza ninjas. (Yes, comic books, where "Magical Yakuza Ninjas" are a thing).

And by "crazy ex girlfriend," at the time, I even thought the line: "Oh Matt, don't stick it in the Crazy ... oh no. Too late." Yes, she's hot, but there are moments that she is crazier than a bag of cats. She doesn't mind killing, and dang, does she seem to enjoy her job.

This three-way plot sort of devolves after a while. The Elektra thread seems to have little to no connection to the Punisher thread, only insofar as the two plots interfere with each other and cause problems for our hero, pulling him in two different directions at once. Dealing with the Hand and Elektra drags Murdock away from the Punisher case, and dealing with the personal and professional fallout of defending the Punisher puts stress on Daredevil as he fights the hand. By the end of the season, the finale feels a little rushed. In fact, it's starting to feel like they knew they were going to have to have multiple stories spin out from this season.  But I'm rushing ahead.

First of all, let me address some of the acting. Elodie Yung is marvelous as Elektra. She's insane, she's enjoying every minute of it, and I think her performance works, overall.

Scott Glenn returns as Stick, Murdock's schmuck of a mentor, who actually does care, he just has really lousy ways of expressing it, and his duties are such that he looks schizophrenic ... until he explains himself, and all of the secrets he's keeping. Seriously, Stick, if you actually explained yourself earlier, there might be fewer problems.

Foggy Nelson, this year, is a much firmer character. He has more confidence, he knows what he's doing, and in some cases, he mans up because he has no other choice. Hell, he manages to use his superpower to get out of some nasty situations. He avoids being killed by bikers, he defuses a gang war in an ER, he stands up to a vicious District Attorney who is more of an antagonist  than some of mad dog killers. He really stood out this season, and the actor gets some serious props from me for pulling it off.

Karen Page surprised me at how much she was a driving force this season. After Frank Castle is arrested, and we go into "The Punisher Case," Page comes to the fore of this story. Having had to shoot someone herself, she clearly sees parallels between her and Castle. And she dives into this case headlong, and she barely stops long enough to be shot at. Fatigue and exhaustion are her primary adversaries, and she doesn't seem to be really shaken too much by bullets anymore. She does most of the legwork and investigation this season. Ben Urich has rubbed off on her. This is what I call character growth.

Hell, half of Daredevil this season seems to be more like The Punisher season 1, costarring Karen Page as a sort-of sidekick. In fact, after the initial arrest, Daredevil and Punisher come face to mask only once, and Castle and Murdock come face to face perhaps twice.

And then, of course, there's Jon Bernthal, playing Frank Castle, the Punisher. I gotta tell you, I don't think the Punisher was ever handled this well. Ever. In fact, I would say that Frank Castle is more sympathetic here than in the comics. They finally got him -- he's a man whose family was butchered right in front of him, he was left for dead, and the only thing he has left is revenge, and killing people who have it coming. He's a killing machine, that's all that he is ... and he's not terribly happy about it. But he has to do it. He must. And I don't think I've ever seen a trigger pull break your heart quite like this before ... One Batch, Two batch.....

Not to mention that Castle has some of the better moments in this season. There is a particularly heartrending moment in a diner, sitting across from Karen Page, as she complains about how Murdock is driving her insane, and hurting her every time he does something else stupid.

Castle's response is perfect.
People that can hurt you, the ones that can really hurt you, are the ones that are close enough to do it. People that get inside you and tear you apart, and make you feel like you're never gonna recover. Shit. I'd chop my arm off right here, in this restaurant, just to feel that one more time for my wife. My old lady, she didn't just break my heart. She'd rip it out, she'd tear it apart, she'd step on that shit, feed it to a dog. She was ruthless. She brought the pain. But she'll never hurt me again. You see, I'll never feel that. You sit here and you're all confused about this thing, but you have it. You have everything. So hold on to it. Use two hands and never let go. You got it? 
Which, of course, leads to something else. This season, they decide to follow up on Karen Page and Matt Murdock being an item, as they were in the comics. Which is BS. I'm sorry, but please go back through season 1, and watch Karen and Foggy as they're bar hopping in season 1. They had all sorts of strange chemistry, but dang it, it WORKED. This? Eh. Not so much.

And now, looking at Matt Murdock himself. Charlie Cox, is, as always, perfect for the role. Though the problem of these season is actually the problem with the character--and Daredevil has always had personal problems. In this case, Murdock is trying way, way too hard to be Superman.

Yes, Daredevil has always had the reputation of being one of the most stubborn men in the Marvel universe, but season 2 is where he really starts pushing his own limit. And the bigger problem also feeds into it. He doesn't talk to people, and he tries doing everything, failing spectacularly. Remember the priest that Matt spent every other episode with in season 1? He makes one appearance in the entire season. And while Matt spends his entire time talking to Elektra or Stick (or early on, with Castle), you watch him fall apart. Let's face it, these are not the people you want to spend all of your time with if you're going to stay sane ... or sane-ish.

This is particularly highlighted by an episode where Matt has to bring in multiple wounded victims to a hospital, at the same time Foggy is also wounded in a shooting. This leads to bringing back Claire Temple, the Night Nurse, played by Rosario Dawson, who insists on smacking Matt upside the head with common sense, while he's busy trying to play martyr ... which is a common comic book trope. If you don't believe me, just look at the history of Spider Man. It's part of the character's problem, and it really should boil down to "Dude, take a break for five minutes. Try getting Tony Stark on speed dial."  Murdock is in a mindset where he's thinking "I'm going to be Daredevil from now on!" Yeah, I know. But Tony Stark also had ideas like this at one time. Stark was drunk out of his mind at the time, but Murdock has never been the most stable Marvel hero.

And of course, in the latter third of the series, everything picks up again. Not because of the hand, but because of the one man that everyone has been waiting for the entire series.

Yup, the return of Wilson Fisk, played by the always entertaining Vincent D'Onofrio. He's back, and he's here to interfere with the plot. And, seriously, this man has more impact on the series just by showing up than almost anyone else who ran around, dumping exposition.

What's Fisk doing here? In part, he's here to show us exactly what he's been up to since he went to jail. What is he actually doing in the plot?

Well, let's just say that he ends up meeting Frank Castle. The result is that Castle ends up looking like this.

And when Murdock finally -- and I mean finally -- does some work in the Frank Castle plot, and puts together that Fisk has been up to shenanigans.

This of course, leads to an interesting confrontation that we never really got in season 1.

You can imagine how well this goes, especially since season 1 gave the credit for bringing down Fisk to the Murdock and Nelson law firm. So Fisk knows that the guy across from him has put him in there. And Fisk, as usual, has anger control issues.

Then Murdock threatens Fisk.

Hilarity ensues.

One highlight that I have to point out is episode 3.  Like in season 1 and their episode 2 ("Cut Man") in season 2, episode 3, "New York's Finest," they felt the need to have Daredevil talking throughout most of this, ending with an awesome fight sequence. you might remember "Cut Scene" ending with a simple tracking shot of a fight going back and forth down the hallway. In this case, they did the same thing with Daredevil walking down a flight of stairs.

In terms of pointing out individual episodes, by the time we get to the finale, it's getting a little strange. How strange? Well, there's Elektra and Daredevil versus what looks like a hundred ninjas. When our "heroes" come up to face the ninjas ... there are maybe only two or three dozen. Yes, that's still a lot, but where did the rest of them go?

If you're wondering, "Shouldn't the Punisher be in this, somewhere?" You'd be right. I was expecting more of a Castle ex machina, but perhaps he was busy slaughtering the other five dozen ninjas somewhere offscreen.

Honestly? I think they should have had another episode, or add at least ten minutes to this one.

At the end of the season, there was an interesting monologue by Karen Page about heroes
"What is it, to be a hero? Look in the mirror and you'll know. Look into your own eyes and tell me you are not heroic, that you have not endured, or suffered... or lost the things you care about most. And yet, here you are... a survivor of Hell's Kitchen... the hottest place anyone's ever known. A place where cowards don't last long. So... you must be a hero. We all are. Some more than others, but none of us alone. Some bloody their fists trying to keep the Kitchen safe. Others bloody the streets in the hope they can stop the tide, the crime, the cruelty... the disregard for human life all around them. But this is Hell's Kitchen. Angel or devil, rich or poor, young or old, you live here. You didn't choose this town. It chose you. Because a hero isn't someone who lives above us, keeping us safe. A hero is not a god or an idea. A hero lives here... on the street, among us, with us. Always here but rarely recognized. Look in the mirror and see yourself for what you truly are. You're a New Yorker. You're a hero. This is your Hell's Kitchen. Welcome home."
All I can think is "Tell me that wasn't written by a New Yorker who lived through 9-11."

At the end of the day, this is a 4-star season, perhaps a 5-star season. Heck, I'd actually say the Hand plot was 4-star, and the Punisher was 5-star.  Hell, I think I would have liked a shorter season just to focus mostly on Punisher. Daredevil season two is a lot more of a mystery than season one. Imagine Steve Martini meets Larry Correia. You watch as they put together the mystery of who Castle is, then who slaughtered his family, and what's the big deal around this one man.

And then there's the hand. And yes, the Hand plot is needed to set them up as the Big Bad for The Defenders series, and Daredevil was a good place to do it. I just wish that it didn't make the season feel slightly disjointed.

By the end yes, I liked it.

As for what all this means for The Defenders?  Well, by the end of this season, Foggy might well end up at the law firm where Jessica Jones hangs out, so imagine the fun bits of that happening. And now that Punisher is getting a series, I expect him to be in Defenders.

Though, honestly, I'm trying to see any of the Defenders working with Jessica Jones. At all. eriously, imagine locking her and Punisher in the same room. Or with Matt Murdock. Hell, imagine her in the same room with Karen Page. I think I'd rather see her interact with Jones' friend the radio show host (Hellcat). Who am I kidding, I want a Hellcat series, not Jessica Jones season 2 -- one of them has charisma, and she's not the brunette.

As for season three, I suspect there will be at least one or two people figuring out who Daredevil is, so that'll go well.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I enjoyed season two. Have fun.

Speaking of fun ... insert a shameless plug for Honor at Stake. :D

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