Sunday, March 20, 2016

TV Review: Daredevil Season 2


When a movie is successful, its easily to immediately demand a sequel to that movie. It happens all the time in this business, even if the grand populace didn't want a sequel. If a studio sees a way to make money they will. The rub is, most sequels are just the first movie but bigger. A more expensive way to tread water. They seldom allow the audience to get to know the characters better, develop them, set up a new challenge for them, allow them to grow and to flourish. Its just more of the same, except with a bigger budget. Its something I like to refer to as sequel-idis.

The second season of Daredevil definitely suffers from "sequel-idis"

In the first season, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) was blinded in a freak accident as a child. The catch is that his other four sense grew in superhuman proportions. Murdock's father was brutally murdered and so Matt vows to use his powers against criminality. He is approached by Stick (Scott Glenn), who trains him to use his new enhanced senses and teach him to fight. As an adult, Murdock becomes a lawyer, opens a private practice with his best friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Debrah Ann Woll). At night, he dresses up as a devil and fights crime, even getting a special suit made by Melvin Potter (Matt Gerald). This brings Murdock into war with Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) a powerful mob boss. Murdock is able to successfully take him down. Murdock's story is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The first season of "Daredevil" was excellent, a brand new standard in superhero television. If you remember from last year, I lost my mind over it. I was excited by how awesome it was and how well it told its story. I think the story benefited from focusing on one villain and one hero's journey in confronting that villain, something that doesn't happen at all on superhero TV. I thought the first season created a memorable cast of characters, each developing story arcs that could pay off later. Of course, what would a superhero show be without some awesome fights, which "Daredevil" had in spades. It was a show that really embraced the character, and demonstrated an understanding for the character.

Everything that made the first season flow well is almost lost in this second season. Now, is the second season of "Daredevil" bad? No, not at all. Its still a really, really awesome show. I just think this season is a step back. There is one problem with the season as a whole, but that problem jeopardizes so much, that it becomes a glaring problem. This second season is much more massive in scale. Not only do we see Murdock and Nelson struggle to get work in, but there is a new vigilante in town, who instead of beating bad guys up and sending them to jail, is actually killing them. He is getting revenge on the evil that took his family away from him. His name is The Punisher. The Punisher is brought to magnificent life by Jon Bernthal. Much like in the comic books, the show puts both Daredevil's and Punisher's philosophies of crime fighting under a microscope, and how these two clash could have made up an interesting second season all by itself. There is even a subplot involving a District Attorney hell-bent on putting The Punisher away for life, and who may have had a hand in the murdering of his family. That's a juicy sub-plot too.

Then, at the end of episode four, we meet Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), an old ex-girlfriend of Murdock's, who has a shadowy past and who is able to hold her own in a fight. She comes because she needs Murdock's help. In exchange for his help, she will help keep his private law firm afloat. But this is something Murdock can't back down from. An ancient brotherhood of ninjas have plans for Hell's Kitchen, and it isn't pretty. This brotherhood is known as the Hand and it is lead by Nobu, the red ninja Daredevil came into contact with last season. They plan to use the city as a platform for doom and Daredevil finds no choice but to help his ex-girlfriend and rid his city of the Hand, even though it affects his personal life. 

Again, that's a great story for a second season. Full of all sorts of storytelling that would be both compelling and engaging. The thing is, season two of "Daredevil" wants to tell both stories. I would have preferred if season two only focused on the Punisher story, or the Elektra/Hand story, then saved whichever story they didn't use for a third season. This is a season that does entirely too much, and it effects the season as a whole. There is so much spent on learning about The Punisher, learning about Hand, learning about Murdock's past with Elektra, reuniting with Stick and Claire Temple (the nurse who helped Daredevil in a crucial moment last season, played by Rosario Daweson), even Wilson Fisk shows back up for a couple episodes. All of a sudden, it gets to the point where the entire season feels convoluted and disjointed. Worst of all, in some episodes, Daredevil feels like a supporting character in his own television series.

But, the fight scenes are once again superb. There is a scene where Daredevil takes on an entire biker gang down a winding staircase, this fight is reason enough to binge watch this entire season right now. There is all sorts of fun action all season long, whether you like mystical kung-fu or close-quarters or if you like seeing a guy blow the heads off the scum of the Earth. There is a little something for everyone. Through so many storylines, there are some compelling arcs our characters go through. Elden Henson, Debrah Ann Woll, and Charlie Cox once again give incredible performances in this series. Henson and Woll in particular grow in stature, and each actor has defining moments that will make fans of this show cheer. Foggy, Murdock, Karen and even Dawson's Claire Temple are all affected by the outcome of this season in a major way. Where these four go from here will lead to a potentially incredible third season, but the only thing is that I wished we were given more time to watch these characters develop and grow, because the conclusions that we find them in seem a little sped-up and half-assed just due to the massive storytelling of the season.

Did I say that Jon Bernthal was incredible in this? Because if not, Jon Bernthal is incredible in this. He becomes The Punisher, and he's everything you'd ever want from the character, and so much more. He's cold-blooded, he's cunning, he's a psychopath. Punisher fans everywhere will be totally enthralled by what Bernthal has up his sleeves. Its no surprise after watching the entire season why Netflix was pitched the possibility of a Punisher spin-off series. Honestly, after this, I want and need a Punisher spin-off series. I loved that he was a huge piece of the puzzle in this season, and not just some guy who goes around killing bad guys who just happens to stumble upon Daredevil. Punisher has a story to tell, and its a great one. But don't get me wrong, there is plenty of Punisher badass-ness that is on display in this season. And yes, he eventually dons the white, stylized skull we have come to love. Bernthal in one fell swoop blows every other actor who has played this character out of the water. I never thought I would ever say this, but I think I prefer Bernthal's performance over Thomas Jane's.

I also very much liked Elodie Yung's portrayal of Elektra. If you are expecting anything along the lines of what Jennifer Garner did with the character, then look elsewhere. This is a completely new direction for the character, and I much prefer this road. She isn't just some crazy ex trying to make Murdock's life a living hell. She has her own motivations, her own goals, her own outlook on events. I don't want it to sound like she is using Murdock, because that's not entirely true. She is battling with some strong internal demons, and it creates a great story. I didn't much care for Yung's performance in "Gods of Egypt," but I have to admit that she was more than suited for the material here.

I think what made last season so special is that it told a pretty self-contained story. While, this season literally wanted to throw the kitchen sink at the screen. I truly believe in the motif that less is more and I think even though Punisher and Elektra are great characters, there wasn't a single new character in this entire season that was as compelling as Wilson Fisk last year. When Fisk does show up in a few episodes here, it made me miss everything about the first season. I still really liked this second season, there is plenty to enjoy with it. It's just in dire need of an editor, a trimming of fat. They really should have chosen between telling a Punisher story and telling a Elektra/Hand story, instead of trying to arm-wrestle with both of them. Hopefully for a third season, they tell one story, instead of multiple stories, because the former worked out much better for them. But its still worth watching. There some great action scenes, great character work by the ensemble, great connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (watch for a cameo by Carrie Ann-Moss, and pay very close attention to the news stories that are hanging on the walls when Karen Page is at the New York Bulletin). "Daredevil" is still a great show, this season, they just tried to do a little too much. Love the effort, frustrated by the execution.

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