Vigilante justice is a double-edged sword. How can one bring justice to others when it requires breaking the law themselves? Such is what continually plagues Matt Murdock as he suits up as an attorney by day, and Daredevil by night. But the more foreboding question is where do you draw the line? As Matt put it so eloquently in season 1, “Sometimes the difference between good and evil is a sharp line.” How many laws can you break until you become the very criminal you’re trying to stop? Who is to stop you then?
If season 1 asked what Matt Murdock will do to save Hell’s Kitchen, season 2 asks what Matt won’t do. Enter Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher. He has no trouble mowing down mob bosses, blasting away biker gangs, or butchering Cartel thugs like cattle. Yes, these people are in the broadest sense “bad guys.” Matt believes they deserve a second chance to redeem themselves. Frank believes they’ve had their chance.
Frank’s methods, though extreme, are never far-fetched. Because even when criminals are turned over to the police, they can still claw their way out thanks to a system of bribery and corruption. It’s the entire foundation of Daredevil’s existence, but even Matt is beginning to see the vicious cycle at play, yet he is still adamant about his one rule. So it’s easy to see the necessity to a guy like Frank in a world where even the shiniest of district attorneys have blood on their hands. And when Frank and Daredevil’s conflicting ideologies inevitably clash, Hell’s Kitchen trembles beneath them.
Jon Bernthal establishes himself as the definitive Punisher and he does so without ever bearing the name or the skull. He is Frankenstein’s monster unleashed. What’s interesting about Bernthal’s performance, however, is how Frank Castle, the man, the devoted husband and loving father, shines through in smaller, quieter moments. Hell, Bernthal manages to give a compelling performance even when he’s staring off into the distance. Because there’s so much going on internally. Frank has been robbed of what made him human, which is why it’s just as sincere as it is disturbing to hear him recite his daughter’s favorite nursery rhyme while he’s aiming down his sniper scope. The world killed Frank Castle. All that’s left is The Punisher.
Daredevil’s clash with Frank drives the first batch of episodes and there’s enough substance in that conflict alone to fill the entirety of one season. The second batch brings Elektra and the Hand into the mix and that’s when Daredevil becomes too action heavy and convoluted that it feels like we’ve entered an entirely new season. The great thing about Daredevil’s first season was its patience. Most critics cited pacing as a problem, but I found it absorbing. Because the series took just as much time building up conflict as it did in allowing characters to sit back, relax, and have a beer.
There’s virtually none of that this season. I can’t recall the last time Matt, Foggy, and Karen sat down together at Josie’s without one of them abruptly leaving. In fact, I don’t remember seeing Rosario Dawson’s character outside the hospital, if at all. The show instead goes right into dismantling core relationships that have been built thus far. That’s right, Nelson & Murdock are no more, and it’s such a rushed decision since they had just gotten on their legs in the first season. To complicate things even further, Matt hardly does anything to prevent their collapse, but it’s only because he makes a conscious decision to embrace himself as Daredevil, albeit with a bit of a push from the nefariously clever Elektra. The stakes have been raised to such a degree that it’s simply not enough for him to pull all-nighters prepping for a case. To put the costume away for just one night would mean leaving the city open and vulnerable.
Therein lies the glaring problem of this season. It’s trying to progress the stories of each character while also juggling the Punisher’s introduction and Elektra’s reintroduction in Matt’s life. Fortunately, Elodie Yung relishes the role of Elektra so we don’t mind getting swept up in her exposition, the only tradeoff being that other character arcs have to be put on pause as soon as Matt leaves the room. This, made all the more frustrating by the fact that neither The Punisher nor Elektra ever share the frame, let alone the same scene. So much of this feels so entirely separate and often rushed that it quite literally seems that way. Thematically, the stories of The Punisher and Elektra are pitting Matt to the edge of his vigilantism, so the balancing act is mostly successful. It’s just a damn shame that it had to come at the expense of strengthening Matt’s relationship with any other character.
For all of this season’s flaws, I cannot fault Daredevil for doing what most shows are afraid of: deepening and darkening its characters. While this season is admittedly mourning the absence of big baddie Wilson Fisk, the show still packs one hell of a violent punch with two new anti-heroes in his place. And this world is only getting more exciting now that Jessica Jones is in the picture. Netflix is rapidly gearing towards The Defenders and I find myself even giddier for this street-level team-up. Sure, there are things that need to be tweaked on Matt’s end, but overall Daredevil Season 2 is a sign of truly great things to come. Luke Cage, you’re up.