Daredevil Season 2: What happens after the origin story?

Posted on March 21, 2016

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Daredevil Season 2, episodes 1 – 3: “Bang,” ” Dogs to a Gunfight,” “New York’s Finest”


There’s a reason origin stories tend to be the most common superhero stories told when they make the trip from the comic page to screens big and small. First, it establishes the sometimes difficult-to-accept world that the hero resides in; a world that contains superpowers and codenames and the highly peculiar desire of people to dress up in costumes and skip along the rooftops of the city. It also establishes why our hero has this desire in the first place and what events prompted him to take up mask and/or cape in pursuit of the lofty goal of justice (if not vengeance). And finally – and some would say most importantly – a superhero origin tale usually provides the hero with the best kind of nemesis: his opposite number. From General Zod to the Joker to Loki to the Green Goblin, the filmed superhero origin tale has almost always benefited from a villain who is in some way a response or rebuttal to the hero at the center of the story; a person who either has the same abilities but an entirely different world view from the hero’s or a person whose abilities are somehow in opposition to the hero’s. The reason this resonates is because it turns every battle and punch into a philosophical argument about morals and perspectives; about order vs. chaos, or strength vs brains, or logic vs. faith.

The first season of Daredevil worked so spectacularly well in part because it allowed itself the luxury of unfolding a season-long origin story, not only for Matt Murdock, but for his associates and for his opposite number, Wilson Fisk. The battle for control of Hell’s Kitchen became something larger and more operatic than merely being about two violence-prone men with differing ideas about how power should be wielded over the downtrodden. Matt went on a very typical hero’s journey that saw him standing proudly in the red-horned costume that gives him his name at the end of it all. He went from an unsure hero to one with a renewed and refined understanding of who he needs to be. He struggled with questions of violence and truth that defined him as a living, breathing character who just so happens to be doing some extremely unusual things with his life. In the end, season one of Daredevil was a highly satisfying story because the length and pacing allowed it to go much deeper than the average origin tale does. But what is the story after the hero is tested and defined by triumphing over his opposite number? What do you do then? These are the questions any superhero franchise has to face with either its second movie or its second season and you can feel the creative team behind the series struggling to come up with answers out of the gate.

We don’t want to say that season 2 got off to a bad start with the first three episodes, but we can’t deny it was a vaguely disappointing start; worse, it got off to a somewhat dull start. What is the Hell’s Kitchen of Matt Murdock once you remove the overriding influence of Wilson Fisk? Well, it’s as violent as it ever was, judging by the opening scenes of the Irish mafia getting gunned down, in a scene so loaded with cliches (ginger-haired thugs, whiskey, piles of potatoes and corned beef all over the place and even a little jig playing at the bloody end) that we couldn’t tell if it was meant to be taken seriously at first. Granted, it’s not like the Asian characters last season were depicted in the most nuanced way, although that brings us to our main complaint about these first three episodes: the villainry on display is, so far, not nearly as interesting as last season.


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But before we (and the show) get to that, we’re treated to an opening episode that firmly establishes that things haven’t really changed all that much in this world. As we said, it’s still crime-ridden. Matt is still burning the candle at both ends by serving as a hard-case lawyer by day and a violent vigilante at night. Foggy is still the fretting best friend who believes in Matt’s ideals even as he denies Matt’s methods. Karen is still a character whose motivations never quite seem to gel outside of “We must pursue justice!” and “Matt is so dreamy…” In many ways, the first couple of episodes were a little dull to us because they seemed to be rehashing so much of the character beats and themes of season one.

But unlike last season, the offices of Nelson and Murdock are bustling with clients and the firm has a neighborhood-wide reputation for being heroes to the downtrodden. While that may not result in the kinds of payments for services that you can use to pay your electric bill, it does allow for a lot of delicious pies and fruit. If little else about the opening episodes worked as well as it should have, at least the legal shenanigans were entertaining and character defining. Watching Foggy sweet talk his way into biker bars or out of jams with a scarily power-hungry DA makes him as much a superhero in this tale as the red leather clad adrenaline junkie at the end of it.

Similarly, Karen’s zeal to protect Grotto and always get to the bottom of whatever injustice passes in front of her eyes also defines her – although we’d say she’s much more of an adrenaline junkie in the Matt Murdock mode than Foggy is. There’s something a little off-putting about the ways in which Karen seems to eagerly put herself in danger. You get the sense that, if she and Matt ever did hook up, it probably wouldn’t be good for either one of them. It doesn’t help the case for their relationship that she’s so slow on the uptake regarding his mysterious nighttime activities and unexplained cuts and bruises (although to be fair, she’d have little reason to suspect a blind man would be a masked vigilante) and he’s so reluctant to tell her the truth about himself even though he found it fairly easy to be open with Claire last season. We tended to find her fierce protectiveness of Grotto to be a little out-of-left-field, but then again, all three of the principles at Nelson & Murdock seemed unusually accepting of a guy who represented everything they wanted to see banished from their neighborhood. All of their Scooby Gang adventures were much easier to accept last season when they were trying to protect under-privileged old ladies from being kicked out of their tenements. Putting their lives and careers on the line for someone like Grotto is a bit of a head-scratcher. We understood some of the loftier ideals behind it and we can accept these characters doing the right thing, no matter how hard it might be for them, but it was all accepted a little too easily and with too little explanation as to why. Even so, the human interactions that Matt holds dear – his sidekicks, if you will – still work very well in the story, even if their motivations are sometimes underexplained. It’s on the villain front that these opening episodes fall flat.

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Without a Wilson Fisk as a central figure of tremendous charisma uniting a highly colorful cast of mob bosses under his rule, we’re stuck with nameless Irish thugs and the Punisher, a character who’s been adapted so many times (and usually with disastrous results each time), that it’s hard not to see him as a huge pile of cliches. The gun-toting super-loner, taking the bad guys out, one bullet at a time. It’s just so … eighties.

To be fair, however, Jon Bernthal is doing yeoman’s work to make this character interesting, even as he’s saddled with some cringe-worthy dialogue like, “You’re only one bad day away from being me.” The problem with the Punisher entering the story at this point is that he’s forcing Matt to ask questions about his methods that he already asked and answered last season. He knows and we know that he’s not a hero who kills and won’t readily be talked into doing so, no matter how much Frank rants at him or how long he keeps him chained up to a chimney. The basic argument each character has with the other character’s methods (the “kid in the playground throwing punches” vs. the “lunatic with a gun”) simply isn’t all that interesting as a followup story to last season’s events. It simply isn’t all that interesting, period. There have been too many damn superhero stories centered around the idea of lethal force already.

Having said all that, the action sequences remain superb, and the episode 3 hallway/stairwell fight with Daredevil in chains taking on an endless array of videogame thugs was a total jawdropper. We’ve seen where the season is going and will be writing and recapping our way through it, but the first three hours of the season felt stale and a little dull, to our disappointment.



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