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Late Thoughts About “Daredevil” Season 2

Punisher!

…or Marvel’s Punisher Season 1, or even Marvel’s Karen Page, Ace Reporter Season 1, depending on which arc you thought was a keeper.

I will never finish binge-watching any series at the same time as the rest of the world. Never. TV has to wait its turn in line for my attention along with internet, writing, moviegoing, gaming, full-time day-jobbing, homeowning, husbanding, and whatever other errands and obligations lure me away from home. I get to things when I get to them even if it means I miss out on all the really cool chat circles.

I’m actually proud I finished season 2 of Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil this early, to be honest. I’d expected it to take weeks and more weeks, but my schedule found a way. And I’m already one whole episode into season 2 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was just uploaded last Friday. For me, this counts as “on a roll”.

So! Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil season 2, in random bullet points with occasional spoilers:

* Best Punisher ever. Period. Free of a two-hour time limit, given a budget with real money in it, and handed scripts with thought and eloquence put into them, Jon Bernthal won the season as a bereaved husband and devastated father, his emotional wounds graver and more grotesque than any of the shots and stabs and bludgeons he took. Bernthal channels that grieving rage into an indelible performance that elevates a frequently one-note character to something more than just Death Wish in better togs, or the Terminator minus CG effects.

* It was also a smart choice to use the Punisher more as an antagonist (per his original comic bouts with Spider-Man and Daredevil) than as a star who has to teach us the Moral of the Story. Nine out of every ten Punisher comics had the same moral: “Crime should be shot up a lot.” Frank Castle’s journey naturally ends with him ready for his spinoff and posing for future pinups, but his is a rare case where the origin will probably be more compelling than any subsequent stories, if only because of the rawness of his emotional state. The further the Punisher gets from his origin, the more numb and monotonous he tends to get. If Marvel’s Netflixverse gives Bernthal a chance for an encore, I’d love to see him break that historical pattern.

* I’m not convinced we needed the tale of “How the Punisher Got His Arsenal”. When Frank opened that secret compartment like a Borderlands bounty hunter popping open a chest of new guns, I just laughed. On the flipside, the tale of “How Elektra Got Her Sai” was more of a moment of “meh”.

* I have never cared for Elektra as a character, and this show did nothing to change that. Frank Miller’s Daredevil run that introduced and killer her was indeed legendary in sum, but her participation was mostly incidental to me, memorable parts of Daredevil #181-182 notwithstanding. Nothing against Elodie Yung’s performance in itself, but front-loading her initial episodes with the fake bored-socialite persona had me grabbing for reading material to pass the time whenever she and Our Hero shared the screen for more than a minute. Not until we finally got to her childhood flashbacks, back-burnered all the way to episode 12, did anything about her grab my attention. Even then, props more to Kid Elektra than to Adult Ninja Queen.

* Speaking of ninja plural without a superfluous ‘s’: remember when ninja used to be cool? It’s not my imagination, right? New axiom for our 21st century: the competence of any given ninja is inversely proportional to the number of ninja on a team. A single ninja in a fight is an intimidating opponent — cf. Nobu in season 1, still the greatest Marvel fight scene of all time. But the more ninja you add, the more IQ points they lose and the more they turn into unarmored Stormtroopers. I took none of them seriously, least of all their leader who shouldn’t even have been there. When he was, and when he fought, I remembered how amazing the ninth episode of season 1 was.

* Speaking of amazing things lost from “Speak of the Devil”: I really miss Father Lantom repping for God. He deserves more than two minutes a season, especially when Daredevil’s ostensibly intrinsic Catholicism barely rose above the lip-service level without Lantom’s guidance.

* If you don’t watch shows with subtitles turned on, let it be known the funniest subtitle of the entire season had to be this one:

Ninjas Panting!

Also a great name for a terrible Mumford & Sons tribute band.

* In the final two episodes, at least two scenes have Daredevil and Elektra talking between themselves for minutes while, not far away, an entire ninja horde stands in one place and waits patiently for them to wrap up their dialogue and pay attention to them.

* Fun trivia from Episode 10: the Punisher takes Karen for a chat at the only diner in Manhattan that serves nothing but decaf. Frank keeps ordering coffee, and the waitress keeps filling him up from one of her two orange decaf pots, nary a single brown pot in sight for regular coffee. I’m sure either the production designer or the cinematographer thought orange popped more in frame, but details like that give me flashbacks to my bygone days in the restaurant biz and consequently jolt me right out of a scene. Regardless, Frank’s lucky he stayed awake through the night.

* If anyone explained why the young Asian girl had a Greek name, I missed it.

* Congrats to Royce Johnson’s character for his promotions throughout the series, but now he’s stuck sharing the same last name and rank as Steve Guttenberg’s character in the later Police Academy movies. Is the world big enough for two nice guys named Sgt. Mahoney?

* Best fight scene of the season, Daredevil division: the staircase fight in episode 2. Better than the renowned season-1 hallway fight even though the former’s tracking shot was more of an obvious patchwork effort than the latter’s.

* Best fight scene of the season, not-Daredevil division: Frank Castle vs. Cell Block A. Intense, alarming, horrendous, no fake wrestling moves or circus tumbling or disposable ninja.

* I figured out why Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin seems off to me. Whenever I read comics with the Kingpin in them, in my mind’s eye he has the voice of Clancy Brown and his mouth never moves. D’Onofrio’s very act of emoting betrays my mental staging. When I can set that aside, I love his return engagement here, whether his prison shenanigans are feasible in the real world or not.

* I’d be happy if future years brought us Netflix’s Marvel’s Karen Page as the kind of journalism drama rarely seen outside of season five of The Wire or elusive Lou Grant reruns. Sure, Karen was sometimes reduced to sidelined girlfriend and go-to hostage, but Deborah Ann Woll ruled whenever the menfolk backed off and gave her space to go questing for answers in the Castle family murder case. If only she could pick up some self-defense skills, that could improve her standing so the dudes might stop treating her like she’s their baton to pass back and forth. If season 3 resets her to beleaguered legal assistant, I’ll be disappointed. If season 3 has her dying at the end, NOPE.

* My wife will back me up on this even though she wasn’t watching: I guessed the Blacksmith’s identity halfway through episode 10, well before the big reveal in episode 12. They kept him far offscreen for so long, this meant either he had a mind-blowing visage we would never forget, or he was someone we’d seen before. Meanwhile on a different train of thought, I was pleased to see Sleepy Hollow‘s Clancy Brown guest-star as Frank Castle’s old CO at his trial, but I thought it was such a waste to bring a notable actor like him in for just the one episode. Once those two trains of thought met at the same station, another minute of deliberation got me there.

* I don’t have the legal acumen to evaluate the courtroom scenes to any professional extent, but I have this nagging feeling they got some procedures wrong and took shortcuts to force the plot where the showrunners wanted it to go.

* Congrats to Marvel for not killing off Rosario Dawson, at least. I wish she’d been given more to do than mop up Our Hero’s increasingly bloodier messes.

* I don’t loathe Foggy like Samuel L. Jackson does, but it took me an episode or two to redevelop a tolerance for his prideful mouthiness. He shined brightest whenever he could do lawyering without his absentee partner to slow him down.

* As for Our Hero himself…Charlie Cox still embodies Matt Murdock off the printed page to near perfection, albeit this time to a fault. In the comics world we readers just spent the last few years enjoying the heck out of the Mark Waid/Chris Samnee run that gave us an optimistic DD who’s sick of grimness and moping, who’s taken responsibility for his moods and for his actual responsibilities, and impressed me as a longtime super-hero showing rare signs of maturation. Cox, on the other hand, is playing a regressive ’80s DD who won’t listen to anyone, thinks his way is the only way, tries to do everything alone without help, and generally possesses an off-putting demeanor that made me secretly glad whenever someone punched some sense into him.

Most aggravating thing about this season: when the Punisher and Elektra arcs diverged in two separate directions, that stubborn mule Matt chose to follow the Elektra arc because it was the one with the action lady in it. After episode 4’s savage showdown with Tony Curran’s psychopathic Irish boss, Our Hero and Our Antihero don’t reunite much except for the big scene on the Blacksmith’s boat, where DD’s presence was 100% superfluous and had no impact on anything there, except maybe one henchman lived a few extra seconds. Matt’s favoritism toward the weaker arc left Karen and Foggy to see the Punisher arc through on their own. Great for them, because it was the highlight of the season and the best reason to watch.

I’m looking forward to next fall’s Marvel’s Luke Cage, but I’m not sure what I think yet about the idea of Daredevil returning for Marvel’s Defenders in whatever year that’s scheduled. Hopefully next time he pays better attention to what’s going on around him and chooses his own adventures more wisely. The tale of “How Daredevil Got His Billy Club” was just-okay, but if we could someday be treated to the ridiculously overdue tale of “How Daredevil Got His Vaunted Radar-Sense”, that might go a fair way toward forgiveness for this season’s occasional sins of dour mediocrity.

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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