Welcome back to a feature I’m doing this summer called “The Road to The Defenders.” The concept is pretty simple. Between now and August I am going to be watching the Netflix MCU shows a second (or third) time through in the build up to the monumental team up hitting Netflix on August 18th. I won’t be reviewing the shows per se, more just reflecting on the way the episodes feel with the full scope of the first two and a half years of the project now in view. In particular, I want to explore what feels different in retrospect from the first viewing. For those who haven’t watched these shows yet, I will give a SPOILER WARNING that I’ll be talking about the shows without concern for revealing anything that happens in the story lines. This week we are looking at Daredevil Season 2. If you would like to catch up, scroll through The Defenders tag on the site.
Daredevil‘s second season was a bit of a surprise. When the Netflix shows were first announced it appeared that there was a simple build up to The Defenders, with one episode of each of the four heroes’ shows. But the overwhelming success and buzz for Matt Murdock meant that Netflix just had to fit another season in as soon as possible. It is interesting to wonder what things would have looked like without a second season of Daredevil as the show has a lot of plot set up for the this summer’s The Defenders. In many ways, this season is a trailblazer. It is the first second season for Netflix MCU properties and it is the first to inspire a spin-off.
Today we are looking at the core of the reason for that spin-off, Frank Castle. While the plot thickens (and gets more confusing?) later on, the first four episodes of Season 2 are tightly centered around Daredevil’s attempts to apprehend a new vigilante called the Punisher. There isn’t much to say about Jon Bernthal‘s performance that has not already been said. While I don’t personally love the character of the Punisher, Bernthal completely sold me on his value in the MCU. When Frank needs to sound dangerous and unhinged he does. In other moments you see his heart and even sense of humor. You feel for Frank in the loss of his family. The way the show balances Frank’s military background and the effect it had on him, without making him a simplistic trope of a PTSD-riddled lunatic, is masterful and respectful. It never shies away from what war can do to someone, while also not maligning the military in unfair ways. That continued balance in the upcoming Punisher series will be fascinating.
Perhaps the best scenes to try appreciate the character this show builds is the rooftop stuff in episode 3. The dialogue between Catholic lawyer Murdock and vigilante murderer Castle is honest and real. It doesn’t sound like TV monologue, though it basically is. The philosophical debate is real and difficult. (I’ve had personal debates with friends who are Marvel fans along the “Punisher is right/Daredevil is right” lines.) When an old man comes to the roof to investigate the noise, the razor edge of Castle’s sanity is on full display. He obviously doesn’t want to kill the man and is kind and relatable with him. On the other hand, if things go bad he will put a bullet in the guy’s skull. That is a moral compass that is understandable and unacceptable at the same time. (The pawn shop scene works similarly.)
The third episode really defines this season in a way similar to the second episode of the first season. Not only is the Punisher/Daredevil dynamic strong, but we also get the hallway fight which actually manages to match the intensity of the one that started it all. While all that is happening, Foggy also has a chance to shine as he calms some criminals in the ER. This theme of Foggy stepping to the plate is a common one in the season, but it is best here. We also continue to see Karen develop from a damsel in distress to the most competent part of Nelson & Murdock. The way she takes up the mantle of Ben Urich is something that sets her MCU version apart from the source material.
One final thought on this section is how nice it is to see Foggy and Matt getting along and Daredevil enjoying his work early in the season. Daredevil is one of Marvel’s characters who works best when his life is miserable. Murdock’s inability to juggle his vigilante time, work, and social life makes him approachable and relatable to the viewer. He needs to be in over his head because we viewers typically feel like we are over our head in our day to day life. It also means, however, that we never get to see our hero enjoying life. While the happy moments in the first episode are largely just setting up Murdock to knock him down, it is still nice to see them. Also, the genuine chemistry and joy in the Karen/Matt date scenes are lovely. Comic fans know that Matt and Karen are destined for other things (positive and negative), but it is good to see that relationship actually built on the show instead of assumed (like Thor/Jane on the film side).
That will do for now. I’ll be tackling Luke Cage and this season concurrently since the shows’ timelines are similar. So expect some cutting back and forth between the shows as we continue to work our way to The Defenders in another six or so weeks!