I don’t usually do reviews of tv shows but when a whole season comes out on one day it’s a bit different. I’m aware that not everyone will have seen all of the show yet so I’m not going to go into spoiler territory, and I’ll only mention things that you would have known from the trailers. I’m going to give my general impressions and talk about some of the themes and concepts in the show. I really enjoyed season 1, although I thought it started off slowly, but I enjoyed the tone. There were a couple of problems I had with it, so did season 2 correct them?
Yes, but it does have problems of its own as well. The two main criticisms I had of the first series was that it took a long time for things to happen, like Daredevil actually getting his costume. That is completely not the case here and the fast pace is evident from the first episode. The other thing that I felt was missing from the first season was courtroom drama, but that plays an element in season 2 as well. The action is once again very good, although some fight scenes do become repetitive. But what I like is that this isn’t a show I watch primarily for the fight scenes. I watched it for the characters and the philosophical concepts discussed.
The main theme of the season is examining Daredevil’s code of no killing, and what effects that actually has. The contrast is drawn between two figures in his life, The Punisher and Elektra, who both have different reasons for going to the extreme. The first bulk of episodes focus on the emergence of Frank Castle as a one man killing machine and I loved the way he was introduced and the mystery surrounding why he does what he does. Bernthal is amazing, channelling a young De Niro, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a Netflix series starring him because he was such a dominating screen presence that sometimes it felt like it was a Punisher show co-starring Daredevil (although I’m going to say upfront that I like The Punisher more than I do Daredevil). He brings such a brooding intensity and it takes something special to out-brood Matt Murdock.
Punisher is obviously into killing and there are several amazing scenes between the two characters where Punisher calls Daredevil out for being a coward. The criminals he catches get released and go back out on the street, but when Punisher deals with them they’re done. The discussion was handled maturely and both perspectives were given a balanced overview. In a summer where superheroes are going to be fighting each other this is exactly what I want to see, a clashing of philosophies and a way to examine what it actually means to be a hero/vigilante. This is basically everything I want from a superhero tv show, and when Elektra is introduced there are more deeper conversations as Matt has more of a personal connection to her.
Elektra is as well cast as Punisher and that’s probably the main strength of the show. The casting, even to supporting characters, is stellar. Elodie Young captures the essence of Elektra and I felt she and Matt shared the kind of uncontrollable passion that they knew was going to destroy them, but was too powerful to resist. There’s a particularly tender scene in which they compare their scars, and it comes at a point where Matt is struggling to balance his personal life with that of his crime-fighting side. And of course that impacts his relationships with Foggy and Karen. I know a few people get annoyed with Foggy but I love him, and he’s a vital part of the show as he finally gets tired of Matt putting the costume above the lawyer suit. Karen has a subplot where she’s going after the truth about Castle, but honestly I felt for most of the season she was underused, and was just caught between the conflict that arose between Matt and Foggy. Also, they hint at her backstory but it’s so vague that I honestly don’t know why they bothered. I thought they would have delved more into the reasons why she came to New York, especially where they seem to be going for season 3.
But as the season goes in the quality lessens, and that’s understandable in a way because the first 4/5 episodes are SO good. I would put that block up there with the best of superhero screen depictions. The next four episodes are still good, especially the parts with Elektra, but the end of the season I found disappointing. The war that Stick alluded to finally comes to New York as The Hand search for Black Sky, but the big problem is that everything is so vague. Matt actually calls out Stick for being so vague about things, but just because a character on the show hints at a problem it doesn’t excuse it. There’s no reason given why they need Black Sky or what’s going to happen if they get it, or why it’s so powerful, and because of this the end of the season feels anticlimactic, and the themes of the earlier episodes feel lost. The show never really comes to a conclusion about whether Punisher or Matt’s philosophy is right (and it’s probably a good thing that the viewer is left to make up their own mind and think about it themselves) but there was an opportunity in the finale to follow up on that yet it was missed, and where the beginning of the season feels like it’s getting deep into the underlying mythology and tropes of the superhero genre, the final episodes feel like they’re following the same formulaic pattern that has been laid out before them.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the show a lot but I think my opinion is just tempered by how good the first episodes were. My other niggling thing is that by the end of the show I enjoyed the Punisher subplot more than I did the actual main plot of the show, and in his own show Daredevil should not be sidelined. But it’s another high-quality superhero product and I’m interested to see how Batman v Superman and Civil War compare in how they handle a conflict between heroes.