Season 2 of Daredevil arrived burdened with rather high expectations. The first season was a watershed moment for television superheroes, demonstrating a new level of sophistication and maturity which had previously been limited to their Silver Screen counterparts. Netflix’s second collaboration with Marvel, Jessica Jones, not only proved that Daredevil was not a fluke but raised the bar even higher. Thus, by the time trailers started dropping for Daredevil Season 2, fans were ready for another thrilling ride. Given these circumstances it was possibly inevitable that Season 2 might take a moment to find its feet. The first two episodes were engaging yet lacked the emotional pulse of Season 1. Perhaps, the creators placed their hero too rapidly in the Punisher’s crosshairs without giving the character dynamics time to simmer. As exciting as the fight scenes for Season 1 were, it was the character work which truly made it shine. For every hallway tussle there were two more quiet moments which really drove home the emotions. It is a tricky balance and luckily the show found it in Episode 3’s rooftop exchange between Daredevil and the Punisher. From there on out, everything fell into place and Season 2 sprung to full-bodied life.
Episode 4 (“Penny and Dime”) begins with a funeral. A small time hood Grotto has died and the only mourners are from the firm of Nelson & Murdock, who had tried and failed to protect their client from the man labeled the Punisher. In his eulogy, Father Lantom does not try to whitewash the deceased’s vices. What use are such platitudes for either the living or the dead? Instead, he takes a broader view, observing how every individual contains a world within themselves. Despite all his flaws, Grotto was more than a statistic, he was a human being whose life touched others in ways both good and bad. Those connections form links between worlds, pulling people together. It is a poignant speech which forcefully argues against the unforgiving crusade of the Punisher. Just as Daredevil did, Father Lantom asks for acknowledgement of interconnected nature of life. To see humanity, and thus hope, in our enemy is also to see it in ourselves.
Later in the episode, this idea is expressed again through a conversation between Daredevil and the Punisher. Daredevil listens as Frank Castle relate his story. Frank talks about his experience as a soldier, his overwhelming anxiety upon returning home after tours overseas. There is no pomp in his words. He speaks with a plainness which attests to the quiet everyday pains suffered by many veterans. Most of all he was tired, too tired to drink a beer or even read his daughter her favorite bedtime book. Actor Jon Bernthal does an excellent job naturally conveying the emotion of John C. Kelley’s script. In the process Bernthal reveals Frank Castle’s own inner world. Frank is more than a sociopathic killer. No matter how one might judge his actions, it is impossible not to sympathize with the circumstances which sparked them. And like Grotto, Matt is able to see past the surface and glimpse the deeper humanity.
As stated above, such incisive character work is one of the hallmarks of the Netflix/Marvel collaborations. All of the returning cast do strong work. Charlie Cox’s continues conveying the various aspects of Matt’s complicated personality from the dedicated lawyer to charming lady’s man to brooding nighttime vigilante. Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson is the lovable, haggard and reliable partner that fans have known for years. Royce Johnson comes more into his own as police Sgt. Brett Mahoney. Most impressive of the returning supporting characters, though, is Deborah Ann Woll. Her Karen Page remains a complex character, strong in spirit while haunted by past actions. Some of these are known to the viewer (her killing of James Wesley in the previous season), while the series hints that there may be hidden secrets about her life prior to Nelson & Murdock. Woll plays Karen with a mix of intelligence, determination and romance, in such a way that no one aspect of her personality slights the others. Her deepening relationship with Matt is quite natural and one of the pleasures of the current season.
Of course, it would not truly be a Daredevil tale if the course of true love were allowed to run smoothly. The Punisher is not the only iconic character to be introduced this season; the other is a lady by the name of Elektra Natchios. Elektra reenters Matt’s life at the end of Episode 4 and immediately reasserts herself as a dynamic presence in his life. And it is not difficult to see why. As embodied by Elodie Yung, Elektra is a charismatic presence. In flashbacks, she and Matt flirt through words and blows while radiating a chemistry which cannot be denied. Yet, Yung also sneaks a bit of the reckless into her portrayal. A scene where she blithely shatters crystal glasses carries not only an erotic charge but a subtle warning sign. This bored little rich girl might be a bit unhinged as well, a suspicion soon confirmed by a special “surprise” she has prepared for Matt.
This incident sparks a rift between them so bitter than Matt has not forgiven her a decade later. For her part, though, Elektra relishes being in Matt’s orbit once again. The viewer cannot help but smile along with her when she reveals how well she still knows her former lover. At the end of Episode 6, Matt continues to hold himself back from Elektra. The ground has been prepared, however, for potential slippage on his part in the future. In classic superhero fashion, Matt Murdock is a man divided. Karen shares his daytime exploits, while offering him a vision of normalcy. She brings a lightness into his life. Yet, the moment after he says goodnight to her at the end of a “perfect” date, the darker edges of the city sneak up on him once again, tugging him back into the night’s more violent corners. Pulling him back to Elektra.
Episode 6 concludes with new twists in both the Punisher and Elektra subplots. Navigating either of these circumstances alone would be tricky for Matt, but one on top of each other, as the ever loyal Foggy is losing his patience? That may be too much, even for The Man without Fear. How these two narrative threads may tie together remains a mystery. Discovering the answer, though, promises to be an exciting experience. As long as they remain dedicated to exploring the inner worlds of their characters, i.e. their humanity, Netflix and Marvel will continue demonstrating just how great a superhero show can be.