The long wait is over, and we've finally seen all of Daredevil season two. And after watching all 13 episodes, we have to say that we love it. As a whole, it's hard to beat. But there were still some parts that could have been better. Here are eight things we loved, and four that we had issue with.
Needless to say, this whole thing is riddled with spoilers. Proceed with caution.
We Love That...
1) The Punisher Finally Got an Adaptation He Deserved
In his past movie incarnations, Frank Castle hasn't had that much of a short shrift -- but Jon Bernthal came along and blew the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, and Ray Stevenson out of the water.
Bernthal's Punisher is a bloody force of nature -- in contrast to the graceful acrobatics of Daredevil and Elektra, his action scenes are the complete opposite: raw and gore-laden and filled with a manic, uncontrollable fury. But it's not just with the visceral and at times even uncomfortable slaughter that the Punisher delves into that Bernthal astounds. His portrayal of Frank Castle the man is equally fantastic -- whether its in his moments of rage on the witness stand, or the sorrowful moments of contemplation he shares with Karen at the diner about her relationship with Matt.
The highlight of course is the stunning monologue he gives in "Penny and Dime" about his daughter, which you can see above, but it's this combination of tenderness and fury that seals Jon Bernthal as the definitive live-action portrayal of the Punisher. Marvel have denied the rumours that he's getting his own Netflix show, but after seeing this performance? We need one.
2) Elektra Natchios Had a Full and Tragic Tale
You'd be forgiven for thinking that, going into this second season, Daredevil would fluff one of its two big new character introductions: too much time spent on polishing one, to the detriment of the other. You'd be wrong, though -- because just as the show aced its take on the Punisher, in Elodie Yung we have a brilliantly complex take on the Greek assassin, who shines just as brightly.
As we pointed out in our spoiler-free review of the show, Elektra is capable of inspiring just as much fear as the Punisher's brutality is. Torn between fate and a yearning for freedom, between being a killer or a hero, being loved or being protected from the pain of attachment, Elektra finds the battle for her soul at the core of the second season. Her growth from the impish devil on Matt's shoulder manipulating his darkest traits, to a woman who's psychologically shattered by her own manipulation in the war between the Chaste and the Hand, is handled brilliantly.
And even if she doesn't think she's capable of being a hero in the end, her sacrifice to protect Matt in the finale seals the deal that regardless of who she was in the past -- or who she will become, now that the Hand have their, err, hands on her body -- Elektra was a hero.
3) Karen and Foggy Had Better Stories
Everything Foggy and Karen did in season one was directly related to the single plot, driving everything along. That did give it focus, but also forced Karen and Foggy into positions where everything they did was in support of Matt's story. That's not to say they didn't have character development, but it was incidental to everything else.
Season two gives them both a lot more to do. Like in season one, Karen does a lot of investigating. But it's a lot more interesting because, before, Karen was digging up information about what got her framed for murder. While Karen looks into Frank Castle's past because of a Nelson & Murdock client, her continued interest isn't nearly as related to her own life. It reveals a need for answers that is just a part of her, and she's a part of the Punisher arc to the very end, even when Daredevil's already bowed out.
Even more than Karen, Foggy played a supporting role last season. No matter what else he did, his biggest moment of drama was finding out Matt was Daredevil. He called Matt out for a lot of shit, but ultimately forgave him. Season two Foggy, as we have said before, is a real hero. He takes on jobs even he doesn't want, because they have to be done. He's great in court. He takes Matt to task for his failures. He runs out into danger, because he has to. Foggy does so much in this season, and is still upset that Nelson & Murdock collapses. After everything he's been through, it should be a relief.
All of season two does a great job of giving Foggy and Karen stories that naturally build to both of them leaving the firm. It makes sense and gives them, as characters, independence.
4) This Season Built Organically From Season One
Season one of Daredevil was so successful that it might have been very tempting to repeat it. Or to panic and desperately try to do everything completely differently. This show picked the exact right balance.
There's definitely fallout from season one. There's a power vacuum left by Wilson Fisk. Nelson & Murdock have many clients, even though most of them can't actually pay. And the Devil of Hell's Kitchen has been thoroughly established. It's a natural extension of what was set up in season one, without constantly hitting you in the face.
Because it wasn't all focused on Fisk and on Daredevil, the world got to expand and fill out. Elektra and Punisher's stories weren't confined to Hell's Kitchen the way Matt and Fisk's were last season. Going with those two characters as the focal points -- instead of, say, a Fisk-related plot -- really let this season stand on its own.
5) Everything About That Fisk Reveal
That said, Netflix's focus on pushing the Punisher and Elektra as the main threads of the second season made a lot of sense, but it also let them keep the biggest surprise of the season a secret: Vincent D'Onofrio's return as Wilson Fisk at the climax of "Guilty as Sin".
It's the perfect "I have to watch the next episode right now, regardless of what time it is!" moment that defines the greatest Netflix binges, and it's great to see D'Onofrio in action again as he truly makes his ascension to the 'Kingpin' title. In hindsight, it's obvious that Wilson Fisk is still a potent threat, despite being sent to jail -- but getting to see that rise, one more intense, furious meeting between Fisk and Murdock, and the affirmation that he's even more dangerous than ever, was a total delight, and was layered into the show's other arcs excellently.
His sudden reappearance was perfect, partially because the show made you think his arc was over. D'Onofrio's performance was a reminder just how terrifying he was last season and the use of Fisk was distilled into a perfect small arc. We can't wait to see more of him in a potential (but almost certainly guaranteed) Daredevil season three.
6) There Were Much Tighter Arcs
Instead of telling the story of a single villain's rise, alongside the origin of our hero, season two of Daredevil was broken up into much easier-to-define arcs. That was a great choice, and one that every single streaming-based show should adopt.
On the one hand, the show could easily be divided into "Punisher" and "Elektra." In something that is actually a twist these days, their two storylines didn't turn out to be part of the same giant plan all along. The Punisher's storyline about the disaster that killed his family, the ensuing coverup, and his rampage remains independent of Elektra's crusade. The only thing actually tying them together is Daredevil.
But even the Punisher's arc is easily divided into subparts. The first few episodes are about his attacks. Then we have his trial. And the third part is about his escape. Each moment has a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. Which somehow still fits into the larger arc of the show. Given that the middle chunk of the first seasons of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones dragged out a bit, this was a definite improvement.
7) They Embraced the Comicsness of It All
Netflix's Marvel shows have the reputation of being where the "darker and grittier" and "more realistic" parts of the live-action universe live. And Daredevil was the show that had to set that tone. However, season two is more than willing to embrace some key comic book things.
Daredevil spends the whole season with his classic mask and red outfit, rather than the black pajamas of last season. He gets the billy club that is his trademark. Elektra wears so much red, a comic book conceit that is actual fun in this show. And we see the Punisher take a spray can to his uniform at the end -- hinting that he's going to be sporting a skull on his chest when we see him next.
It's almost like a reward of success is getting to feature the best of the comics.
8) The Incredible Action
It's a testament to Daredevil that the defining visual trait of the series somehow got even better this time around. Although the fight scenes were less focused on telling the evolutionary story of Matt Murdock from fledgling vigilante to iconic hero than in the first season, Daredevil season two still delivered excellently choreographed, slick action in spades.
Whether it's the loving homage to the Hallway fight of season 1 with both Matt's glorious battle with the Dogs of Hell in a stairway -- or how it's contrasted with Punisher's own gory, brutal "hallway" fight in prison -- or the multitude of fantastic fights featuring Elektra and the Hand, all graceful twirls and agility, this season delivered, time and time again. Now that Daredevil finally has his iconic billy club from the comics too, thanks to Melvin Potter, it's going to be amazing to see where the show goes next with these moments... although they could probably afford to stop trying to top the "hallway moment" again and again.
We Didn't Love That...
1) The Hand's Plan Was Far Too Nebulous
Black Sky. Black Sky? Black Sky. Black Sky Black Sky Black Sky! There we go, I just summed up the climax to whatever the Hand's mysterious plans for Hell's Kitchen was about. Still confused? So are we.
After an incredibly intriguing set up (the mysterious hole, the exsanguinated, indoctrinated children), the driving force behind the Hand's actions kind of fell apart in the end. We're told, to our supposedly great shock, that Elektra is the 'Black Sky', which makes her the ultimate warrior, revered by the Hand, who also maybe destroys the world... somehow. It's not explained at all what this is meant to be, how it came to be, or even what that means for the stakes Daredevil was playing with. It robs the climactic moments of the season of any sort of tension or resolution, and Elektra's sudden heel turn, from being perfectly fine with being this thing she's trained to kill all her life to being not ok with it, was just as weirdly handled. The story of the Black Sky is clearly not done with yet, but it kind of sucks we have to wait until season three or beyond to actually understand why this thing mattered.
2) The Blacksmith 'Twist'
Likewise, the resolution of the Punisher's own conspiracy likewise came out of nowhere -- the reveal that Clancy Brown's Colonel Schoonover (who might has well have just been called 'Colonel Clancy Brown', because in shocking news, Clancy Brown was playing a shady character!) was the man behind the heroin deal that lead to the deaths of the Castle family.
Considering Schoonover completely vanished from the story after his appearance in the trial during "Guilty as Sin," until he returned for the twist reveal, there was just no set up to it or any sort of clue up until Karen pegs one of the Marines in Schoonver's pictures as one of the bodies she saw at the boat explosion, and it's never really explained why Schoonover turned to heroin trafficking after returning from war, or how he orchestrated the shootout that killed Frank's family. And it's resolved before you even start to really get to think about it, after Frank puts a bullet in Schoonever's head. It's just so randomly thrown out there and dealt with in a single sequence, and it never has an impact. Maybe we'll get to know more in future Punisher appearances, but what we got here wasn't particularly satisfying.
3) Matt Murdock Is a Horrible Lawyer
If one of the themes of this season was Matt embracing the vigilante life as his true identity, then seeing him give up both Nelson & Murdock and a relationship with Karen should have felt like more. It should have felt like he really was losing something. Or it should have at least felt like a relief. Like he a burden was lifted.
Instead, it was just irritating. Matt's weird little speech ruined the Punisher trial, which was actually a great part of the show. Treating his own client, the defendant, as hostile was downright ridiculous. Foggy was right to be pissed that Matt wasn't pulling his weight, but he should have been more upset that he actually showed up just to ruin things.
4) Daredevil Was the Least Interesting Character
Which leads into another weird part of this season. Matt Murdock and Daredevil were not the best parts of their own show. This isn't a criticism of Charlie Cox, by the way, who continues to be great. But Daredevil talking about "my city" and imploring Elektra and Punisher not to kill, as if that was somehow the real line that separated good vigilantes from bad, quickly grows tedious. Especially when we've watched him torture people for information.
Maybe it's the Catholicism in Matt, but he never once seemed to waver in his belief that he was right in all things. Which made him an interesting character to play Elektra, Punisher, Karen, and Foggy off of, but didn't actually make him fun on his own.