When Marvel's Daredevil premiered on Netflix last year, its brawls and its slow build were great. But it also had the particular pacing problems that plague many Netflix "binge" shows. The second season of Daredevil — what I've seen of it — has kept all of the good and fixed a lot of bad. Here's a spoiler-free review. I've seen seven of the fourteen episodes being released today, and what surprised me the most was how cleanly the season's episodes were broken up into separate chunks. They're connected, but each chunk has a mini-arc within the greater theme of the season. This choice fixes many of the pacing problems that have plagued other Netflix shows.
Having to complete each mini-arc within a certain number of episodes puts the pressure back on the show to keep things tight, and keeps the digressions to a minimum. And yet, the show pulls this off without sacrificing the binge-watching impulse. Once one part of the story concluded, I still felt the need to keep watching.
Daredevil season two also manages to vary the genres it borrows from. There are Matt's usual adventures as the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, but also some heists, detective work, politics and courtroom drama. The last one is especially welcome, since there wasn't nearly enough of Matt and Foggy in the courtroom last time.
This is a show (and a cast) that are fully comfortable in the world they have created. Refreshingly, Daredevil deals with the consequences of season one without constantly talking about what happened. You could actually watch this season without seeing the first one, and be fine. Some nuance would be lost, but it totally works. Many movie sequels can't pull that off.
The returning cast is as strong as ever, and while Charlie Cox is as stubborn and arrogant as ever and Deborah Ann Woll gives Karen both strength and empathy, the absolute stand-out is Elden Henson as Foggy. While the "only sane man" trope is usually played for comedy, Foggy keeps showing how exhausting and frustrating that role is in real life. Foggy tries desperately to find the most practical solution to every problem, and it's hard to root for the superhero option over his pragmatism.
The big newcomers are Jon Bernthal as the Punisher and Élodie Yung as Elektra. As he should, the Punisher serves as a contrast to Daredevil, vicious and excessive in his vengeance. The violence dealt by and to the Punisher recall the best brawls of season one, messy but definitely effective. And yet somehow, Elektra is scarier.
Yung's Elektra is terrifying, because while Punisher feels like a man unchained, Elektra feels like a woman who isn't even aware there are chains. Both characters act as devils on Matt's shoulders, but Elektra's manipulative enough that she might actually succeed in corrupting him. Once Elektra shows up, things get complicated, fast.
The show's faithfulness to the comics remains a constant, especially now that Daredevil's gone full red-devil outfit all the time. There are some moments that you could freeze-frame to resemble a perfect comic panel. And I actually kind of loved that Elektra wears so much red. Because comic book characters so often have a signature look.
There is one weakness to the season, and it's not a small one: none of the show's themes are subtle. The show is engaging in a debate about vigilantism. And redemption versus punishment. Everyone wants Matt either to stop being Daredevil entirely, or to take his role to the logical extreme. Of course, both sides are so strident that Matt's comparatively nuanced position — keep fighting, but don't kill — becomes an obvious winner.
Part of the problem is that a lot of Daredevil characters enjoy giving monologues. And not just in the law scenes, where it would be fine, but all the time. The Punisher, in particular, has a few that go on too long. Long enough to shake off the suspension of disbelief that's necessary to totally enjoy the moment. When the show is full of dialogue, it's smart and witty. But once characters start lecturing, it soon becomes gratuitous — and obvious.
All in all, Daredevil season two is a show that's learned from its debut and improved upon it. Things don't drag nearly as much as they did last time, and everyone's relationships have progressed and gotten more complicated. There's something for everyone in this second season, and it should not be missed.
All images: Netflix