Season Two, Episode One, Two, Three — “Bang”, “Dogs to a Gunfight”, “New York’s Finest”
By Jarrod Jones. It hasn’t even been a year since Daredevil came and kicked binge-prone TV fans right in the teeth, but the second season is already here anyway. There’s something discomfiting about the rate at which Marvel Studios and Netflix are cranking out their gritty superhero yarns (Luke Cage comes out later this year), but so far nothing in this stretch of Defenders output has betrayed anything close to resembling creative strain. But it was bound to happen sooner or later.
As the first three hours of Daredevil unfolded I was met with a recurring notion that, when we finally finish this season, it would be remembered as “the bad one”. There’s 10 more episodes left to sort through, I had to keep reminding myself, so I took time to luxuriate within the few pleasures these episodes had in store. And those moments, intermittent and excruciatingly brief as they are, actually do exist. One of them is the thrill of seeing Matt as a fully-realized, billy-club bouncin’ superhero. The kind that Hell’s Kitchen deserves. (There’s a moment where Matt whips chains at overhead lights to envelop his quarry in the same darkness in which he lives, and it’s stupendous.) But more often we’re left sitting through the often-inadequate (and more often, just lousy) dialogue offered forward by this season’s poorly-vetted screenwriters. (The fault decidedly lies at the feet of Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez; show creator Drew Goddard and former showrunner Steven S. DeKnight sat this season out, and it shows.)
Daredevil returns to your Netflix queue, and it has the unenviable duty of siccing two major baddies at Matt Murdock. (Apparently, it takes two to fill the void left behind by Wilson Fisk.) There’s Frank Castle, a military-grade vigilante with his mind bent on breaking the Irish Mob. (The first season dealt in the timely themes of how gentrification can destroy lives, while this season seems to settle into more rote trappings.) He’s big, he’s angry, and he’s… big and angry. There’s also Elektra, but you won’t find her in these first three episodes; it appears that Daredevil is having its cake and eating it piecemeal. As a sequel season, just consider Daredevil more like Iron Man 2 than The Dark Knight, and prepare yourself accordingly.
WHAT WORKED: The raging hallway sequence at the end of the second episode of Daredevil‘s first season was raucous entertainment, a moment of proof to any doubters that Netflix was going to deliver a solid season of superhero television. Here, Daredevil adopts the “bigger is better” approach with a similar fight sequence, this time set in a confining stairwell that finds Matt Murdock wrapped in chains and stuck to a pistol he uses to bludgeon a swarming army of pissed-off bikers. As Matt growls and bellows through this daunting gauntlet, there are more than a few moments of “been there, done that,” but the execution remains sound. It’s Matt’s literal descent into Hell. If only the rest of what I watched had the same brio.
WHAT DIDN’T: Is it me, or has Matt become kind of a shit-head? His “boo-hoo” mentality towards Frank’s implied familial loss is wholly against character, a default antagonistic bent given to him by this season’s team of ineffectual writers. (Oh, how I miss Drew Goddard.) And it only gets worse from there — Charlie Cox’s Irish accent keeps peeking through his growls, and it’s painfully distracting. It’s difficult to get pumped about a performance when you can see the mechanics of it behind the curtain.
Karen and Foggy’s continued beef with hotshot DA Samantha Reyes perplexes me. (Reyes: “Your firm is small-time“; “You are WAY out of your league.” Ick.) New York City’s District Attorney visibly utilizes a State’s witness as bait to capture The Punisher, and when it goes haywire and the NYPD lose their witness Reyes… gets to go home? I may only dabble in fictional TV law, but I’m pretty sure the writers of this show haven’t bothered cracking open a law book, let alone a single episode of The Wire. What’s worse, if they have (considering the tin-eared dialogue in these first few episodes, they probably have), they’ve completely misinterpreted the application of real law inside a television drama. It’s time for some night school, people. (“Let’s be real honest here, no bullshit,” indeed.)
Sgt. Brett Mahoney was a welcome presence in the first season of Daredevil, but here he’s treated as the show’s own personal Jim Gordon. (Think Gotham, only slightly less silly.) Mahoney’s expanded presence for this season is not exactly a benefit, neither to the show nor Royce Johnson as an actor — here he’s spoon-fed ludicrous noir speak, most of which is pilfered from Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and that’s just when he’s in a sequence that actually requires his presence. Ben Urich, Mahoney is not.
BEST LINE(s): Y’know. During these three introductory hours of Daredevil, I didn’t come across one line of dialogue that stood out as brilliant, or funny, or inspired. More often, I found myself jotting down lines that could be considered ironic when juxtaposed against Daredevil as a series, or Matt Murdock as a character, or Foggy as the show’s bleeding heart. (Here he’s become more of the show’s primary liability.) No Best Line(s) this week.
BEST MOMENT: Frank and Matt have a chat. Compared to practically everything you could watch in Season One, this throwback sequence to Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon’s pretty all right “Welcome Back, Frank” had moments where I really thought we were about to get some serious TV. The conflicting ideologies between our two vigilantes almost elevated the two episodes that preceded it into “just okay” territory — ultimately it didn’t, but the sweet promise was undoubtedly there. (The extended rooftop sequence took place in Episode Three, written by, um, Mark Verheiden. Of Timecop. And Smallville. *sigh*) If there’s one example of how hindered Daredevil has become due to its own success, let it be this one. There’s a wholly riveting show simmering underneath the surface of this season. It just needed more time to gestate.
EPISODE’S MVP: I’m giving it to Jon Bernthal’s Punisher, but it’s not like I’m happy about it. The only time I found myself sitting upright in the first three hours was whenever Bernthal was onscreen, and that was largely due to what I’ve seen the actor do with similar material (in The Walking Dead and Fury, to name two examples). I like Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle — but this isn’t the show where such inspired casting can breathe. At least, not yet.
– Ah, the ol’ “take the gun, break it up, toss it aside without breaking stride” bit. Somebody’s watched The Dark Knight.
– Is Carol driving Ben Urich’s car?
– Ugh, that “mushrooms: feed them shit, keep them in the dark” line was totally stolen from The Departed.
– File under “not surprising”: Foggy keeps a Koosh ball on his desk.
– I’m taking Daredevil in pieces with this year’s recap series. (Episodes Four, Five and Six are coming this Friday.) Please keep spoilers out of the comments section. I’ll be forever grateful for your restraint.
5.5 out of 10
Next: “Penny and Dime”, “Kinbaku” and “Regrets Only”, soon.
Before: “The Path of the Righteous”, “The Ones We Leave Behind” and “Daredevil”, here.