Thursday, April 7, 2016

TV Binge Review - Daredevil Season 2

Daredevil Season 2 features Jon Bernthal as the iconic Punisher!

  When the pundits of the future review the innovations of the 2010’s the decision by Netflix to release entire seasons of their hourly web shows will be near the top of the lists. For decades the only way to watch an episodic television show was to make sure you were stationed in front of your television at the same time on the same day each week or you were out of luck until reruns. With the advent of videotape and Tivo it became possible to record a television show to watch later. The internet allowed television networks to afford viewers the opportunity to view shows on demand but there was still the issue of only one new episode made being available each week.

  When Netflix released entire seasons of ‘House Of Cards’ and ‘Orange is The New Black’ in 2013 there were plenty of skeptics who wondered if monthly subscribers would only pay for the service when their favorite shows were released. The skeptics were wrong. If anything Netflix and their imitators (Hulu and Amazon) have enjoyed greater customer loyalty because being able to watch a brand-new season of a favorite show is such a customer-centric idea that waiting each week even for a show like ‘The Walking Dead’ seems viewer-unfriendly by comparison.

  Last month Netflix released all 13 episodes of the second season of Daredevil, the Marvel Comics based blind superhero that has super senses to go along with incredible fighting skills. I loved last year’s season mostly due to the brilliant performance of Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin and was eager to see the new season. I watched four episodes last week and binge-watched the final nine episodes over the weekend.

   Daredevil is set in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on New York City along with Netflix’s companion Marvel super hero shows Jessica Jones and the soon to be released Luke Cage. The neighborhood is highly romanticized with a disproportionate number of poor honest working people and petty thieves living among the wealthy capitalists, mobsters, and well-to-do. Daredevil patrols his streets by night and helps downtrodden citizens by day in his true identity of Matt Murdock the blind attorney with his partners Foggy Nelson and Karen Page.

  The second season gets off to a great start with the introduction of Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) who is systematically attacking the mob gangs in Hell’s Kitchen that were present when his family was murdered in a nearby carousel. Castle is played by Jon Bernthal who is best known as Shane from the first two seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Bernthal did a creditable job as the Punisher. He showed enough fighting skills to be a believable as a hand to hand combat expert and ruthlessly using bullets as his weapon of first choice. There was a bone shivering scene where Castle and Daredevil are on an apartment rooftop when Castle is confronted by an elderly man who heads up to the roof and wants to know what is going on. Castle engages the man with his New York accent and military talk all the while having a gun pointed at the old man from the other side of the rooftop access door ready to blow his brains out if he ventures from the entrance to the actual rooftop.

  The first four episodes feature great Punisher action against the gangs of New York as well some fights with Daredevil with the only dull moments when the Punisher and Daredevil have a long philosophical discussion about whether killing killers is justified. By the end of the fourth episode Daredevil helps the Punisher escape from an ambush only to give him up to the police whereupon he convinces his law partner Foggy Nelson to have their firm provide the Punisher’s legal defense. It seemed like a short burst of Punisher action but them Matt Murdock has a reunion with his old girlfriend Elektra.

  Elektra is a key figure in the Frank Miller reboot of the Daredevil franchise in the 1980’s. An old college girlfriend of Murdock’s, Elektra is a martial artist assassin trained by the same mysterious ‘Stick’ that trained Daredevil and played a role in season one. Once Elektra shows up the action slows significantly since we need to be shown the obligatory flashbacks to their college romance which ends when Elektra kidnaps the man who killed Murdock’s father and offers him to Matt to murder and exact his revenge. Elektra is in town to break into the Roxxon corporation headquarters and steal information concerning some mysterious shipments and hires the services of Murdock’s law firm but is really hiring Matt to helper her as Daredevil. There are a couple of suspenseful scenes with the Murdock and Elektra in formal dress at a Roxxon party, eluding hordes of goons, and obtaining the information but for the most part Elektra was a plot device to introduce the nefarious band of ninja assassins known as ‘The Hand’, reintroduce Stick, drive a wedge between Murdock and his law partner since fighting as Daredevil leaves Matt too tired to participate in their defense of the Punisher, and also disrupt Murdock’s budding romance with legal aide Karen Page when she finds Elektra sleeping in Murdock’s bed.

  After the four fairly dull episodes featuring Elektra, the action finally resumes with the reintroduction of the Kingpin in prison having a conversation with the Punisher. The Kingpin tells the Punisher of a cell block boss that has information on the murder of the Punisher’s family and arranges a meeting. Just as Kingpin planned, the Punisher kills the cell block boss leaving the Kingpin to rule the prison. Also as the Kingpin planned the entire cell block of murderers and thieves tried to kill the Punisher to avenge their boss’s death. But as the Kingpin did not plan the Punisher then proceeds to murder the entire cell block so Kingpin arranges to help the Punisher break out of prison so he can consolidate his control without interference. As in season one, D’Onofrio stole the show with his portrayal of the Kingpin as a Shakespearean larger than life character. He has a scene with Murdock where he admits to his role in the prison events and flies into a fit of rage when Murdock dares to mention his love interest’s (Vanessa) name.

  Once the Punisher is back on the loose the story splits into two arcs: Daredevil, Elektra, and Stick fight the Hand and each other while the Punisher and Karen Page try to find the drug dealer named ‘The Blacksmith’ that killed his family.As much as I liked watching Daredevil fight hundreds of ninjas it tended to blur into the same fight after a while, spiced up only when Elektra kills Stick’s minions after another series of lengthy flashbacks. The Punisher arc held a lot more of my interest with a concrete resolution as the Punisher gets justice, buries the past by burning his family home, and becomes the Punisher full-time (not before lending Daredevil a helping hand in his final ninja battle).

  I liked season two but not nearly as much as season one. The fight scenes with the ninja warriors are cool to watch once or twice but I lost my interest after their fifth or sixth appearance. Like the ninjas, the ‘Stick’ character was also overused. After one episode his curmudgeonly blind wise man/warrior act got pretty tedious. The Punisher and Kingpin were fantastic and should have been the main plot instead of the Stick/Elektra/ninja war that dominated the last 9 episodes of the season. The only other quibble I had with the season was how Daredevil and the Punisher would regularly get battered, bruised, broken, and bloodied but while Punisher would stay black and blue for episodes, Daredevil would look healed and be back fighting in time for the next scene, even when he had a crossbow bold go straight through his chest!

  Elodie Yung as Elektra seemed to be more focused on being mysterious and exotic than displaying how Elektra was torn between being a cold-blooded assassin that tries to lure Daredevil to her lifestyle to switching to Daredevil’s philosophy of not killing to back again. With compelling characters like Kingpin and the Punisher it was a shame that most of the season focused on ninja fights, Elektra, and Stick, especially since the three main characters were much better and more well-defined than in the first season. Charlie Cox gave a good performance as Daredevil and I enjoyed how he was torn between his morality against killing vs. his feelings for his assassin girlfriend. Elden Henson as Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Murdock’s law partner) got rid of a lot of his juvenile joking around and turned into an accomplished trial attorney during the Punisher trial. My favorite arc among the regulars belonged to legal secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) who called off her budding romance with Murdock and morphed into an investigative reporter like Ben Ulrich was in season one, providing a way for the viewers to get to know the Punisher without having Daredevil locked into his whereabouts and plans.

  If there is a season three of Daredevil (and I have no reason to think there won’t be) the stage is set for a remake of the ‘Born Again’ plotline from the comics. The Kingpin has taken a personal interest in all things Matt Murdock (and has the time to put the pieces of the puzzle together) while Murdock revealed his Daredevil identity to Karen Page in the seasons final scene. The other possibility is the continuation of the Elektra death/purification/rebirth storyline as part of yet another battle with the Hand. D’Onofrio is currently working as the Wizard of Oz in the NBC show ‘Emerald City’ and if that show is a success the possibility of the Kingpin making more than a token appearance is minimal. While I don’t want to wish ill will on anyone here’s hoping ‘Emerald City’ shuts down so the Kingpin can make it back for season three of Daredevil.

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