Spoilers ahead for all of Daredevil‘s second season!
Daredevil‘s sophomore season has officially arrived, and with it a host of reviews outlining its various successes and pitfalls. For our part, we saw fair amount of setup for the latter-half climax in the action, a promise not exactly kept once we tuned into the final episodes. It’s one thing to set up a conflict (and eventual resolution), but the true mark of a great show comes in the follow-through. Unfortunately, Daredevil was tragically short on that this season.
There were certainly high points contained within the latest from Marvel’s Netflix series. The follow-up to Season 1’s now-famous hallway fight scene was just as spectacular in its execution. Jon Bernthal shines as the imposing Punisher. Charlie Cox further proved that his portrayal of Daredevil is the definitive one in Marvel cinematic cannon. But while it thrived on stellar performances, it faltered in the realm of focused storytelling.
1. It all begins with the villains
The relative strength of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones has always been its strong villains. Season 1 of the former featured Vincent D’Onofrio giving the performance of a lifetime as Wilson Fisk, terrorizing our heroes for the entirety of the story. We saw both his side of the conflict and Matt Murdock’s, eventually culminating in a climactic final showdown. Jessica Jones did the same with David Tennant’s Killgrave. Season 2 of Daredevil though lacked that singular presence to drive us through the story.
Initially, our villain is the Punisher, as he violently guns down criminal after criminal in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s not long before he lands in prison, where he goes on a brief detour to introduce our next bad guy in the form of an incarcerated Wilson Fisk. While this is all happening, Matt Murdock is dealing with Elektra (whose allegiances are unclear), and an ancient order of evil ninjas whose own motivations aren’t entirely obvious either (and don’t even get us started on the Blacksmith B-story). It’s never clear where our focus is supposed to be, making it hard to invest in any one conflict. Ultimately, it’s a season that played away from the relative strengths of Marvel’s Netflix universe.
2. About that scattered story …
Here’s where the loss of Season 1 showrunner Steven S. DeKnight was really felt. While new showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez are accomplished in their own right, DeKnight’s ability to maintain a consistent story thread through a chaotic universe is unchallenged. Even with brief diversions from the main plot in Season 1, we always knew where true north was in the plot. Conversely, Season 2 was all over the place. Here are the various story threads the show burned through in just 13 episodes:
- A widespread conspiracy to kill the Punisher’s family
- A lengthy trial sending the Punisher to prison
- The hasty introduction of the Blacksmith two-thirds of the way through the season
- The Hand and their plan to do something bad that never gets explained to us
- Elektra’s history with Matt, and the subsequent reveal that she’s the “Black Sky”
- An ancient war between the Chaste and the Hand, that two seasons in we still don’t know the stakes of
- Wilson Fisk’s hostile takeover of his high-security prison (because apparently even with his assets frozen he has infinite cash to throw around)
- A falling out between Matt and Foggy leading to the eventual dissolution of their law practice
- Karen’s journey to become an investigative reporter (and the victim of at least three separate kidnappings)
3. The Hand wasn’t explained to us nearly enough
We saw brief teases at the Hand in the first season of Daredevil, and Season 2 attempted to build on that in a big way. Unfortunately, it fell flat on its face in the execution. The Hand isn’t fully introduced until we’re over halfway through the season (episodes 7 and 8), and even then we’re never filled in on the specifics. We hear constant references to an impending war from Stick (Scott Glenn). How that war is supposed to manifest remains a mystery though, making it difficult to fully understand the stakes.
The Hand pops up in the latter half of the season to … do something. We think. Matt and Elektra stumble across a giant hole at a dig site bought by the shady ninja organization in Season 1, and later come across a room where a group of kids are being bled for reasons that still haven’t been entirely explained. The final episode ends in a battle between Daredevil and the Terminator-esque Nobu, and even then we don’t know what exactly is at stake should our hero fail. Simply put, making the Hand the big bad is something that demands a whole season’s worth of story, not an awkward insertion halfway through the season.
4. The Black Sky problem
Of all the various issues plaguing Daredevil‘s second season, this one may very well be the most glaring of them all. In Season 1, we’re introduced to something known as “Black Sky.” All we’re told initially is that “it” is actually a small child chained up in a shipping container, that Nobu wants to use it do something nefarious, and that it needs to be killed. We later learn in the latter episodes of Season 2 that Elektra is also a Black Sky, and that being captured by the Hand would result in apocalyptic consequences. The only problem: We still don’t know what exactly Black Sky is.
The “explanation” we’re given is woefully short on details. As Nobu states, Black Sky is an ancient and powerful force worshipped by the Hand as their leader. What we don’t know is what it does, what it’s capable of, where it comes from, the powers it possesses, or virtually anything else about why we should be afraid of it. It’s asking a lot of your audience to fear a villain we know nothing about, bringing the added issue of feeling like the writers themselves don’t know what’s going on either.
5. Unanswered questions abound
Black Sky wasn’t the only unanswered question Season 2 presented (although it’s certainly endemic to the show’s greater problems). A series is definitely entitled to leave a handful of mysteries open-ended to ensure its future. But when the whole show revolves around questions that are never fully given answers, we’re afforded nothing in the way of closure on any front. The list of mysteries never covered in Daredevil‘s sophomore season is long (most of which are Hand-related):
- Why was the Hand digging a giant hole in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen?
- Why did the Blacksmith go through so much trouble to kill Frank Castle’s family?
- Why was the Hand bleeding kids in a basement, and why did those kids willingly give themselves up?
- What was the huge urn Nobu was hauling around supposed to be used for?
- How is Nobu essentially immortal?
- What is the Hand planning to do once they have the Black Sky?
6. Season 2 should have only been about the Punisher
The arc of Jon Bernthal’s Punisher was a peculiar one to say the least. His journey was set up as the A-story for the better half of the season, only to be unceremoniously sidelined in the final episodes. It’s a move that abandoned the most compelling theme the series had: the morality of Frank Castle versus Matt Murdock. Castle aptly points out that Daredevil is “one bad day away from being me.” He goes on to argue that his decidedly more murder-y approach is the only permanent solution to crime in Hell’s Kitchen, making for an intriguing foil to Daredevil’s Catholic morality.
A whole season of Daredevil grappling with the Punisher’s rigid code and his own increasingly ineffectual philosophy would have played right into the strengths of the series as a whole. Instead, they restricted that conversation to a couple episodes. It’s made that much stranger when Matt is suddenly OK with Elektra and the Punisher killing people, as long as they do it fighting alongside him. It’s an example of a huge missed opportunity, and it’s one that could have single-handedly focused down the scattershot approach Season 2 opted for.
Season 2 of Daredevil is available in its entirety on Netflix now.
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