Posted on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Daredevil season two is very, very good. It’s not quite Jessica Jones-good, but it’s a significant improvement over the wildly inconsistent first season and a sign that Marvel Studios is really getting a handle on this whole Netflix series thing. The streaming corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe truly feels like it’s in a good place.
Have you watched the second season yet? I certainly hope so, because we’re going to take a deep dive into the season to explore what it does right, what it does wrong, and why Foggy sucks so very much. Naturally, spoilers of all kinds lurk below.
The Netflix Problem
The first season of Daredevil was finely produced and directed, well acted by a solid ensemble of game actors, and did a fair job of translating the grim world of Matt Murdock to the small screen. It was a good season of television and a strong start for the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Except that it suffered from the Netflix Problem, an issue that plagues more than its fair share of the streaming giant’s original series, particularly House of Cards. But Daredevil season one was the worst offender, by far.
The Netflix Problem goes like this: freed from the restraints of regular network television, streaming-only shows are built to be “binge-watched” in a few settings, meaning that their creators treat them like a 13-hour movie instead of a television show. Ironically, the resulting shows aren’t nearly as easy to binge as shows that were produced for regular television. Look at Breaking Bad, where each hour stands alone, digs its hooks into you, and propels you into the next episode. It does this because the show had to convince audiences to return the next week, to stay excited and invested. Free of having to keep interests up for a week, Netflix shows stagnate, spin their wheels, and often have the bad habit of just ending rather than climaxing. After all, the next episode will auto-play in a few seconds anyway.
For the first season of Daredevil, this was a huge problem and for many viewers, a killing blow. There were about seven hours of great story in those thirteen episodes and they were stretched thin. The show was always more interesting than gripping. How many people would have stuck around if it aired week-to-week?
Daredevil season two has a rough start, but it soon overcomes the Netflix Problem in a big way, building its episodes around contained stories and concluding with scenes and shots that have you scrambling for the remote so you can beat the auto-play to the punch. Simply put, there is more story in the second season and that story feels shaped and crafted into bite-sized chunks rather than spread across thirteen hours. While not quite as propulsive as Breaking Bad or Lost or even The Walking Dead, Daredevil is more satisfying this season in every way.
The secret ingredient here is actually incredibly simple – the season has two major plots and can freely jump between the two when necessary. By juggling the story of Frank Castle’s war against the criminals of Manhattan and Elektra’s war with The Hand, the season always has something to fall back on. It’s never about one thing. While the first season’s battle against Wilson Fisk was compelling enough, it simply didn’t offer enough material to fill out an entire season on its own. To the credits of new showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, they looked at what didn’t work about season one and they fixed it, which certainly bodes well for the inevitable season three.
Daredevil the Superhero
Can we take a moment to talk about how good Charlie Cox is on Daredevil? When he’s Matt Murdock, blind lawyer, he brings the perfect amount of charm, smolder and humor to the role, selling us on why his friends stick by him, even when he vanishes at inopportune moments and returns with mysterious bruises. As Daredevil, he elevates a more thankless task, lending the barely restrained fury of this superhero a shot of Irish rage and a healthy dose of Catholic guilt. Daredevil punishes and he gets punished. Matt pays for his sins in the light of day. Cox, so inherently charismatic, sells this dynamic beautifully.
So why the hell is Daredevil so afraid to make its title character a proper superhero? Time and time again, the series downplays his super-senses. Sure, he can hear a beating heart and detect enemies a block away, but everything that makes him super has been pushed to the side. We’re talking about a character whose sense of touch is so powerful that he can read text by feeling the imprint left by ink on a page. He can pick apart the make-up of complex chemical mixtures with a single sniff. Most importantly, his “radar sense” allows him to “see” in 360 degrees, giving him an edge in any fight sequence.
Instead, the show frequently treats Matt like a well-trained blind warrior, a Zatoichi-type instead of a superhuman capable of trading blows with the likes of Captain America and Spider-Man. This may sound like fanboy nitpicking, but it so often feels like a missed opportunity. When Daredevil eventually teams up with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage for The Defenders, he’s going to look awfully outclassed unless his own series starts playing up what really makes him unique. He’s not a blind guy who’s good at punching and absorbing punishment – he’s a blind guy whose superhuman senses allow him to literally experience the world unlike anyone else. It’s time to break out that radar sense and it’s time for the show to start visualizing it. Why strip a superhero of his coolest power?
If the series can introduce Daredevil’s trademark weapon, his retractable billy club, in the final episode of season two, then it is not too late to correct this.