Watching the first season of Daredevil, I had the realization that Netflix wasn’t just ‘pretending’ to deliver actual, original content. Yes, there had been shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, but Daredevil was must-watch television or what I call “ignore the wife and kids”-worthy. While the second season wasn’t quite as stirring, it still proves to be better than the average show – with a heart intent on challenging how we see the world beyond that of the comic book.
The second season is driven (more slowly than the first) by the various methodologies (even theologies) of several of its main characters. Obviously, there’s a strong focus on Matt Murdock AKA Daredevil (Charlie Cox), who struggles with his decisions in the courtroom (rather apathetic) and on the city streets (with an intent to disarm but not dismember). But there’s growing discontent on both sides. In court and at the office, fellow law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and more-than-a-pretty-face Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) are discontented with Murdock’s performance as well as his negligence in friendship. On the streets, Daredevil finds himself challenged by the re-emergence of Stick (Scott Glenn) and an old flame, Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung). In both court and on the city streets, Murdock/Daredevil finds himself up against a new vigilante, Frank Castle AKA The Punisher (Jon Bernthal).
While some Marvel vehicles are content to settle for “global” or “local,” Daredevil uses New York City’s Hell Kitchen like a power hub that allows those two worlds to collide. While The Punisher and Daredevil fight localized drug dealers who impact the people closest to them, they are also drawn into a conspiracy that extends through time and space thanks to the powerful, resurrective science (or is it magic?) of The Hand. [Honestly, at this point, if you’re lost… go read some comics. Or at least watch the first season.] Thankfully, too, the second season combines serious, fist-throwing action with bigger, metaphysical conversations about what it means to be heroic, what it means to answer to a higher power, and what it means to determine what morality drives us to be who we are.
As you can see above, Daredevil finds himself in some sticky situations – not least of which involve Castle. Castle’s backstory follows a good bit of what has been his classic back story. [An ironic note here: while the back stories of Murdock and Castle seem largely unaltered, the backgrounds of Page and Elektra get some facelifts.] While Murdock dons the mask to fulfill unrequited justice in the courtroom, the Punisher’s black is taken on thanks to significant personal loss.
Bernthal’s portrayal is just… epic. Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, and Ray Stevenson are all previous Castle/Punishers. While you might have thought that Bernthal’s Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead was as good as it gets, his turn as the Punisher proves that the 1974 creation of Gerry Conway and John Romita, Sr. still has something to show us about the world today. In a world where society’s public response to evil, crime, terrorism, etc. is analyzed and dissected, there are sure to be people who find Castle’s brand of justice appealing – if not admirable.
But Daredevil isn’t The Punisher. He doesn’t believe that it’s his right to take lives – even if he’s faced with his own life and death. [Case in point, The Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio).] But while The Punisher is working his trouble out, Foggy Nelson is determining how to be the lawyer he knows he can be, and the press is coming after Daredevil and The Punisher… Matt Murdock’s Daredevil continues to inspire others because he’s wrestling with his own inner demons.
“Guilt can be a good thing. It’s the soul’s call to action. the only way to rectify that is to keep moving until the actions are repaired. The guilt means your actions are not yet finished.”– Matt Murdock’s priest
Matt Murdock calls Hell’s Kitchen “my city,” but he’s unclear on how to settle the issues that he sees there. Stick tells him that he’s “protecting a city that is front and center in the middle of a war and it doesn’t even know it’s going on.” Murdock is also told that “the city needs heroes but you’re not one of them,” and that he should stop thinking of himself as a martyr [“Come down off your cross and be with the people. Show that you’re human. Take off your hair shirt.”] Murdock is bruised and battered physically, but he’s also metaphysically punched in the face by his friends!
So he could choose the way of death. He could embrace the violence and murder of Stick, who will clearly kill, maim, and violate for his own ends. Yes, he sees himself as part of something bigger and more meaningful than simple loss/gain, but he’s ultimately choosing evil because it suits him. And then there’s Castle’s Punisher: he only kills the guilty, but he determines who the guilty are, and seems unconcerned by whether they are the evil he thinks they are. Neither one actually proves to present Murdock with a viable choice, as he fights forward through stairwells and hallways and prison cells toward justice.
And this doesn’t go unnoticed.
One of the most compelling characters in the series is Karen Page. Her troubled past and more troubled future are only beginning to unfold in front of us. But she’s clearly a moral voice in the midst of this chaotic violence. [To fully get where I’m going with this, you have to see the first season.] She’s wrestling with the choices that she’s made, and the way that the various vigilantes she observes handle the evil in her city. Is Castle really evil? Is Daredevil really good? Page’s own quest to determine good and evil will lead her to this: “A hero isn’t above us. A hero isn’t a god or an idea, but here on the street with us, among us. Look in the mirror and see yourself for what you truly are.”
While Page is moved by Daredevil – after wrestling with her own conscience about how ineffectual she believes Murdock to be, her response is not the most strong. Elektra has her own wrestling match – between Stick who ‘rules’ emphatically and decisively, and Daredevil who proceeds more cautiously, with grace. Stick wants to eradicate the evil even if they possess some element of good, while Daredevil/Murdock wants to save the glimmers of good even if the body itself lurks mostly in the shadows. In the end, her decision-making will prove to be painful and troubling; Elektra is the one who remains clouded in mystery (and poverty of script) even as the credits roll.
Daredevil is that Catholic-tinged Christ figure. He’s blasted for his grace, derided for his mercy. He’s critiqued by friends, close enough to be family; he’s lambasted for being beyond the law. But the excellent writing, and the strength of his character, show us something about the power that a good person, a faithful one, can have on his community.
In the end, another soul, a touched life says, “I finally know what it feels like to be good. Does it always hurt this much? This is not the end.” All of these are true – and holy – even in the murk of Hell’s Kitchen, thanks to the emblem of hope, justice, and, yes, grace, who believes in who the people of Hell’s Kitchen can be.