I think if we had never seen Jessica Jones this second season of Daredevil would have looked a lot better. Instead, it comes across as very shallow in exploring who Matt Murdock is as a hero, as he tries to walk the line between vigilantism and justice. And that justice is never more apparent than in his every interaction with the Punisher (Jon Bernthal), who is positioned as the embodiment of justice crossed over into vengeance. They spent an entire episode, ham-handed episode bantering back and forth hurling cliches at one another, and in the end it was Punisher who came out looking much better. And that's pretty much the problem with the second season in a nutshell; Daredevil is the least defined, least interesting character of them all, leading to a sophomore season that comes up a little short.
With the excellent Steven DeKnight having departed for greener pastures, the showrunning duties turned over to veteran writers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, have fallen into a trap that has befallen many a writer of the Daredevil comic. Namely, that he's a damned tough character to make distinct or compelling for any length of time. This is nothing against star Charlie Cox who play Daredevil/Murdock ably enough, but last season he was overshadowed by the brilliant Vincent D'onofrio as Wilson Fisk, and this season by Bernthal's Punisher. You could probably even throw Elodie Yung's Elektra in there, as well, although for different reasons I'll get to later. And so this time around Daredevil is somewhat shapeless, and the season lacking any sort of focus. Gone is Fisk as the lead villain, replaced by an assemblage of Hand ninjas and random mafia goons, none of which prove to be very compelling. For the first half of the season the only real reason to keep binging is for the chance to see what the Punisher does next.
Bernthal really is the one thing keeping the show going for the most part; and the exploration of his grief and explosive quest for revenge makes the case that he needs his own series ASAP. He begins by destroying a number of gangs; the Mexicans, the Irish, and more, cutting a bloody swath across Hell's Kitchen. That is until the morally upstanding Daredevil shows up and gets in his way. Their ideological conflict quickly leads to a physical one, with Punisher's rugged bare-knuckle style more than a match for the title hero's well-practiced skills. After Punisher puts Daredevil in his place in just about every way imaginable, the character is unfortunately sidelined by a "The People vs. Frank Castle" courtroom battle that probably should have been saved for later seasons, or the character's own show. As an intro into his psyche and "let God sort 'em out" approach, we want to see him in action, not chained to a chair reflecting on his actions. Let that shit come later.....or not at all.
On the plus side, there's greater material for Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson as the rest of Murdock's "Scooby Team", Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. Karen especially begins to come into her own this season, first as a love interest for Murdock, and then later on in finally choosing a career path suitable to her skills. That said, the trope of the costumed hero too afraid to share his identity with a lover has grown tiresome, thanks to endless versions on that theme (thanks, Arrow and Flash!!), and there's little attempt to switch things up. Foggy finally gets fed up with Murdock's lack of attention to their law firm; something that has been building since last season, and takes it upon himself to step up. Henson is so light and funny as the resourceful Foggy that he'd make for a great choice for a Better Call Saul-type series on Netflix. There's also the suggestion of Page's dark past before she met the gang, a tease that hopefully will be followed up on next season. Those hoping to see more of Rosario Dawson's Claire will probably have mixed emotions. She does show up on a couple of occasions, and even alludes to her encounters with Luke Cage (Mike Colter), but her role is less important this time around.
And what about Elektra, Matt Murdock's former lover-turned-super ninja assassin? She shows up about halfway in and...well, Elodie Yung is a talented, physical actress but perhaps not the best fit for Elektra. Her version of the character comes across as a snobby debutante playing at being a martial arts warrior, rather than a warrior who also happens to be rich. Once she arrives, Elektra serves as a constant irritant to Daredevil's activities. She pulls him into a war with the Hand, a mystical ninja clan closely tied to the Yakuza he faced last season. Her arrival also signals the return of the enigmatic Stick (Scott Glenn), who is even less of a father-figure this time than he was before, which is really saying something.
What you get is a season that is unsure of itself, with two vastly different storylines loosely connected by Daredevil's involvement with District Attorney Samantha Reyes (Michelle Hurd, reprising her Jessica Jones character), who has a beef against costumed vigilantes. A common problem with Marvel's Netflix shows are the middle episodes, which tend to drag and lack individual arcs, perhaps because they are seen as part of a whole. However, if there's commonality to be found it's in the blacker-than-black visual style that carries over from last season. The bone-breaking, blood-spurting violence is has been raised to another level, especially in the way Punisher's numerous kills are unflinchingly captured. And like that epic hallway fight from last season, there is one truly memorable clash that fans will call back to repeatedly. Captured in (supposedly) one take, Daredevil battles his way down a spiral staircase full of armed goons, popping out the light fixtures as he goes, presenting himself in the purest way imaginable as the "devil of Hell's Kitchen". Unfortunately, other fights aren't as well choreographed, and sometimes the lighting is so damned bleak it's tough to get a handle on what is actually happening.
Daredevil's second season ends on a high-note, and without going too far into details it's essentially saved by two things: Jon Bernthal, and the arrival of another character reminds us of the value in a great villain. While Marvel and Netflix may have the market cornered on the superhero version of "adult entertainment", Daredevil suggests there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Rating: 3 out of 5