'Daredevil' Season 2: TV Review

Daredevil still - H 2016
Courtesy of Patrick Harbron/Netflix
More brooding heroes and brutal fights.

The Netflix series misses Wilson Fisk in its sophomore season, but with Elektra and The Punisher, it still packs a punch.

In the world of Netflix's Daredevil, the true adversary to Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock and his red-clad vigilante alter ego is his very Catholic guilt and self-doubt, the nagging fear that his nocturnal activities might be making Hell's Kitchen worse and not better.

In the first season of the dark Marvel adaptation, Daredevil also had a vivid and powerful nemesis as a manifestation of that neurosis. Wilson Fisk was terrifying and violent and monstrous, but he also had a true zealot's belief in his urban renewal schemes. Vincent D'Onofrio supplied an unexpected measure of sympathy for a character who barely appeared in the early episodes, but gave Daredevil a compelling rival as the season progressed.

Returning for its second season on Friday, Daredevil misses Fisk over its first seven episodes, or at least it misses the through-line threat that he presented. In Fisk's place, Matt Murdock and Daredevil's shared insecurities are being piqued by a pair of antiheroes who represent a funhouse mirror version of The Devil of Hell's Kitchen. Fortunately, the two new characters are vividly realized and the action is still visceral and brutal and maybe the big picture will emerge in the season's second half.

The early installments in the second season are divided into two extended character introductions that don't quite render Matt, legal partner Foggy (Elden Henson) and crusading legal assistant Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) as secondary figures, but certainly push them into a reactive capacity.

Up first is the arrival of Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, a man the media is quickly dubbing The Punisher. While Daredevil goes out of his way to avoid casualties, The Punisher is taking on the city's criminal element with no interest in second chances or redemption. He's appointed himself judge, jury and executioner, which doesn't play too well with Matt, who's stuck between a night job outside of the law and a day job working within the system. Try not to be too surprised that The Punisher's vicious approach to vigilantism causes doubts and complications for both Daredevil and Matt.

Playing a character filmmakers have tried to depict three different times with limited success, Bernthal and The Punisher offer a perfect counterpoint to both Cox and Daredevil. The Punisher is blunt, gruff and driven in a way that Daredevil is balletic, whispery and reluctant. Stalking thugs in the shadows is something Daredevil feels he was forced to do, but The Punisher has an appetite for blood, plus a tragic backstory explaining his need for blood. New showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez continue to follow the template established by Drew Goddard and Steven S. DeKnight in the first season in allowing characters to talk as much as they fight. As exciting as it is to watch Punisher and Daredevil grapple with their fists, the characters' debates on moral relativism in the third episode are even better. Daredevil isn't afraid of monologues and Bernthal slays a couple, making this probably the best work he's ever done.

Fans have to wait a few episodes for Elodie Yung to show up as Elektra Natchios, a mysterious woman from Matt's past with pugilistic artistry of her own. Like the French-born, British-educated actress who plays her, Elektra has an accent that's impossible to completely pin down and motivations that remain murky. Actually, I assume Yung's motivations are pure, but Elektra has a code of her own and it isn't one that necessarily appeals to the better angels of Matt's nature. 

The Punisher and Elektra make it hard for Matt and Daredevil to operate, and both Bernthal and Yung spend a lot of the first half of the season upstaging Cox, who has to capture a struggle that's internal, while his scene partners are playing things that are very external. And the two new additions are so vivid that there's a challenge to remain wholly invested in plotlines that don't involve them, which is tough for Foggy and, in particular, Karen, who gets sent off on detective and journalistic missions just so that she can remain in the picture at all. Woll sells those ill-advised missions and also the developing sparks between Karen and Matt. As the season hits its middle, the disparate components are beginning to come together, though an ambitious and unethical DA is no match for Wilson Fisk as bad guys go.

Daredevil season two isn't trying to or able to equal Wilson Fisk, but it's definitely trying to live up to the other ballyhooed aspect of the first season. The hallway fight in the second episode set the tone for the entire first season, and the show continues to try to push the boundaries of limited-editing confrontations in the second season. Because The Punisher is perfectly happy to just use guns, he's an impediment to martial arts-based bar-raising, but that just forces the writers and choreographers to find other ways for Daredevil to face legions of henchmen in stairwells, corridors and inventively presented enclosed spaces. The climax of the third episode is the one that fans will hold up against the hallway fight for Daredevil fracas supremacy, though there's a silhouetted scene in the sixth episode that I may prefer. One thing is for sure: No current TV show can compete with Daredevil's foley library of fist-on-flesh and blunt-object-on-bone sound effects.

I'm right on the edge of desensitization with its comes to the Daredevil fight scenes, but the entrance of Elektra and her new physicality and erotic charge vary the dynamic enough, just as Punisher and his take on vengeance invigorate Daredevil's angsty spin on justice. You can't replace a Wilson Fisk, but Daredevil still has its brooding, punchy pieces in place for a promising second season.

Cast: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, Elodie Yung
Creator: Drew Goddard
Showrunners: Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez

Premiere date: Friday, March 18 (Netflix)