[This story contains spoilers for season three of Daredevil on Netflix.]
Even by the dark and brooding standards of Marvel’s Daredevil, Matt Murdock has had a rough few weeks. After the show’s second season left him alienated from his friends and questioning his own mission, the team-up miniseriesThe Defenders ended with a building collapse that seemingly killed both Matt (Charlie Cox) and his great love, Elektra (Elodie Yung).
Season three picks up with Matt recuperating at a convent, presumed dead by the world, physically and spiritually wounded in ways that make recovery seem unlikely. The re-emergence of his nemesis Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) forces Matt out of hiding and back into the role of vigilante hero, despite the burden that mask has become. And as it becomes frighteningly clear that the justice system is not equipped to handle Fisk — and that even the FBI is now under his complete control — the season builds toward the question of whether or not Matt will finally cross a line and kill Fisk to keep the city safe.
Cox spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about Matt’s emotional journey, the season’s hints of political commentary and his mixed feelings regarding Matt’s decision in the finale.
Erik Oleson is the show’s third showrunner in as many seasons. What kinds of conversations did you have with him prior to production?
I was a little nervous, not because of anything I knew about Erik, but just because I felt a little protective of the character and I was concerned that someone else would come in and I wouldn’t recognize Matt Murdock’s voice. Up until this point we’d been very fortunate with the quality of the writing, and I was a little concerned that the quality wasn’t going to be maintained. But very early on, I got a couple of Daredevil scripts that Erik had written, and I knew instantly that not only was he up to the task, but he was likely to elevate the show. During those first couple of episodes we had very long emails and conversations about the character, about what he’s been through, what his attitude is and how it’s changed, and we were very on board with each other.
How does this season compare to the first two in your mind?
I think we’ve learned that ideally, this show lives somewhere in between what we did in season one and what we did in season two. Season one was very down-to-earth and gritty, boots-on-the-ground type storytelling, and maybe a little bit broody at times, maybe the pace slowed a little too much. Season two delved into more of the mythology and the suspension of disbelief, in terms of what the character can do and achieve with his powers. It was really fun but maybe wasn’t quite the show that we’d made in season one in terms of how grounded it was. So season three lives somewhere in between those two, which is I think where it’s ideally placed.
Although it’s been a couple of years since season two aired, in storytelling time it hasn’t been that long. Defenders takes place over the course of a week, so when we pick up in season three, Matt Murdock’s had a pretty rough fortnight. He’s lost one of the women he loves most in the world, he momentarily re-finds her, loses her again, and then has a building collapse on him. So it’s not been the easiest of times! We meet him at rock bottom, in a place where he’s physically destroyed, but also mentally, spiritually, emotionally. He’s gone to a darker place than he ever has before, and we get to rebuild him over the course of the season.
A key new relationship is between Matt and Sister Maggie, who turns out to be his long-lost mother. What was that dynamic like for you to play?
I was thrilled to work with Joanne [Whalley] — she’s such a talent. I’ve had the opportunity to play a priest in the past [in the 2011 film There Be Dragons], and I learned it’s very difficult to play someone of the cloth, because there’s a temptation as an actor to kind of fall into a role that is very holier-than-thou and talk down to people. Speaking purely as an actor, not as a nun or a priest, there’s a sense of authority that can feel quite restricting in terms of finding the human underneath that costume. Joanne didn’t fall into that trap at all. She makes Maggie such a human, and so relatable, and it’s really fun to see her impart wisdom from a place of life experience, because [Maggie] herself hasn’t always made the best choices.
There are a lot of divided opinions among fans when it comes to romance in the Daredevil universe — there are fans of Matt/Karen, Matt/Elektra, Karen/Frank Castle — so where do you come down?
My personal feeling is that ultimately I want the best for Matt Murdock, and I think that the right choice — not that it’s a choice, necessarily — but were he in a position to choose Karen [Deborah Ann Woll]. … I think they’re both fucked up enough that they might actually make it work, and I think that would be a choice that would ultimately make him happy. I don’t know if that sounds a little sentimental over a fictional character, but I think she is, certainly based on the comics that I’ve read, his ultimate soulmate. I’m not sure he knows this yet, but I think she gets him more than anyone else does and genuinely loves him more.
If I wake up on the morning of a scene that I’ve got with Deborah and I’m feeling in any way under-prepared, when I remember that I’m working with her, everything suddenly relaxes, because I know she’s done three times the amount of work for both of us, and I know she’s going to carry that scene, irrespective of what I do. We’re so lucky to have her, and I’m constantly fighting for more scenes with her.
There are a lot of timely ideas in the season, especially the idea of a powerful narcissist who targets the press and exploits the public’s fear to make himself more powerful. What’s your take on those elements of the show?
That’s a really good question, and obviously when I read the scripts I recognize the moments that you’re referring to, and I really enjoy and appreciate those. Any comment that we can make, or any moment that might resemble people or emotions or political standpoints, I really encourage and I love if people pick up on it. I also think it’s important to remember that we are a superhero show. We’re there for entertainment, and there are elements to the show that should not be in any way taken seriously or literally. One of the themes of this season is how fear can lead people down a path that is very destructive and painful and encourage people to behave in ways that are not very conducive to their own happiness or the happiness of others. However, the solution to that is not to put on a costume and go around punching people in the face! There’s an element to it that I think you should relate to and go “Oh, that’s an interesting comment,” and then there are elements where you’re like, “But that’s not the solution to that problem.”
The finale is built around the question of whether Matt is going to finally kill Fisk or not. Were you satisfied with the outcome?
I choose not to be told anything in advance when we film these seasons. I like to know nothing. I read the episodes as they come in from the writers, as we’re filming it, so throughout the whole season I was wondering “Is he gonna do it?” I have mixed feelings, because as a fan of the show I would hate to not have Wilson Fisk, and indeed Vincent D’Onofrio, at our disposal for future seasons, were we to do any.
But at the same time, he’s been such a menace for three seasons that in many ways, we kind of had earned the right to dispose of him! From a storytelling point of view. So I had a lot of questions about that final scene between me and him, and I liked it from a story point of view. I like that Matt comes as close as he does, and hopefully you should feel like he’s so unbelievably tortured by that decision, and that in a way in choosing to allow him to live, what he’s really doing is allowing himself to continue living. He’s giving himself a chance at redemption.
There was that little bit of me that, if I’m truly honest, was like “So wait, we’ve gone through all this and we’re just sending him back to prison?” I even said to Erik at one point, “But we’ve learned that that doesn’t work!” That was such a large conversation that I kind of insisted that we add a line in the scene at the very, very end with Foggy [Elden Henson] and Karen, where we do acknowledge that’s not the ultimate answer. He’s back in prison, for now, and when that changes …
Matt ends the season in a more hopeful place, reunited with Karen and Foggy. What would you like to see the future hold for him?
At this point, I don’t know if there’s any intention of us doing more seasons. But were that to be the case, I think there’s an interesting challenge for the writers, because I don’t think we can do another season where Matt is so isolated, so alone, and so broken and angry. I think in order to avoid being a broken record, we’re going to have to find a Matt Murdock that at least initially has a slightly different attitude toward the people that he loves, and toward himself, and toward God. I think in season four, there needs to be at least one episode where he goes on holiday to the Caribbean, and the whole crew needs to migrate down there for two weeks, and the whole episode he just sits on a beach.