The first season of Daredevil came as something of a shock. No one really thought that a Marvel TV show would be that gritty, would have such a complex villain, or would have people getting decapitated by car doors.
But following its acclaimed debut, and that of the arguably superior Jessica Jones, expectations for Daredevil Season 2 were high, especially with the introduction of Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra (Elodie Yung).
Things get off to a hell of a start with the former’s bullet-riddled grand entrance, just when Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) was starting to feel like he’d got things together. The arrival of a vigilante who doesn’t think twice about cold-blooded killing sends a shockwave through Hell’s Kitchen, as Matt’s colleagues Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) find themselves in the middle of some shady DA dealings and Daredevil is forced to confront the question of how far he’ll go.
Then there’s Elektra, who arrives to tell Matt that the Yakuza are back in town and quickly coaxes him into some old-times ass-kicking. But is there something even more sinister behind their reappearance?
For the most part, our high expectations were met. New showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez both worked as writers on the first season, and there is a sense of issues being addressed, specifically with regards to pacing. Although there is a lull roughly halfway through (apparently a Netflix drama standard), it’s not as protracted as its predecessor’s.
It helps that everyone’s being kept very busy, and not just Matt Murdock. Karen finds unexpected common ground with Castle as Woll continues to impress, Foggy realises he’s a better lawyer than he thinks he is (OK, that one’s probably the weak link) and Matt is being pulled in all directions by his various commitments.
At its worst, this very busy mix becomes a bit of a mess. The Elektra storyline is frustratingly inconsistent, with the show’s reflex “we need something to fill this dead space” reaction seeming to be throwing wave after wave of ninjas at her and Daredevil. However, when the script gives her something to do, Yung definitely makes the most of it, and it feels like she grows into the role over the course of the season.
But as you would probably expect, Season 2’s real ace in the hole is Bernthal’s Frank Castle. Much as Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin proved to be the highlight of last year’s run, Bernthal dominates these 13 episodes with a magnetic and complex performance that fits the show’s dark, violent tone perfectly. There’s more than enough here to justify a solo run for the character, as we see both his inability to move past the tragic loss of his family and his unflinching approach to putting down the “scum” of the city.
He’s so good that you miss him when he’s not there, especially as the show takes a definite step towards the less grounded mythology of the comics in its second half. The arrival of The Hand is quite a bold move for a show so committed to its crime procedural realism, and can’t help but feel a bit daft when The Punisher is carving his way through a prison corridor full of murderers.
It also suffers compared to the welcome return of some of the first season’s characters (all hail Rosario Dawson) and the overdue first attempts at cross-pollination with the Defenders.
It doesn’t all work and there are still problems to be fixed (the dialogue definitely seems worse this season), but there is more than enough here to recommend a second trip to Hell’s Kitchen. Basically, Frank Castle.