Warning: This contains spoilers – if you haven’t seen episodes one to four, read our spoiler-free review of Daredevil Season 2. If you have seen them, share your spoilery thoughts in the comments below.
As Daredevil moves into the last third of its season, the central plot continues along two separate lines, which – so far, at least – the writers show no signs of bringing together. This leaves the show feeling slightly disjointed at times, but it does mean that we’re essentially getting double the mystery and double the action per episode, which is more than adequate compensation.
Episode 9, hereafter known as “the prison episode” delivers handsomely on the promise of Episode 8’s cliff-hanger, which had Frank escorted through the prison into a meeting with Wilson Fisk. First we get a nicely put-together flashback sequence detailing Fisk’s first few weeks in prison, during which we learn that a man named Dutton (the great William Forsythe) is the prison “kingpin”. (Is that the first time we’ve heard the word “Kingpin” on Daredevil? I think it might be). Fisk sets about buying loyalty by sending large cheques to the various inmates’ families, but Dutton remains on the throne by the time Frank shows up, which leads to Fisk manipulating him into doing his dirty work.
Fisk is nothing if not an utter scumbag, however, so even after he ends up on top, he still tries to have Frank killed. This results in perhaps the show’s best action sequence to date (it’s certainly the most stylish), in which Frank takes down an entire prison corridor full of would-be assassins armed with nothing but a broken mop handle and the odd shiv. It’s a fantastic sequence, utterly brutal in execution, capped off with a terrific final shot of Frank’s blood-soaked face emerging from a cloud of smoke, bodies piled up on the floor behind him.
Perversely, rather than putting the fear of God into Fisk, this only earns his respect, so he engineers Frank’s escape from prison (although… if it’s that easy, why can’t he organise his own escape?) so that he can get back to punishing. I especially liked their parting words to one another: “Next time I see you, only one of us walks away.” “Yes, of course, I’m counting on it.”)
Meanwhile, Matt has his hands full with Elektra, Stick and all those pesky ninjas. He worries increasingly that Foggy and Karen could be in danger, so he pushes Foggy into disbanding Nelson & Murdock. (As others have pointed out, Daredevil wouldn’t be Daredevil without Nelson & Murdock getting disbanded at some point.) This leaves Karen with a whole bunch of free time, so she hooks up with Ellison at the New York Bulletin (sadly still not The Daily Bugle) and starts digging into Frank’s past, eventually uncovering the fact that the massacre that lead to his family getting killed was a sting operation that also lead to the death of an undercover cop and was subsequently covered up.
There’s also a mystery about Karen’s own past (something involving her brother), that the show is teasing out very slowly – here, Ellison shows her her own file and the shock of seeing it in front of her is enough to make her burst into tears before she recovers and gets on with the investigating.
As for the main plot, Matt distances himself from Elektra once he sees that she still enjoys murdering a little too much and starts investigating what the ninjas are up to on his own. In a particularly gruesome sequence, in an episode already not short on gruesome sequences, he makes the horrific discovery that The Hand are using people as blood bags, almost as if the writers had recently seen Mad Max: Fury Road and thought that bit was really cool.
It also turns out that Nobu (the vicious ninja who almost killed Matt last season) is still alive, suggesting that the ninjas somehow have the power to come back from the dead. Nobu is also carrying around a giant urn, which may or may not have something to do with the mysterious Black Sky that Stick has been on about.
With Frank back on the streets, Episode 10 tries to fool you into thinking that he’s responsible for gunning down Reyes in her office, right in front of Matt, Foggy (who takes a bullet to the shoulder) and Karen, but if you’ve ever seen an episode of television before, you’ll know that if you don’t see Frank pulling the trigger, then he didn’t do it. You’re fooling no one, show-runners! Still, it leaves everyone shaken up, with Matt more than ever convinced that he’s done the right thing by distancing himself from Foggy and Karen.
Episode 10 also delivers what feels like a bonus Fisk scene, with Matt suspecting that he was behind Castle’s release and visiting him in prison, only to have his head violently slammed into the table, as he provokes Fisk by telling him he’ll never see his beloved Vanessa again. It’s a chilling sequence and Charlie Cox looks genuinely shaken by the end of it, so one has to hope that D’Onofrio didn’t go too method during shooting.
Matt then visits Claire at Metro General Hospital, where she’s kindly agreed to look after all the blood bag zombie teenagers Daredevil found earlier. Only one small problem – the bad guys want their blood bag zombie teenagers back, which leads to a terrific cliff-hanger with dozens of them scaling the walls of the hospital. It’s a good thing Matt chose that particular moment to come and chat to Claire about giving up the law and moving into full-time superheroics / vigilantism, because he’s about to wind up knee-deep in ninjas.
Sure enough, Episode 11 opens with an epic ninja fight in the hospital corridors, during which – in another of the show’s best moments so far – Claire gets thrown out of a window and Daredevil dives out of the same window to rescue her. That’s proper comic-book stuff, that is, and I might have even done a little cheer.
After that, there’s a whole sequence involving Claire quitting her job at the hospital that feels like a slightly clumsy set-up for her presumably expanded role in the upcoming Luke Cage series. Ostensibly she quits in protest because her friend got killed and the hospital take hush money to cover it up, but they’ve done such a good job of establishing how great a nurse she is, that this doesn’t quite convince. Still, it’s a nice character moment for Rosario Dawson to play, even if it probably means that’s the last we’ll see of her this season.
Meanwhile, Karen becomes convinced that Frank didn’t kill Reyes, particularly after he saves her from gunmen who show up at her apartment, all of which leads to a nice sequence where they have a heart-to-heart in a late-night diner. In fact, The Punisher turns out to be surprisingly good when it comes to relationship advice and the sequence where he tells Karen he can see how much she and Matt love each other, because of how they acted in court, is nicely handled. There’s a lot going on in this scene and the way it plays out is very clever – Frank’s softly-spoken speeches about his children and his wife are very humanising and the developing bond between him and Karen is genuinely touching… but then a car-load of goons show up to kill Frank and he brutally murders them all, leaving Karen cowering behind the diner counter, crying.
Elsewhere, having fought off a bunch of ninjas, Daredevil meets up with Madame Gao (returning from Season 1) for an exposition-heavy chat, which puts him on the trail of a man known as The Blacksmith. With Frank also pursuing The Blacksmith in the belief that he was responsible for his family’s murders, the show brings Daredevil and The Punisher back together again for the first time since Episode 4, as they converge on a ship where they believe The Blacksmith is hiding. The themes of vigilante justice vs murder are brought to the fore again and we get yet another insight into Frank’s strange moral code as he talks “Red” (his cute nickname for Daredevil) out of killing The Blacksmith and then pushes him overboard to keep him out of harm’s way while he blows some stuff up, after a shed-load of armed goons show up to attack them both.
As for Elektra, she spends the majority of these three episodes brooding offscreen about Matt pulling away from her and Stick trying to have her killed, so at the end of Episode 11 she tracks Stick down with the aim of giving him a solid ass-kicking and possibly murdering him. In other words, it’s a case of: “Next time on Daredevil: Stick vs Elektra…”
All in all, these are a solid, action-packed group of episodes that deepen the central mystery and bring continued emotional depth to the character of The Punisher, while continuing to push Daredevil along his own dark journey into full-time vigilantism. I’m not entirely sure the show intends to tie everything together neatly by the end, but I’m fascinated to see how they wrap things up.
– It wouldn’t be fair to end this review without mentioning how outstanding all the performances have been this season, from the key cast members to the smaller supporting parts, such as Ellison and Officer – now Detective – Brett Mahoney. Jon Bernthal, in particular, has been superb – I’ve never been a fan of The Punisher before, but Bernthal’s performance has to be regarded as the definitive onscreen version of the character at this point. Judging by the fan response, I’m guessing he’s at least earned himself guest appearances on Luke Cage and Iron Fist, even if he doesn’t get his own spin-off series.
All episodes of Marvel’s Daredevil: Season 2 are available to watch exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
Photo: Patrick Harbron / Netflix