It's funny how fans can affect your perception of a character. For example, I've never had any time for The Punisher, despite hardly reading a single issue of a comic he's in, largely because way back in the day I knew a couple of big Punisher Fans who put me off him. Their genuine enthuiasm usually translated into a love for a character because of sweary ultra-violence, a one note bullet-hose of a character who didn't have any truck with "softer" heroes, and even back then I was never really into that sort of thing. I've always liked my heroes, well, heroic. Still do. So I may have been one of the few fans of Daredevil Season 1 who wasn't looking forward to his appearance in Season 2 with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Yeah, so I was wrong.
After a pretty great first season anchored around presence of Wilson Fisk, Daredevil returns with a slightly revised structure and not one, but two new antogonists looking to fill the Kingpin-sized hole in Hell's Kitchen. Whilst there is a degree of parallel running, we have a few episodes to focus on Frank Castle, then a few to focus on Elektra Natchios, and then the final run up to the "real big bad" and climactic finale. It leaves the two plotlines feeling unconnected despite their effects on each other, and especially the relationships withing Nelson & Murdoch, and if I had a criticism of the series on the whole it's that they ultimately don't come together in any meaninful or thematic way. But that notwithstanding, it's overall a successful return for a show that manages to balance both it's own narratives and the service to the wider Marvel-Netflix world.
Lets kick off with Frank Castle, as the show does. This is, to a large extent, a Punisher origin story, although one that smartly bypasses the defining massacre of Frank's family to let the horror of it live through Jon Bernthal's performance. Bernthal is immense in the role, it has to be said, managing to be both the brutal, remorseless killer, and the greif-striken, broken man that Castle has become. He's a lot of things all together, a moral foil for Matt, a sign of redemption for Karen, a dark shadow across the city for pretty much everyone else. I remain unsure about a stand-alone series that could lose that balance, and tip it one way or another, which would cost the role a lot of it's power.
Matt's other great challenge is, of course, Elektra. I'm not sure how she is in the comic material, but here she is bad news, someone who Matt is drawn to, and repelled by, in instant measure. She'll lead him astray in all sorts of ways, and he knows it, but does it anyway. I'm not sure you're supposed to like her, and it takes a long time for the show to let you understand her. It's fun, coy, performance, and ultimately it's Elektra's arc, not Franks, that drives the shows final stretch, and I think I'm fine with that, although I was wondering how many ninja had come to stay in New York.
As for the rest of the cast, it's probably Karen that does the best, once again her own story arc and agency slightly away from Daredevil himself. Her transition from Legal Secretary to Investigative Reporter is pretty accelerated (thats TV logic for you!) but feel right for the character, and leaves her in a good place for future stories. Foggy gets less to do - his estrangement with Matt feels more like it's about Matt than Foggy, although his ultimate move again, leaves him in a smart place going forward. And of course we get a couple of episodes for Wilson Fisk to return, held back long enough that we start to forget we were missing him, before Vincent D'Onoforio delivers pair of thundering, show-stopping performances from behind bars.
So where does that leave everyone in the Netflix corner of the MCU? With Luke Cage in September the action moves to Harlem (where I guess Claire Temple will find a new job) and then the march to Defenders will continue with Iron Fist after that, unless we get the already re-commissioned Jessica Jones first? Daredevil took it's own path again this series but left a lot of characters poised for wider connections, which leaves me optimistic they can bring this part of the world together in a coherent manner, and of course I can't wait for a series 3, please.