Seven episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
No one knew what to expect from the first season of Daredevil. The first collaboration between Netflix and Marvel, it was an undeniably risky proposition from the outset, tasked with carving out a distinctive place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe under the constraints of a TV budget while also developing a complicated cast of characters over the course of 13 episodes (a much trickier process in terms of pacing than that faced by a two-hour film).
As it turned out, the risk largely paid off. Daredevil unfurled as a gritty and grounded excursion into a much seedier corner of the MCU, bolstered by brutally realistic action (that hallway fight sequence, if slightly overhyped, was still a bruising, balletic joy) and one truly exceptional performance. As the mercurial yet dignified Wilson Fisk/Kingpin, Vincent D’Onofrio was nothing short of mesmerizing, breaking with Marvel tradition to craft a villain both vulnerable and violent, refined and wrathful, whose shy disposition belied the temper of a Titan. His combination of fearsome physicality and psychological torment was frequently the show’s ace in the hole.
In season 2, Fisk is behind bars, taken down by a newly costumed Daredevil (Charlie Cox, much more at ease in the lead role throughout this sophomore outing) – and the series, for a beat, feels empty without him. D’Onofrio played such a huge role in making Daredevil‘s first season sing that his absence hits hard. But his Kingpin, as this second string of episodes eventually makes clear, was most important from a storytelling perspective not as his own person but as an opponent, capable of bringing out rage and recklessness in Matt Murdock while reaffirming Daredevil’s steadfast code of ethics (i.e., under no circumstances will the devil of Hell’s Kitchen take a life).
The Kingpin was crucial in that he challenged Daredevil on a spiritual level as much as a physical one. By the end of season 1, as the hero stood tall over his city, it felt – for the first time since the premiere – like he truly understood who he was, and what his role in fighting crime could be. A large part of that journey’s destination came from his final confrontation with Fisk, a moment the series had been building toward since episode 1. As the show’s freshman run faded to black, its tone, characters, and temperament felt finally solidified. Given that, it shouldn’t be all that surprisingly that, like any good second season, Daredevil‘s return makes short work of taking its protagonist’s freshly affirmed worldview and turning it inside out.
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In the months since Fisk’s downfall, Daredevil has been tirelessly patrolling the city, cleaning up the scummiest corners of Hell’s Kitchen with increasing expertise. Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) is in the loop, understandably freaking out whenever Matt comes to work late or misses a call; meanwhile, secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) remains blissfully outside of it, even as romantic tensions between the two rise to the surface. In spite of all the press their firm received from body-checking the Kingpin, all three are still barely scraping by in terms of finances – but that’s just business as usual for Nelson and Murdock.
Then, suddenly, the simmering cauldron of crime and corruption that is Hell’s Kitchen threatens to bubble over. Without warning, the Irish mob is dispatched in a stunning bloodbath, bullets raining through the walls of their headquarters with military-grade precision, laying waste to all within. Some fans wondered what might change in the series’ tone when showrunner Steven S. DeKnight handed the reins over to Doug Petrie (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Marco Ramirez (Sons of Anarchy) for season 2, and the answer’s on full display in that early-on scene, a heart-in-mouth sequence that splatters Daredevil‘s noirish, street-level aesthetic with buckets of blood – all of it thick and dark, seeping across floors, dripping off tables, gushing liberally from wounded gangsters. Dardevil feels much more in control of its darkness this season, and less reliant on it in places; but the series is also more willing to depict the gory aftermath of its violence.
Similar attacks befall other crime syndicates and an amusingly gruff biker gang, signalling the arrival of a new brand of vigilante – a ruthless T-800 of a man named Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) and dubbed The Punisher by fascinated media outlets. He’s taking out the trash “not in the Daredevil way, in the Death Wish way,” according to cop Brett Mahoney (Royce Johnson). Whereas Daredevil is a good ol’ Catholic boy at heart, Castle’s only guiding force (his only religion, in fact) is an unquenchable thirst for vengeance prompted by his family’s murder. That makes the guy a captivating study in contrasts whenever he’s held up against the Man Without Fear.
Castle sees himself both as Daredevil’s more impactful successor and his inevitable culmination: the sort of hero Hell’s Kitchen needs, as well as the one it was always going to get in the end (“You know you’re just one bad day away from being me,” he tells the hero, nicknaming him “Red” once they establish an uneasy camaraderie). Even when he’s shooting up a hospital and sending bullets ricocheting around civilians’ feet, the Punisher’s faith in his own brutal set of principles is unwavering.