Six episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Call me a harsh critic, but the Netflix block of Marvel shows have been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis ever since The Defenders aired last year. Up until the point where New York’s four biggest street-level superheroes teamed up, many of the overarching plots and character arcs were carefully curated and cultivated, all in the hopes of bringing Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Jessica Jones, and Matt Murdock together for a wild ride of a miniseries.
But let’s be honest – The Defenders was a bit of a misfire, and since then, Marvel and Netflix’s new seasons have been largely hit or miss. While the second season of Luke Cage culminated with a tantalizing setup for a third outing, Iron Fist’s sophomore offering fell short of the mark, unable to dig itself out of the hole it nestled itself in when the series first debuted. And while others seemed to enjoy it, personally, I found that the second season of Jessica Jones suffered from massive pacing problems, nonsensical characterization, and un-compelling villains.
It’s good news then that Daredevil season 3 manages to deliver – mostly. In many ways, this season feels like a bit of a fresh start for the show. With season 2 focusing a lot on Elektra and The Hand, a renewed focus on the ongoing conflict between Daredevil and Kingpin, as well as ongoing developments for returning side characters, makes this new block of episodes feel more in line with the show’s debut season more than anything else.
For those who need a refresher – I know I did – we last saw Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) in the bowels of Midland Circle, sharing a final embrace with Elektra before the building above them came crashing down, presumably burying the two alive. Needless to say, Matt (somehow) managed to make it out in one piece and has been recuperating at the Catholic orphanage where he was raised as a child.
While the writers attempt to fill in the backstory of Matt, with key figures from the orphanage helping him recover from his injuries, these early episodes of the season are easily its biggest shortcoming. As a show, Daredevil has always succeeded by presenting the viewer with well-choreographed action sequences, balanced out with Matt’s life as a lawyer. In the past, the pacing didn’t suffer from slower, more plot-focused episodes; in fact, the show as a whole was made better.
This time around, the writing team attempts to paint Matt as a shattered and broken individual, one that has to build himself up again. Unfortunately, the events of The Defenders don’t carry the same weight and gravitas when compared to something like Frank Miller’s Born Again story arc – which, for the record, the show is clearly trying to pay homage to in some respect.
Still, things begin to pick up once you make it past the first three episodes or so, and the season begins to find its own footing. As has been previously reported, Wilson Fisk (wonderfully played by Vincent D’Onofrio) has managed to free himself from the confines of prison, and it doesn’t take long before he sets his sights on exacting revenge on Matt Murdock and company.
Without getting into too many plot specifics, Fisk is under the watchful eye of law enforcement, and as a result, he’s forced to continue manipulating events from behind the scenes, which is when Kingpin as a whole shines. The cat-and-mouse game between Daredevil and Fisk carries much of the first half of the season, while Foggy Nelson and Karen Page (Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll) attempt to take down the villain through more legitimate channels.
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While the Murdock-Nelson-Page triumvirate was the highlight of previous seasons, the three operate more independently this time around, mostly as a result of Murdock opting to distance himself from his friends and loved ones while he tries to take down Fisk – an attempt at making him seem more brooding and serious, I guess. Once you get over Murdock’s newer, more grim personality, it becomes easier to appreciate his attempts to eliminate the villain.
While it’s never explicitly addressed after the first couple of episodes, you get the impression that Daredevil isn’t operating at 100% as a result of his injuries and near-death experience, which sets the stage for a few close encounters and less-than-perfect infiltrations. Still, those who enjoy the show’s brand of hard-hitting, carefully-choreographed action won’t be disappointed. One prison riot sequence in the season’s fourth episode consists of a 10-minute-long continuous, uninterrupted shot, which is truly something to behold. I smell an Emmy nomination in the future.
Aside from the recurring characters you’ve come to expect, season 3 tosses a few new players into the mix as well, even if they don’t have the opportunity to fully make their mark during the first six episodes. Special Agent Rahul ‘Ray’ Nadeem (Jay Ali) makes his first appearance in the premiere, painted as an FBI agent who’s having a little difficulty balancing his work and family life, all while dealing with the pressure of financial woes. More interesting though is Special Agent Ben Poindexter, who will – and this should come as no surprise – take up the mantle of Bullseye.
Admittedly, it’s never easy handing down a verdict having watched less than half of a season (the total episode count comes in at 13). Still, even with the glacially-paced first three episodes, Daredevil season 3 begins to show its strengths once all the introductions and pleasantries are out of the way. If you – like me – relish the first season of the series over most other seasons in the collective Marvel universe, you’ll be glad to know that this new run marks a return to form for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, even if it takes a few hours to get there.
While it's partly let down by its glacially-paced first three episodes, Daredevil season 3 manages to find its footing before long. Fans of the ongoing battle between Matt Murdock and Kingpin will not be disappointed.