As a few of you may know, I often struggle to keep up to date with TV shows. I never got past the fourth season of Game of Thrones, I’m not entirely sure if I ever finished Breaking Bad, and I’ve never seen so much as one episode of The Sopranos.
Even shows that interest me tend to go unwatched. I remember around the time this series launched, I had just read some Daredevil comics and was very much looking forward to seeing his on-screen reputation saved after the eraly-2000s Ben Affleck debacle. However, for one reason or another, I just never started it. Before I knew it, there was a whole universe of Marvel properties on Netflix to catch up on.
Not that I can see myself watching all the Marvel series on the streaming service however. It is only really Daredevil and The Punisher that interest me out of the TV Marvel offerings. I did also watch The Defenders too, but that’s a story for another time.
The events of Daredevil and the numerous subsequent Netflix series, are tangentially related to the ongoing MCU. Not in any meaningful way, mind you, larger events are sometimes alluded to in conversation, but otherwise the series’ might as well be happening on an entirely different planet. Especially when it comes to the tone of the series, which is like night-and-day in comparison with most of the MCU. The MCU is usually lighter, with an emphasis on humour, whereas this is darker, grittier, and much more explicitly violent.
It also has a quasi-realistic atmosphere, taking place in a crime-infested borough of New York, Hell’s Kitchen, its particular approach to fights and violence is much more visceral and grounded. No magic hammers in sight here, just guys using their wits and fists. And semi-automatic weapons, those too.
This approach is one of the many ways Daredevil differs from its big-screen stablemates. There’s a more urgent sense of danger during the confrontations, whereas the movie heroes all have their own superpowers, Daredevil is ostensibly just a really well-trained fighter. No matter how well prepared he seems, there is always a sense of danger hanging over him and his friends.
Not that violence is its only bag, far from it. Readers of the comics will know that Daredevil is big on characters, and their relationships to each other. The development of these relationships is the core of what makes this series as eminently watchable as it is. You can’t help but watch ‘just one more episode’ to see how Fisk moves ahead of Daredevil, or how his double life as lawyer Matt Murdoch will affect his relationships with Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson; his law partner) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll; their office manager, and Matt’s love interest). These characters keep the show ticking, and lend a sense of intrigue beyond the usual superhero fare.
The debut season of the MCU’s foray into Netflix saw Matt Murdoch/Daredevil’s (Charlie Cox) thoroughly established. His long-running rivalry with Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is forged after he drags the crime boss into the spotlight by using both sides of his dual life to their fullest potential.
This season very much starts as an easing-in process. It takes its time to establish the characters and their relationships, and the TV format allows for a more organic character growth. This is helped by the narrative flashing back when necessary to give us context to these characters interactions.
Take for instance Matt and Foggy, the Nelson & Murdoch who give their names to their newly-minted law practice. It is obvious from seeing their interactions that they have a deep and involved history, and we don’t get to see the whole story of their friendship, but we get the bones of it. Their meeting at college, growing closer, right the way up to their present day law office. It also helps that the actors portraying the characters share an enviable chemistry, which injects extra life into their exchanges.
The real winner from this season (and the show as a whole) is the development of Wilson Fisk, and Daredevil’s quest to bring him down. As much as Fisk, AKA Kingpin, is an iconic villain in the comic-book world, the series doesn’t assume the viewer is familiar with him, it makes his growth into the towering menace he is all the more organic and accessible to the layperson.
I’d say that is the main thing the series has in common with the MCU, its accessibility. In much the same way the film franchise aimed to introduce (or re-introduce) its characters, the story is as enjoyable to viewers who have never so much as glanced at a comic, as it is to the graphic novel veterans.
Season One feels like a show that knows its potential, but is perhaps just testing its own boundaries. It starts off with classic Daredevil characters and stories before it can delve further in future seasons. Despite this, it does such a good job with the stories it tells and the narrative arcs it establishes, and it gains confidence as it goes along too, laying the groundwork for future seasons and stories.
All of this leads to a simply breath-taking season finale that pays off each twist and turn with confidence and excellence. It is clear at this point that this series could be a highlight of the entire MCU.
In short, it feels like the start of something so much bigger, and like a series that is really finding its step; especially as it approaches its final few episodes. Seeds are sewn, alliances broken, and an iconic character is reborn.
Following on from the events of the first seasons finale, Matt investigates a series of violent gang-land murders that leads to a new deadly threat emerging. Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), later labelled ‘The Punisher’ is out for violent revenge in Hell’s Kitchen, and Daredevil sets out to stop the bloodshed.
I have to admit, I was very excited by the prospect of season two including The Punisher, as he’s actually one of my favourite characters in comics. Granted, he isn’t always easy to champion, especially these days, but he is a product of his background (especially his print portrayal anyway) and has produced some incredible stories such as The Punisher: Born which tells the story of how his psyche was forged in the Vietnam War, and Welcome Home, Frank which depicts him returning to Hell’s Kitchen to clean up the streets.
Granted, the TV Punisher isn’t exactly the same as his comic namesake, this Frank fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, which is a logical change to make when you’re working within a modern timeline. His motives and methods are still as tragic and ruthless, respectively, however.
Following the death of his family in the middle of a gang shoot-out, Frank is out to kill everyone involved, and throughout the season we learn that things may not be exactly how they seemed. Along the way, Daredevil, who regards taking a life as a bridge he won’t cross, tries to stop him, which creates the an interesting dynamic. On the one hand, they’re both out for the same bad guys, but their opposing methods mean that they are frequently at loggerheads with each other.
As the season goes along, this dynamic changes and evolves as the circumstances surrounding Frank’s killing spree are investigated, and Matt actually ends up defending Frank in court, which makes for a nice change of pace mid-season as the series starts to flirt with courtroom drama.
Frank isn’t the only newcomer to the series though, as Matt’s ex-girlfriend Elektra (Elodie Yung) also returns to his life as she is embroiled in a centuries-long conflict between two rival clans: The Hand and The Chaste.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t as keen on the supernatural elements The Hand/Chaste story arc brought with it. It felt like a lurching change of tone for a series that had built a realistic and gritty vigilante tale to the screen to suddenly embrace mystical cults. It does make sense as the story unfolds, but I wasn’t as invested in this side of the story as I was in the rest.
It also leaves me in a somewhat awkward spot, as this story arc wasn’t concluded in Daredevil, but instead The Defenders, the team-up series of all of Netflix’s Marvel characters. As a series, I found it bridged the gap well enough, but I wasn’t as invested or interested in it as I was in Daredevil. It also didn’t do a great job of selling the other characters to me. I had no real interest in any of them going in, and I still don’t. Still enjoyable for what it was though.
Taking inspiration from the comic story ‘Born Again’, this season sees Wilson Fisk strike a deal with the FBI to get out of prison and be held under house arrest. Along the way, he’ll make new allies, and try to bring down Matt Murdoch and Daredevil once and for all.
Season Three was a complete home run for me. Everything you could ever want out of a Daredevil series is here, not a moment is wasted. Sadly though, it looks like it’ll be the last we see of the horned hero, at least for the time being. Although I personally think it’d be a massive wasted opportunity if Disney doesn’t choose to continue the series on its new adult-orientated side of Disney+, Star.
So, Kingpin has had time to stew in prison. He’s spent that time forging alliances behind bars, forever the master manipulator. He also finds himself some new allies on the outside when he manages to swing himself a deal that lands him in his penthouse suit instead of a prison cell.
Although this series finished a few years ago, I’m going to avoid many massive spoilers for plot developments, as it is a masterful season-long narrative. It manipulates its audience like a master conductor works an orchestra. It’s all at once a sprawling, yet personal tale, as Matt seeks to rebuild his life, while Fisk plans on ending it.
There’s moments of drama, of searing emotion, and visceral action. Matt is almost unrecognisable in this season from the man in Season One. For a few different reasons, he has to start his life from scratch in this season. He’s only brought out of the shadows by his nemesis’ re-emergence into public life. His relationships are the most strained they’ll ever be and tested to breaking point, in much the same way his physical state is tested.
The season concludes on yet another stunning chapter, closing the book on a season that has seen Matt and his friends skirt ever-closer to death as Fisk closes the net around him, and he comes toe-to-toe with another foe who seems to have him outmatched throughout the entire season.
For as much great stuff as there is in the MCU, having now watched Daredevil, I would rank it up there with the best the franchise has to offer. It ends in a satisfactory manner, sure, but there are still plenty of stories that can be told.
Daredevil feels like a series with plenty of gas left in the tank, so to speak, and it would be a great shame if we never saw Charlie Cox don the famous suit again. Disney now has their adult-focused side of their streaming site, maybe the time is perfect for a devilish return.