Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Daredevil reviews here.
The first four episodes of Daredevil‘s second season neatly told a self-contained story that introduced the Punisher and kicked things off with a great and brutal start.
Season 1 started as a slow burn. There was a lot it had to build up before it could explode. Who Matt was and what he could do. Who Karen, Foggy, and Ben Urich were. And of course, the mystery of Wilson Fisk. Season 1 was, by necessity, careful and methodical in its unfolding, but that worked very well in its favour. Season 2, on the other hand, didn’t have that luxury. We knew all of the players, so there was no time to waste. And after a short bit of table-setting, the premiere was off with the titular “Bang”.
Most of the table-setting involved showing us a post-Daredevil world, whether in the opening sequence which featured the infamous Devil of Hell’s Kitchen taking down criminals one by one from the shadows (a great slow reveal), in Daredevil’s interrogation of Turk which showed ol’ Hornhead’s unique relationship with the city’s criminal element, or in the office of Nelson and Murdock, displaying the great dynamic Matt, Foggy, and Karen have developed by now.
Enter the Punisher. Now that was a character entrance that was handled very well. Most of the episode was spent building him up, from the Irish mob massacre, to Daredevil’s discovery of Punisher’s victims hanging from meat hooks, and the slow realization that it wasn’t a group of people causing that mayhem but one man. And through all of that, he wasn’t even shown, until his grand entrance. Making his way through the hospital, Terminator-style, with the camera following him from behind (an angle that was frequently used with this character throughout these episodes), in search of his target, Grotto.
This led, of course, to the first confrontation between Punisher and Daredevil, in which the former gained the upper hand. The episode wasted no time establishing the Punisher as a major threat.
After his horror movie-esque introduction, the second episode began shedding light on Frank Castle. Slowly showing us that he was more than just a murderer. Revealing a bit of his human side, with little touches like him taking in the Irish mob’s now-ownerless dog, or major scenes like his murder of a man who tried to sell him child rape pornography. Although the season jumped right into the thick of the plot, I appreciated the way it slowly and deliberately peeled the layers of the Punisher’s character one at a time.
The third episode, though, was the first true standout of the season. Most of it consisted of Daredevil chained on a rooftop by Punisher, a situation that led to some great scenes. I loved seeing the two vigilantes bounce off each other and explore their different philosophies toward fighting crime. And it ended in a fantastic way, as Punisher decided to show Daredevil his philosophy firsthand, taping a gun to his hand and giving him a choice. Shoot the Punisher to save Grotto, or do nothing and allow him to kill Grotto.
It’s the kind of scenario that really works in comics. A visual representation of an abstract concept—in this case, Punisher’s mentality. Daredevil has a strict no-killing policy. Punisher feels that by allowing criminals to live, he is complicit in whatever atrocities they commit afterwards. It’s a quandary as old as comics themselves. And the Punisher made Daredevil experience it firsthand. Break his no-killing rule, or be responsible for Grotto’s death?
It should be noted that this was a clear adaptation of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Punisher #3—”The Choice”. It’s very rare to see such a direct, almost literal adaptation of comic book source material, even in such a comics-accurate show like Daredevil, and I ate it up.
The best part is that “New York’s Finest” ended in the show’s best fight sequence yet. It was clearly trying to outdo the now-famous hallway fight scene from Season 1’s “Cut Man”—and in many ways, it succeeded. “Cut Man” has the upper hand in terms of emotional stakes, but as far as technicality and, well, badassery, this one took the cake. Daredevil fighting his way down a staircase from the roof, gun taped to one hand, chain in the other, all in a sequence that was cleverly edited to look like one take. That was a beauty to watch.
An equally good episode was the fourth, “Penny and Dime”. This one worked both as an excellent self-contained story, and as a very strong finale to this initial Punisher story arc. Most plot threads, character developments, and thematic elements were wrapped up. The Irish mob retaliated against Punisher. Daredevil and Punisher teamed up. Frank told Matt his story. The Punisher was arrested. Daredevil gave Mahoney the credit, to show that the system worked and vigilantism wasn’t the way—which was beautifully in line with Matt’s character, especially after witnessing that Daredevil’s existence led to big consequences. It even ended with a romantic kiss and a cliffhanger.
The team of Daredevil and Punisher was great to watch. Seeing them both fight together, with Daredevil pausing to stop Punisher from killing, was very entertaining. But it was in that quiet, dialogue-only graveyard scene that the episode truly shone.
Jon Bernthal showed just how good he was for the role, and then some, as an emotional Frank told Matt the story of his family. It was a very long, uninterrupted monologue, yet it had me hooked from start to finish, thanks to the emotion and the acting involved. The once-praised Netflix model has lately come under some criticism, a lot of it fair. But scenes like the graveyard scene, in which a character can go on and on, without being edited for runtime or interrupted for commercials, show exactly how to take advantage of it if done right. And “Penny and Dime” definitely did it right.
Another aspect I enjoyed in these four episodes was Foggy. His loyalty to Matt was on full display several times. He also took a lot of initiative, especially in Matt’s absence, and I really appreciated that. I like him a lot as a character so it was great to see him operate on his own. And meet Claire face to face. Welcome back, Claire!
Meanwhile, Karen continued to be the active and inquisitive character she was last year, which is great. Not content to sit back and have things happen to her, she took command and was the catalyst in many developments, just like last year. Plus, her relationship with Matt became increasingly flirtatious, capitalizing on that look she gave him in the Season 1 finale, ending in a sweet scene where they finally kissed.
I really like the way this season seems to be segmented into short story arcs. Season 1 handled things differently, a 13-episode buildup to a final confrontation with the Big Bad. Which was very effective for a character like Wilson Fisk (and Kilgrave in Jessica Jones). But I’m glad this season didn’t retread that format. It’s given these episodes a refreshingly brisk pace, and the compact storytelling resulted in less filler material. I do see some people having a problem with it though, especially those who liked Season 1 mainly—if not only—for Wilson Fisk.
Oh, also, new mask! It looks really great, too.
“Bang”: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
“Dogs to a Gunfight”: 4/5 (Great)
“New York’s Finest”: 5/5 (Perfect)
“Penny and Dime”: 5/5 (Perfect)
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