SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE THIRD SEASON OF THE NETFLIX SERIES DAREDEVIL
Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil (or whatever the nomenclature is) has been one of the streaming service’s most consistent programs thanks to an excellent cast and mostly good plotting.
I loved the first season, liked the second quite a bit, and mostly loathed Defenders.
But the end of Defenders left one of our heroes, Matt Murdock – aka Daredevil, the man without fear – fresh for new stories and personal growth. I was excited for the third season, and even more so knowing that the focus would be back on Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk as the primary antagonist.
Did they pull off an excellent season of television or was this another hot start/middle slog/big finish? Read on.
1 – No Lull – I was disappointed when I saw that there were thirteen episodes after the tight and well-paced ten episode second season of Iron Fist. But as the season went on, the momentum never slowed like it has in every other Marvel Netflix show, even my favorite, Jessica Jones.
This time around the creators absolutely nailed the pacing. There wasn’t one episode that felt like a throwaway and I can’t think of a scene that wasn’t at least a bit integral to the plot.
Big fucking bravo to everyone involved for doing what has, to this point, seemed impossible and presenting thirteen episodes that felt vital, exciting, and important.
2 – Do I… Like Matt Now? – Matt Murdock is usually kind of an asshole. He’s self-righteous, judgmental, and obnoxiously independent. That’s the character. But that’s what makes it so compelling to see him do what he does by day and by night.
In this season, we see Matt become more accepting of his own limitations and others’ strengths. He’s still Matt Murdock, but he’s a lot more likeable and a little less abrasive. I can’t say I’d watch Defenders again, but I think it would be interesting to rewatch the first two seasons and see if the arc of his character growth is as well-planned as I suspect.
3 – The Law Won – In my opinion the brilliance of this season was that by the time we got to the Big Climax I was breathlessly hoping that the epic battle between Kingpin and Nelson & Murdock would be resolved in the courtroom and not in a violent confrontation. Wisely, the show delivered the best of both worlds, but I wanted Foggy’s belief in the system to be rewarded, if only to see it shoved in Fisk’s face.
The entire season is spent setting Fisk up as a rich, powerful, untouchable mastermind. The idea of there being an elite citizenry whom are above the law is focused on and it’s disgusting to watch, mainly because that’s the real world as we know it.
So while our climax did deliver an outstanding physical confrontation between Daredevil, Bullseye, and Kingpin; it also gave us the sight of Fisk brought low – handcuffed and headed for a future of incarceration because even he couldn’t fully escape the structure of our legal system when faced with the tenacity of good people.
NOTE: At work the other day I asked how far up the corporate ladder one would have to go to find an executive who would have one of us lowly workers killed and thrown in a swamp rather than lose their annual bonus. After the initial consternation at the outrageousness of such an idea, the consensus was “not far”.
Think about it. Or don’t if you want to sleep tonight.
4 – Nadeem – Speaking of good men, Jay Ali’s performance as FBI agent Ray Nadeem is heartbreaking and one of the central focuses of the show.
Initially the narrative is coy about whether or not he’s fully complicit with Fisk’s grand plan. Then , just as we fully accept that he is, indeed a good man doing his job, the rug is pulled out from under him.
No – strike that.
The entire world is pulled out from under him.
In one of the best “HOLY SHIT” moments I’ve seen recently, just when it seems Nadeem is about to get a decisive win, his superior murders the overseeing agent they are reporting to, revealing that she works for Fisk while simultaneously framing Nadeem for the murder and forcing him to become another of Kingpin’s pawns.
You can see the despair flood over Ali’s face as this occurs. Throughout the season the audience is shown this man’s flaws and strengths as he is used as an example of just how powerful Kingpin has become and how easily good people can become ensnared in the schemes of the rich and powerful. It’s a truly tragic character arc, but he does receive redemption at the end, as his posthumous testimony proves to be the key to Fisk’s downfall.
5 – Bullseye – Here we get a story that is very different from any other version of the assassin, but is another example of Marvel adapting a character to fit the medium.
Wilson Bethel plays Ben Poindexter as a sympathetic, struggling outsider. It’s clear from the start that he has mental instabilities, but over the course of the show it is revealed that it’s far more than just social anxiety.
While Dex embraces the dark side readily when the time comes, his fall from grace is nearly as tragic as Nadeem’s, as we see a man who tries and fails again and again to find something in this world to guide him. It’s fascinating to see these parallel, but very different, struggles occur.
I don’t have any particular attachment to the comics version of Bullseye, but I thoroughly enjoyed what the show did with him. He was not unsympathetic, but definitely leaned towards evil. Simply a different flavor of tragedy from Nadeem.
Oh, and I loved that the show wasn’t afraid to portray his unusual skills. Seeing Bethel casually toss everything from forks to chandelier pieces to empty pistols with deadly accuracy never stopped being entertaining.
6 – Male Cretin Time – As good as the season was, if it had just been thirteen hours of college DJ Karen Page dancing with no shirt on I would have been just as satisfied. Because I am still a primitive manpig with manpig feelings.
7 – Okay, But Seriously About Karen – Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page is one of my favorite Marvel Netflix characters. Top five for sure.
This season we got to see her tragic past, and rather than clumsily tossing an entire flashback episode in and disrupting the narrative flow (something modern television does with complete abandon and lack of finesse), her story is woven in with the events of the present, scaled down to one well-placed flashback with a wonderful cameo from Lee Tergeson as Karen’s father.
Woll’s performance this season is fantastic. She no longer feels so much like the glue holding Matt and Foggy together as she does part of their team. Karen’s actions all have import and consequence beyond simply being necessary elements of the plot. Her character has grown in definition and in importance since the first season.
8 – Where’s the Suit? – I’m not a huge fan of plots that revolve around frame jobs or setups. It’s not that they aren’t good, but sometimes it’s simply too uncomfortable for me to watch a hapless victim as they’re manipulated by a more powerful antagonist.
I think Daredevil did a fantastic job with this, though. Fisk using Bullseye to frame Daredevil was more way to keep the hero out of Kingpin’s way than an earnest attempt to have him incarcerated or otherwise permanently taken out of the picture, and as such it felt much more believable and entertaining to watch. It also felt different from the countless other times we’ve seen heroes put in that situation.
Seriously – Batman alone has fought the GCPD like a billion times because of some villain’s plan.
An element of the setup is that Matt isn’t wearing the suit that Melvin Potter made for him. He’s back to his season one bottom of the closet gear. And for some reason that whole concept really worked for me. Because of the compressed nature of televised storytelling it seems far too soon in Matt’s Daredevil career for him to feel a need to get “back to his roots”, but that wasn’t really what it was about. I’m sure I’ll pick up the nuances in a repeat viewing, but it was good enough for the first time just to feel that as viewers we had a solid distinction between Fake Daredevil and Real Daredevil.
As for the convenience of an easily manipulated psychopathic marksman being the exact same size as Matt Murdock… Don’t worry about it.
9 – Foggy is Right – While every character on this show dabbles in moral shades of grey, Foggy Nelson remains the one true paragon of virtue and the moral center of the show. He believes in the law. He believes in doing right. When his back is against the wall, he holds those who have made the wrong decisions accountable, even when they’re his family.
There is an argument between Foggy and his brother, Theo that was one of my favorite parts of the season. As Kingpins’ many manipulations are being revealed to the audience, we learn that Theo knowingly being dishonest in order to get a loan to save his family’s store was enabled by Fisk.
Foggy’s side of the argument is that Theo knew what he was doing was wrong and against the law, so when the time comes to pay the price he is responsible for his actions.
Theo’s retort is that yeah, he worked the system when given the opportunity. But the only reason the opportunity even happened was because Foggy had made an enemy of the most dangerous criminal in New York, and as a result had put his entire family at risk.
It’s a fascinating look at moral relativism and an honest viewer will struggle with both sides of the exchange.
But Foggy is right. He has to be. Otherwise this show is a collection of flawed characters flailing about in the dark.
10 – I Believed in Matt – It was so refreshing that the show let Daredevil be more of a hero. While Matt struggled with the idea of murdering Fisk and other moral quandaries throughout the season, his dalliances with questionable morality never felt like the onerous burden they have in the past. This was a lighter and more practical Matt, one who is less conflicted about what he has to do and just trying to decide the best way to do them.
I felt like Matt had found the meaning and purpose of being Daredevil, and was in the final steps of integrating his dual lives. The show could well be on its way to a Matt who enjoys fighting crime and maybe even a step towards the vigilante I loved so much in Waid and Samneee’s run with the character.
You guys – I would love to see Charlie Cox in that red suit, smiling and chasing bad guys across rooftops. And we saw hints of that smile a couple of times this season.
11 – Family – Speaking of Matt’s life, I am so glad that they didn’t make Foggy and Karen’s acceptance of Matt into this whole thing. They’re essentially a family now, so they just accept that Matt is alive and doing his thing and let’s move on.
I’m so exhausted by the “I can’t trust you anymore” thing that shows do every year, season after season. There are other ways to create drama for characters and to have them interact in dramatic ways. It was refreshing to see the genuine trust and bonds that have developed between these three pay off this season.
Again, I’m sure I could explain it better after a second viewing, but this season – as tumultuous as it was and as much as it did put some characters through the wringer – didn’t feel like it was trading on despair. For the whole thirteen episodes, it felt like clinging to hope. And in the end, the hope paid off.
12 – Don’t Hate the Player – Vincent D’Onofrio delivers another mesmerizing performance as Wilson Fisk, now openly referred to as Kingpin amongst his employees.
As his machinations unfold, Fisk has a sort of sophisticated smarminess every step of the way. He’s inscrutable, and yet you can see his roiling emotions just below the surface. I find myself on the edge of my seat just waiting to see how he’s going to react to any given situation. Usually he controls the animal within and carries out his business in the best way possible.
But sometimes there’s an explosion of rage and violence that is terrifying to behold and a reminder that he’s Daredevil’s physical match as well as his intellectual nemesis. The scene where he calmly asks for a lieutenants’ jacket so that he can put it over his head before he brutally beats the man to death is as chilling as the murder-by-car-door from the first season. Perhaps more so because this one is clearly more calculated and yet still vicious.
And of course, there’s the full transition to the shiny, white suit.
13 – Precision – Everything in this season seems very carefully planned and plotted. Each storyline intertwines with the others and has a logical progression and conclusion. Nothing is confusing or feels haphazard. Sure – there are a few coincidences and convenient events, but nothing that strained my suspension of disbelief any more than the core idea of a blind acrobat lawyer fighting crime with the super senses he received via a bonk on the head from a mutagen canister.
14 – High Tension – If Karen confronting Fisk had happened any later in the season I would’ve been positive he was going to kill her. As it stands I was still pretty nervous. That was some high quality provoking and bottled rage going on. Foggy saving the day was fantastic.
15 – Team Effort – I’m not going to list everyone, but the supporting cast were phenomenal. From compromised FBI agents to families to Kingpin’s lackeys, there were so many great faces delivering smaller, yet key, performances.
Everything about this season was so damn polished. It was a near flawless execution, and as great as TV can be nowadays, that’s an exceedingly rare thing. Depending on what else comes out between now and the end of the year and how much time I have, I could easily see myself watching this season again. And if not before 2019, then certainly after the New Year and likely after revisiting the first two season.
I want more Foggy, Karen, Matt, and Fisk sooner than later.
Oh, and Marvel had better fulfill that Bullseye promise from the very end.
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