Sunday, March 20, 2016

Daredevil Season Two Does Not Build "Regrets Only" When It Elaborates The Punisher Conspiracy!

The Good: Performances, B-plot, Moments of character
The Bad: Elektra fails to wow, A-plot involving Elektra
The Basics: Daredevil enters a new formula with juggling plotlines involving Frank Castle and Elektra as "Regrets Only" pulls Nelson and Murdock apart!

As the second season of Daredevil progressed, I - for one - was concerned that it might end up being a terribly erratic season. After hitting a series high (so far) with the third episode, the introduction of Elektra in "Kinbaku" (reviewed here!) hit a season low point at just the fifth episode of the season. Fortunately, with the sixth episode, "Regrets Only," Daredevil bounces back. From this point on, the second season of Daredevil is very engrossing, often surprising, and well-presented (despite some physical darkness that undermines some of the direction and performances).

"Regrets Only" feels in some ways like a new beginning for the second season of Daredevil and it firmly establishes a new paradigm for the season. "Regrets Only" has Matt Murdock engaged with an Elektra plot, while Nelson and Page struggle to unravel the conspiracy surrounding Frank Castle's past and expose District Attorney Reyes and her corrupt machinations. Despite the fact that "Regrets Only" picks up just moments after "Kinbaku," there is remarkably little from the prior episode that is essential and the viewer cannot pick up from context clues in the new episode.

A Yakuza motorcycle gang arrives at the flat Elektra has taken as her own and she and Daredevil incapacitate all of them. Murdock and Natchios go out to breakfast where Elektra reveals that she has been honest about her desire to divest from Roxxon's influence over her fortune. Murdock tentatively agrees so long as there is no murdering involved. At the offices of Nelson & Murdock, Page is given a statement by the district attorney's office (via a shill) to sign. Page refuses, based on the statement being pretty much false and when the public defender reveals that Reyes is pursuing the death penalty against Frank Castle, Murdock decides to get involved.

Arriving at the hospital, the Nelson & Murdock legal team is advised by Mahoney (who has been promoted for bringing down the Punisher) to leave the case alone. Despite the warning, Nelson, Page and Murdock manage to convince Frank Castle to appoint them his counsel and, when they prove to him that Reyes has an agenda that would see Castle buried, the Punisher agrees. When Murdock is sidetracked by a mission with Elektra to secure proof of Roxxon's shady dealings, Nelson and Page meet with Castle to try to construct his defense.

What is immediately striking in "Regrets Only" is how immature Elektra Natchios is. Elektra is impulsive and surprisingly careless, which is very much the opposite of Matt Murdock. While sometimes opposites attract, the chemistry is not there between Murdock and Natchios, at least at the outset of "Regrets Only." Elektra does not develop in the episode; showing no regard for what is going on in Murdock's life, Natchios snatches up her partner without having an actual plan to bringing down Roxxon and the Yakuza. Murdock going along with Natchios as much as he does only works because of Murdock's constant refrain that him helping Elektra is a "one and done" mission.

Elektra's immaturity is offset by serious scenes at Nelson and Murdock where adults seriously debate the ethics of letting Reyes have her way. Reyes is attempting to use a legal loophole that would allow Castle to be tried in Delaware, a state with the death penalty. Murdock is against the death penalty and, despite the business implications of defending Frank Castle, Foggy Nelson feels ethically bound to not let the District Attorney steamroller the law or Frank Castle.

In a season where the overt adversary is The Punisher, by "Regrets Only," it is clear that Frank Castle is only a temporary or partial antagonist. District Attorney Reyes makes for a clear and intriguing nemesis which helps Daredevil explore the non-super hero aspect of the popular comic book hero. One of the strengths of the Daredevil book is that, at its best, it finds a balance between the vigilante hero story and the legal thriller story. Unlike Batman, where the billionaire aspect of Bruce Wayne can be neglected after explaining how Batman has the resources to afford all of his gadgets in a real world setting, Daredevil needs a consistent grounding aspect for viewers to accept the extraordinary aspects. Matt Murdock has friends and a job and Daredevil keeps both aspects of Murdock's life alive and busy in a credible way. In "Regrets Only," Page and Nelson pick up the slack of addressing the Frank Castle plotline and the legal thriller/conspiracy aspect of the show is very engaging, despite it featuring a lot of exposition.

"Regrets Only" has a few moments that may make viewers question their suspension of disbelief. When Frank Castle wakes up in the hospital, he hears Matt Murdock's voice and given that one of the most recent things in his life was slipping unconscious to Matt Murdock's voice, it seems inconceivable that he does not realize that Murdock is Daredevil or let on that he knows. Similarly, Elodie Yung uses facial expressions a lot to emote. The glance of satisfaction Elektra shoots Matt Murdock after he spills wine on the Roxxon accountant at the party to get him alone is something even Daredevil's radar sense would have trouble "seeing."

Jon Bernthal humanizes the wounded Frank Castle wonderfully in "Regrets Only." Bernthal and Deborah Ann Woll play off one another beautifully in the episode. Woll uses her eyes and body language to have Page go from incredibly guarded to softening up to The Punisher and the transition takes a realistic amount of time. Woll does not rush the process and while Bernthal infuses Frank Castle with some articulation and charm, he does not force it in a way that makes viewers forget that Castle recently murdered thirty-eight people (that we know of - how many pawn shop owners did Castle kill using a different modus operandi without getting tied back to The Punisher?!).

Bernthal and Woll's scenes are intercut to break up the party scenes with Elektra and Matt Murdock. While Elektra is presented immediately as an immature dilettante with a surprising amount of martial arts training, Elodie Yung plays the part well enough to be believable. One of the episode's most understated moments for Yung is simply a transition shot of Elektra striding in a hallway between the party and her mission inside the secure area at the Roxxon. Yung carries herself with a determination and focus that makes viewers believe that Elektra Natchios is not at all as simple and straightforward as she initially appears.

"Regrets Only" paints Elektra Natchios entirely as a user and it is unsatisfying to watch Matt Murdock be her dupe. Natchios needs Murdock more than the other way around in "Regrets Only" in her mission to find the Roxxon ledger. The two are remarkably sloppy in their exit strategy and while director Andy Goddard does not belabor the late-episode fight scene, he also does not have the otherwise smart characters do important things like close a drawer in the secret room into which they broke. The result is the understated Page/Nelson/Castle plot shines against the more flashy Murdock/Natchios plotline.

For other works in which Elden Henson appears, visit my reviews of:
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
Daredevil - Season 1
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
Under The Tuscan Sun

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Daredevil - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of the blind vigilante here!


For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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