Friday, March 18, 2016

The First Season Of Daredevil Might Not Have Been A Fluke! Season Two Opens With A "Bang!"

The Good: Good plot development, Pacing, Moments of performance, Engaging action sequences
The Bad: Very clearly a beginning without any sense of resolution, Light on theme
The Basics: Daredevil Season 2 opens with a "Bang" and the slow introduction of a one man army!

Fans of the character Daredevil had a lot to like about the first season of Daredevil (reviewed here!), but it is hard not to go into the second season of the show feeling like the executive producers conceptually shot their wad on the first season. Whatwith Owlsley, Urich, and Wesley dead and Wilson Fisk already out of the narrative, the future of Daredevil seemed very much up in the air. Daredevil manages to avoid simply repeating the foibles of the film Daredevil (reviewed here!) by not making the adversaries in the second season both Elektra and Bullseye, but it was announced early on that The Punisher and Elektra would be appearing in the second season of Daredevil.

The Punisher is a tough character to get right . . . and one who is tough to put into a narrative that might any sense of balance to it. The Punisher is a forceful personality, a vigilante who steps over the moralistic lines Matt Murdock has as Daredevil. Frank Castle easily made a transition to his own book, which became intensely popular; The Punisher is a primary character, not a second-string character in the Marvel Universe. When Daredevil reappeared on Netflix with the second season premiere, "Bang," fans of Daredevil were introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Frank Castle, in the form of Jon Bernthal. And "Bang" makes the build-up long and plays to the moment in the final act when Castle (although unnamed in the episode) is finally revealed.

Opening with a squad of men running through the night streets of Hell's Kitchen with stolen briefcases, Daredevil rescues a police officer and an innocent civilian while incapacitating each of the thieves. The next morning, the offices of Nelson and Murdock are overrun by clients, though Karen Page reveals to Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson that the law firm is broke. That night, the Irish mob has a meeting in Hell's Kitchen and, after a rousing speech from their leader, they are slaughtered.

Page, Murdock and Nelson go out to Josie's for a beer and Matt recognizes a man at the bar's erratic heartbeat as potential trouble. The man is Grotto, one of the mobsters who managed to get away, and he is at Josie's to hire Nelson and Murdock. When his wounded status leads him to fall unconscious, Page checks him into the hospital while Nelson and Murdock check out various leads. Foggy Nelson looks into the Dogs Of Hell, a biker gang that has taken up in Hell's Kitchen. Matt Murdock dons his Daredevil outfit and goes to the meat packing district on a clue from a cop friend, where he discovers one survivor who reveals a truth about the military like hits taking out criminals in Hell's Kitchen.

Perhaps what is most telling about "Bang," right off the bat, is how it leaves viewers feeling like there were massive repercussions of the first season of Daredevil. Wilson Fisk spent the first season building an empire and consolidating organized crime in Hell's Kitchen. With Fisk incarcerated, there is a power vacuum in Hell's Kitchen and the idea that many different factions are vying to fill that void is realistic and compelling. "Bang" puts the familiar face of Turk into the mix in addition to several references to Fisk and factions that are making plays for Hell's Kitchen. The sense of continuity in Daredevil's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is high and it is blended with decent easter eggs and references. The Dogs Of Hell were introduced in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Yes Men" (reviewed here!) and the implication is that Page's new car is Ben Urich's.

"Bang," after the initial violence, goes for a pleasant stroll, instantly recreating the chemistry between Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. Murdock and Nelson are old friends and their banter is refreshing, fun and entirely engaging to watch. Their friendship is easily the most relatable aspect of Daredevil - even more than the failing business subplot threaded throughout "Bang."

The other nice aspect of "Bang" is that the writers and producers of Daredevil are not about to insult the intelligence of the viewers. With promotional materials and previews in this day in age, the producers of Daredevil know that viewers who watch the show are coming in knowing that the season's antagonist - at least one! - is The Punisher. "Bang" builds up to the reveal of Frank Castle and the viewer's intelligence is not insulted by the showrunners trying to drag it out. Throughout "Bang," characters assert that the new player in Hell's Kitchen is an organization and the build-up to the Castle reveal is fast enough to not insult the fans, while still making sense and engaging the viewer.

"Bang" is a little light on character, though Foggy Nelson is given a plum role in the season premiere. Nelson and Murdock have great banter and Nelson's loyalty and devotion to both the law and the truth put him in gut-tightening danger. But Nelson remains an intelligent pragmatist and makes "Bang" watchable when the violence in the episode is almost mortgages the entertainment value of the episode.

Indeed, Daredevil in "Bang" is somewhat unlikable. The way Daredevil treats Turk, who pragmatically observes just how much Daredevil has messed him and his situation up for the information he has, treads the fine line between the hero looking out for his territory and being a dick.

The most subtle character moments come from Karen Page and Deborah Ann Woll nails the key Page moment. Karen Page is still not sleeping well from her actions late in the first season of Daredevil. Coming into "Bang," my hope was that Wilson Fisk would continue to appear in Page's on-screen nightmares, but instead, Page only makes oblique references to her toughness and things not being right with her sleep cycle. Woll manages to not oversell those moments, but merely capture the implications with sublte eye movements and turning away from the camera. Karen Page's backstory continues to be fleshed out through implication with her improvisational abilities exhibited in "Bang" as well. Woll makes the transition from subtly troubled to working to do right perfectly well to convince viewers that the character is the same one.

Ultimately, "Bang" does exactly what a good season premiere ought to do; it sets up the beginning of the season to drive viewers to get engaged in the serialized plotline. "Bang" is engaging . . . even if little details, like Matt Murdock not smelling Grotto's blood, are not perfect at all. "Bang" returns Daredevil to Netflix in a compelling way.

For other season premieres, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Laws Of Nature" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The Man Who Saved Central City" - The Flash
"Pilot, Part 1" - Legends Of Tomorrow

[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 movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!

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