Synopsis – Matt Murdock, with his other senses superhumanly enhanced, fights crime as a blind Lawyer by day, and vigilante by night.
Episodes – S03E01 to S03E13
My Take – The 2015 partnership between Marvel and Netflix was an exciting one, mainly as it was built to give the popular yet more contained characters as a chance to showcase themselves in a way the massively successful big screen MCU would never give them. Kick-starting with Daredevil, following his poor turn in the 2003 Ben Affleck led adaption, which was further followed up by three different series in the form of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, who have as of now have enjoyed two seasons of varying quality, generally upping their game for their sophomore years, with their team up in the form of Defenders in particular finally making good on the potential for the least likely addition to the fold. And in the background The Punisher also got his own celebrated spin-off, becoming one of the best characters of them all. But like we all know the result quite differed from the expected.
With the much hyped Defenders receiving an underwhelming response, season 2 of Jessica Jones losing much of its audience and critical support, along with recent cancellations of both Iron Fist and Luke Cage, it’s safe to say that this MCU connected small screen universe is currently hit a bit of disarray. Now, with Disney coming up with their streaming device where they have announced to provide their supporting yet popular MCU characters their own platform to explore and expand, it seems like The Man with No Fear and his cohorts has more to deal with in the coming years. But what goes in favor here is that unlike other Marvel properties that have hit Netflix, Daredevil has impressed with both its first and second seasons. While everyone has probably been wondering if their missteps with certain aspects in Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones would filter into this third season of Daredevil, I can assure say that, Season 3 is instead a solid return to form for the franchise as a whole.
Mainly as this third season regains the supposed cohesion and focus that was sorely lacking in Season 2, and fills them with enough plot twists, action, and drama to make the show feel sustainable for years to come. Here, show-runner Erik Oleson (The Man in the High Castle) picks up the narrative threads left for him by previous seasons and weaves together a solid, character-driven tale that makes far better use of its supporting characters than we’ve seen in past Marvel series. To say it isn’t without flaws would be ridiculous, but it’s just really hard to find them here. In fact, I am not afraid to call this season not only the best yet for Daredevil, but also my favorite show of 2018 so far.
Based on the classic ‘Born Again’ story-line from the comics, by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli, the third season follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), right after the events of Defenders. Alive, but severely battered and bruised beyond belief following the explosion at the Midland Circle building, Matt finds himself in the care of Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley), a nun of St Agnes, the Church/ Orphanage where he grew up. While recovering and still mourning the loss of Elektra (Elodie Yung), Matt has broken emotionally and spiritually, and the loss of his heightened hearing also means he can no longer be the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Convinced that his emotions got the better of him, Matt decides that it’s for the best that his closest friends, lawyer Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) and journalist Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), continue to think he is dead, even though they themselves are struggling to come to terms with his loss.
However things change when an old enemy returns in the form of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) aka the Kingpin. By courting a deal with Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), an FBI agent, Fisk has managed to swap his prison cell for a permanently guarded hotel room in exchange for all kinds of dirt on the underworld and corrupt politicians of the city. While Fisk claims he is doing all this to keep Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer), the women he loves out of the hands of the FBI, Matt, Foggy and Karen, whose efforts put him behind bars in the first place, are sure he has a far greater plan in mind – one which will brings their lives crumbling down and could restore the Kingpin back to power. As Matt begins to push away those closest to him to protect them from Fisk’s vengeance, he also learns the shocking truth of his own past and confronts a new enemy in the form of Benjamin Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), an edgy, sharp-shooting FBI agent with hidden psychological issues, who Fisk has manipulated into doing his bidding.
While season 3 gets off to a painfully slow start, picking up the threads left behind by the mediocre Defenders ending, the show eventually moves the story far enough away from those events to regain a true sense of self and bring it back to what made it such must-watch TV in the first place. Here, everything that season 1 got right, is doubles down on and succeeds with. We see how Matt’s life is even more screwed-up than usual, Foggy is both smarter and funnier, the action superior, the tension thick, and the Kingpin is more menacing and powerful than ever before. As Matt reconnects with his friends and family, there’s no stopping the series, with almost every episode from this point on knocking it out of the park.
Often excelling when it focuses more on its secondary characters, the lack of Marvel-Netflix universe crossovers and cameos enables season 3 to get back to what it does best as it develops its own characters rather than relying on star power and name-dropping. The story, after an initial slow build, breezes along at such a fast pace (by Marvel Netflix standards) that it barely allows viewers to catch a breath. Under new show-runner Erik Oleson, the scripting is clearly much tighter this time round, with everything moving in the same direction, even if each of the main characters (Matt, Fisk, Karen, Foggy, Poindexter) are off doing their own thing.
That gives each episode a powerful sense of momentum, with each character basically on a collision course. Most importantly, Matt’s story held up its end of the bargain. Superhero stories become harder to tell after the origin. When putting on a mask and beating up bad guys becomes part of a character’s everyday life, where do you take him from there? The answer Season Three came up with: Tear him right back down. The new season starts with Matt at his lowest point. Matt Murdock has always been a walking embodiment of Catholic guilt, and he gets even darker this season as he struggles with the loss of his lover Elektra, his newly diminished capacity, and questions about what he’s actually accomplished as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. The sassy nun Sister Maggie, helping call Murdock out on his brooding and keeping the show from getting as bleak as a DC superhero movie. But there’s a good reason for Daredevil to feel like his greatest works have amounted to nothing.
While Foggy’s run for DA has some fantastic moments. Karen and Matt, though, are the season’s real focus. Karen’s story is the most emotionally affecting these Netflix shows have gotten. Her turn as investigative reporter allows her to create the circumstances where the system can work. Where Fisk can’t keep getting away with stuff just because he has money and power. That’s why Fisk does everything he can to destroy the institution she represents. In a very welcome change from the comics, Karen doesn’t die in this season. Instead, Fisk tries to take everything, all her power, away from her. He sends Bullseye, dressed as Daredevil, to the Daily Bulletin offices and has him slaughter everyone in sight. Bullseye kills her key source to protect Fisk, and murders every journalist he can to send a message. Nothing hits harder though, than Karen staring at the bagged up cell phones of the murdered Bulletin employees, constantly buzzing and vibrating as their loved ones try to make contact.
Without a doubt, the Wilson Fisk is what made Season 1 so hard to live up to. One could even argue that this season is actually designed around being told from the point of view of Fisk, though if I am honest, it feels like that was never fully committed to by the writers, and perhaps it should have. Fisk is the crown jewel of the Netflix branch of the MCU and he regains his title as the MCU’s best villain in my opinion.
Then, of course, there’s Bullseye. The show takes some intriguing risks with its storytelling, notably with an inventively staged flashback episode for Benjamin Poindexter’s backstory, told mostly in black and white. It’s fascinating to watch his origin story unfold even if it’s not exactly true to the comics, and his troubled soul adds some much needed freshness to the series. His ‘super powers’, which could have come across as silly, are treated with such realism that it takes a while to register that you’re actually watching someone kill people by throwing expertly aimed inanimate objects at their jugulars.
Thankfully, it doesn’t come off as ridiculous, and there’s a real sense of danger during his fight scenes. If you’re looking for a fight scene comparable to some of the best from season 1, you’ll find it here as Fisk manipulates Dex into impersonating Daredevil and breaking into The Bulletin to kill a witness. The fight is a return to form for the series’ action scenes, but it’s really Dex’s chilling turn to the dark side which makes the episode so memorable.
But there’s one aspect of the show that isn’t receiving as much as attention as it should, and one I didn’t anticipate loving so much: FBI Special Agent Ray Nadeem. This season explores a lot of complex themes, such as good and evil, the loss of faith, and the concept of sacrificing the few for the good of the many. But perhaps the most important one, and the one that Ray embodies the most, is this: Sometimes, when it comes to the choices we make as parents, there is no black and white, there is no good and evil. There is only gray when it comes to the safety of our children. Despite the choices he made, Ray Nadeem, like Matt Murdock, redeemed himself, once again finding his moral compass. But unlike Matt, he had more to lose. And eventually, he lost everything, including his life, taken with a single gunshot by Dex. The whole season, all Ray wanted to be was a hero to his son. And in the end, he was the biggest hero of them all.
As for the action, it’s astonishing and just when you think you’ve seen the best of it there’s something even better. Episode 4 features one of the greatest one-shot style action sequences ever, reminiscent of fight sequences in The Raid, while Daredevil’s first fight with Bullseye puts the 2003 adaption to shame. While the ending is a little too rosy, with everyone we care about getting their happily-ever-after and all the loose ends tying up nicely, it feels well earned. Season 3 is a roller-coaster of a journey for its characters, but also for fans of the show who weren’t sure what to expect after The Defenders; the final few scenes are like a balm to everything that came before, returning Daredevil to its rightful place at the top of the Marvel-Netflix pile.
Sure the series has its faults, as all TV shows do. Its story sometimes solves itself a little too conveniently, and a few shortcuts it takes are a bit too obvious to overlook. For example, here once again Kingpin is shown as absurdly powerful, but we’re never shown how he can do the things he does. We don’t even see him doing most of them. We’re just told he did them long after the fact. The revelation that Fisk was behind Agent Nadeem’s sister-in-law’s health coverage disappearing doesn’t land with the weight that it should. Even for someone as connected as Fisk, that strains credibility.
Why couldn’t he have just waited for an FBI agent with a weakness to exploit? Why does he have to be the architect behind everything? Likewise, the revelation that Fisk got Foggy Nelson’s brother and parents involved in bank fraud doesn’t give Foggy’s story line the dramatic weight it needed. It’s supposed to make Foggy feel conflicted about his campaign for District Attorney, but the show never gives his story time to explore that conflict. It just kind of hangs around until it’s solved. It ends up feeling more like an unnecessary reminder of Fisk’s power at a point when we’re already convinced of it.
Coming to the performances, without a doubt, Vincent D’Onofrio steals every scene as Wilson Fisk once again. For all his size, it’s his sheer presence on screen that’s truly terrifying. Given that this is a character who spends half of the season in a single room, that’s quite an achievement. He easily manages to out-class every Marvel villain in the movies just by standing still. Charlie Cox’s portrayal is perhaps the most brooding and thought-provoking he has been yet and his performance follows suit, giving viewers possibly the most true-to-page Daredevil ever seen on-screen.
While Eldon Henson shines as his best friend Foggy and Deborah Ann Woll brings new levels of depth to Karen Page. Wilson Bethel shows that he has the talent to play with the big boys in his first foray into the superhero genre and I’m pleased to see that his character will probably return should Daredevil get a fourth season. Jay Ali was excellent in the role and always engaging the agent whose moral compass and financial condition is doing him no favors. Joanne Whalley is a welcome addition to the growing cast. Ayelet Zurer once again leaves a mark. On the ‘Daredevil’ Season 3 is yet another excellent turn for the superhero series, which uses its great characters, an actual sense of pacing, and excellent action scenes to surpass all of its counterparts on TV.
Creator – Drew Goddard
Status – Season 3 (Completed)
Network – Netflix