[This is a review of Daredevil season 2, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
The end of Daredevil season 1 was filled with promise. It ended with the sort of heroic “and then…” that saw a newly christened superhero leap off screen in pursuit of more justice. It was the sort of ending that assured audiences there was in fact more to this story of a blind lawyer who dresses up in a costume at night to punch bad people until they stop doing bad things. But it also had the effect of making the twelve previous hours feel like part of a complete story that had now reached a successful and satisfying conclusion. Endings like that are increasingly rare in this world of superhero fiction obsessed with the always-bigger, just-you-wait-and-see story lingering right around the corner. It is especially prevalent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where each film owes at least a portion of its final moments (and in some cases more) to a movie that ostensibly hasn’t even begun shooting yet.
In contrast to season 1, the end of Daredevil season 2, then, is filled less with promise and more with a set of specific promises – ones that assure audiences they have not seen the last of Elektra (or Black Sky, as the Hand is collectively so excited to call her), nor have they seen the last of Frank Castle, Stick, Foggy, or Karen, though they have seen the (temporary) end of the latter two as associates of Matt Murdock, as far as their shared law firm is concerned. They have also seen the end, presumably, of Matt’s poor excuses to Karen for why he looks like a well-worn punching bag most of the time, and why he can’t be present in court to defend their struggling law firm’s most high-profile client. It is an interesting way to conclude a season for sure, one that undoubtedly has its throngs of admirers who are always eager to continue consuming a series that so adoringly attends to their live-action comic book needs. And while there are benefits to the concept of the never-ending story, and the always-continuing saga of someone like ol’ Horn Head, closing a season by leaving open a precise series of doors has the tendency to leave the viewer less engaged by what they just saw and more engaged by the explicit guarantee of more, more, more.
While this method of storytelling has the distinct advantage of promoting the ongoing Marvel (or whatever) brand in-story, its shortcoming is seen in how it shifts the weight away from the present or the recent past (or even the recently passed). Nothing is left to linger. Nothing can just sit to be contemplated. And while there’s something to be said for not putting audiences through a yearlong Jon Snow-like debate as to the permanence of death, telling those watching that one’s shuffling off this mortal coil is in fact impermanent robs the moment of significance; it dilutes the waning storyline in favor of concentrating on the waxing plot ahead.
Granted, it is a story based on a comic book, meaning by virtue of its origins, death is taken less seriously than the various fashion choices made by costumed types. In which case, seeing Elektra sealed up inside the Hand’s mobile sarcophagus, looking like a Cadbury Crème Egg from hell, is the show merely being explicit about the otherwise tacit transitory nature of death in a world like this. And yet, it’s not the assurance that Ms. Natchios will return to fulfill (or attempt to fulfill) her destiny as Black Sky that’s the issue; there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, it’s the series’ rush to get there that acts like a dodgy neighbor, drawing power from the narrative at hand to charge one that only exists peripherally. In the case of Daredevil season 2, this need to extend the story’s edges beyond the season’s established boundaries works as an effective marketing strategy for what comes next, but at the cost of the finale (and perhaps the season as a whole) being as engaging as its predecessor.
That doesn’t mean season 2 was a failure by any means. Overall, new co-showrunners Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie did a terrific job shepherding the Man Without Fear into a more complicated (for better and for worse) and personalized corner of the MCU. With the addition of the aforementioned Frank Castle and the questions his black-clad presence raised in terms of vigilantism, as well as Matt’s choppy history with Elektra and her connection to Stick and the immortal ninjas of the Hand, there were plenty of times the season could have collapsed under the weight of its own plotlines. And while it’s always good to question whether or not less might have been more when it came to the season as a whole – especially with regard to the disconnect between the Punisher and Elektra story threads – judging it on the merits of what was actually handed to audiences, it was mostly succesful.
Watching, one comes to an understanding of why Marvel teamed-up with Netflix to distribute a string of series centered on its street-level heroes: the binge-watching method is the television equivalent of the trade paperback. Each season is a consume-at-your-leisure collection of a larger story that aims to stand on its own. Looking at it that way helps explain why season 2 was built as it was and why maybe that structure diluted its intensity. The question of how well season 2 actually stands on its own is perhaps the biggest one looming over the finale. ‘A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen’ has all the elements of a solid finale – a showdown with the (sadly uninteresting) Big Bad, a solid emotional address between the protagonist and his former flame, and even a last-minute save from the show-stealing guest star – but the commonality between these elements was their preoccupation with matters beyond the final hour. There’s a lot to like and even admire about Daredevil season 2, but standing as an advertisement for Daredevil season 3 and perhaps even a Punisher ongoing series perhaps isn’t one of them.
Daredevil seasons 1&2 are currently available on Netflix.
Photos: Patrick Harbron/Netflix