[This is a review includes details from the first episode of Daredevil season 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Regardless of how compelling you find the action or drama during the first few episodes of Daredevil season 2 – and admittedly, people’s mileage will vary, given how the pre-season tease of characters like the Punisher and Elektra may have influenced expectations in certain ways – there is one thing the darkly violent Netflix series delivers on a consistent basis: a strong sense of place. In Daredevil season 1 – and to a lesser extent Jessica Jones season 1 – Hell’s Kitchen stands out in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As far as semi-fictionalized Marvel Universe settings go, the New York neighborhood may be the most distinct, lived-in location put on screens (television or otherwise) since the House of Ideas began its pop-culture onslaught in 2008.
Some may not put much stock in how important a series’ setting is to telling a convincing story, as it can so often feel like window dressing or, more simply put: just background. And in most cases the indistinct locales and vague approximations of places so often seen in superhero films and television shows (or their trailers, as seen in the epic hero-on-hero throwdown of Captain America: Civil War – which apparently takes place at… an airport?) have been the norm. The lack of interaction between a character (or characters) and his or her environment perhaps better sells the superhero-ness of things. After all, when the audience is focused so intently on these larger than life individuals and all the incredible things they can do, the purpose and the benefit of crafting a palpable place with enough authenticity to withstand the wildest of superhero shenanigans can seem somewhat moot.
To the credit of everyone working on Netflix’s Daredevil, though – that includes last season’s showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, series creator Drew Goddard, and season 2 co-showrunners Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie – there is a clear desire to stake a claim on this specific patch of New York real estate and to have it feel like a real, physical place. Whereas certain films and programs consist of a bland mélange of taupes and beiges, of signage and semi-exposed brickwork, of places that exude the sort of veiled specificity of a Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn catalogue, Daredevil‘s Hell’s Kitchen is a place with its own distinct heartbeat. Hell’s Kitchen is dirty and dingy; it’s dark and moldy. All those murky corners give it a sense of mystery and personality and ambiguity. You like this place, but you don’t trust it – there’s never a moment where you actually feel comfortable in this environment.
By and large, that is the sentiment Daredevil season 2 seems to want to convey – that it knows exactly where this bruising story is going because it knows where this bruising story came from. In this case it’s Hell’s Kitchen. Now maybe this distinct sense of place that Daredevil’s playground gives off has something to do with the way it’s filmed, with tight shots, on the streets and in alleyways, or walking shoulder-to-shoulder amongst bustling pedestrians with the sort of neighborhood charm that inspires them to call someone leading a blind man by the arm an “a**hole.” Then again, maybe it’s because every character Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) or Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) run into in the first hour manages to fit the words “Hell’s Kitchen” into their conversation. Some even repeat themselves during the same exchange – just in case those watching at home (i.e., everyone) didn’t quite get that Daredevil takes place in Hell’s Kitchen.
If the series feels like it’s selling a place a little harder than it needs to during these first few hours, it’s doing so with good reason. As much as season 1 was the rise of ol’ Hornhead from black-clad vigilante to lauded savior of a soon-to-be gentrified chunk of real estate, season 2 tracks the inevitable next step in vigilantism – The Punisher. Given the series’ penchant for not simply drawing a conclusion between the name of its central character and his preferred stomping grounds but going out of its way to underline it… repeatedly – as it does with the Sons of Anarchy-like biker gang whose members cheerfully refer to themselves as the Dogs of Hell – having Frank Castle gain notoriety by knocking off the criminal element in Hell’s Kitchen effectively gives Daredevil season 2 two devils for the price of one.
Tracking the arrival of The Punisher by alluding to his being the dark, nasty, inevitable side-effect of Matt Murdock’s crusade on crime makes the characters’ clash – during this, the year of the superhero spat – feel natural, a result of certain environmental factors if you will. After all, regardless of where Frank’s from, The Punisher has chosen to crawl out of the same pit as his costumed counterpart.
All this talk of setting and the importance of location comes about because, although the premiere is titled ‘Bang,’ the season doesn’t necessarily start with one – that’s reserved for the “don’t forget to binge” conclusion that wraps up DD and The Punisher’s first encounter. Instead, the season begins with a very deliberate and long panning shot of the Hell’s Kitchen skyline; one that is underlined by ambient voices talking about the heat wave the city is currently in the grips of. On one hand, that opening shot feels like the show is trying too hard, that it is too eager to get this one particular point across. But on the other hand, the introduction feels like the series saluting what it has to work with, what sets it apart from everything else flying the ever-expanding Marvel banner. In the end, it’s great to see Daredevil recognize the importance of Hell’s Kitchen and the way it makes the show’s characters and this particular corner of the MCU feel so interesting and so vibrant. It’s also great the series acknowledges how, without Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil might be just another guy in a red suit.
Daredevil season 2 is available in its entirety on Netflix. Screen Rant will have more coverage of the series in the coming days.
Photos: Patrick Harbron/Netflix