Wednesday, October 17, 2018

TV REVIEW: Netflix's 'Daredevil' - Season 3

Netflix's Daredevil returns with its 13-episode third season on Friday, October 19. The drama stars Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Joanne Whalley, Stephen Rider, Jay Ali, Wilson Bethel and Vincent D'Onofrio.

Read on for my thoughts on the new season after screening its first six episodes.

Daredevil was the first series produced from Netflix's partnership with Marvel in 2015. And now, 2018 is the first year in which all four shows from that original agreement - Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist - have aired new seasons. Of course, it will be the only year to do so due to the recent cancellation of Iron Fist. And yet, this universe has expanded beyond the initial plan as well with the addition of The Punisher which is due to come back soon as well. The wait for the third season of Daredevil was long because the rest of the shows had to introduce their characters for the long-awaited miniseries crossover The Defenders. Those eight episodes last year proved far more consequential to Matt Murdock than any of the other heroes who topline shows on the streaming platform. It was the creative team operating under the assumption that they understand this specific character because they wrote for the second season. That's what made it surprising when it was announced yet another new showrunner was coming in to manage the third season of Daredevil. Erik Oleson is the fourth person in charge of this series. That is a huge number and one that could indicate a difficulty in finding a consistent vision with the show. And yes, there is the sense in these new episodes that the third season is more of a followup to the first season than the events of the second and The Defenders. Yes, Matt Murdock was believed to be dead due to the collapse of Midland Circle. But even that death wasn't allowed to stick for very long. He was destined to be cared for by a mysterious group of people. And now, he is healing from those injuries and coming back to life in New York City. He returns to Hell's Kitchen in the new season to deal with Wilson Fisk once more. As such, that gives these episodes a strong hook because they are clearly focused on a core objective instead of trying to further expand the franchise like the second season mostly did.

There are some powerful themes on display in the new season as well. They may not be as potent as the themes explored in Jessica Jones and Luke Cage though. Those two series remain the highlight of the Marvel-Netflix partnership. And yet, Daredevil is now asking a huge philosophical question: Are people capable of change? That is defining the character arcs for Matt and Fisk. Matt wakes up with extensive injuries. He doesn't know if he will be able to protect the city as Daredevil with the same abilities he did before. He may actually believe that a key part of himself died beneath the hole of Midland Circle with Elektra. He is also seriously wondering if his double life has only put those he cares about in jeopardy. He is questioning whether his life as Matt Murdock the blind lawyer was him just trying to hang onto some sense of normalcy as demanded by society. He was given these incredible abilities. He took up the mantle of Daredevil. But he was also fighting for justice in a corrupt and broken system. That may not be the outlet that best suits his abilities. It may be him trying to hold onto something that he doesn't need in his life. He is incredible. He is able to see the world in a way that no one else can. As such, is it simply easier to turn his back on everything that he built as Matt Murdock in order to keep on living? Did the human side die at the end of The Defenders? Is the hero all that's left of him? Moreover, is he the same hero he was as before? He no longer has the suit custom made for him. It was destroyed. So now, he is once again going out with nothing but a simple piece of cloth covering his face. It's a return to his roots. And yet, he embraces a much darker view of the world. As such, that threatens to take him past a point of no return in regards to his actions. It's exciting character work. It takes awhile to truly get going but it is heading in a really fascinating direction.

Elsewhere, Wilson Fisk is negotiating a deal to allow more freedom in his life. He is doing so entirely out of his love for Vanessa, who is on the run as a fugitive being hunted down as an accomplice to Fisk's crimes from the first season. He is willing to work with the FBI to share information about other criminal enterprises in exchange for her getting immunity. As such, he appears as the noble guy blinded by love. He is willing to do whatever it takes to protect this profound and meaningful connection. Matt doesn't believe that's the sole motivation behind his actions. The audience really shouldn't believe it either. And yet, the story puts the work in to keep Fisk's motivations always moving. He is working a long con that only he can see at the moment. He is deceiving and manipulating people in the hopes of getting what he wants. It inspires so many passionate moments of backlash against him. But he remains such a calm and terrifying presence. Vincent D'Onofrio remains one of the best actors to play a villain in a Marvel project. Once again, a superhero series wanders into the discussion of the value versus morality of killing these dangerous individuals. It's a very familiar trope that has been incorporated in all of the Netflix-Marvel series so far. Fisk survived the events of the first season but threatened to make his return to ruin Matt's life at some point. And now, he is following through on that premise with more innocent lives dying in the process. As such, Matt laments his decision to keep his enemy alive. That also threatens to force him into making a choice he can't undo. But Fisk is also creating new threats that Matt will have to handle before taking out the big bad pulling all of the strings. It's such an intricate story that works at its most efficient when the audience isn't too aware of the plot machinations going on.

However, the audience also has to be willing to put up with a lot in order to explain the positions that Matt and Fisk find themselves in. Their conflict is renewed once more with a fiery passion. The explanation for that largely rests on two walking plot devices who work for the FBI. The show appears to be offering some strong commentary against the effectiveness of the federal government to do the right thing in complicated situations. However, the two characters of focus in that environment - Agent Rahul "Ray" Nadeem (Jay Ali) and Agent Benjamin "Dex" Poindexter (Wilson Bethel) - don't really operate with a solid understanding of the world they are now living in. At times, they represent dangerous threats that threaten to destroy the city once more. The character arc for Dex is bound to send him to a dark place that rivals Matt and Fisk's own stories. It just takes a long time getting to that point without it seeming like the buildup is all that necessary. The new characters introduced this season just aren't as entertaining as the ones introduced in seasons past. That has been a common theme across all of these Netflix-Marvel shows as they try to sustain their qualities from their first seasons. Of course, the action remains excellent in Daredevil. It handles hand-to-hand combat better than any other show out there. And yes, there is an impressive one-shot action sequence that occurs early in the new season that is absolutely stunning to watch and should drive so much of the conversation in the early going. Plus, the episodes find some unique ways to present information that allows the comic book influences to be felt. So overall, it's a promising start to the season. However, the ultimate reaction will rest entirely on how things continue to develop. It already seems like the show doesn't have the plot to stretch out across 13 episodes. That's a consistent criticism of these shows. But again, the quality can change with any episode as well. So, the second half could really take things to a new level. Or it could just feature more plot spinning with Matt fighting in an exciting action stunt and Fisk just slyly making big moves that prove just how smart and manipulative he can be.