Even though this is only a preliminary review, with individual episode reviews forthcoming, please note that the post below contains full spoilers for season 2.
I guess I should say that the title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. These are not my first thoughts, or even my second. In fact, since finishing up the second season Friday evening, I’ve done very little except think about and try to process the events of this season. I even rewatched the whole thing – and talked to some fellow fans – to get a new perspective on the different events that we all saw unfold. I’ve also done quite a bit of writing, most of which has now gone into a first draft that I’m not going to use here, because my feelings changed enough between the first and second viewing to render much of it obsolete.
I guess somewhere down the line I’m going to have to write a post about how loving this character as much as I do has often turned out to be something of an emotional ordeal. The same turned out to be true here because watching season two of Daredevil nearly broke my heart in the end. It was also one of the most spectacular twelve hours of television I’ve ever sat through. So did I love it? Yes, I did. Do I wholeheartedly agree with every creative decision made? No, I didn’t, and I think that is where I need to start.
Towards the very end of the season, before Matt and Elektra go out to face the waiting ninjas, Matt starts painting a scenario where he and Elektra run away together, stressing how he only feels free when he’s with her, that she is the only one who truly understands him, and that he’s not truly alive if he can’t do what they do. Meanwhile, I was sitting in front of the screen feeling my heart drop.
There are two main reasons for why I reacted like I did, and as strongly as I did. The first thing that comes to mind is that it is a big step for our main character to actively choose Elektra the way he does. I can understand that he’s come to love her (again), and with his pretty obvious messiah complex, I can also see a strong need for him to save her from herself. More importantly, I get that her not only accepting his need to be Daredevil, but actively fueling it, must stand out like an irresistible beacon. However, even though she’s made huge strides over the course of the season, and as much as they have in common, there is still much that sets them apart. They are very different people who are united by a common passion – for each other and “extreme sports” – but Elektra has yet to show with any conviction and consistency that her path is one that Matt can walk with her without violating other parts of him. Elektra appeals to his “id,” and wanting to be with her is at least in part about simple escapism.
It is also very hypocritical of Matt to react so negatively when Karen brings up her sympathy for the Punisher earlier in the season, and then want to run away with a woman who has most likely left an even longer trail of bodies in her wake during her “career,” and whose decision to give up killing – and that’s if she has even reached that decision – is about an hour old.
My second reason for disagreeing with how this unfolded has to do with Matt’s view of his “non-Daredevil” self. It has always been very important to me that both halves of Matt’s life are treated as equally important, intertwined in a yin and yang relationship. In fact, this is another thing that should set him apart from Elektra who shows little more than disdain for Matt’s legal career. I think it’s very easy to look at Matt’s public life as only a façade, one that places physical restrictions on him that he would find limiting. And it is very reasonable that he would feel that way. Ironically, having to exaggerate his blindness is in and of itself an unavoidable manifestation of his disability so long as he chooses not to publicly reveal his heightened senses. Trying to pass himself off as fully sighted works spectacularly well in costume, but would be impossible in many common everyday situations, should he attempt to navigate them on his own.
Even aside from this, Matt Murdock the lawyer is much more than just a persona. If anything, the two sides of Matt’s life are merely extreme metaphors for the different sides we show of ourselves to different people and in different situations. Matt hides important parts of his personality to people who don’t know about Daredevil, but there are other sides of himself that can and should be freely expressed. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that disability, by definition, must dominate and overshadow all other facets of a person’s unique personality.
After watching the season a second time, my feelings about this scene have been tempered considerably. Do I still wish it would have played out differently? Yes, absolutely. Matt could have expressed himself differently, and could have still conveyed strong feelings for Elektra that would have made the impact of her genuinely moving death scene just as great. What a second viewing provided, however, was a reminder of the context behind this scene. I was also reminded, mostly through the words of other characters, that having Matt voice these opinions does not necessarily make them gospel in the minds of this season’s creators. There was a scene with Claire in episode 10, set on the roof of the hospital before the ninjas attack, where she challenges his view of himself in ways that very closely echo my own. She reminds him that the way he separates himself from ordinary people distances him from the very same community he’s trying to protect. I couldn’t have put it better myself, and it’s another very strong argument for the importance of Matt Murdock being an active part of his community, outside of the Daredevil costume.
This is also the scene where we realize just how distraught and confused he is about everything going on in his life. He has given up on the law, come to the tragic but understandable decision that having friends isn’t worth it. Later, when he finds himself in that final scene with Elektra, every other part of his life has pretty much collapsed. He has brought much of it on himself, but both Foggy and Karen have also made active decisions to distance themselves from him. He is essentially out of a job, and none of the people he loves – besides Elektra – seem to need him around. It is understandable that Matt would come to the conclusion that his old life doesn’t matter anymore.
And this actually gets to the heart of what makes this show so brilliant overall. There is not a saint in sight. All of these characters are incredibly human, with their own flaws. The break-up of Nelson and Murdock is just as much Foggy’s decision as it is Matt’s. I would even say that Matt is the one of the two who ends up feeling the most rejected. At the same time, Foggy is not being unreasonable. Anyone who is rooting for Matt would love to see Foggy be more accepting of Matt’s vigilante lifestyle. At the same time, Foggys’ decision to walk away is, objectively speaking, a perfectly legitimate one. He loves Matt like a brother, but decides that the Daredevil train is simply too crazy a ride to be on. While being Daredevil is certainly more benign than having a substance abuse problem – and the total positive “externalities” of this activity hopefully outweigh the negative – it is still understandable that someone who is negatively affected by all this would assume a “tough love” position. Matt, on his end, makes the situation worse by not being as forthcoming with Foggy as he could have been, and generally being an all around idiot when it comes to actually putting words to his emotions. He is far too stoic and proud to let Foggy know how much he really cares about him. They drive each other away, and it is difficult to watch.
Karen and Matt have a different kind of dynamic that also revolves around two people willfully misunderstanding each other. Karen says some pretty brutal things to Matt. He, on the other hand, is emotionally distant and driven by misguided attempts to protect her in ways she doesn’t want to be protected. One of Matt’s big blind spots – no pun intended – is that he thinks the people who worry about him should either get wise to all the good he is trying to accomplish, or at least mind their own business, while completely failing to see that Karen, in this case, has a drive that is actually quite similar to his own. Her compulsion to find the truth at all cost is not really that different from his compulsion to physically rid the city of crime. They are both putting themselves at great risk, but it is not as if Karen is any more unaware of these risks than Matt is. It is not unreasonable to value the lives of your loved ones more than you value your own. Part of Matt’s personal tragedy is that he can’t get it in his head that he would be on the receiving end of such protective instincts.
I will have plenty of reason to come back to the themes raised throughout his season many times in upcoming posts – it is truly a gold mine in that sense – but for this first post, I would be remiss not to mention the two big new players this season before hopping off to bed. I’ve mentioned Elektra already, but should add that while there are aspects of her relationship with Matt that becomes difficult for me to accept given the nature of her character, Elodie Yung puts in an absolutely stellar performance in the first truly interesting version of Elektra I’ve ever come across. Her stage presence is fantastic, and she’s impossible to take your eyes off. I also really liked the updates to her backstory, and she even manages to humanize Stick (even as he’s trying to kill her!).
However, I find Frank’s story to be even more interesting. I can’t speak for Punisher fans, since I’m not really all that familiar with the character outside of when he’s appeared in Daredevil, but I absolutely love this show’s take on him. He is much more human than I had expected him to be, and much more in touch with his emotions, which kind of makes me wonder whether this is the character his more loyal fans know and recognize. On the other hand, actor Jon Bernthal has stated that this is essentially the Punisher’s origin story which makes it plausible that he’s not completely gone off the deep end just yet. You see him committing himself to the Punisher in a new way at the end, where he has obviously decided to keep going even after avenging the death of his wife and children, and I actually thought it was very fitting that Frank is the one that shows up at the end to take out the remaining ninjas.
Initially, Frank’s story is closely intertwined with Daredevil’s story, and the first five episodes are by far my favorite because of it. Frank’s story continues throughout the season though, but quite soon after it becomes a court story in the middle of the season, Matt gradually checks out mentally, if not physically, leaving Frank in the hands of Karen and Foggy. Karen’s complicated relationship with Frank is fascinating, particularly as it’s so obviously a thinly veiled attempt to find redemption for her own crimes. I do think it’s fitting though that she is finally able to see him for the monster he has become in the end, as this show comes shockingly close to actually condoning the Punisher’s brand of vigilante justice, by not asking even tougher questions.
It was also a very positive surprise to see Wilson Fisk back this season, and his subplot is told perfectly. We even get a scene with him and Matt that is one of the best of the season and sows all the seeds needed for an upcoming story that borrows elements from Born Again. I would be absolutely shocked if we don’t get a third season out of this. Whether that will happen before or after the Defenders mini-series remains to be seen, but while the first season could have worked well on its own, this season is practically begging for a next chapter. Hopefully, it will spell redemption for Matt Murdock and give him the chance to learn that life outside of the costume has value too.
As much of an emotional roller coaster as this weekend has been for me, I can’t help but think of Stick’s words to Matt when they are standing by Elektra’s grave. “Was it worth it? Loving her?” I could ask myself the same thing about Matt Murdock. And yes, even when his adventures leave my head spinning and my heart in painful little pieces, he is so totally worth it.