Second seasons are always a challenge, especially after the first was such a strong outing, and Daredevil isn’t immune to the sophomore slump. Season two is a not-entirely-coherent continuation of the trials and tribulations of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. The first four episodes are mostly snooze-inducing, and eventually, Daredevil‘s season two evolves into a conspiracy surrounding the murders of Frank Castle’s family and a rising crime lord as well as some grand war between two mystic factions. There a lot of stops and starts, and by the time the season has ended, there’s a lot that didn’t matter much. A gang war that goes nowhere, Wilson Fisk is still evil even in prison (shocker), the Yakuza never left New York and a bunch of other stuff that barely registers. The nature of binge watching is to end it feeling as though I’ve finished a 13-hour movie. It’s supposed to be coherent and cohesive, a streamlined narrative. But season two? Not so much. The fight scenes remain top notch even when the thematic bits become overwhelming and the plotlines murky, but among all this there are some things that are most compelling: the women. Daredevil has more than one woman rounding out its cast, two of them women of color, and as much as I enjoy Matt Murdock, there are times I’d much rather watch these ladies work.
Let’s take them one by one, shall we?
Starting at the top is Elektra who was 90% of the reason for my interest in Daredevil’s second season. I didn’t so much mind that poor Daredevil film that birthed Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s doomed marriage, and most of my love of it was due to Garner’s Elektra. I’m also that person who has that (even worse) Elektra film on DVD and still watches it occasionally. Elektra’s sai-wielding badassery was on my wish list as soon as I heard Daredevil was coming to Netflix, and I could hardly believe she appeared so soon in the show’s run.
Elodie Yung’s iteration doesn’t disappoint, and by the end of season two, I wished Netflix had made room in its busy schedule for a show of Elektra’s own. She comes into the fold after four painfully boring episodes, casually breaking into Matt’s apartment. Yung imbues Elektra with equal parts vulnerability and overconfidence, and she is at times even hilarious. With Foggy stuck on a loop of disapproval, Elektra provides the show with a lot of levity, and it’s through her the show gets to shed some of its trademark grit for the sleekness of a spy thriller, and even when she and Matt aren’t doing the dirty in a boxing ring, they have chemistry so strong it’s practically tangible.
The two make sense as a couple, their college love story being particularly intense. We later learn this was all because of Stick, who sent Elektra to draw Matt back into the mystical war with the Hand. When Matt balks at killing the man who killed his father, Elektra takes this as a rejection of her and her own murderous ideals and disappears until arrives in Hell’s Kitchen looking for his help with the Yakuza. But there’s some real wonkiness regarding their feelings– Matt goes from loathing her to asking her to stay with him to sending her away to asking her to run away with him so quickly it almost gives me whiplash. Elektra remains perpetually into Matt, even though she does threaten to kill him once, but she’s very good at enduring his boring morality speeches. The biggest of these comes after she’s revealed to be Black Sky.
I have no idea what Elektra as Black Sky even means. The show’s canon has done little to explain the significance aside from some vague indicators of specialness. I guess we’re supposed to believe Elektra’s willingness to kill is tied to her being Black Sky, but that’s just so stupid. On the plus side, we get to see Lily Chee as a young Elektra, which makes for a captivating performance that really fleshes out Elektra’s character, her conflicted feelings regarding killing and her love for Stick. Of course, it makes it all the more confusing that the show is determined to call Elektra a “sociopath” as if she cares for nothing and no one. And then Elektra dies. I figured this would happen, considering Elektra’s comic book origins, and with her body being stolen by the Hand, it looks as though we’ll be seeing a revived Elektra somewhere down the line (which of course would be perfect for an Elektra series, I’m just saying).
This second season is unexpectedly kind to Claire Temple, something I didn’t expect after the first season’s unsatisfying use of her character, and then Jessica Jones‘ equally unsatisfying turn. The thing about Claire Temple is that she’s just too good to be used as a rarely seen one off in Netflix’s growing Defenders universe. She’s so lovely there’s never going to be a scenario in which I don’t want more from her.
Claire’s position as an overall decent individual has more meat to it than would be usually given to comic women. Her heart of gold never comes off as patronizing or condescending, and her practicality makes her endearing without making her naive. Claire’s all too aware of the city she lives in, and she’s receptive to the work Matt’s alter ego is putting in to ensure its improvement. Her scenes are sharp, and she doesn’t let Matt get away with making his life as miserable and over complicated as possible. While Matt mopes about his inefficient methods and decides he can no longer attempt the emotional connections of Matt Murdock, Claire reminds him how ridiculous this is, and no that he isn’t the only person in the city who cares what happens in it. There are so many superhero shows that fall at their own feet and threaten to drown in their own angst (looking at you, Arrow), but Claire’s matter of fact assessment of things keeps Daredevil, and Matt Murdock from veering too far into manpain land. That being said, Matt doesn’t necessarily listen to her, but just that someone says it makes it a little less ridiculous. Foggy has his own moments like these (when he and Matt aren’t having the same argument) it’s just more satisfying when Claire does it.
The attack on Metro General is easily a standout moment for Claire, who once again finds herself in the middle of a bunch of shit she really doesn’t want to be in the middle of. She even gets tossed out a window (I gasped). After all is said and done, multiple people dead and the hospital administration accepting hush money to keep quiet, Claire quits her job in protest. I can only hope Rosario Dawson’s role in the upcoming Luke Cage is going to be as elevated as I think it is, and Daredevil seems to point, however indirectly, to whatever her future may be. She’s not going to be a helpful presence in the hospitals anymore, but it’s not in Claire’s wheelhouse to sit back and let Hell’s Kitchen devolve without doing her part.
Karen lacks the narrative coherence of Claire and Elektra, and even at this point Marci (I really like Marci), but like Elektra the weakest parts of Karen’s story are those she shares with Matt. Daredevil finally makes good on their romance, but it does so as quickly as it can so it can end it just as fast. It’s no accident that Elektra turns up just as Karen and Matt are getting close, but trying to work in a love triangle is especially cheap. Karen and Elektra are initially presented as opposite poles Matt must choose between. With Karen, Matt could have a relatively mundane life as a lawyer. With Elektra, he could be Daredevil. But that’s one hell of boring juxtaposition, and it’s more compelling to allow Karen to breathe as more than an archetype.
With Nelson and Murdock representing Frank Castle and his brutal vigilantism, Karen and Matt run into a roadblock when she agrees that Frank’s methods have some value, but Matt (practically drowning in his Catholic guilt) is unequivocally against it. We’re supposed to feel something as Karen and Matt’s relationship fizzles out, but it’s difficult when the show didn’t spend much time making them feel important. Season one tried harder with Claire and Matt, and Karen certainly got the short end of the stick. Some googly eyes here and there do not a romantic relationship make, and Karen’s heartbreak as she realizes Matt is intent on keeping secrets from her feels especially hollow. Daredevil thinks it’s doing something right as it has Matt revealing his alter-ego in the season ender, but it hardly feels earned.
Karen is the most successful when Daredevil allows her to flex her investigative muscles. I resent her sudden turn as investigative reporter (do we just let anybody do this nowadays?), in Ben Urich’s old office no less, and that season finale voiceover she gives only proves that she cannot–and should not–write things. Still, she gets to carry a lot of the Frank Castle plot on her own, since Daredevil only pops up as a recurring player in it, and Deborah Ann Woll and Jon Bernthal work well together. The story itself is almost needlessly complicated, hopping from one conspiracy to another, and the reveal of the Blacksmith (Frank’s former commanding officer) doesn’t live up to the hype surrounding it. But I appreciate the show allowing Karen to carry a story on her own. Daredevil spent all of this season trying to make Matt Murdock choose between his two lifestyles, but the show has pretty much already chosen. Matt gets to take on the mystical wars, and Karen is the one handing the street level conspiracies.