It’s been 11 months since Netflix and Marvel brought us their joint collaboration of Daredevil Season One.
And such was the critical acclaim that the debut series received, it was a dead cert that a second season starring The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen would be green-lit.
Fast forward to March 2016, and it’s safe to say that the second installment of Daredevil‘s story not only holds up, but at times it surpasses season one’s impressive credentials.
Taking over from season one showrunner Steven DeKnight, Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez had big shoes to fill – particularly concerning a new primary antagonist.
Note: Spoilers from both seasons can be found from this point on, so leave now unless you want everything spoiled for you!
With Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk finally jailed at the end of the first series, fans and critics were intrigued as to who would step into the role of big bad to take on Matt Murdock’s (Charlie Cox) alter-ego.
In Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle/The Punisher, it appears that such a character is found.
Seeking vengeance after seeing his young family gunned down in cold blood during a gangland shooting, ex-marine Castle stops at nothing to lay waste to all of the criminal gangs that took part in the massacre on that fateful day.
It is this unrelenting slaughter that sees Daredevil lock horns (pun intended) with Castle throughout the early episodes of the season.
No more so is this evident than in episode three (New York’s Finest) where, after being captured by Castle, Murdock and his new apparent foe question each other’s moral code.
It is an early highlight, and is built upon in episode four (Penny and Dime) when Castle displays vulnerability as he recounts the story of returning home from war, to see his family, after he is rescued from the Irish mafia by none other than Daredevil himself.
It’s a heart-wrenching monologue delivered with emotional depth by Bernthal, and lends weight to his own vigilante motives.
Following his arrest at the end of the episode, the season could have begun to unravel as soon as it begun.
But in Elektra Natchios’ (Elodie Yung) arrival, the plot transitions into carefully orchestrated forked paths, as the cast are led down their own relevant mini-story arcs.
For Daredevil/Murdock, the arrival of his ex-girlfriend-cum-assassin sends both his personal life and vigilante persona into disarray, as he struggles to stop the villainous organisation known as The Hand and attempts to prevent his already-fractured relationships with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson (Eldin Henson) from completely falling apart.
It is a role that Cox revels in, as the titular character becomes torn between his duty to “his city” and to the few friends he has in his life.
Yung’s Elektra, meanwhile, sparkles as the aptly-ironic devil in Murdock’s ear, as well as portraying the character’s complexity and tortured past with aplomb.
The twist surrounding her destiny in the penultimate episode leaves more questions than answers before she is given a supposedly heroic send-off, but it does little to detract from the excellent depiction that Yung brings to the table.
And it is not just Murdock and the new supporting cast that see their character’s stories fleshed out.
Page revels in the role of investigator-in-chief as she attempts to uncover the real story behind Castle’s rampage – a side to her that evokes memories of the departed Ben Urich – as her resourcefulness and bravery prove that she is more than a mere damsel in distress, despite her carelessness sometimes throwing her head first into trouble.
Nelson, too, receives much needed character development – his frienship with Murdock, already frayed after finding out Daredevil’s true identity in season one, is torn asunder as the pair clash over the falling apart of the People vs Frank Castle trial midway through the season.
And, like Page, he discovers his own courage during a visit to The Dogs of Hell gang’s turf, and throughout Castle’s trial – a court case he almost single handedly wins before allowing Murdock to completely ruin proceedings during his questioning of the defendant.
Rosario Dawson’s no-nonsense nurse Claire Temple provides a sense of morality and honesty that is sometimes lacking in other characters, Scott Glenn’s Stick, mentor to both Murdock and Elektra, offers up his usual self-rightousness and piety throughout, while Peter McRobbie’s Father Lantom is given a brief-yet-profound monologue in episode three in his only appearance of the series.
The surprise reveal of D’Onofrio’s Fisk in episode eight is a welcome one too – the calculating villain helping to move the story along with typical malice and cunning as he manipulates Castle into taking out a rival in his prison he now seemingly owns.
Action wise, the show builds impressively on the foundations laid by its first season.
An excellently filmed sequence involving Daredevil and the Dogs of Hell gang pays homage to season one’s fight with the Russian mob, as he dispatches a number of underlings with creativity and a whirlwind of force down a staircase.
Castle’s one-man stand during one prison scene is as brutal and barbaric as they come too – a welcome contrast to the acrobatic and ninja-esque style of Daredevil and Elektra themselves.
Brawls with The Hand in later episodes are choregraphed brilliantly as well, and are as ferocious as they are elegant.
The plot takes a turn for the mystical as it reaches its climax, as the gritty realism of Hell’s Kitchen is replaced with the supernatural revelation that The Hand have supposedly uncovered immortality.
It is a move that is somewhat of a let-down, such is the authentic feel of the show up until that point.
Given that the wider Marvel universe, both on the silver screen and in other TV shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, it is perhaps not as superfluous as it is made out to be.
Question marks also remain over some story threads that are not cleared up.
An explanation of the gigantic hole that Daredevil and Elektra uncover is not provided; nor do we see the mysterious figure that Stick chats to at the end of episode seven of the first season.
Doubts remain over what happened to Page’s brother, given the newspaper clipping we see, whilst the fate of Elektra is left up to the imagination – for now.
It is probable that these queries are just set ups for later seasons of Daredevil, and aren’t just glossed over with the introduction of new plot strands and characters come season three.
Overall though, Daredevil season two lives up to its predecessor – shaking up the single villain formula in favour of introducing other complex characters and mulitple ‘bad guys’ opens up the world Marvel has created, and helps to continue the sterling work that the multinational company has produced over the past decade.
Verdict: Bold, emotional, complex and gory, Daredevil Season Two successfully implements a muliple-stranded story arc that succeeds in building upon its debut series. 8.5/10