SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for the first seven episodes of "Marvel's Daredevil" season two, released Friday on Netflix. So if you don't want to be spoiled for a show that's only a few hours old at this point, this isn't the article for you.
Full disclosure up front: I liked, but didn't love the first season of Marvel and Netflix's "Daredevil." I thought the fight scenes were excellent, and both Vincent D'Onofrio portrayal of the villainous Wilson Fisk and that character's arc were phenomenal. But overall, I wasn't a fan of the show's pace -- at times it felt like an origin movie, stretched over 13 hours.
But we're past that! Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is in the costume, and ready to kick butts as Daredevil, while freeing butts from prison as a lawyer, which is what I'm pretty sure lawyers do. With the addition of DD's new foil The Punisher (Jon Bernthal), and love interest Elektra (Elodie Yung), we're adding two fan favorite characters portrayed by great actors. There's every chance in the world that this second season could be "The Dark Knight" to season one's "Batman Begins."
That said, it could also be overloaded a la "Iron Man 2," spending too much time setting up Netflix's eventual "Defenders" series rather than pushing the stories of Matt, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) forward.
Either way, I've refreshed myself with Brett White's excellent binge-blog from last year, stocked up on liquor with eels in it, made a casserole that you give to your future husband and am ready to binge-watch (and write about) this sucker. Let's do this, shall we?
[Note: the first seven episodes of this show were provided as screeners in advance by Netflix, but these reactions were written in real-time.]
In Short: Foggy, Karen and Matt are running out money -- but not clients -- after taking down Wilson Fisk last season, and Daredevil has become a folk hero. But a new player enters, who is mercilessly killing gangs with military precision.
Immediate Reax: Now that's more like it, Mr. Murdock. Daredevil smiling and laughing! Foggy, Karen and Matt hanging out and cracking jokes! All three helping the helpless through very, very vague notions of what lawyers actually do! And that's not even taking into account the perfect portrayal of the monosyllabic (literally this episode), unstoppable boogeyman stalking our heroes, in the form of The Punisher.
Basically, everything I wanted from the first season of "Daredevil" is here in this first episode. I won't say all of my fears have been laid to rest, but this feels like the Marvel Comic come to life. Which makes sense, since the plot and characters are cribbed liberally from multiple runs on "Daredevil" and "The Punisher," particularly Frank Miller and Garth Ennis -- as it should be.
My biggest question right now is how this will fill up 13 hours. Last season we got Matt slowly finding out about Kingpin, then slowly moving up the ladder to dismantle his entire operation, then quickly beating Fisk up. In fact, we didn't even meet Wilson Fisk until four episodes in. Here, Frank and Matt are already coming to blows in an epic rooftop battle at the end of the first 48 minutes. So where do we go from here?
Oh, and that ending, with Punisher shooting Daredevil in the face? Perfect. Fingers crossed every episode employs this cliffhanger structure from here on out.
Easter Eggs: The late Nesbitt (Andy Murray) was the villain in Ennis' "Punisher Max" arc "Kitchen Irish," and had a similar motivation to the speech TV Nesbitt gives (though he lasted a bit longer).
Grotto (McCaleb Burnett) is from Frank Miller's "Daredevil" run, and though he's remarkably different in the comics, he was often seen around Josie's -- so that's accurate.
The biker gang Dogs of Hell isn't actually from the books -- they first appeared on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." in the episode "Yes Men," getting mesmerized by Asgardian Lorelai (Elena Satine).
Also I'm pretty sure the two cops investigating the Irish Mob Massacre were the top cops from Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's recent run on "The Punisher" (who were in turn based on Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in "Se7en"), but can't be 100 percent sure.
Big Pun: That shot through one of the Irish mobster's heads was gross, but this episode's big Punisher moment is easily the rooftop fight -- capped off with that first unshadowed shot of Jon Bernthal happily saying, "Bang." (And yes, I'm 100 percent sure he shot DD in a place he knew wouldn't kill him.)
IM2? No "Iron Man 2" style overload yet! If anything, this episode did a nice job of reviewing the basics, re-establishing the character relationships, and setting up the antagonist for the season. Hooray!
MVP: Foggy, actually. He was at the center of every big interaction without being annoying, and his scene at the Dogs of Hell bar was great. I spent most of season one finding his delivery overly precious, but like everything else, season two has already redeemed Matt's BFF. I'm pleasantly surprised.
2: DOGS TO A GUNFIGHT
In Short: While Daredevil deals with a concussion, Karen and Foggy make a deal with the D.A. to save Grotto -- the lone survivor of The Punisher's Irish massacre. They're betrayed, though, when D.A. Reyes uses Grotto to lure out The Punisher. So Daredevil has to step in to save the day...
Immediate Reax: "They're calling this one... The Punisher."
Second episode in a row ending with a cliffhanger -- and an epic rooftop fight from The Punisher and Daredevil. It might get repetitive 13 episodes in, but not yet. And this fight was kind of beautiful as Matt and Frank pummeled each other, water spraying on them and gunfire flashing all around. I'm still kind of suspicious of Frank as the overall baddie for the season, as it seems inevitable that he'll end up teaming up with DD to take someone else down. But we'll see.
There was also some great work from Charlie Cox as Matt struggles with the concussion (?) inflicted by The Punisher last episode. Plus, stand out scenes from Deborah Ann Woll, who is owning Karen Page's bad-assness. Plus! Foggy's take-down of D.A. Samantha Reyes (Michelle Hurd) was perfect. As he is in the books, Foggy is the glue that holds this show together, and it's just a joy to watch. Toot toot, all aboard the Foggy train.
Overall, I'm still nervous this is all going to come crashing down eventually under its own weight, and we haven't even met Elektra yet. But on the plus side, I'm loving these sub-50 minute episodes, which are somehow way more manageable than the 50+ from last season. It makes a difference, people!
Easter Eggs: Reyes first appeared in the final episode of "Jessica Jones," which is a nice subtle way of connecting the two shows.
Foggy jokes about The Punisher being called "Killdozer," and that's an actual Marvel villain who appeared only once, in 1990's "Marvel Super-Heroes" Vol. 2, #2.
When Melvin Potter (Matt Gerald) helps Matt fix his mask (and wasn't it nice to see him again?), he picks up a buzzsaw upon feeling threatened. That's because in the comics Melvin is also known as villain-turned-ally Gladiator, who uses the circular saws as his weapons.
Redfield Electronics (which owns the stolen truck The Punisher uses to distract the cops) is possibly an obscure reference to James Redfield, a character who appeared in two issues of "Thunderstrike" in 1994. Redfield Electronics' address -- 732 11th Avenue -- isn't an actual address (there's a dog grooming place at the approximate location), but fun fact, it is across the street from where they tape "The Daily Show."
Oh, and the Punisher's dog might be Max, his pet from the '90s. But I dunknow.
Food Watch: Since we're not dealing with "Iron Man 2 "disease yet, how about we keep track of the food on the show instead? I noticed what looked like a jar of hard pretzels, a smaller jar of corks, and a jar of Mary Jane candies on Matt's counter. He also, as far as I can tell, uses a lot more pepper than salt.
Big Pun: I'm loving everything about Bernthal's Punisher so far, but his sigh/shrug after the pawn-shop owner tried to sell him underage porn, and subsequent slow turn, was boss.
MVP: Matt, just for the absolute horror show that happened in his apartment after he lost his hearing. That was goddamn scary.
3: NEW YORK'S FINEST
In Short: Chained to a roof, Daredevil finds out more of what The Punisher is really about; while Karen continues to investigate the Punisher's background her own way, and Foggy tries to track down the missing Matt with the help of nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) -- who is caught in the middle of a gang war.
Immediate Reax: I was about to write this off as a solid, but slightly flawed hour of "Daredevil" until that incredible finishing fight. In total, the tracking shot (clearly a semi-sequel to last season's incredible hallway fight) is only four minutes long -- five if you include the non-continuous fight at the bottom of the stairway. But it feels like it goes on forever, building tensely from the moment DD breaks open the door to the elevator.
Credit to veteran writer Mark Verheiden for scripting it, but even more credit to stunt coordinator Philip J. Silvera and assistant stunt coordinator Eric Linden, who gave us a phenomenally crafted bit of choreography.
Other than that, I have one quibble with the episode, and it's that the hour is so close to being an all-time classic. The scenes with Foggy (particularly in the hospital) and Karen (particularly in the A.D.A.'s office) are great. But the centerpiece is the conversation between Frank and Matt on the rooftop, could -- and should -- have been the entire episode. Could you imagine what would essentially be a two-man play between Daredevil and The Punisher as they debate each other's approaches and feel each other out? Not to play backseat writer, but a lot of the tension diffused whenever we cut away from the roof. The hour would have been stronger without the cutaways, even if we had to catch up with Karen and Foggy in later episodes.
Furthermore, it seems like a missed opportunity. Right now this plays like a regular hour of television, which is fine. But the Netflix format allows for so much more, to shake things up and have an hour-long (maybe even shorter, if necessary) one-act play in the middle of an action superhero series.
Anyway, quibble aside, the show is three for three. Bonus: with the busted nose, Jon Bernthal looks like a Steve Dillon drawing come to life, and it's a beautiful thing.
Easter Eggs: Standard Heating Oil -- which has a billboard in the background of the rooftop -- isn't actually a Marvel Comics reference, it's actually the company owned by Oscar Isaac's character in "A Most Violent Year," which is kind of bizarre. Though in the movie, Isaac's company has to deal with truck hijackings, which is exactly what The Punisher did last episode.
Elliott James, the initial A.D.A. who resigned, might be a reference to an author on the roster at Hachette Books, of which Verheiden is also a member.
I should probably mention this A.D.A., played by Stephen Rider, is comic book mainstay Blake Tower -- who first appeared in 1975's "Daredevil" #124. In the comics he runs against Foggy for D.A. and wins -- but the two become friends, and Tower has long been an ally for the superhero community.
In case you couldn't figure out this very subtle Easter Egg, Claire Temple is referring to taking care of Luke Cage (Mike Colter) on "Jessica Jones" when she talks about a big strong guy who got her put on the garbage part of the night shift.
The old man Frank talks to on the roof (and is later menaced in the hallway) says he was in the Vietnam, 3rd Marine Division. Though this Punisher (and the modern version of the Punisher in the comics) fought in "Iraq, Afghanistan," in the original comics he was a Vietnam Vet. And though it's varied from book to book, Frank has almost always been a former Marine. In fact, in 1989's "Punisher War Journal" #4 - penciled by none other than current DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee -- he's a Lieutenant in the 3rd Marine Company.
Big Pun: Bernthal's Punisher is so fully formed, it didn't even occur to me he wasn't wearing his iconic skull until the end of the episode. But this ep's big Pun moment has to be him taking a flying wrench to the face and continuing to fight. I mean, seriously, who throws a wrench?
MVP: Grotto. Poor Grotto, you didn't stand a chance, did you?
4: PENNY AND DIME
In Short: The Irish Mob decides to take revenge on Frank, capturing and holding him hostage. Daredevil saves Frank (or rather they save each other), leading to Frank's origin being revealed -- and his capture by the police. Karen and Matt get closer, until a new complication enters their lives...
Immediate Reax: End act one, begin act two. Not what I was expecting after last season's 13-episode long arc -- and the same for "Jessica Jones" -- but if we're going to get four episodes of The Punisher, then four for Elektra, then however everything comes crashing together at the end? I'm into it.
I'm also into the slow evolution of Daredevil's costume. The new mask Melvin makes for Matt is decidedly more red and more devilish, closer to the comic book costume than the one from the beginning of this season.
And in general, just a great, heartbreaking end to the first part of Frank Castle's story, with some total gross-out moments and a beautiful monologue from Bernthal in the graveyard. In fact, it was nice not to see the death of Castle's family. For those of us who read the comics and have seen the movies, their murder is right under Bruce Wayne's parents' in terms of repetitive stress injuries. Instead, we found out what Frank was feeling through the scene at the Central Park Carousel, and then his story of the night before it happened.
Just great work all around, plus a sexy in the rain smoocheroo between Karen and Matt that'll definitely not be complicated now that his college girlfriend is back in the picture.
Only unbelievable part? That Karen could ever catch a cab in the pouring rain in Hell's Kitchen, at any time of night. Never.
Easter Eggs: Finn Cooley (Tony Curran) was the other antagonist (with Nesbitt) in the "Kitchen Irish" arc, so it makes a lot of sense to see him here. He died from a bomb in the comics, though, not a horrific shotgun to the face.
Real-life NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan is the de facto newsman of the Marvel Universe, having appeared in "The Avengers," "Iron Man 3," curiously Sony Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and of course the first season of "Daredevil."
Lisa is also Frank's daughter's name in the comics (full name Lisa Barbara Castle). His son was named Frank David Castle, and his wife was Maria Elizabeth Castle. Of note (maybe), in the books his family is killed on a picnic in Central Park, not at the carousel.
And two anti-Easter Eggs: the "One Batch, Two Batch" book is made up for the show; and the tombstone Frank is leaning on towards episode's end has the name Jasper O'Clery, who is nobody (as far as I can tell).
Big Pun: The reveal that Frank wasn't fixing up his arm wound earlier, but actually hiding a razor blade in it -- and the whole capture was part of his plan -- is so perfectly Punisher I could scream.
MVP: Frank Castle. The monologue, the escape from Finn's, getting drilled through the foot... This was the Punisher's origin episode, without ever seeing the inciting event.
In Short: Ten years ago, Matt met an enigmatic woman named Elektra. They fell in love, but her sense of "fun" -- including forcing him to attack the man who killed his father -- went too far. In the present, Elektra re-enters Matt's life just as he's beginning a more innocent relationship, with Karen.
Immediate Reax: This romantic Matt is one of the things I was missing from the first season of this show. To some, religion is the biggest part of Matt Murdock's character, as is guilt. For me, it's his doomed relationship, and I love that we're getting two entirely different takes, with Elektra and Karen.
Oh and Elektra is crazy. I don't know if I've gotten that in the same way from the books, but Elodie Yung is brilliantly unhinged here.
It's funny, this show has gotten a lot of comparisons to The CW's "Arrow," and that show's second season had Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) wrestling with whether he should kill criminals, or not. Matt seems more definitive than Oliver in this regard, but first with The Punisher, and now with Elektra, he's seeing what might happen if the idea of Dardevil was taken a step too far.
It's smart, it's exciting, and thank god Elektra and Daredevil didn't fight for the first time on a see-saw.
Easter Eggs: Roxxon is one the Big Bads in Marvel Comics, and has made multiple appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, too. They had a major presence in "Agent Carter," but also popped up in "Iron Man 2," "Iron Man 3," "Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." and last season on "Daredevil."
Otherwise, it's mostly returns from Fogwell's Gym and Roscoe Sweeney (Kevin Nagle), both of whom we saw last season.
Oh, and did you catch the subtle reference to "Jessica Jones," when Foggy's friend said the D.A. was looking into a "lady by the name of Jessica Jones"? You might need to rewind a few times to catch that one.
IM2: Well we're literally getting a piece of "Iron Man 2" here with Roxxon, but no we're not overloaded yet. Stay tuned, though.
It's Elektra-ck: Since Punisher is temporarily out of the picture, let's talk about the big Elektra moment this episode. Certainly when she reveals she knows Matt is Daredevil is huge, but for my money her stepping on Roscoe Sweeney's neck is vintage Elektra.
MVP: Karen. She's a crack investigator tracking down the mystery of Frank's family and past; and her date(s) with Matt were really, really sweet.
6: REGRETS ONLY
In Short: While Matt and Elektra investigate foul doings at Roxxon, Foggy and Karen are left to take on the case of Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher. Though Matt and Elektra manage to get the dirt on Roxxon they came for, Foggy and Karen get blindsided when Frank pleads not guilty -- throwing them into the trial of the century.
Immediate Reax: Boy, I sure was wrong about that whole tabling Punisher thing, huh? Instead we're right back into it, while also moving full steam ahead with the Elektra/Yakuza ("Who said I was Yakuza?") storyline.
Kudos to the season two staff for continuing to barrel through all this. We'll see if they stick the landing, but right now we're throwing complications in Matt's life -- from Elektra, to Frank, to a budding relationship with Karen -- with alarming speed, and that's just how I like my superheroes. The more they gotta balance, the better.
I was also wrong about them underplaying The Punisher's origin story, as he lays it out a little more plainly for Karen this episode. And there's tweaks to it. His origin has always been pretty straight-forward: gang war happened around his family, and they died, so now he kills criminals. In "Daredevil," we get a little touch of Batman with the unnamed Irish Mob killer who murdered his family; and a bit of Spider-Man in that Frank did nothing to stop the mobs, even if he heard them coming -- and his loved ones paid dearly for it.
We also get spelled out plainly what we already knew: "I only hurt people that deserve it, I want you to know that," Frank tells Karen. It's a strange place to be in where you're several steps ahead of the characters in the show; but at the same time I'm glad we're past that particular reveal.
Anyway, I'm very interested to see how the Elektra plot pans out. Will it be mysterious teases for (potentially) "The Defenders," like last season's Stick episodes? Or will we wrap up this Roxxon storyline this season?
I'm also very interested to see if Frank ends up in gen pop by the end of the season. Because if so, there's definitely one rotund former crime boss he'll meet there when he does, right?
Easter Eggs: Hey, Brett got promoted to Detective -- which was his rank when he first appeared in "Marvel Comics Presents" Vol. 2, #1. And fun fact, Mahoney was co-created by "Arrow" co-showrunner Marc Guggenheim.
Frank says he was a Scout Sniper -- which is true to the comics -- but also that he was Class 307 at Quantico, which is completely new.
This episode is heavy on Guggenheim eggs, as the writer also penned the 2013 comics series "The Trial of The Punisher." The title of the first issue of that series? "The People Vs. Frank Castle," which is one of Foggy's last lines in the episode. Oh, and FWIW the second issue featured star witness Matt Murdock.
Ron Nakahara plays Roxxon boss Hirochi, and no, he's not Yakuza: he's a leader of one faction of The Hand in the comics, created by Ed Brubaker and Clay Mann in 2008. But there's a zero percent chance any of his storyline will play out here, because he attempted to take over The Hand after the Skrull who was pretending to be Elektra -- who ruled The Hand at the time -- died.
IM2? We're getting there. There's a lot going on, but it's not quite on overload level yet. But both the mystery of why Reyes wants to take down Frank, and the Roxxon mystery have a lot to keep track of, so we'll see.
It's Elektra-ck: The pie deal-breaker scene was pretty great. It's good to see an Elektra who isn't a super serious assassin lady all the time.
MVP: Matt. His takedown of Reyes, playing the poor blind man with Stan Gibson, and everything with Elektra were killer. We're getting a lot more range from Charlie Cox this season, and I love it.
7: SEMPER FIDELIS
In Short: Frank's trial begins, as Elektra delves deeper into the mystery of the Yakuza/Hand/Roxxon. And Matt's romantic life gets increasingly complicated.
Immediate Reax: It's curious to see Charlie Cox playing Matt lighter when he's been stretched too thin. But that's Murdock, right? The more he gets pushed, the more he jokes and apologizes and wavers... Until he breaks entirely. That break is definitely coming, as he can't keep his secret from Karen much longer, and he definitely can't defend Frank and team up with Elektra at the same time.
Even if it's fantasy trial, I loved seeing Nelson & Murdock actually go to court for a change and be "lawyers," and Elektra/Daredevil's rapport continues to be great. The only one who seems to be short-shrifted is Karen, and it's only a matter of time before she finds out Matt's secret, right? At this point, seems like Elektra will probably just tell her, but we'll see.
Also an interesting twist with Tepper's testimony on Frank's case, revealing that it wasn't Reyes who tampered with the medical reports on Frank's family, it was someone else. That all said, with the reveal of the giant gaping hole in New York City, and some sort of conspiracy surrounding Frank, we've got two increasingly crazy elements on the show that don't seem to connect -- yet.
Let's see what sort of legal shenanigans the firm gets up to next episode...
Easter Eggs: Foggy mentions "War zones" in his opening statements, and there's a comic called "Punisher: War Zone." Also Frank's face kind of looks like The Punisher's skull logo with those bruises.
Otherwise, I got nuthin'.
It's Elektra-ck: Her character continues to get deeper and more complex with every episode, but her resigned, "Tell me when it hits the bottom" at the end of the hour was hilarious.
MVP: Foggy. He rocked that opening statement, no matter what Frank told him. And his reaction to Matt's explanation of the current plot -- an exasperated, wide-eyed "What are you even talking about?" -- was laugh out loud funny.
... and with that, we're at the end of the seven episodes Netflix provided in advance as screeners for the show. We'll be back Monday with the same sort of in-depth look at the last six episodes of the season. Will Matt and Elektra work things out? Can The Punisher decide to forget about his family and just be happy? And will Karen and Foggy just break off and form their own law firm already? Stay tuned.
Oh, and what Easter Eggs did I miss? Let me know -- as well as your own thoughts -- in the comments.
Check back with CBR on Monday for Part 2 of the "Daredevil" season two binge-blog!