WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel's Daredevil Season 3, streaming now on Netflix.
Daredevil established in 2015 what became a signature element of Marvel's Netflix dramas, fight sequences -- and the hallway fight scene, in particular -- with each series endeavoring to top the one that came before. But with its third season, Daredevil introduces a new facet to what was in danger of settling into a trope: genuine stakes.
It's not an easy feat in serialized television, to say nothing of superhero fiction, as the audience can be at least reasonably confident the protagonist isn't going to die. Yet, under new showrunner Erik Oleson, Daredevil Season 3 manages to make it seem as if each fight -- each punch -- could be a matter of life or death.
"One of the things, when I took over the show, I imposed several rules for action sequences," Oleson explained to CBR earlier this week. "I wanted to make sure that any action sequence would force Matt, in the moment, into a dilemma where he had to choose between two rights and two wrongs, and that whatever decision he made would get us deeper into his character, or it had have somebody who could really be hurt if Matt lost the fight, or a number of other kind of rules, which gave us the ability to, I think, make the action sequences matter as deeply as we could make them matter."
That's evident from early on, when Matt (Charlie Cox), still not fully recovered from the injuries sustained in The Defenders finale, pushes himself onto the streets, and interrupts an attack on a man by two thugs. At another time, Matt might've barely broken a sweat, but in his current state, he's left bleeding in the middle of the street.
"I’m, personally, not a fan of action sequences where you know the ending before you even begin watching," Oleson said. "You know the hero is going to win and walk way. I appreciate the musical-number nature of those things, and the spectacle of them, but that’s not great storytelling, to me. My own personal taste is, if you’re going to go into an action sequence, you need to approach it as though the hero who’s throwing a punch is hoping that’ll be the last punch. Nobody wants to keep fighting; you want the fight to end. It’s a horrifying and scary thing to be in a fight, and I wanted to make the audience feel that, as if they were Matt Murdock. There are real stakes to it."
That's exemplified by the fourth episode, when Matt visits prison, intent on discovering why Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio) is informing on the Albanian crime syndicate to the FBI, and exposing his archenemy's true plan. But in the process, Matt exposes his own secret, as he's drugged and forced into a situation in which he must fight for his life against inmates and guards on Fisk's payroll, in clear view of the prison's security cameras.
"In the prison sequence, Matt doesn’t have the option of putting on a mask so that he can hide his abilities from Wilson Fisk, who’s watching it all on video," Oleson told CBR. "He literally has to fight his way out of that prison to survive, but the audience the whole time, I hope, is going, ‘Oh, my God, his secret identity! Oh, shit! What’s gonna happen? Oh, no!’ You’re worried about that, even though probably, in the back of your mind, you’re suspecting that I’m not going to kill Matt Murdock in Episode 4, right? But it has that extra layer."
"And then, of course, you saw the fight scene in Episode 6, where we introduce Fake Daredevil," he continued. "This is a character who’s on his journey to becoming Bullseye, but is not yet Bullseye. The real stakes that we have there is that Matt loses the fight! A witness gets killed because Matt lost the fight – a witness they needed to bring down Fisk. So there are real stakes there as well. To me, those are the kinds of action sequences that excite me as a fan, and that I wanted to make sure the show had."
Now available on Netflix, Marvel's Daredevil Season 3 stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Joanne Whalley as Sister Maggie, Wilson Bethel as Benjamin Poindexter, Jay Ali as Rahul "Ray" Nadeem and Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk.