“Daredevil’s” second season lived up to all the hype. I had a lot of expectations for this season; you can actually track my increasingly manic love for this show in the Binge-Blog that I did last year for “Daredevil’s” first season. I love Daredevil, I loved Season One, and I’m glad that I also love Season Two.
There’s one part of the season, though, that I’ve been running through my head since I first watched the finale a few days ago — and it has to do with Elektra. It’s also arguably the biggest spoiler from the whole second season, so save this piece for later if you’re waiting to finish “Fuller House” before moving on to “Daredevil” (aren’t everyone’s viewing habits the same as mine…?). It’s appropriate that it has to do with Elektra; Elodie Yung’s character, pulled from the most iconic “Daredevil” issues and brought to life once again, is fascinating to me. The performance itself is so raw yet refined, ruthless but restrained — every move Yung makes as Elektra feels like it exists in the seconds before she strikes. She’s relentlessly watchable and, because of her cold demeanor and bloodthirsty passion, one of the most unpredictable characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And that’s why it’s a shame that she had to die. Or not. Well, she didn’t die even though she is still dead at the end of the season. But… okay, let’s take a step back.
I want to make this part clear: Elektra’s a revelation. When it comes to the women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she occupies a very specific space. Elektra is not a doctor or scientist like many of the MCU’s women, and she isn’t a plucky wise-ass like many of the others. She is a badass, in the Black Widow/Melinda May/Gamora/Lady Sif vein — but she exists in a subcategory all her own. None of them are as menacing as Elektra, and none of them are as tragically, horrifically messed up as Elektra. Gamora’s a killer like Elektra, but she also possesses — surprisingly — more moral certitude. Elektra has a tragic past filled with manipulation and a murder school like Black Widow, but Elektra carries herself completely differently; while Natasha works to erase her past, Elektra spends most of the season fueled by her past, letting it give herself a truly dark confidence. Elektra’s also messier than Black Widow, more impulsive; Romanoff’s always in control while Elektra thrives in situations that are out of control.
I’ll even defend the decision to modify her origin, reimagining her as the young student of the Clint Eastwood-esque martial arts master Stick and the Hand’s ultimate weapon, the Black Sky. Listen, Elektra’s comic book childhood includes some really, really not okay things that may have seemed shocking and mature in the ’80s but they’ve since become a shocking and disgusting cliche. Ridding the live-action version of the character of that baggage is all right with me. The Black Sky development isn’t totally surprising either, considering that comic-book-Elektra’s ties to the Hand go back to her teenage years and comic-book-Stick also struggled to rein in the darkness in her soul. The Black Sky origin, to me, makes Elektra feel more mythic and it gives her a backstory that’s more compelling than most Marvel characters.
So… then they killed her. And then, in the final final moments of Season Two, the Hand stole her body and placed it inside that creepy coffin they spent half the season protecting. But, still, they killed her. And yeah, she’s still dead when the season ends, albeit in a different location.
This is what I’m running through my head, over and over again. Killing female characters to service male protagonists (AKA “man pain”) is a thing, and it’s a thing that’s done too often. We’re not arguing that point anymore, because it’s as real as climate change. The difference here, though, is that death and resurrection is kinda Elektra’s whole thing. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the character knows two things about her: her costume includes an incredibly impractical loincloth, and she gets resurrected. Like Jean Grey, Elektra is a character that exists to die and come back. Making sure Elektra dies — and comes back — in every story in which she appears feels as essential to her as Uncle Ben’s death is to Spider-Man. It’s not only canon, her resurrection has become the main catalyst for her character.
But still, why kill her? It’s also a crappy trope that the badass female character is never more badass than the guy, and consistently falls before he does. I can logic Elektra’s few battle shortcomings throughout the season by pointing out that she doesn’t wear armor like Daredevil; she’s frequently shown being as out of breath and cut up during battle as Matt Murdock was in Season One, pre-armor. I’m fine with that. But again, why does she have to die even if we all know resurrection is right around the corner?
The thing with the resurrection is that it still involves a fridging; she’s gotta get in the fridge before she can be microwaved again. Elektra still died, and Matt Murdock’s reaction to it is what we experience since the show’s called “Daredevil.” The show builds up a brutal, confident, determined female super-anti-hero, the kind we rarely get to see, and then follows through with her death because resurrection is her story.
There are parallels to be made between Elektra and Gwen Stacy, both female characters whose deaths are among the most notable in comics. And like Elektra, the most recent live-action adaptation of Gwen Stacy decided it could not avoid her comic book fate — even if it’s no longer 1973 and all storytellers should know what fridging is. Both “Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Daredevil” decided to stick with the classic stories as opposed to move past them. When old stories play into narratives that have become overdone and, through that overuse, harmful, do they really need adapting?
But here’s where Elektra and Gwen Stacy diverge, and this is ultimately why, while my heart sank a bit when a sai went through Elektra’s, I’m actually optimistic about where Elektra’s story is headed next. For one thing, Elektra gets a next. Gwen Stacy doesn’t; her iconic death was never followed in the comics with an iconic resurrection. Elektra’s return from the dead was as essential to the story as her death, and occurred just nine issues afterward.
In the comics, Elektra really doesn’t start to live until after she’s brought back from the dead; almost every single story told about her comes post-death. And Elektra’s resurrection at the hands of the Hand, especially now that the show has established that she’s the Black Sky, holds so much potential for future stories. We’ve already seen Elektra begrudgingly shrug off her destiny as the Hand’s leader and then embrace doing the right thing as opposed to giving into her lust for vengeance. That resolve, one that she only started to feel in her final moments, will be truly tested when the very people she’s trying to run from bring her back to life. In fact, that’s a solid premise for a solo series; it’s a completely intriguing escalation of the trials the “Daredevil” showrunners put her through. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that the show actually established that the Hand — the guys who resurrected people all season long — had dug her up, because I was not looking forward to spending a year telling my non-comic book friends that resurrection’s her whole deal.
I also credit the showrunners with making slight amendments to Elektra’s death, ones that at least give her back the agency she’s missing in the original. Bullseye targets her in “Daredevil” #181, the madman that wants to replace Elektra as the Kingpin’s top assassin. He sneaks up on her but fails to get the drop on Elektra. The two fight it out across four fraught, expertly crafted pages — and then stab. Elektra crawls back to Matt Murdock’s apartment, bleeding out, and dies in his arms. Yeah. There’s nothing larger at stake, it’s just a one-sided grudge match that ends with her being beaten.
The show frames things differently, putting Matt Murdock in harm’s way as Nobu draws back a sai to impale him. Elektra then comes in between the two of them. She actually catches Nobu’s arm, struggling with him at first, but the momentum of the strike and the angle she catches him at work against her. First, this is a choice Elektra makes, and it plays into her struggle with redemption; it may be the only selfless thing we see her do all season. Second, it doesn’t read to me as her being bested by Nobu in a way similar to Bullseye; it happens so fast and awkwardly that it reads, to me, more like bad luck than a failure of skill. Third, it matters. It keeps a lead character (of course that’s the lead male hero, the character type we see all too often) alive. Elektra dies in his arms again, but she does so after saving his life, not after being murdered at the whim of a maniac.
Fittingly, Elektra’s death gave me many conflicting ideas and emotions. For a character draped in deadly contradictions, that makes sense. “Daredevil’s” take on Elektra was brutal, emotional, cathartic and truly terrifying, so in a way I appreciate that her death has also left my brain a bit of a wreck as I try to reconcile a horrible trope with Elektra’s get-out-of-hell-free loophole and the enticing storytelling potential that lies ahead. I don’t like that Elektra had to die, but I get cold chills when I think about seeing her live again.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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