Sunday, November 27, 2016

Exploring the Marvel Netflix Shows: Part Three (Daredevil Season Two)

This is a continuation of my exploration of the Marvel Netflix shows (part one and part two).  I'm a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and out of all its current expressions the Netflix shows are my favourite--the ultimate highlight of the format.  The fan service surrounding these shows lack collated, contextualized, and expository material, so what follows addresses those elements.


Daredevil Season Two (March 18, 2016)

Just like Jessica Jones the season aired after Ant-Man and before Civil War.  The show was renewed in April of 2015, less than two weeks after the first season aired, making it the fastest Netflix renewal thus far.  Unlike season one, new showrunners Marco Ramirez and Douglas Petrie borrow much more directly from the source material for their story arcs.

This season marked the debut of both the Punisher and Elektra into the current MCU, both of whom had proven difficult to successfully bring to the screen.  Three times Frank Castle (the Punisher) has been given a feature film (1989, 2004, and 2008), none of which have been financially or critically successful; neither have the Jennifer Garner Elektra films (the 2003 Daredevil film nor her solo film in 2005).  This season was the first time either character had been attempted in live-action television, with one succeeding far above expectations and the other largely failing.

Credited Writers (with selected credits)

Returning writers from season one: Marco Ramirez, Douglas Petrie, and Luke Kalteux (credited for all or part of 6 episodes)
Mark Verheiden (Battlestar GalacticaHeroes, and Falling Skies)
John C. Kelley (NCIS and House)
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich (The West Wing and Private Practice)
Sneha Koorse (The AmericansBelieve, and Constantine)
Whit Anderson (Allegiance)
Writers from season one who did not return: Drew Goddard, Joe Pokaski, Steven S. DeKnight, Christos Gage, and Ruth Fletcher Gage

1 – “Bang” Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez
2 – “Dogs to a Gunfight” Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez
3 – “New York’s Finest” Mark Verheiden
4 – “Penny and Dime” John C. Kelley
5 – “Kinbaku” Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
6 – “Regrets Only” Sneha Koorse
7 – “Semper Fidelis” Luke Kalteux
8 – “Guilty as Sin” Whit Anderson
9 – “Seven Minutes in Heaven” Marco Ramirez & Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
10 – “The Man in the Box” John C. Kelley, Whit Anderson & Sneha Koorse
11 – “.380” Mark Verheiden
12 – “The Dark at the End of the Tunnel” Lauren Schmidt Hissrich & Douglas Petrie
13 – “A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen” Douglas Petrie & Marco Ramirez

Notable Easter Eggs

[I've noted which episodes these occur via brackets--so (1) refers to episode one]

There are fewer easter eggs than in season one (nine versus twelve).  The biker gang The Dogs of Hell (1) previously appeared in Agents of SHIELD (AoS); a nurse mentions a "Mr. Carver" (2) which could be a reference to William Carver (Thunderbolt), a short-lived Luke Cage (and later Iron Fist) antagonist; Brett Mahoney quotes the deceased Oscar Clemons (2) who was killed by Will Simpson in Jessica Jones; The Dogs of Hell listen to "The Ace of Spades" (2) (a potential Bullseye reference, for an explanation of why see part one); the truck stolen by the biker gang has the Redfield Electronics logo on it, a corporation from the Thunderstrike comics that is connected to the villain Thermal Man; there's a connection to the character Deathlok (AoS) via an article about Cybertek (5); Roxxon Corporation is referenced again (5), along with Asano Robotics (also referenced in season one), but this time the latter as a subsidiary of the former (a show-invention); there's another Bullseye reference as Karen Page carries a coffee cup branded with playing cards (6/11); the Punisher character Micro is referenced (13) via a CD (he will appear in the upcoming series)
Characters appearing from other shows: Jeri Hogarth and Samantha Reyes (both from Jessica Jones)

Total number of overt and subtle nods to the other Marvel shows: Jessica Jones: 3, Agents of SHIELD: 2, Luke Cage: 2, Iron Fist: 1

Once again there's no direct lead-in to the next Netflix series (Luke Cage), but the appearance of Hogarth and Reyes from Jessica Jones adds welcome continuity (as do references to that show by Claire).  This season is primarily a lead-in to The Defenders with the Hand as the main villain (as well as a springboard for The Punisher series).

Selected Character Notes

Personal history: I read a great deal of The Punisher back in the day (the early part of Mike Baron's run on the main title as well as Carl Potts' War Journal); I was only familiar with the Elektra arc from Daredevil in passing (although I have since read through it all).
  • Frank Castle/Punisher: the show updates his background (Afghanistan/Iraq rather than Vietnam), as well as provides some adaptation of his origin (more about that below); having a dog rescued from Irish criminals is straight out of the comics (Punisher War Journal 37); the performance is superb and the portrayal humanizes him much more than the comics typically do; Jon Bernthal was rumoured to get his own show before this season aired (something subsequently confirmed)
  • Karen Page: her character arc seems to be putting her on the path to replace the role of Ben Urich, which makes a lot of sense given her development through season one
  • Foggy: a much-improved depiction of the character who particularly excels in the legal-related elements
  • Elektra: another race-swap, as the Greek comic book version is Thai here (clearly Elodie Yung had not been cast during season one, as Foggy references a Greek girlfriend); there are significant changes made from the comic book version, all of which don't really work (I'll delve into this more below), but in essence her motivation is off; her "death" is reminiscent of the comics, albeit not at the hands of Bullseye
  • Wilson Fisk/Kingpin: reprising his role for a few episodes, we see continued growth in his character as he fully emerges as the Kingpin; he's a season highlight
  • Samantha Reyes: arrives via Jessica Jones for a much more prominent role (she has no comic book precedent); she dies on the orders of the Blacksmith in an attempt to implicate Frank Castle
  • Madame Gao: yet more confirmation that she is the Crane Mother (Iron Fist)
  • Colonel Schoonover/Blacksmith: a Punisher character closely adapted; in the comics he did not have "the Blacksmith" identity (the comic Blacksmith was a Skrull, an alien race in the comics, who lived for all of one issue)
  • Mitchell Ellison: his confrontational arc from the first season is abandoned as he's completely supportive of Karen's foray into investigative journalism--while I like this version of him, it's difficult to parse it with the season one portrayal
  • Nobu Yoshioka: returns from season one and is just as cartoony as he was then
  • Blake Tower: another racially swapped character (he's white in the comics); originates with Daredevil, but also has early connections with Luke Cage and Iron Fist
  • Benjamin Donovan: a Luke Cage character (Big Ben) whose massive size and violent side have been ignored
  • Elliot "Grotto" Grote: a Daredevil character who remains alive in the comics (rather than killed by Castle), having served different bosses (but never the Irish, whom he serves here)
  • Hirochi: other than the name and the connection to the Hand he seems to have little in common with his short-lived comic book counterpart (who was also a Daredevil character); the connection to Roxxon is a show-invention
  • Finn Cooley: fairly close adaptation of the Punisher character, albeit he is killed by Nesbitt rather than the Punisher in the comics
  • Nesbitt: also a closely adapted, short-lived Punisher character
  • Roscoe Sweeney: Daredevil character whose ending is quite different from the comic (he dies of a heart attack while fleeing Daredevil)
  • Star: Daredevil character; killed by Stick in the Elektra flashback, this member of the Chaste is still alive in the comics
Dutton, Stan Gibson, and Jacques Duchamps were created for the series.

Comic Book Story Influences

There's a lot of comic book borrowing here (particularly for the Punisher)--far more than any other season or series to date.  Frank Castle's origin has been tweaked, but is a close adaptation of Gerry Conway's (Marvel Preview), with the corruption element adapted from Tom DeFalco's Punisher: Year One and the park not being cleared of civilians (ie the Castle family) from Garth Ennis' The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe.  The rooftop scene with Daredevil is adapted from Ennis' "The Choice", with their subsequent fight via Daredevil 257 (Ann Nocenti).  There are also nods to Marc Guggenheim's "Trial of the Punisher" (albeit the show handles this completely differently), and the Punisher shooting Daredevil happened with a tranquilizer gun in Daredevil 183 (Frank Miller).  Elektra's origins (Miller's Daredevil 168 (1981)) are changed (following Miller's own retcon from "The Man Without Fear" (1993)).  There is, incidentally, an amusing Iron Fist and Luke Cage cameo in the midst of the Elektra storyline (178).  Matt temporarily losing his radar sense also occurs within the original Elektra storyline (174), albeit not at the hands of Frank Castle.

Critical Reception

Rotten Tomatoes (RT) score: 75/95
These scores aren't the be-all, end-all of assessment, but simply an indicator of critical and fan reaction.  I'd take the critical score with a grain of salt (AoS somehow has 100% each of its last two seasons).  This is the lowest critical score of a Marvel Netflix show and reading between the lines the problem is Elektra and the Hand (all the reviewers praise Bernthal and the Punisher storyline, so what's left to dislike is the former).


Once again the directing, cinematography, and caliber of acting was excellent.  The fight choreography remains a highlight.  The writers have given us the best version of the Punisher I've ever seen (including in the comics).  Vincent D'Onofrio's Fisk is fantastic in his limited appearances.  Charlie Cox was excellent as ever, although not even he could save the disaster that was the Elektra storyline.  I wasn't a fan of Elden Henson's Foggy in season one, but he's much better here (particularly in his role as a lawyer; I can't decide if the difference is the writing, directing, or both).  I'm a big fan of Karen Page in the show and her continued evolution is interesting (she seems to be thematically borrowing from comic book Jessica Jones' time as a journalist in The Pulse).  Michelle Hurd's Samantha Reyes is given room to breath here (she basically cameos in Jessica Jones) and puts in a strong performance.


Elektra requires so much commentary that she's discussed separately below.  The Hand continues to not work for me--I think the lack of a primary villain representing them, as well as their very unsympathetic goals, makes them incongruous from the rest of the Netflix antagonists.  It's difficult to mix something as grounded as Frank Castle's vigilante with something as comic bookish as occult ninjas.  Ellison's character undergoes an overhaul that's hard to parse with his season one version (albeit I prefer this one).   Scott Glenn (Stick) remains very wooden.  On the petty side of complaints I was sorry there were no references to Brett Mahoney's mother continuing to get gifts (cigars) from Foggy--indeed, Brett's initial hostility seemed out of proportion from where we left the character in season one.


The best way to fully illustrate the problems with the show version is via a comparison:

Original comic book version (1981; Daredevil 168, 174-79, 181): Elektra is a young woman in university with an overprotective father (a Greek diplomat); Matt pursues her, is rejected, but his persistence pays off and they fall in love and have a long relationship together (a year); her father is then killed, with neither Matt nor Elektra able to save him--this shatters her faith in the system and makes her not want to hurt again, so she severs all attachments and disappears.  When she reappears years later it's as a remorseless assassin for hire, but accidentally running into Matt reminds her of who she was and she starts to feel emotions again.  Matt still has feelings for her and it's clear that Elektra's feelings have never truly gone away, she's merely fighting them off (but not for long, as by issue 175 she saves a dying Matt from bleeding to death).  Elektra fights her emerging feelings with the fear that Matt will send her to jail for her crimes (which indeed becomes his intent).  She winds up working for the Kingpin, but can't kill Foggy out of sympathy, giving a watchful Bullseye a chance to get back into Fisk's good books (as well as eliminate his competition) by killing Elektra.  The tragic story was meant as a springboard to Daredevil truly becoming an anti-hero with no intention by Miller of Elektra ever returning.

Comic retcon changes (1993; Man Without Fear 2-3): this storyline also includes Miller's complete retcon of Matt's origin, incidentally (the abusive father etc).  Elektra is wild, confident, and impulsive, with a violent, dangerous side (in this version it's simply her nature, rather than having a particular cause).  Unlike in her original version the pursuit isn't one-sided (she's attracted to his dangerous side, but ultimately believes she doesn't deserve him because of his moral code).  Stick (of all people) warns Matt against her (which Matt ignores, as he does Elektra's confessions to murdering people).  Her father's death (off screen in a disjointed nod to prior continuity) seals her decision to deny attachments and she departs.  This version of her then fully rejoins the original continuity above.  The rest of her show arc (with the Chaste against the Hand) is inspired by D. G. Chichester's run (322-27), but only in part (after she leaves Matt she attempts to join the Chaste, gets rejected by Stick, joins the Hand (initially to betray them, but becomes corrupted by them), before fleeing to Japan and becoming a mercenary for hire).

I think Miller's recton is a weaker version of Elektra's story--while on the surface it may seem to make Elektra 'tougher' it subverts the original motivations and weakens the emotional impact (rather than a genuine bond between the two in the first iteration, in this version Matt is seeking a thrill and Elektra moral redemption through him).  When she leaves Matt it lacks pathos, as Elektra doesn't go through any transition (she's just as violent and wild before and after).

The show version: she is Black Sky ("the bringer of shadows," essentially a doomsday device in the form of a person--this is unlike the comics), saved by an inexplicably sentimental Stick who protects her (including killing other members of the Chaste), trains her, then sends her after Matt on a mission; their relationship then echoes Miller's retcon (Matt attracted to her wild side); Matt rejects her because she tries to make him abandon his moral code by encouraging him to murder the man responsible for his father's death; when Matt rejects her she disappears, remaining an assassin for the Chaste...which she is when she (again!) pursues Matt while on a mission; their passion is rekindled somehow (I think it's supposed to be a sign of Matt's intent to alienate himself from friends so they don't get hurt, but closing inward isn't an emotional place where you find romance)--even though it's right after Matt and Karen have established a relationship; Elektra gets rejected, but stays to help deal with the Hand and dies saving Matt.

Problems: the motivation doesn't work; even though I think Miller's retcon is a poor substitute for his initial vision, the show version loses all the emotional connections needed to make Elektra's end impactful.  In the original version the death of her father is a powerful catalyst--their relationship ends with Matt wanting to make things right, but having no way to do so, while Elektra believes the world has failed her and she feels the need to cut off her emotions to avoid feeling that pain again.  In the show Matt is simply a mission for Elektra during which she accidentally develops feelings for him; in both the past and present she has to seduce him because he hates who she truly is (a remorseless killer--unlike her original depiction, where Matt remembers someone who wasn't like that, so who she becomes is a shock--in the retcon Matt's simply blinded by passion to not see who Elektra truly is).  By the show's logic she should have no appeal when Matt already has Karen (that relationship should have been placed after Elektra), but it's shoehorned in.  Stick's motivation is butchered (how can he kill season one's Black Sky so easily when he's sentimental about both young Matt and young Elektra--actions that suggest he's sentimental towards children).  There's nothing done in the show to make us like Elektra (whose flashback and present versions are interchangeable), save that she's a badass fighter--yet she pales in comparison to the Punisher (who does what she does, kill people, but has a code), and doesn't do anything to help Matt except when she dies (it's not clear if we're meant to interpret that as a sign of her affection to Matt or something larger).  Sadly she's the biggest failed character we've had in a Netflix series and I'm not sure how The Defenders can fix her problems.

[If you spot any errors or omissions, please let me know!]

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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