When the first season of Daredevil debuted back in 2015 it kind of blew everyone’s minds. It had some of the best fight choreography ever seen on a television show. It was a gritty, no-nonsense procedural crime thriller that drew positive comparisons to the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films. It had an incredible plot with well-written characters that remain some of the best in Marvel’s television shows. The show’s greatest accomplishment, however, came in the form of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. The Kingpin, who easily remains one of, if not the, best villain that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has put on screen. Season 2, sadly, squandered a lot of that good will with an overabundance of worldbuilding elements for The Defenders. Its plot was tedious and dull whenever The Punisher wasn’t involved, and contained what was perhaps the MCU’s worst adaptation of a character in the form of Elodie Yung as Electra. The first six episodes of Daredevil Season 3, however, are a massive improvement over its predecessor and a welcome return to form for the show.
The season begins immediately after the events of The Defenders. Daredevil somehow survived having a building fall on him and is recovering in the Catholic orphanage that he grew up in. After taking some time off to recover, he once again goes out onto the streets to fight crime, keeping his distance from friends and loved ones so as not to endanger them. At the same time, Wilson Fisk has begun cooperating with the FBI to ensure that his fiancé, Vanessa, is safe from prosecution. However, not everything is as what it seems with the Kingpin as he uses his newfound position within the FBI to destroy the reputations of Matt Murdock, Daredevil, and his friends.
What makes the first six episodes of this season work so well is that it essentially goes backs to what made the first season so special in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There aren’t any magical ninja death cults running around. There aren’t any overly elaborate, centuries-old conspiracies in the works nor are there any destinies that must be defied. Once again, it’s just a handful of characters investigating a very bad man and trying to take him down. All the while the law and other government systems inadvertently protect him as his plans come into play. And the obstacles that our antagonist puts in the way of our heroes are nothing short of brilliant.
Going into what these obstacles are would sadly constitute as major spoilers but let’s just say that Wilson Fisk breaks out every weapon he has for this season. From his manipulation of insecure and desperate FBI agents to showing the level of power that he still has in old circles, Fisk does it all. It takes a little bit of time to figure out what his deal is this time around but once you do the show fires on all cylinders and reminds us why he is the Kingpin of Crime. Make no mistake people. This show might be called Daredevil, but this season belongs to Wilson Fisk.
As with the first season, this only works due to D’Onofrio’s performance as the iconic villain. Once again, he completely overshadows every other actor in the series in sheer ability and execution. All at once his character is intimidating and terrifying yet strangely awkward and oddly sympathetic. He speaks with a harsh, gravelly voice that sounds like someone who is trying too hard to be taken seriously yet is still charismatic and likable in some odd way. It’s a very peculiar and borderline surreal mixture that somehow makes the character all the more compelling and interesting to watch.
In addition, the rest of the cast members acquit themselves well with writing to match. We finally begin to learn a bit more about Karen Page’s past, why she is so touchy about it and how she came to New York City to begin with. We learn about Foggy’s working class family, his own personal conflicts regarding his career choices, his family’s business and the moralities thereof. Newcomer Joanne Whalley isn’t given a whole lot to work with as Sister Maggie, but she manages to play the role with a degree of humanity and realism that is sorely lacking in similar characters.
The big standout with the supporting cast, however, has to be one of the newcomers who is perhaps one of the most unsettling and terrifying characters that Marvel has ever put to screen. Like Fisk, the writers and actor have found a way to perfectly blend character traits that would otherwise contradict one another into something compelling. He is dedicated to his job yet is clearly mentally unhinged. He is a good-looking guy with a decent amount of charisma yet can’t seem to connect with anyone around him. He is a complete badass who could easily go toe to toe with The Punisher, yet his insecurities can come out over the simplest of provocations. All of which make him eerie and disturbing yet endlessly watchable and a welcome addition to the cast. And that’s not even going into his actions. Seriously people. Do not let anyone spoil this character for you.
As with previous seasons, the action scenes are superb. Sadly, they are few and far between in the first six episodes but are all well worth the payoff. Unlike the other Marvel Netflix series, the fights in this show seem real, painful and gritty. You see and feel the full impact of every punch. You wince every time someone is impaled or sliced. Unlike other characters like Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, Daredevil is just a man without super strength or invulnerability, making the stakes for every fight seem that much higher. Fighting an entire room full of enemies is clearly exhausting and draining for him. A knife to the torso will severally injure him and reduce his fighting capabilities. All of which make the action in the series the best that Marvel’s Netflix shows have to offer… even if the showrunners still refuse to photograph them in anything but underlit rooms and hallways.
This isn’t to say that the first six episodes aren’t without their flaws. The series kind of gets off to an awkward start with Daredevil just kind of getting over his more serious injuries without consequence. It also has to be said that, once again, he is the least interesting character in his own series. Only this time, he comes off as incredibly unlikable. In the first six episodes, he comes off as a selfish jerk who is unnecessarily cruel to his loved ones with a bizarre martyr complex. The series keeps trying to push that he is at his lowest point and it feels like he has nothing to live for after Electra’s apparent death, but this doesn’t entirely work. It just feels strange that he would act this way when so many of his friends and loved ones are still around and obviously care about him. It will more than likely tie into a larger arc that will payoff later but it none the less feels like a poor direction to take a protagonist. Luckily, in the grand scheme of things, these are only minor problems in an otherwise great set of episodes.
In the end, the first half of this season is a massive improvement over its predecessor and easily the best thing to involve Daredevil since the first season. The plot is compelling. Wilson Fisk’s schemes are devious and jaw-dropping. And it has great newcomers and manages to flesh out its supporting cast in ways that the previous seasons were unable or unwilling to do. It’s hard to imagine how the season is going to keep up with this quality or top the sixth’s episode’s ending but for now this is a show that easily warrants a recommendation. I’m very happy to say that the devil you know is finally back.