Netflix’s attempt at giving Marvel’s more grounded, street-level heroes their platform has been hit-or-miss for the most part since its inception in 2015. But one series has always been more or less consistent in delivering quality content- Daredevil, the man without fear. Be it Charlie Cox’s outstanding performance as both Matt Murdock and the titular vigilante, engaging and investable supporting characters or the best rogues’ gallery (Wilson Fisk in particular) in Netflix’s roster- Daredevil has always been a great lens for this amazing comic book character and his world. And I am glad to report, the third season of Daredevil actually cements this notion even more by taking us on a cerebral redemption journey full of twists, action and a whole lot of self-reflection.
Right out of the bat (billy club?), things look grim. Matt Murdock just had a building fall upon him, but not before he lost the love of his life, Elektra, for the second time, during the events of Defenders. Soon he winds up at the orphanage where he grew up after his father died, where the nuns in residence nurse him back to health best they can. But the crisis of faith he goes through at the start of the season takes a bigger toll on him than his broken physique.
This emotional exodus of our hero is expertly crafted through Matt’s scenes with the resident nun Sister Maggie, played by Joanne Whalley. The interplay between Whalley and Cox is one of the highlights of this season, as Maggie apparently comes from the school of hard knocks and tough love. She wants to help Matt and to coax him back to the faith he has seemingly lost after his recent experiences, but the nun is not exactly gentle about it, and some dark laughs result at times.
Fisk is back
Matt’s continued descent into spitefulness comes to a screeching halt though for the untimely release of Wilson Fisk from prison. Yes, the Kingpin himself, played by the great Vincent D’Onofrio, is back with a vengeance. The Season 1 villain is one of the best characters in the entire Marvel pantheon. So it’s great to have him back again as a major player this season. D’Onofrio has lost none of the intense, deep-voiced and well-articulated seriousness that made his Fisk so indelible. You are always wondering what’s really going on inside his Machiavellian mind throughout the bulk of this season.
Most of the time when a single villain dominates the adversarial element for an entire run, things tend to get sluggish. But Daredevil NEEDS Kingpin. He needs this type of cerebral foil. Fisk’s tendrils stretch so far and wide, and started way before anyone knew to look for them, that he comes across here like one of the most masterfully meticulous criminals ever. But his greatest masterstroke in this season has to be the intricate foundation he laid in the origin story of Bullseye, one of the greatest Daredevil antagonists.
Dex hits the Bullseye
FBI special agent Benjamin ‘Dex’ Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), a high-functioning and lethally skilled sociopath, is introduced this season. He was shown absolutely primed early this season for getting trapped in Fisk’s long game of subterfuge. Bethel gives a standout performance as the tortured antagonists spiraling down to the rabbit hole from where he will finally come out as Daredevil’s greatest comic book rival ever. And his bouts with Daredevil are a pure cinematic joy to watch. The first fight, where Matt wins the close-up fisticuffs rounds but Dex wins overall because of his unexpected long-range precision strikes, feels like a comic book fan’s dream come to life. And even if you didn’t grow up watching these two characters duke it over the panels of a printed page, it’s still an incredibly savage showing. It’s not the only one as well but I will stop talking about the rest right now.
Rest assured, Daredevil’s action still towers over the rest of Netflix’s Marvel offerings. The fight choreographers have clear ideas about the strengths and weaknesses of the participants of a fight. They executed the scenes with surgical precision. And if you are wondering, this season keeps up with the tradition of a “one-shot corridor fight” in episode four. Needless to say, it absolutely knocks it out of the park.
The usual brilliant supporting cast
When things quiet down from the busier action scenes, the supporting cast do a great job to hold the rest in cohesion. I already talked about how great Whalley’s Sister Maggie has been throughout Matt’s internal struggle. But it’s up to Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) to truly get him back on track from self-destruction. Because Fisk wasn’t just hell-bent on destroying Daredevil’s persona as the savior of Hell’s Kitchen this season. He was after Matt Murdock’s good name too. And when the man without fear was very much full of fear and behaving at his most arrogant and abrasive, it was up to them to show him a brighter way.
Woll was always light-years better than her last show, True Blood. It pleases me greatly that she has a part now that showcases her ability to present viewers with complexities and hypocrisies and subtitles like only she can. No spoilers but there is a scene with her and Fisk that really bolsters Karen. It turns her into a roguish superpower of wicked righteousness. It’s a thrilling game of mental chicken. Foggy, on the other hand, remains the sole foundation of legal righteousness in Matt’s life. His faith in his best friend is unrelenting and absolute despite Matt’s own constant moral jeopardy.
In fact, all three of Daredevil’s lead characters are inherently polarizing. So kudos to our three main players for giving us severely flawed people who we’re still drawn to and root for. It’s because of them that the middle chapters were increasingly great. Instead of falling down the Netflix trope of bloat and bad filler.
Jay Ali’s Nadeem needed more
But some caveats remain. Jay Ali’s FBI agent Ray Nadeem gets a lot of screen time as a newcomer. He has intricate ties to the main narrative. Yet up until the last third of the season, his character doesn’t become engaging enough to be emotionally invested in. His struggle to do the right thing gets vehemently crushed between all the dangling story threads. It becomes a clichéd hodgepodge right before picking up a notch. And while this season has really improved upon maintaining a steady pace in the middle episodes where usually it all goes slow and bloaty, it should be mentioned that there are still signs of unnecessarily drawn out scenes and conversations. Netflix should seriously start to consider producing 10 episode seasons from all their Marvel characters for more tightly paced storylines.
Daredevil season three is just bloody good television.
Charlie Cox, as usual, thoroughly delivers as Matt. He convinces us here of the character’s pain, distressed state, and his eventual redemption. Vincent D’Onofrio’s restrained, grimacing, and mostly internal performance is just a behemoth achievement. The rest of the cast craftily delivers the goods as well. The action is robust, intimate and brutal. Overall, it’s just a great love letter to Daredevil. You don’t have to have Matt’s heightened senses to appreciate it. The devil’s got his due alright.