I literally minutes before starting to write this, just finished binging the second season of Daredevil having premiered on March 18th, given its assignment by Nathaniel R. as the latest Hit Me With Your Best Shot entry. This is one of those special entries where you could select best shots from each episode or just one or any group of episodes you want and I am just about crazy enough to give it quite a shot, even if I don’t think some of the episodes are visually impressive enough to warrant picking a best shot.
Daredevil, for those unfamiliar with the show or the comic book character, is a TV series set in the comic book based Marvel Cinematic Universe following Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind yet perceptive up-and-coming lawyer with Catholic guilt and crippling morality pushing him to protect his beloved home of Hell’s Kitchen from the gangland violence that pollutes it under the armored superhero alter-ego of Daredevil – The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen or The Man Without Fear. It is basically the MCU’s own attempt to have their R-rated Batman cake, with Nolanized color palettes of yellow, green, and brown and an overabundance of violence (in season 1, it wasn’t half as self-indulgent as season 2’s gore was – though it did boast a death scene with the ickiest sound mix ever, I felt like I was going to throw up just hearing a man die).
In this latest season, a new vigilante dubbed “The Punisher” (Jon Bernthal – my favorite actor for shithead characters and given that the Punisher is a comic book character I hate, I think this is a beautiful match) is going around taking bloody gruesome retribution with various unaffiliated gangs in Terminator-like fashion. While the firm of Nelson & Murdock – namely their assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) – dig into the Punisher’s situation and get to the bottom of it, Elektra (Elodie Yung), an old lover that Matt had long since abandoned on account of her lust for death, makes a grand return. She coaxes Matt into helping her battle the Yakuza off her tail and finding out their biggest plan for Hell’s Kitchen.
If I’m to start with a mini-review of the whole season (I usually reserve my tv show reviews to Panel & Frame), it’s gonna be the frank fact that I thought season 1 of Daredevil is still superior and I wasn’t one of season 1’s biggest fans (though I think both are great). There’s definitely a lot more cleanliness in streamlining a plot to essentially “Murdock v. Fisk” and having the rest of the storyline simply branch out from there. Season 2 is not that way – at no point do the Punisher or Elektra storylines intertwine and that means a lot of the storytelling has to pick and choose when and where to exit certain scenarios.
Still there are a lot of comic book “cool” moments in this season to enjoy and a lot of strength within both storylines that brought out my interest in them both, so let’s pick ’em out.
EP. 2.01 “Bang”
Very quickly up into the second season, the show really takes advantage of Netflix’s liberal standards for strong content by having a bloody and gory massacre take place in an Irish pub on an Irish gang waxing passion over their heritage (undoubtedly a savage bit of irony for a show that premiered the day after St. Paddy’s Day). And while it’s the primary bloodbath, it doesn’t reach the chilliness of Daredevil’s discovery in a meat freezer of dead Mexican cartel members hanging dead on meathooks. The earlier killings were all Boondock Saints in style, this is Saw, and I hate both, but that doesn’t make them any less emblematic of the violence in the show and how eager Marvel is to shed a family friendly image when the kids aren’t watching.
This is MAX mode.
EP. 2.02 “Dogs to a Gunfight”
And to continue off of that violence, we have one of the main anchors of humanism within this tale of titans, other than Page, being Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) – Matt’s best friend and legal partner who is, by the end of season 1, aware of Matt’s double life as Daredevil. Nelson just witnessed the Punisher and Daredevil fighting first hand as part of failed police operation and things turned violent and grim the moment he overheard an order to “shoot to kill” both entities. Eventually, they smash their way into a warehouse and Foggy rushes to see if Matt’s still alive and all he finds is this:
Debris and blood. Enough blood to suggest that one is carrying the other. Enough to make Foggy fear that the one being carried is Matt himself. And enough to promise once again the rotting aesthetic of MAX gritty violence.
EP. 3 – “New York’s Finest”
You ever heard the phrase “out of the fire and into the frying pan”? On of the most famous elements of both seasons is a braggadocio one-shot fight sequence early in each one (which I frankly am not impressed by either – both of them are pretty incompetently edited and framed with less of an understanding of what they want to say with the one-shot presentation than just an eagerness to be like “ooohhh lemme show this”. I will admit the first season’s one-shot fight is superior, while the second season gets nearly incoherent and obstructed by movement to an insufferable degree).
“Out of the fire and into the frying pan” absolutely describes Daredevil’s situation when he escapes from The Punisher’s dilemma only to be forced to fight his way out of the apartment with the entirety of the Dogs of Hell biker gang. He pulls it off, but clearly there’s a lot more of Hell’s Kitchen’s wrath to follow for Daredevil and The Punisher to follow and this shot – showing him post-battle ready to walk right out into the scene of several destroyed motorcycles burning to the ground – is ready to follow him out into the war.
EP. 2.04 “Penny and Dime”
You know why I love Jon Bernthal as an actor for shitheads? He almost always humanizes them, no matter what. Shane Walsh was almost a non-entity in the comic book version of The Walking Dead, Bernthal made him into a complex figure of confusion and aggression. All one-dimension aside towards Coon-Ass in Fury didn’t stop Bernthal communicating loudly that he is a product of his environment rather than the other way around. And we have Frank Castle aka The Punisher.
The Punisher is gauche as fuck, I don’t care who pretends what about him. He’s a character simply invented to bring Charlton Heston Death Wish anger into Spider-Man and other stories. Even his Garth Ennis and War Journal rounds just have an intense grindhouse anger feel to them rather than any humanity. The one time the character tried to be something like a human being, we got an awful Thomas Jane performance out of it.
We’re later to see what this particular merry-go-round means to him, but in the meantime, the shot has him simply sitting there, watching family’s go round on it happily until it closes down and he’s still by himself in the shadows of his memory.
He’s not as menacingly built when he’s sitting down anymore, he’s just waiting. Trying to remember some face of his family. Without even moving a muscle, Bernthal is able to suggest to us that Frank Castle knows there is something missing out of his life that he can never get back. And that all that’s left is an outline (lit wonderfully along the top of Bernthal’s head and shoulders) of the man he once was.
There’s no family here anymore.
EP. 2.05 “Kinbaku”
It really pains me to have a whole episode where we are introduced to Elektra and elaborated on her whole relationship with Matt and instead I pick a shot separated from that.
Yet, behold. This is going to go down as hands-down my favorite shot of not just the season outright, but in fact the entire series thus far. One that stands as a mission statement to Daredevil as a character. One that works so much better as a video than as a image (It’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, not “Frame”). So here it is:
I know I was just talking shit about one-shot segments in this show, but here is one that is done so very well. Matt just finished a date with Karen and is almost certain he loves her – this shot begins with a big smile on his face.
Suddenly, he’s walking into the shadows of the street and his smile fades as a man walks into him without any sorry (and keep in mind, Matt is blind). Sirens are heard in the distance and the camera circles around Matt’s head as he remembers the perils of Hell’s Kitchen being his burden. Flashing police lights spray on him and a man is heard angrily shouting “I know what you are!” in the background as if to remind Matt that inside of him lives the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
And it’s all way too much for him as he loosens his tie in a lovely bit of minimalist acting. And he was having such a fucking good time before the world had to remind him of what kind of place he lives in.
EP. 2.06 – “Regrets Only “
And so begins the selling of Frank Castle. Barely alive after being kidnapped and tortured by Kitchen Irish early in the season, he breathes through a tube waiting to be saved so he can receive the death penalty and that piece of production design that is the taped off floor boxes him in away from the world.
What I love most about this shot, though is not merely how it boxes him off, but how separated he is from the other three characters in the room – Matt, Foggy, and Karen – and this is literally the LAST second of this shot before it cuts away. They won’t even let him share the screen with Matt, who clearly cares enough about Castle to approach him and offer their legal skills to defend him.
Frank Castle is alone.
EP. 2.07 “Semper Fidelis”
For somebody who hates the Punisher as much as I do, I already picked out three different shots featuring him (and no Elektra ones – which frankly I preferred the Elektra storyline to the Punisher’s).
But I can’t help enjoying the sickening irony of the American flag standing out of focus behind Castle’s beaten and doughy mug (Bernthal doesn’t have the fashion model looks of Thomas Jane and The Punisher as a character works so much better for that) just as he is about to begin what is clearly a circus of a trial and put himself at risk. The legal system is absolutely dedicated to seeing Castle hang for their own deeds, Matt is too distracted by Elektra to be there for half of the trial, and Castle just doesn’t care what happens to him or where he goes at this point.
Also, doesn’t it seem like a bit of a jab at images like this?
EP. 2.08 – “Guilty as Sin”
Didn’t I tell y’all Daredevil was the comic book poster boy for Catholic Guilt? This would not be the first life lost that he would put on his back like a cross for the rest of season if his mentor Stick (character actor Scott Glenn in what I’m willing to call his best performance yet) – the third episode had him fail to save a life and muse on it in the following episode.
Elektra is poisoned and dying and Matt, despite spending most of the past few episodes trying to reject everything about her, simply doesn’t want that. Holding her hand in his, bowing his head down while blood is shining on his fingers, Stick’s arms closing him off from Elektra’s head (blocked by the pillow), it’s an overbundance of elements set to portray Daredevil as sitting in his head thinking “This is all my fault. This is entirely my fault. This is absolutely my fault.”
Over and over and over until he can be sure Elektra will wake up.
EP. 2.09 “Seven Minutes in Heaven”
My pick for Best Shot of this episode features a pretty huge spoiler that I honestly don’t want to ruin for anybody interested in the show who hasn’t gotten to this point yet. If you don’t have that problem, click here to see the shot.
As such, I will now begin to explain in vague terms. The character featured at the top of the shot is so much better here than in his previous appearance prior to this season elsewhere in the MCU. In spite of having the HANDS-DOWN MOST PERFECT ACTOR cast as him, the performance in question from his previous appearances have proven to be less menacing and more “stilted man-child with violent tendencies”.
Here, though, he’s got menace now. He’s got weight. He’s got power, even given the circumstances of his current existence. He’s standing over the Punisher smugly like he has the dude right where he wants him. He’s as far away from the Punisher’s grasp as he can be, but he’s got the Punisher right between his hands.
And that’s exactly the sort of character I’ve always wanted him to be. It’s good to see the performance finally reach its potential. It’s good to see the actor relish his role. I hope we see more and more of him.
EP. 2.10 “The Man in the Box”
Great, now I’m humming Alice in Chains in my head.
Anyway, one of my favorite elements of the journey of the hero doesn’t come from the whole “potential and reaching it” part of him, but exploring the biggest most obvious thing about a hero’s scenario – he DOESN’T have to do it. He doesn’t have to save the world. He doesn’t have to take on problems bigger than him.
Night Nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) stands with Matt on the rooftop trying to convince him to come down to Earth and stand next to Foggy’s side while he recuperates. That he can just be normal like everyone else.
But remember… Catholic Guilt: The Superhero!
EP. 2.11 “.380”
Seriously, I’m not getting off this Catholic Guilt thing.
Daredevil literally just performed the cross right before suggesting to the Punisher that “sure, we can go ahead and murder the Blacksmith”. He literally did that shit.
Like, if it weren’t for it being just a run-of-the-mill TV series with larger than life violence, I’d swear Luis Bunuel would simply hate this show on account of its blatant theocratic portrayals.
It’s one of the most ridiculous moments in a show that by now has introduced zombie ninjas into its arsenal.
EP. 2.12 “The Dark at the End of the Tunnel”
When we first met Stick in season 1 and saw how he raised young Matt to kick ass for his own usage, there was already an immediately obvious disconnect between the two of them that already made Stick look heartless and chilly towards the child. It was clear well before Stick forced an end to their training when Matt made him a token of affection that Stick was uninterested in personal relationships, especially a patriarchal one to his ward.
He was willing to leave them in the cold if he has to.
Come Season 2 when he rushes in to save Matt and Elektra – who we discover he also raised, though that leaves some serious problems in chronology and makes me wonder what the fuck is up with this show trying to make everything revolve around this small group of people (likewise for the Punisher’s storyline and its final reveal about the fate of his family) – and we know that Elektra was raised to be a wanton murder weapon. We did not expect this in the slightest, though:
That Stick might actually care for Elektra. That – in spite of earlier scene portraying him attempting to assassinate her – he is trying his hardest to make her feel less like a glitch in the world (even more obvious when the end of this episode reveals her true nature). That he actually is willing to be a father figure to someone if it is necessary.
This flashback of his embracing of young Elektra (Lily Chee frankly is even better than Yung at being a savage killer driven only by her thirst for blood) after saving her from Star (Laurence Mason) is definitely the one big shock of the entire show. The whole time we were under the assumption that Stick merely wanted to use Elektra as a puppet for his projected “War” only to discover that it’s more than that. Stick wants to save Elektra from herself.
EP. 2.13 “A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen”
Two against a bunch. Two against a whole fucking bunch. One of them absolutely a revenant by this point, so he may not stay down.
But it’s TWO. Daredevil and Elektra are finally accepting each other as part of each other’s lives irrevocably. And vowing to leave together after this battle is done and just live as a couple. Daredevil has made his choice: It is a life of relaxation with Elektra.
HEY. Look at Daredevil! He’s looking back while Elektra is looking forward. What do you think that is? The fact that he knows he can’t leave Hell’s Kitchen as it’s a part of him too? The fact that something pulls him back? DAT CATHOLIC GUILT?! Plus, I mean, if there’s one thing a comic book fan knows about Elektra’s history as a character… it’s pretty obvious where this is going to go by the end of the episode.
Nah, I’m just projecting. It’s just a really cool shot of the unpromising odds before they fight a battle for Daredevil’s city.
And if you want to see how that battle turns out, check out season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix. It’s not as perfect as the hype will tell you, but it is a really fun distraction and I can at least say I have enjoyed most of it (I prefer Jessica Jones, but OF COURSE I prefer Jessica Jones).
Thanks for dealing with all these shots. Until the next one.