Netflix cancelled both Luke Cage or Iron Fist just as it prepared to launch Daredevil’s third season. Is Netflix wrapping things up in preparation for the launch of Disney’s own standalone streaming service, which will be a Netflix competitor? Is this all a smoke screen to cover the fact that the shows will be merging into a Heroes for Hire series of some sort? It’s too early to tell. But the fact is that both Luke Cage and Iron Fist closed out their second seasons with massive paradigm shifts, which paved the way for interesting stories to come — and for now, at least, those stories may never be told.
But back to Daredevil — the first Netflix/Marvel joint to actually reach a third season (though Jessica Jones season 3 is on the way, unless something dramatic occurs). I couldn’t help but watch the new episodes with the surprising cancellations in mind, looking for clues to Netflix’s larger strategy. Would this be a swan song for the Man Without Fear? What does a third season of one of these shows even look like? Well, let me tell you — if this is the last we ever see of Daredevil, it’s a hell of an ending: strong, surprising, and sure of itself. Lots of SPOILERS ahead!
Back To Basics
In a lot of ways, this season is a return to form for Netflix/Marvel shows in general. Sure, there are still pacing issues (13 eps is still too many), but it’s also weirdly refreshing to see a season without a single cameo or surprise guest from another part of the Marvel universe. The fight choreography is still top notch, the best of any of the Netflix/Marvel shows (even if we all know what’s coming any time Matt walks into a hallway). Plus, there’s no twist ending or cliffhanger. Season three has a straightforward arc — and though at the end of the day things have more or less come full circle for the core characters, it doesn’t feel like the series was just spinning its wheels pointlessly. Everyone reaches a mostly happy conclusion after mucking through some deeply unhappy stuff.
Also, a return to form? The actual return of season one baddie Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin, who remains obsessed with three things: Vanessa, white suits, and answering questions with longwinded non sequiturs. He engineers his release from prison by becoming an informant for the FBI and ratting out other criminal organizations around NYC. With a target on his back and a shank in his side, the FBI decide to put him under house arrest for his own safety. The twist, of course, is that Fisk paid someone to attack him in prison, and is using the FBI to clear out his competitors so he can step into the vacuum created in the criminal underworld. Also, he’s blackmailing most of the agents on his detail — and one of them, Agent Benjamin ‘Dex’ Poindexter, is just crazy enough to be useful in other ways.
Bullseye Hits The Bullseye
The big newbie this season is Dex, whom comics fans will recognize as the villainous Bullseye — a man with unerring aim, who can turn objects into lethal weapons. In the series, he’s an unstable man who has exhibited psychopathic tendencies from a young age and struggles to live a disciplined life in order to keep his urges in check. Those urges include not just murder but stalking, which leads to an unsettling subplot involving his fixation on an old coworker. While I wouldn’t say the adaptation of the character is quite as impressive as Alice Eve’s Typhoid Mary in Iron Fist season 2, it’s very much in the same vein: grounded yet compelling, thanks to the writing and a strong performance from Wilson Bethel. There’s also a neat trick where any time Dex is getting overwhelmed, you hear the sound of angry bees!
Anyway, Fisk recognizes his talents and recruits him to wear a Daredevil suit and ruin Matt’s good name with the people of New York. It makes for some tense fight sequences: Since Dex is foolproof with projectiles, Matt has to get up close to mitigate it. But most impressively, the show sidesteps a lot of the expectations comics fans might have for Bullseye, which pays off with some nice surprises on screen. I’ll come back to that shortly.
Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear: Matt’s Alive!
Matt Murdock survives the big explosion at the end of The Defenders, and his wounded body is taken back to the church he grew up in (he lived in the attached orphanage after his father died). He’s in rough shape for a while, with his extraordinary senses dulled from his injuries, leaving him truly blind for perhaps the first time in his life (don’t worry — it obviously isn’t permanent). A nun named Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley) helps him recover, just as she helped raise him. Oh and FYI: Maggie is secretly his birth mother. Which she should maybe not whisper about in prayer when HER SON HAS CRAZY SUPER HEARING.
Family, as always, is a big issue on this show. As you’d expect, Matt’s reaction to the loss of Elektra (again!) is to push everyone away for their own good, which means he doesn’t reach out to let Karen and Foggy know he’s alive. Then the truth about Maggie predictably makes him feel betrayed and lied to, even though he’s kinda been pulling the same sh*t on his friends so maybe don’t be so judgey, Matt! But the release of Fisk gives Matt a sense of purpose, and crucially a reason to seek out his friends.
Karen’s Weird, Dark Past
Deborah Ann Woll has become a sort of low-key MVP in the Netflix/Marvel universe. Her cred as Karen Page was cemented by her co-starring turn in The Punisher, and it’s on full display here as well. The biggest reveal this season is the long-hinted tragedy in Karen’s past, involving the death of her brother — which is definitely an accident, AND ALSO definitely kind of her fault.
First, let me tell you that, like the fictional Karen Page, I grew up in Vermont. And maybe you’ve heard, but there’s kind of a massive drug epidemic here, probably because it’s cold and there’s nothing to do and people don’t have a lot of money. Of course, in reality, the local drug problems are largely tied to opioids, but since making Karen Page a former heroin dealer might have been a bit too much, the show settled for making her a former coke dealer. Basically: She was supposed to leave the state and go off to college, but instead she keeps deferring her enrollment in order to help run her family’s diner alongside her father and brother (her mother passed away). And the show nails the sense of isolation and being trapped trying to keep your family afloat, and the resentment that builds if you feel you need to put your dreams on hold. Karen’s coping mechanism is that unique brand of self-destruction that comes from dating the local “namaste”-uttering drug dealer, assisting him in his business, and partying all night with your shirt off. It’s her form of escape, and she’s too angry to realize just how far off the rails she’s gone… until her brother tries to help. He enrolls her in school, and then goes and burns down her boyfriend’s drug-trailer to really force an end to their relationship. A very drunk/high Karen has to intervene and stop her boyfriend from killing her brother, and it seems she’s pulled it off — until she flips the car while driving him to safety.
Her backstory is… dark. But it explains a lot: why she’s so good with handguns, and why she can’t go home again, and ultimately why she isn’t so perfect that Matt needs to protect her or keep her from getting her hands dirty. Instead, she’s the one who does understand what it feels like to take a life (that time she killed Fisk’s former flunky also becomes a thing again this season), which is why she fights so hard to keep Matt from going killer.
And just when it seems like all this history is being trotted out to justify the show killing her off, in a big showdown with Bullseye in the church just like in the comics, the show… doesn’t. It lets her live (and has the priest take the fall for her). I was ready to say goodbye to Karen Page, but I’m happier that the show decided to keep a complicated woman around for a happy ending instead.
The final showdown between Matt, Dex, and Fisk goes down during Fisk’s wedding to Vanessa. Matt, at this point, has convinced Dex that Fisk killed the woman he was obsessed with (which Fisk did, to keep the man unbalanced and pliable), so Dex shows up in his Daredevil suit and wrecks the ceremony. But naturally, he’s out for blood — and Matt goes from fighting Fisk to fighting to keep Dex from killing Vanessa. It’s convoluted, sure, but kind of a marvel to witness. Fisk picks up Dex and slams him into the wall, breaking his back and paralyzing him. And Matt chooses not to kill Fisk himself. Instead, he makes a deal: Fisk leaves Foggy and Karen alone, and Matt will leave Vanessa alone. In the end, Fisk and Vanessa both end up in custody, and Matt keeps his morals intact.
But the real happy ending is that Nelson & Murdock & Page are back in business! Foggy realizes that he’s happier lawyering for good rather than for a paycheck, and wants to work with Matt again. And Matt realizes he can’t just be Daredevil full-time — he should maybe try having a life with the people he loves or whatever. And Karen? Well, she lost her job at the newspaper because she refused to tell her editor Daredevil’s real identity. Sure, she could get it back — but Foggy thinks their rebooted law firm could use a staff investigator with her natural skills. After all, she’s more stable than Jessica Jones!
The closest thing to a cliffhanger is the reveal that Some Mysterious Doctors are performing surgery to repair Dex’s spine, so Bullseye isn’t gone for good. Beyond that, there are no urgent, dangling plot threads that a season 4 would need to resolve. If this does turn out to be the end of Daredevil, at least it’s a pretty nice ending, with our characters having come full circle and working together once again.
Odds and Ends
- A huge part of the plot this season deals with the FBI corruption. In particular, Jay Ali plays Agent Ray Nadeem, a good man who gets Fisked hard by Fisk. He’s the point person who sets Fisk up with his fancy (pent)house arrest, only to find out that everyone including his boss is being blackmailed and manipulated to do Fisk’s bidding — and then he’s framed for murder when he tries to report it. Poor Ray ultimately sacrifices his life to redeem himself in the eyes of his family, and turn his dying testament into irrefutable evidence of Fisk’s guilt and the spread of his corruption.
- I’m not saying I wanted any cameos or missed them, but it will never not be weird to me just how disconnected the Defenders are. Fine, Danny is theoretically off galavanting around Asia at this point, but Luke and Jessica are probably in town to hear the reports of “Daredevil” shooting up a newspaper office and a church. Do they NOT think that’s worth checking out?
- Foggy’s family are delightful.
- The whole time Foggy was launching his campaign for district attorney, all I could think was: “Hmm, did he notify Hogarth about this?” But honestly I forget where things stand with that law firm anyway. Still, I feel like fancy uptown lawyers can’t just go rogue like that…
- I’ll miss you, Father Pool Shark Priest.
- Matt’s biblical woes exhaust me, but I couldn’t help but laugh when he’s feeling his most forsaken… and then he finds the Magical Neti Pot to clear out his sinuses and give him his senses again! God works in mysterious ways, Matt!
- Matt’s weird parka was ugly and distracting, and even worse was the fact that he wore it while trying to wander around undetected. Like, no. You’re not going to sneak into that fancy hotel looking like that, mister. You’re not going to sneak ANYWHERE. You look like the Unabomber’s blind cousin.
- I’m not sure why Foggy and Matt reconciled, considering Foggy still believes in using the law to solve everything, and Matt still believes that sometimes the law isn’t enough. There isn’t really a resolution to that conflict, but whatever — I’m happy as long as those two crazy kids pal around again.
Header Image Source: Netflix