Remembering Daredevil

Editorial

Spoilers ahead for the entire Daredevil Netflix series and The Defenders, and The Punisher a little bit. And season five of Dexter (…yeah). But if you haven’t seen Daredevil yet, Why!? Watch Daredevil!

So Netflix has cancelled Daredevil; by far the best of the Marvel Netflix shows and one of the best shows on Netflix, period. We knew this was coming though, didn’t we? If not after the cancellation of Iron Fist, which only sort of found its feet in its second season, then after the vastly superior Luke Cage got the same treatment less than a week later. So it’s safe to say that we can kiss the idea of another season of The Defenders goodbye (if that wasn’t obvious already), and let’s not pretend that Jessica Jones and The Punisher aren’t going to get the axe following their respective upcoming seasons. I only hope that Netflix has/had the decency to approach the writers of those shows and say “This is it guys, no sequel hooks, write it so it ends”.

I could muse on why having their very own MCU somehow didn’t appeal to Netflix, and in general how they have a bad habit of cancelling their original content that couldn’t be described as, frankly, pablum. Instead, I’m actually going to argue in the opposite direction, how in this specific case, ending Daredevil here is, if not exactly a good thing, then probably the best we reasonably could have hoped for and something we can be at peace with.

Though I wouldn’t expect everyone to be able to get behind every argument I put forward today, my first point should be easy enough to grok, namely that a show’s quality an only truly be determined once it ends. Yes, it absolutely sucks that Daredevil got cancelled immediately following it’s incredible third season, but can you honestly say that you’d still be as interested in Daredevil in it’s sixth season? It’s ninth? It’s twelfth?

Worse than ending too soon is when a show never ends. When in lieu of letting a story die and moving on, the writers bend the plot into pretzels to create more problems, keep certain characters involved, retread old story beats and generally ride the show until the wheels fall off. You don’t have to look far for an example. Scrubs was my hands-down my favorite show on TV at the time, but it probably should have ended around season seven. Dragonball Z’s creator wanted it to end several seasons before it actually did, and I could write a whole other article on why Dexter should have ended on season five (basically, Debora accepting Dexter and what he was doing without realizing it was Dexter she was talking to was a perfect ending point for the series and Dexter’s character arc in general, but I digress).
And Daredevil absolutely went out on a high note, not only by neatly wrapping up it’s story with no dangling plot threads, but by allowing Karen, Foggy and Matt to ride off into the sunset together. Not only would a fourth season at least partially undo that happy ending, but another season would bring with it several of the aforementioned problems that would need to be awkwardly written around; namely that nearly every major character knows who Daredevil is now, and if Dexter was any indication, it’s generally a good idea to pull the plug before that happens.
It does pain me a little to say that as with most finales, ending the season about ten seconds earlier would have had a much better lasting impact, even if the show did end up getting another season. The idea that one of the bad guys might come back isn’t what should be making me interested in a hypothetical Daredevil season four. Can you guess what should have? Daredevil season three!

With the rare exception of certain planned multi-season shows like Game of Thrones, no TV show needs to take multiple seasons to tell a story, and ten-second, end-of-season stingers for future seasons that may never happen are one of my biggest TV show pet peeves.
Now look, I know exactly how naive and idealistic all of that sounds. These shows are made in the real world by writers who need food to eat, produced by studios that need money to keep the lights on, overseen by huge corporations that need whatever it is that TV executives subsist on (the tears of Firefly fans, perhaps?), but I can’t be the only person who sometimes sees the season finale of a show they like and thinks “Yes! Perfect! That was a great ending, now just let it be over!”.

All that doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss Daredevil. It was a seriously fantastic show and viewed as a whole, might be my single favorite product that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet created. Especially impressive considering how many of the other Marvel shows Netflix managed to bungle.
Rewatching the show from season one, it really is amazing just how right Daredevil manages to get pretty much everything right from the beginning. The central cast is rock solid. We’ll come back to how good Charlie Cox’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin both are, but it can’t be overstated just how good the supporting cast is. Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson (Karen and Foggy) transcended their roles as mere supporting characters and felt like real, flesh and blood people that I genuinely enjoyed spending time with, as much as or sometimes even more than any of the superhero business.

Not only did the non-Daredevil parts of the show make me nostalgic for Law & Order, they really highlight how so many Marvel properties fail to be anything beyond straightforward action movies with disturbingly similar story beats that all feel like they were written by the same person, specifically Joss Whedon. As much as I love Whedon’s work up to and including The Avengers, there’s only so much of his “Serious thing, Quip, Fight scene, Repeat” writing style that I can take. Daredevil felt refreshingly different, daring to do the unthinkable for Marvel and not try to be funny, sometimes for one or more entire episodes at a time.

Daredevil wasn’t the only one of the Marvel Netflix shows that managed to feel different from it’s big screen counterparts. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage had a lot of thematic depth and felt very much like their own thing, even if both elected to fall apart to some extent in their debut seasons. For my money though, the real standout when it comes to “things you never expected to see from a Marvel property” is inarguably The Punisher. And though I have no illusions that any Marvel Netflix show will survive 2019, one could reason that The Punisher is the most likely to escape the chopping block simply because of just how separate it feels from every other Marvel property around it.
Throughout it’s entire first season (and presumably it’s second as well), The Punisher was a grounded,  hard-hitting drama with a higher than average amount of action, particularly remarkable for how un-fantastical it managed to stay throughout. Up to and including the end-of-season confrontation with the shows main antagonist, which really does come down to a simple firefight between two ordinary people; the tension of which was only slightly undermined by my realization that in that moment, somewhere in that universe, a walking tree that sounds like Vin Diesel is going on a rollicking adventure through space alongside a talking raccoon.

“Where’s my celebrity-voiced animal sidekick, huh? When does Frank get his share!?

And now we come to Daredevil’s main attractions, those being Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin and Charlie Cox’s Daredevil.
In my opinion and the opinion of many others, Wilson Fisk, AKA the Kingpin is hands-down the best Marvel villain, with very few others even coming close. Most villains in superhero properties in general and the MCU in particular are seemingly designed to generate interesting fight scenes first and be compelling, interesting characters second, though that’s obviously harder to get away with in a TV show. If Game of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that there’s merit in cutting to the antagonist for a bit and allowing to get to know them as something more than a villain, or at least a more three dimensional one. Like some of the best comic book villains brought to live action, Fisk is a character whose greatest weapon is his mind and his ability to manipulate people.

My favorite superheroes tend to be the ones with little to no real superpowers, as they usually have much more adversity to overcome. Ironically, Wilson Fisk illustrates exactly why. We follow Fisk through every season and, to varying extents, see him surmount his own set of challenges parallel to our protagonists. Especially impressive considering that his only powers, such as they are, are “being a very large man” and “getting really angry”. But god damn, does D’Onofrio ever sell rage as a superpower. Several times throughout the series, Fisk takes several hits in a dazed stupor, and through D’Onofrio’s excellent facial acting, one can pinpoint the exact moment that Fisk’s sophisticated veneer gives way to a bottomless, trauma-born berserker rage. He only wheels it out a handful of times a season, but it’s legitimately intimidating when he does. It’s that mix of an imposing physical presence and subtle, nuanced character work that makes Wilson Fisk is the Marvel villain MVP until further notice.

A nod must also be given to Wilson Bethel as Benjamin Poindexter, AKA Bullseye, who the Kingpin manages to corrupt from troubled but otherwise good cop all the way to full-on Marvel villain. Bethel plays his role to the hilt, selling every stage of his character development and the mental processes required to get there. The show also does an amazing job of making Bullseye’s ability to turn any object into a deadly projectile look awesome and believable. Instead of trying to make it look “cool” by doing slow-motion closeups of objects in flight or something, it’s simply presented it in an extremely matter of fact way, trusting the audience to accept that this is a man who long ago punched chaos theory in the balls and stole it’s girlfriend.

As for Daredevil, it’s true that he never stops being a bit two-dimensional (Daredevil, not Cox), but I don’t actually count that as a flaw. In nearly every superhero show/movie/etc, the hero exists to some extent as a blank slate into which various situations are fed, and what makes it interesting is to see how the character reacts to those situations, as well as the other characters around them. I’m still not sure exactly how much range Charlie Cox has as an actor, and I have to admit to being, like most people I’d imagine, unaware of his previous work, but he plays the hell out of character he’s been handed here, imbuing Matt Murdock with believable tics, flaws, and real heart when it counts. He also acquits himself admirably in the fight scenes, as does his stunt double Chris Brewster (who, fun fact, also performs in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) taking over for the more advanced scenes. 

Much has been made of how Daredevil isn’t in his iconic suit more often, and how long he takes to get it in the first place. Personally, although the Daredevil suit in season two was extremely well realized, I think I preferred the low-tech, black mask Daredevil as much or even slightly more. By the same token, I appreciate how Bullseye sticks instead with the impostor Daredevil suit for the entirety of the third season, subtly designed to look a bit more sinister than Matt Murdock’s, rather than the show contriving a scenario for him to suddenly just get a suit of his own.

Lastly, there’s no way we were getting out of this article without discussing Daredevil’s fight scenes, AKA “the bar Iron Fist needed to clear and clotheslined itself on instead.” Daredevil’s fight scenes are a thing to behold. Not every single one is a winner, but it says a lot that I could remember most of them in detail multiple years later while those of the other Marvel Netflix shows faded from my mind soon after viewing.   

To conclude, and to avoid rambling any more than I already have, Daredevil is a damn fantastic show. The solid script and great acting by everyone involved kept me coming back and the excellent choreography and stunt work made for possibly the best action scenes I’ve ever seen on a TV show. Seriously, do you have any idea how hard it is to write about how awesome Daredevil’s fight scenes are without reflexively clicking over to Youtube, watching that hallway fight from season one and then just falling down a Daredevil-shaped rabbit hole for the evening?

Dammit.

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