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Growing pains can’t stop ‘Daredevil’s’ ambition

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(Official Marvel's Daredevil Facebook Page)

(Official Marvel’s Daredevil Facebook Page)

The first season of Marvel’s “Daredevil” found its way by grounding its neo-noir, street-level take on superheroism in difficult questions: What moral boundaries are absolute? Why? Is it more important if they aren’t? What is the human cost of ambition? For its second season, “Daredevil” preoccupies itself with trying to answer those questions, and raises more in the process.

Following the events of season one, some semblance of peace has returned to Hell’s Kitchen, the down-and-out neighborhood that Daredevil protects. In his daytime identity as lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the fledgling law firm that he runs with his law partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson) is up to its ears in work representing the vulnerable of Hell’s Kitchen, with the help of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), their intrepid secretary. As Daredevil, Murdock believes he has made progress in protecting his imperiled home turf.

Naturally, this fragile but sunny status quo quickly falls apart. The involvement of the Marvel characters Elektra (Elodie Yung) and The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) in this season’s story arc had been teased since last year. It’s justified: they are direct challengers to everything Daredevil believes in, and they excel at it.

Elektra, an expert assassin and martial artist, is disciplined and focused, a woman with a singular mission compared to Daredevil’s endless fight against any threat to Hell’s Kitchen. The Punisher, a veteran named Frank Castle, has completely abandoned the law in his quest to avenge the deaths of his wife and children. Both regard the law as cleanup at best and complicit at worst. Neither believes in Daredevil’s no-killing doctrine.

With such strong conflicts of personalities and philosophies from just two characters, the show might have seen fit to make them the sole focus. Instead, we get an enthralling example of a rare achievement: a show that successfully follows many stories at once. Hints and subplots in the first season begin coming to fruition, as the groundwork for future seasons is laid out. Of course, this would be meaningless without the character studies that carry the show.

Deborah Ann Woll is excellent as Karen Page, a woman tormented by her demons and resolute in her belief in the human capacity for goodness and her determination to pursue the truth. Page is effectively the show’s moral heart, and a great character in a genre that has often treated dour grittiness as a substitute for philosophical heft.

Elden Henson gets his day in the sun as Foggy Nelson as the character – often relegated to the status of goofy sidekick in the comics – shows off his keen legal talents. More seriously, Nelson’s belief in the rule of law and Page’s belief in human goodness form the opposite end of the ethical conundrum Daredevil finds himself caught in.

Some of the show’s structural problems remain. The interminable monologues of the first season seem to have dropped in frequency with the replacement of original showrunner Steven S. DeKnight by Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez, but there are still too many  and they hinder more than help momentum.

Similarly, while it’s great that recurring characters benefit from further nuance, the show still rests on the shoulders of its title character. Cox, beyond the irritatingly offbeat cadence he addresses the jury with whenever he is in court as Murdock, does a great job with the inconsistent material he is given.

Early in the season, Murdock makes a series of decisions that are head-scratchers even when interpreted from within the show’s world. Later on, as Daredevil, the speed with which he flips between ethical positions is almost as dizzying as that with which he jumps rooftops.

The show struggles with a deficit of diverse characters in the undeniably diverse New York City. In the absence of Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich after the first season, “Daredevil” now has an all white primary cast. With the near future arrival of “Luke Cage,” the first Marvel production with a black lead (beating the film release of “Black Panther”), there is going to be even more scrutiny on representation in the Marvel screen universe than before.

“Daredevil” is still well worth watching. It’s an engaging, well-plotted, visually gorgeous series pushing the boundaries of superheroes on screen in more ways than one. Having surpassed its first season in quality and growth, there is reason to be optimistic that its third season – almost inevitable at this point – will improve upon the second season’s mistakes.

Griffin Lyons can be reached at [email protected].

1 Comment

One Response to “Growing pains can’t stop ‘Daredevil’s’ ambition”

  1. JC on March 29th, 2016 10:31 am

    Not true about an all white primary cast, Elodie Yung (Elektra) is half-Camboidan.

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