The first half of Daredevil's second season is underwhelming.
When season one launched a year ago, it did so in a significantly different environment in superhero film adaptations. Marvel's only other television projects were Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, an ensemble spy show and a period action drama respectively. Daredevil burst onto the scene as Marvel's first television show about a superhero — the first addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe where the hero actually fights crime, not supervillains, conspiracies, magic or their own super-science messes — and one that was bleak, suspenseful and violent in a way that the company could never get away with on primetime ABC.
Daredevil season two isn't bad, it's just alright
But then, this past fall, Jessica Jones took the television scene by storm, proving that a superhero show could be a faithful adaptation full of sci-fi action, intrigue and derring do — and also one of the most candid and affecting examinations of rape, domestic abuse and trauma survival in modern television history. Even more recently, Deadpool's weird mix of humor, violence, sex and (yes) emotional heart somehow seems to have only taught Hollywood that audiences want more sex and violence in their superhero stories, despite nobody actually asking for that.
This is the environment in which Daredevil's second season has arrived, and it just feels like more of the same.
The most fitting criticism of the first season of Daredevil was that it was a bit familiar, a bit comic book-y: If you wanted to watch a slightly updated take on street-level comic book superheroes of the late '80s, it was for you (and I include myself in that). That's fine and good! A first season — especially one with an origin story — can be forgiven for laying out a platform of expectations from which to spring and subvert. But season two's first half does precious little that's new with those ideas.
And while I'm interested to see where things go in the second half, to get to that point the audience will have to sit through a lot of the sort of writing that the word "cliche" was invented for.
"In all my years as a cop I've never seen anything like this," and "We need to find Matt before this goes wide; tell him everything's about to change," are lines delivered without a trace of irony.
The show's fight scenes are still well crafted, surprising and brutal. They're also significantly more violent in a way that feels like an attempt to up the ante but just comes off as gratuitous. I was not expecting to watch a man's face take the brunt of a shotgun blast from point blank range or a man's foot have a power drill put through it in this season, much less both of those in a single episode.
Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra (Elodie Yung) are interesting as antagonist and unreliable ally respectively, but they feel like they're distracting Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) from his actual goals in a way that the show is slow to acknowledge. Punisher is killing entirely reprehensible criminals, which means that both he and his victims are folks with dirty records. Elektra is only ever in danger that she deliberately courts. Without innocents hanging in the balance of their actions, the stakes don't feel particularly high.
The season's seventh episode was the first to end with a cut to credits that left me wanting to hit play on the next one immediately. Unfortunately, it was also the last episode that Netflix made available to press in advance. A Netflix show can't afford to wait until its fifth or sixth episode to get to the meat of a season.
Still, it's meat that I'm looking forward to. Nelson & Murdock are taking on another make-or-break-the-firm court case, and Daredevil has finally uncovered a truly bizarre mystery in Hell's Kitchen (although the answer, judging by hints so far and the upcoming slate of Marvel Netflix shows, looks like it's going to be "dated Orientalist tropes"). Both of these plot lines feel like the show is finally getting some urgency and pulling the viewer back into real drama.
Daredevil season two (what was made available to press, anyway) isn't bad, it's just ... alright. It feels like it's trying a little when it should be trying hard. And in an increasingly competitive and saturated market of on-screen superheroes, not trying hard is something no superhero show can afford to do.