If there are two things about the third season of Netflix’s Daredevil that have fans salivating, it’s the first appearance of Matt Murdock’s nemesis, Bullseye, and the triumphant return of Vincent D’Onofrio’s chilling Wilson Fisk. And according to showrunner Erik Oleson (The Man in the High Castle, Arrow), the two are indelibly linked.
Oleson wanted Bullseye to contain more emotional dimension than the sociopathic assassin is usually afforded in comics, and, as he told Polygon, the key to that was the manipulation of Wilson Fisk, “a narcissistic tyrant who uses people’s fears to keep them divided and conquered,” giving Daredevil season three a more ... ripped-from-the-headlines feel.
[Ed. note: This story contains minor spoilers for Daredevil season 3.]
Oleson (Unforgettable, Arrow) is new to Daredevil, following showrunners Steven S. DeKnight on season one and Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez on season two. He says that he took that as a very comic book kind of freedom. Just as Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Kevin Smith had their runs with the comic make Daredevil their own, this season was his.
His goal was to “tell a self-contained story, which was somewhere tonally between season 1 of Daredevil and The Sopranos.”
In Daredevil season 3, Wilson Fisk is out of jail — where he’s been ever since the end of Daredevil’s first season in 2015 — and he’s out to get all the people who put him there and separated him from the great love of his life, Vanessa.
To do that, Oleson says, Fisk reveals himself to be the sort of person who would “attack or encourage attacks on the press or try to undermine freedom of speech in their quest for power. I very much saw Wilson Fisk in that vein ... He is very much operating on par with the techniques of Vladimir Putin or,” he continued carefully, “some other villains who may or may not be living in our country right now.”
Known in Marvel Comics by the title of “the Kingpin,” Fisk has a history of using lies to cloak his true intentions. Though he’s got the immense strength, implausible durability and mad scientist mind of a comic book villain, stories about Fisk tend to play up his untouchable crime boss status. His network could have a tentacle in every crime in New York City, but, as far as the law can say, he’s an upstanding and legitimate businessman.
Daredevil season three won’t be the first adaptation to draw a subtle line between Fisk and a certain real world politician. The incredibly detailed reproduction of Manhattan Island in Insomniac’s recent Spider-Man game placed Fisk tower at roughly the site of the Trump International Hotel in Columbus Circle. But Oleson wanted to expand on the idea of a corrupt New York City real estate mogul, and give Fisk an even bigger bag of tricks, in his season.
“In real life, my father worked in the intelligence community,” he told Polygon, “and I grew up as the son of a guy who ran operations for the Defense Intelligence Agency and later CIA. I wanted to give Wilson Fisk the tools of a real life spymaster, someone who understood the techniques of psychological manipulation, of informational warfare, of recruitment, of operational thinking. I wanted to show the way that Wilson Fisk would destabilize a target that he is seeking to recruit and then bring that character to the dark side without them ever fully realizing the layers of manipulation that he undertook to make those events happen. That’s something he does to a number of characters this season.”
Those characters include Bullseye, whose comic book origin story has always left plenty hints that it’s a lie that Bullseye himself fabricated. What we know about him for sure is simply that he enjoys killing people and is obsessed with defeating Daredevil.
Oleson goes further in Daredevil season three, giving Bullseye his first concrete secret identity, that of Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter, an FBI agent assigned to protect a free Wilson Fisk after he turns state’s evidence.
“We were able to tell an origin story for how an FBI sharpshooter, who might otherwise be a good person and a productive member of society, is twisted into his own worst self by somebody who brings out the worst in people,” Oleson told Polygon. “A narcissistic tyrant, a would-be-dictator who manages to convince everybody around him to be their worst selves and draws them into darkness. We were able to tell the story of a person who might have ended up a good guy if he had not come under the sway of Wilson Fisk.”
Ultimately, the heroes in Daredevil’s third season aren’t just fighting against a couple of villains, but against a manipulated public, and Oleson makes it clear that that’s intentional.
“[Fisk] is someone who is attacking the truth, and doesn’t let the truth hold him back from playing the good guy to the world,” he says. “And for Matt, the hero of the show, it’s extremely frustrating that the public doesn’t seem cognizant of the true carcinogenic nature of Fisk.”