Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Disappointment, Part Deux

Netflix scored a commercial and critical hit with its 2015 TV series Daredevil, about a man named Matt Murdock whose senses were both limited and enhanced in a childhood accident involving a chemical truck. Technically blind but able to sense much more than most people through enhanced hearing and a strange "radar sense," he trained to become an expert in martial arts and spends his nights showing criminals in his Hell's Kitchen neighborhood the error of their ways as "The Devil of Hell's Kitchen" or Daredevil. He spends his days as a lawyer with his college friend Franklin "Foggy" Nelson and their assistant, Karen Page, defending the poor folks of the neighborhood in the legal arena.

As Matt Murdock, Charlie Cox brought a more understated and reflective version of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark to play, and as Daredevil he presented a man with an almost monomaniacal focus on protecting people under siege from street criminals and thugs. His season-long battle with Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson "Kingpin" Fisk made for a good solid storyline even if D'Onofrio's portrayal was so mannered as to seem stilted and artificial.

Season Two opens with Daredevil continuing to battle criminals in Hell's Kitchen and showing them how crime not only doesn't pay, it can also lead to broken bones and hospital stays. Traditional crime gangs are starting to try to reclaim territory now that Fisk is in prison, but they are being mowed down in job lots by a new vigilante who uses bullets and sends his opponents to the morgue rather than a hospital. It isn't long before Daredevil runs across the trail of this "Punisher," as the police have called him, and their confrontation reveals an unexpected wound at the core of his crusade. But Matt still believes in the rule of law, and can't countenance the Punisher's method of just killing everyone.

In the meantime, Matt's own past offers up some complications, as an old girlfriend, Elektra Natchios, tries to enlist him in her current affairs. Which have several hidden layers of their own and which will also complicate Matt's burgeoning relationship with Karen Page.

The returning cast -- Cox, Elden Henson as Foggy and Deborah Ann Woll as Karen -- bring in a second season of good performances, and of the newcomers, Jon Bernthal as Frank "The Punisher" Castle also stands out.

The disappointment referenced in the headline comes from how scattershot and uneven the story is and how little it actually does over the course of the 13 episodes. Elektra plays a major role in the Frank Miller version of Daredevil from which the show works, but her appearance in the show seems almost like a stop-motion strobe: She's bad, she's good, Matt hates her, Matt doesn't, blink, blink. Only once or twice do these transitions have any hint of flow to them. Whether that's on actress √Člodie Yung or the screenwriters is not clear, but it makes it difficult to invest in her arc.

And the other disappointments comes in that the season ending episode leaves several questions about our characters unresolved. Which wouldn't be a problem if the storyline hadn't spent most of the last 13 episodes enhancing their least likable aspects. Everyone wants everyone else to stop lying to them but seems quite comfortable with being the one in the liar's seat. Matt tells Castle it's wrong to take the authority of an executioner on himself outside the law, but seems OK with taking on the authority of an enforcer himself. Karen wants Foggy and Matt to tell her the truth about whatever secret they keep from her but reserves the right to keep her own past secret from them. Bernthal does a great job outlining Castle's damaged and tortured soul, but since he's decided the best way to deal with his wife and children's deaths is to make widows and orphans, it's hard to care all that much about his pain after awhile.

A Season Three is very likely, and there's nothing that says the showrunners can't rehabilitate their characters to restore some of their appeal and work harder at tightening up their story. The comic book version of Daredevil offers some outline of what the future might hold for them (although one hopes the showrunners decide not to fridge Karen the way Kevin Smith did), but so far the show has been willing to move outside that continuity to make its own way. Maybe it can bring back aspects of them that will help the audience care what happens to them while it does so.

No comments: