What is Daredevil, really? Is it a superhero show? Is it bloody torture porn? Is it a complex metaphor about religious guilt, Catholicism, and the impulse to “save” others by persuading them of their inner morality? Is it a lesser entry in the Marvel franchise weighed down by thudding pacing, unconscionably wooden dialogue, an unimaginative concept, and one-dimensional characters?
You might ask yourself these questions while watching season two, which was released in its entirety on Netflix Friday, and ponder why Daredevil, at this point in time, seems so much less inspired than Jessica Jones, which came out seven months after its Marvel universe sister show in 2015 but seemed light years ahead of it in vision and execution. While JJ was a gloomy, noir-ish detective show with powers thrown into the mix, it felt like a superhero show for its time, exploring issues like the meaning of consent, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the dynamics of power in same-sex relationships. Daredevil, by contrast, is … about a man with a savior complex who wrestles with the morality of violence, which the show portrays in gruesome, prolonged, visceral ways. In other words, it’s most superhero dramas, but clunkier, albeit with explicit, often fascinating nods to theology thrown into the mix.
Season one offered a simple enough origin story for the vigilante hero known as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a lawyer blinded in childhood by an accident involving radioactive chemicals that simultaneously heightened his other senses, particularly his hearing. His father, a boxer, was killed by a local gangster for refusing to lose a fight he was ordered to fix, after which young Matt was trained in martial arts by Stick (Scott Glenn), one of two important mentors in his life (the other is his priest). The first season leads toward his fully becoming Daredevil, as he fights a vicious local crime boss, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), acquires a costume that doubles as body armor, and fights a variety of crooks, mobsters, and ninjas, nearly getting killed an exhausting number of times.