“If you've got a gun and you're not the police, you're going to incite strong feelings.”
Daredevil showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez were fully aware of America’s ongoing gun war and the political debate shrouding it, when they decided to introduce The Punisher: the gun-toting, extremely violent killer, to Daredevil’s 2nd season.
It was a bold move to include a vigilante who doesn’t follow the same moral and religious standards that the show’s titular character exemplifies. We learnt last season that the devil of Hell’s Kitchen, Matt Murdock, is a devout Catholic, a lawyer who was blinded as a child and subsequently developed superhero powers that he now uses to unleash justice on Hell’s Kitchen’s bad guys, but refrains from killing. Season One’s antagonist, Wilson Fisk, was a powerful businessman and a killer that aroused feelings of hatred. On the other hand, Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, and the one-man war he wages on the mob, incites reactions of horror that quickly turn to sympathy once you realise what drives him: he witnessed the brutal deaths of his wife and children by the mob in New York’s Central Park. A decorated US military veteran, he returned home from war to an arguably worse experience. What’s more severe than PTSD? Probably this.
Which is exactly how Matt and Foggy Nelson’s law firm hope to defend Frank: use PTSD as a plea to reduce Castle’s certain death or life-without-parole sentence. Why their firm represents Castle, his interactions with Daredevil, his comfort with weapons and stealth tactics, make for very interesting viewing. But what impresses is the bond he develops with an understanding, sympathetic Karen. Actress Deborah Ann Woll talked about being inspired by The Silence of the Lambs: Clarice Starling and her mutually respectful relationship with cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Like her, Karen is faced with feelings of horror and respect for Castle. She’s clearly horrified with the remorseless violence he’s capable of, but she can’t help sympathize with his motives, as shown by her intention and tenacity to piece together Frank’s story (sifting through years of The Daily Bugle’s editions, she’s convinced the DA is covering up something). Her sympathy for Frank propels Nelson and Murdock’s attempts to defend his life. It also sets up an interesting comparison between the Daredevil and The Punisher. Unaware of Daredevil’s true identity, Karen likens him to The Punisher, visibly irritating Matt. His Catholicism intact, Matt sees The Punisher as unlike him, with no commonalities between their respective brands of justice. But for Karen, her story arc this season revolves around humanizing Frank in the eyes of the people watching his violence unfold and marking him a “monster”.
Foggy is also splendid this season, finally stepping out from under the shadow of Matt Murdock, where he perpetually lived in Season One. When Matt is late to court for the opening argument of The People v. Frank Castle, Foggy steps up and delivers an impromptu, genuine plea to convince the jury of Frank’s “goodness”: war veteran, loving father and husband. In the process, he also convinces himself of his capabilities as a lawyer. Arguably, he’s even better than Matt, who’s pretty lousy at his daytime job all season.
A direct cause is the appearance of his ex-girlfriend, Elektra Natchios. A borderline sociopath fighting her own demons, her presence in Murdock’s life opens a can of worms: when they’re not moonlighting at a party to steal the Yakuza’s ledger, he’s helping her make peace with Stick (his blind mentor who also trained Elektra) or take on Nobu and The Hand: a band of ninjas obsessed with immortality and “The Black Sky”. Elektra’s presence indirectly ends both the law firm Nelson and Murdock as well as the short-lived coupling of Matt and Karen. It’s sad, because although we’ve only known these characters a short while, it still seems like “the end of an era”.
In the meantime, Wilson Fisk makes an appearance (in prison, very much the “Kingpin”), Madame Gao has a cameo (observation: older despicable people are super sinister), and nurse Claire is her no-nonsense, will-call-out-Matt-on-his-BS self. There’s even an homage to last season’s epic Hallway fight scene.
The acting this season was exemplary, especially from Ann Woll, Elden Henson (Foggy) and Scott Glenn (Stick; Glenn also starred in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, a neat little meta-homage considering the Oscar sweeper was Ann Woll’s inspiration for this season!). Élodie Yung is capable as Elektra. But the MVP this season is clearly Jon Bernthal. His violent and visceral portrayal of The Punisher is enigmatic, but it’s his depiction of Frank Castle the man that’s going to leave a franchise legacy. Bernthal has made a thing of playing comic book characters on the small screen (he was Shane on The Walking Dead). An Emmy is potentially on the cards here.
Marvel’s Daredevil Season Two was a great follow-up to Season One. While it didn’t reveal more about the protagonist, it did bring some of the more engrossing characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the fore. The wait is on for a (almost certain) third season!