Boasting a “return to roots” formula meant to appeal to champions of the first season, Daredevil‘s third season premiered on Netflix this weekend in the wake of the cancellation of its peers Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Trailers revealed Matt Murdock back in his homemade origin-story duds, rather than the classic crimson armor. The villain is also back, Wilson Fisk returning to his old ways and prompting Murdock and Co. to take him down…twice and for all. The question was whether there would be enough newness to offset what frankly sounds like a remake of the first season, enough to actually move the series forward. It’s worth remembering that the Netflix/Marvel model is a business model, not a storytelling model, and while both could be said to have an “arc” it’s always been evident that the former has dictated the output strategy of both Netflix and Marvel Studios.
And the arc here is a fairly predictable one:
- Marvel and Netflix launch a new arm of the all-encompassing MCU, populated by more “realistic” street-level heroes.
- Praise follows, mostly for Jessica Jones and Daredevil, which has a second season that spawns a Punisher series of its own.
- Iron Fist premieres to negative reviews, the first show to break the streak. Probably just a fluke, though. Right?
- The Defenders happens in an attempt to mirror the team-up mentality that led the film series to Avengers: Infinity War. The main difference, of course, is that Defenders is one of the most arduously-conceived, inconsequential, straight-up boring television shows ever made.
- This seems to spook the larger Netflix/Marvel model, predicated on interconnectedness from the get-go, and each individual series begins to shy from too much overlap. Rosario Dawson’s Night Nurse, the only character to appear in each show, seemingly evaporates.
- The second seasons of Jones, Cage and Fist premiere, all to lowly-to-middling reviews that fail to generate much more of a reaction past “meh.”
- Cage and Fist get the axe and Daredevil‘s third outing arrives with the promise of a return to the Glory Days of Season One, back when it was the only one of its kind in existence.
To be clear, inclusion of additional Defenders or the Night Nurse or any other crossover cameos pulled from the ever-extending reaches of the MCU would likely not make the third season of Daredevil any stronger. But the show’s third season suffers anyway, bogged down by that desire to revert to a standalone series shorn of obligations to other parts of the shared universe. In theory, this stripped-down approach is just what Daredevil needed after the show stuffed Elektra and Punisher into the second season; in execution, it becomes evident that Daredevil takes a return to roots too literally and fails to move the storytelling forward in any meaningful way.
Part of this is due to the 13-episode length, which has proved too long even for the best seasons of these Netflix/Marvel shows. Again: the contract demands this number of episodes; the story itself probably demands 8-10 episodes. Season 3 revealed shades of The Walking Dead in its screenwriting DNA, another show that has always felt overly long-winded, self-serious, and even soapy at times. Nearly every conversation in TWD boils down to don’t you get it? This is the way we have to live now. By the end of Daredevil‘s new season, the prevailing recollection of every character interaction boils down to this is what it means to be a hero. Sometimes you have to let the darkness in. If we kill [despicable character], then we’re just as bad as [despicable character].
So the weaknesses are the same as in the first season, and admittedly the strengths haven’t really changed either. Daredevil‘s action set pieces remain kinetic and exciting, spurred by the inclusion of the villain-to-be Bullseye. His skills lend themselves to sequences that aim (pun!) for something greater than punches and more punches, and on the whole these sequences deliver. The first major set piece is a gangbusters fight scene in episode 6, falling at the season’s midway point and propelling it over the hump. But when the following episode focuses on Agent Nadeem and reintroduces yet another character from the first season (costume-maker/half-villain Melvin Potter), the air gets let out of the bag all over again.
If there is a jolt of newness, it’s Bullseye’s potential as both a fearsome nemesis for The Man Without Fear and an interesting character in his own right. There’s more weirdness in Wilson Bethel’s portrayal than you’d expect, especially because it must have been pretty hard not to play it 100% straight after this cinematic tour-de-force:
But this Bullseye actually has a backstory and characterization that gel with his “powers,” explaining them to some degree but also making him compelling without them. A quick scene of him vacuuming his apartment in the Daredevil suit is a creepy glimpse at the larger cracks in his psyche, more effective than flashbacks for Fisk or Karen or even Matt have been to date. Colin Farrell probably would have gyrated a lot more, though, so there’s that.
And he’ll be back, of course, just like he always comes back in the comics. It’s just a thing that happens:
But Daredevil, along with whatever remains of the Netflix Marvel series, should have a more compelling reason to stick around than it’s just a thing that happens. Heck, Luke Cage and Iron Fist may very well return in some iteration, so even their deaths aren’t final. It’s worth remembering that Disney — Marvel Studios’ parent company — is launching their own streaming service next year in direct competition with Netflix. Why not shift those shows over to the new platform to build up that critical mass of content? It’s the next logical move in the arc, right?
So aside from the well-filmed action and the introduction of a moderately-interesting new villain, Daredevil‘s third season relies too much on the past and on the need to lay a foundation for future seasons to exist in an increasingly uncertain landscape. Matt, Karen and Foggy learn little they didn’t already know at the end of the first season, and despite spending time with the families of each of these characters it doesn’t feel as if we’ve learned much about them, either. The Netflix/Marvel-verse will continue, regardless, so maybe shaking up the foundations might actually be a good thing. It might actually force a good story to find new footing.