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We’re in the Endgame now

by Thom Yee

daredevil-one

Daredevil images courtesy of Marvel Television, ABC Studios, and Netflix

Colin Farrell.

In spite of what others might insist, comicbooks have a great potential for meaning and depth and sometimes even occasional transcendence if met by a receptive audience.  They’re just like any other storytelling medium in that way.  Despite their often garish outer trappings, comicbooks aren’t inherently stupid or immature; not nearly as stupid and immature as the dismissive attitudes that would suggest they must be are anyway.  Like most other stories, comicbook stories tend to speak to the broader thoughts and universal themes we all recognize simply as part of being human.  Superman relates to concepts of power, divinity, and the notion of the foreigner finding their way in a strange new land.  Batman represents a different kind of power, acknowledging our darkest motivations meeting our greatest hopes, no matter how unattainable those hopes might be and how bad they may be for us.  Spider-Man is an everyman, facing the same troubles we all do, but, having learned an important lesson in power and responsibility, is an everyman who uses his gifts as selflessly as possible despite everything it costs him.  Some comicbook characters, though… some of them are just straight-up murderers.  Gifted with exotic murder powers.  Designed by murder artisans who work exclusively in the medium of murder.  Characters like Bullseye, whose power, basically, is to pick anything up and throw it at you, unerringly, in a way that kills you.  He’s our new bad guy in this season of Daredevil.  This time he doesn’t suck.

Not like this guy.

Of course, in the Marvel Netflix universe, which follows the more ordinary, street-level stories of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bullseye’s power to turn any random object into a weapon of murder is just a bit tempered relative to the more extraordinary things we see in the MCU movies.  Where the movies can take our heroes all over the universe and pose galactic tyrants with the motivation and means to kill half said universe against them, the slightly more realistic examinations of the Marvel Netflix shows means that the Daredevil-season-three version of Bullseye doesn’t quite kill people every single time he throws something at them [spoiler alert?].   He still messes Daredevil up pretty badly though.

And, if nothing else, that’s what’s proven to be the real point of Daredevil so far in its first three seasons—Messing Daredevil up real bad.  Like, REAL bad.  Since the first moment we met this version of our hero, dashing and heroic attorney Matt Murdock by day and the vigilante Daredevil by night, it’s been clear that this sort of life comes at great cost, with sheer brutality at its centre, and even after considering the sacrifices of all the other heroes of the MCU movies, television, and Netflix series, I don’t think there’s a single character in this whole world who’s been through quite as much as our boy Matt.  Not Captain America, who endured a deep freeze in a block of ice that suspended his aging for decades and left him a man out of time.  Not Iron Man, who survived a close-range explosion that left shrapnel inching closer and closer to his heart.  Not even Hawkeye, who got hit by… some… thing, I think… once.  None of that adds up to the level of beatings, bloodyings, and near-death experiences Matt Murdock has had to endure.  In fact, that’s the type of thing that tends to escape most other superhero stories precisely because of things like superpowers, with heroes and villains possessed of virtues that specifically blunt potential damage done.  On the other end of the spectrum, Matt, whose powers sharpen his senses but do little against blunt force trauma, is mostly just like us—a man with soft internals and fully breakable skin.  A man beaten and broken more times than can possibly be healthy or sustainable.  And, for a variety of reasons, season three is probably the most brutal season of Daredevil yet.

What’s it about?

Believed dead after the cataclysmic event that brought the some of the lesser-known heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe together as The Defenders, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the vigilante Daredevil, is, instead, barely clinging to life after being found and revived by members of the church.  But things are never that easy for Matt, his best friend and former law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Hensen), or their best girl, crusading journalist Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), people like Matt don’t just get time to heal, and when Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) makes his bid to return to the power he once held as the so-called Kingpin of New York’s crime scene, all three are pushed to the limit to stop his plans as well as his mysterious new henchman (Wilson Bethel).

Back when the Marvel Netflix line first debuted, the notion of Marvel on Netflix seemed like a pretty smart play, a sort of prestige format for Marvel’s lesser-known, less-able-to-carry-a-movie characters, and after the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, things seemed to be going pretty well; people were actually talking about these shows, with blind vigilantes and hard-boiled detectives, as a more serious take on superheroes.  Like these characters and concepts were capable of carrying more mature stories.  Like they might actually mean something.  But it’s a different age we live in, here, now, a whole three-and-a-half years later.  The first season of Daredevil was a bit of an event.  The second made out pretty well too.  But by the time the full roster of the Defenders — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist — had assembled to face down a crazy ninja cult and some sort of underground dragon or some other crap, things definitely seemed in decline for the line in terms of critical reception and viewership.  Now when these Marvel Netflix shows come out, they’re met more with equal parts surprise and indifference.  “Oh, there’s another one?  But I have so many other shows to watch!”  Now, half of that’s probably on Netflix itself simply for the pace of its production and its frenetic release schedule, but the other half, that’s on Marvel, because, lately, their shows haven’t exactly been moving the needle in the right direction.

It’s kind of ironic, then, that I’ve allowed GOO Reviews to become a bit of a Marvel Netflix review haven over the last few months and our last few [very few!] reviews, because it’s especially over these last few months that Marvel on Netflix seems poised to become a thing of the past.  First came news in early October that Iron Fist would not be seeing a third season (shortly after our Iron Fist season two review came out!  Coincidence?).  Then later that same month, it turned out that Luke Cage was cancelled as well.  The Iron Fist cancellation may not have been a total shock given how poorly the character and series had been received overall, but Luke Cage was still a fan-favourite, one with cultural importance beyond just the confines of the MCU as well, and while there remains a faint spark of hope among hardcore fans that these cancellations may lead to a Heroes-for-Hire-type teamup for the duo à la the comicbooks, the cancellation of nearly half the line along with the drop in social media interest in the shows (some of the only analytics we have since Netflix doesn’t release any sort of ratings information) and the imminent launch of the competing Disney+ streaming service in 2019 that’s likely to cause Marvel parent company Disney to pull its properties back under its own umbrella?  It’s all cause for concern if you’re a fan of these Marvel Netflix shows.  So… so long?  Bye-bye?  Thanks for all the melodrama?

For now, though, we still have Punisher season two, which is already in the can and Jessica Jones season three, which is still filming, to look forward to.  But after that?  Let’s just hope the people at Marvel still have some idea of what they’re doing.

Is it any good?

I’m just going to come right out and say it:  Daredevil’s a good show.  It’s a better show than any of the other Marvel Netflix shows, and it very much comes across as the flagship Marvel Netflix show.  It just flows better than the rest.  It feels more considered and careful and deliberate.  It’s the first one mentioned in any sort of conversation on the topic, and it has the easiest time saying important and impactful things using the superhero form than any of the others.  And because of all of that, it’s also a lot more watchable than the rest.  And Daredevil season three is probably the best season of the show so far.daredevil-season-3-daredevil.jpg

The word that defines the third season of Daredevil is ‘desperation’.  Every character on this show is brought to the brink, both in their own personal stories and how those stories intertwine and ultimately lead to the season’s climax.  We learn more than we ever have about Matt, Foggy, and Karen.  We get the kind of honest look at Wilson Fisk that never once tries to tell us he’s anything but a bad, bad guy, but the kind of bad guy we can’t help but support.  The problems our heroes and villains face are personal and come from an organic place rather than from some unrelated external threat or something more put on them by the constraints of the overarching story.  Even the more secondary characters of the season get enough air time and enough thought put into their backgrounds that the worst they come off as is typical.  That may not sound like a high bar to pass, but it’s not been something I could always say about these types of shows, because a lot of the time there’s at least one character that annoys everyone.  In earlier seasons I was usually at least a little annoyed by Foggy, it was always hard to fully support Karen as a character given the ease with which she was a given a job as a high-profile journalist despite a severe lack of qualifications and experience, and Wilson Fisk, at least for me, was one of the most ridiculous characters in the entire Marvel Netflix stable.  Here in season three though, with their stories focused and fleshed out and undistracted, I would say I’ve actually grown to love Foggy and Karen, and maybe even Fisk himself.daredevil-season-3-nelsonandmurdock.jpg

The place we first meet back up with Matt in Daredevil season three serves as a reset of sorts for the show after the series of events that led the character to revisit and then lose his former lady love, Elektra, in Daredevil season two, only for her to be resurrected and lead the forces of the evil ninja group, the Hand, in The Defenders.  These were storylines that served the greater narrative originally concocted to link up the Marvel Netflix shows, and while I enjoyed the whole thing for the most part, there were definitely behind-the-scenes strings you could feel being pulled that ultimately hurt the development of these characters, and there was definitely a contingent of fans who preferred the more focused approach of Daredevil season one’s Matt Murdock (and co.) vs. Wilson Fisk rather than season two’s Matt Murdock vs. a crazy mystical ninja storm plus a fairly disconnected Punisher story that mostly served to kick off that character’s own later series.  The good news, it’s back to basics with Daredevil season three, just Matt and Foggy and Karen and Fisk and no long-running storylines designed to stew in the background and serve a different purpose than the one at hand.

When we’re reunited with Matt, and it has been a long time, more than a year in real time and three whole other Marvel Netflix shows in between, he’s essentially deceased, missing to the world and suspected dead by his closest friends, the only ones who have any idea of what happened with the Defenders, and that’s kind of appropriate, because Matt basically spends most of season three in hell.  After seeing all of the pain he’s caused his friends, Matt chooses to distance himself from his former life, staying far away from his former attorney-by-day persona, and while that’s an all-too-common superhero trope, it’s also the sort of thing we tend to do in real life.  It’s easy for us to resort to the idea, especially with those we care about, that people are better off without us.  But the more Matt stays away from his life, the more things seem to go wrong, and eventually everything he worked so hard for in originally putting Wilson Fisk behind bars comes undone.  Though technically Fisk is only released from prison under house arrest by the FBI in exchange for giving information on rival criminal gangs, the villain manipulates events in his favour to the point where he has essentially taken the FBI over.daredevil-season-3-kingpin.jpg

For once I actually like the Wilson Fisk character.  I got the sense that he was ahead over everyone this time, I liked the way his plans came together, that they made sense and were motivated from a place that made sense, and that they weren’t contingent on the public at large seeing him as a good guy working tirelessly for the people.  I think that’s what bothered me the most about Fisk in Daredevil season one, that he was worst public speaker in the world in terms of seeming sincere or beneficent, and yet a big part of that season asked us to believe that other people could see this big, self-serious, villainous, Dickensian weirdo with overdramatic pregnant pauses all over his speech patterns on the news, talking about ways to improve Hell’s Kitchen, and take him seriously.  Here he’s just a bad guy and everybody hates him all the way up until they’re trapped in his Machiavellian machinations, and it all works (And yes I did just invoke both Dickens and Machiavelli in one paragraph about a comicbook character, so f*ck you, Bill Maher!).

Everything in season three builds at a slow but steady pace, neither compacted or drawn out, and that’s actually a first for any Marvel Netflix show, most of which felt over-extended when stretched over 13 episodes.  Here there’s just a flow to the story that feels consistent and forceful throughout but not rushed, with an undemanding but still compelling pace that allowed the story to focus on whichever character it needed to without losing our interest.  One entire episode focused exclusively on Karen Page’s past and another on the origins of our new villain, Benjamin “Dex” Poindexter, who’s never explicitly called Bullseye but bears all the characteristic traits (i.e., kills people by throwing stuff at them).  These types of episodes pop up right in the middle of important events and pulse-pounding cliffhangers, but I never found myself wishing to go back to the main story or noticing that, really, what I’d just seen was a whole episode without once seeing our principle character because they told interesting stories on their own that eventually paid off.  Foggy has a subplot of his own this season that’s truly endearing, Karen is the right combination of tough and vulnerable for all of the things she goes through this season, “Dex” has a seriously empathetic arc on the way to becoming a very dangerous and intimidating villain, and Matt himself gets the kind of revelation about his parents and the nature of how he was raised in the church that’s just the right combination of cathartic and yet still infuriating.daredevil-season-3-sister-maggie.jpg

So should I see it?

At an early point in the season, a character says “Love is the ultimate prison.”, and that’s really the theme of the season, a theme explored with surprising depth and a very wide purview as we examine how love affects, hurts, and helps each of our characters in very different ways.  We see how parental love has affected Matt, who never had very stable parents in either his father, his mentor/tormentor Stick, or the church system that raised him to be a guilt-ridden Catholic, Foggy, who grew up in a loving traditional home, Karen, who’s been essentially abandoned by her parents, and Dex, who battles with mental health along with a constant loss of parental figures.  We see how romantic love drives Wilson Fisk far more strongly than his own personal desires could have, and we see how these people can build their own surrogate families both in the absence of and in addition to their traditional family units.  It’s all rich emotional territory, and it’s exactly this sort of depth that makes you care about everything going on in Daredevil season three.  It also has some of the most impressive fight scenes of the series and of the overall Netflix line, with a truly unique, dangerous, and well-matched villain for Matt to face off against in Dex.

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On the opposite side, there are also all kinds of representations of codes of honour, of “being a man”, and believing in a higher power, and though the show doesn’t condemn these sorts of institutionalized thinking to the extent that some might like for their inherent toxicity, there’s at least a layer of sensitivity to the show that isn’t so naïve to imply that these are always the right ideals to follow.  The show fully acknowledge that these are damaged people, often for their following of these sorts of beliefs, and at least admits that these beliefs don’t always work.  After all, everyone gets their ass kicked on this show, all emotionally and some very, very physically.  What everyone on this show, good or bad, fore or background, is searching for is family and a sense of belonging, and they don’t let anyone off easy regardless of what they believe or what you might think they deserve.

Ultimately, it’s the characters in Daredevil, Matt, Foggy, Karen, Dex, and Wilson Fisk that carry this show far beyond any of its superior action, superpowers, or crazy effects, and because of that these are the only characters in the Marvel Netflix line that I don’t want let go of.  This is the one Marvel Netflix show I want to see continue and feel I can recommend without reservation. It’s the one Marvel Netflix show I would say you, any of you and not just fans of the character or format, should make time to see.  And so of course it was announced at the end of November that, like Iron Fist and Luke Cage before it, Daredevil too has now been cancelled.  And of course it came as a surprise to everyone on the show who already had plans for a fourth season in development.  And of course it looks like the original deal for Marvel Netflix means that none of these characters can show up in a non-Netflix series or film for at least two years after cancellation.  And so, it looks like it’s all over, that this very well might be the last chance we get to see these characters, at least in this form.  Just like that.  In a snap.  They’re gone.  But unlike in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s nothing random, dispassionate, or fair about it.

Thom’s Daredevil season three final score

4.5

heart


 On the Edge

  • I knew there was a reason I felt weirdly attracted to Sister Maggie!
  • Stop going to hospitals if you’re not going to have Claire Temple around anymore
  • Yeah, every laundromat is a front
  • “I discovered this while looking into Marcy’s briefs (in more ways than one)!” I think that’s my favourite joke in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far!
  • So the FBI had a recording of Bullseye ‘s voice, they find out Bullseye is an FBI agent in their own unit, and nobody in the FBI but Nadeem could figure out who he was? The ‘I’ stands for ‘Investigations’ doesn’t it?
  • Does Foggy still work at Jeri Hogarth’s firm? Cause that place has been through a lot lately (Jessica Jones s2).
  • Bulllseye’s pretty good at one-thumb texting.
  • Yeah Bullseye, fuck insurance! They’d just raise your premiums if you reported the break in anyway!
  • Hey, shouldn’t Luke Cage be at Fisk’s mob meetings too?
  • Considering how important they are to you, you should really be making digital copies of those therapy session tapes, Ben
  • Great spin on Karen giving up Matt’s identity since she’s the one who did it in the comics (though not in the same way).
  • God, I wish that “before” segment with Karen had the Blue song playing.
  • “A man without fear”. They really must’ve tortured themselves to get that specific phrasing into the script.
  • Stand up for yourself, Poindexter!

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