(WARNING: This review may contain some minor spoilers for the show.)
Daredevil has been something of a roller coaster for me. While like most people, I adored the original series, the subsequent stories were a let-down. Season 2 had a heartfelt Punisher story, but was bogged down by the (literal) hole of Defenders setup, and the less said about Defenders itself the better. So to say that my expectations for Season 3 were not high would be an understatement. But sometimes even in the age of the Internet, someone can be surprised. Having a new showrunner in Erik Olseon definitely helps. What’s astonishing though is that Season 3 isn’t just better than both of those previous seasons, it learns from the mistakes made, and applies them to a revitalized season of the original Marvel Netflix show.
Adapting Daredevil: Born Again was always going to be tricky. In the context of the show so many of the elements or moments we associate with the story are things that aren’t available such as Karen being a heroin addict, Nuke going on a rampage, or the Avengers showing up to stop the chaos. That meant an adaptation was going to have to be very different from the comic by default. While the show’s story isn’t Born Again in a 1-1 sense, it does utilize where things were previously left in order to capture the elements that made it so famous. Erik Olseon does a fantastic job of streamlining that story; while also exploring a surprising amount of topics from (once again) our judicial system, to harassment, toxic masculinity, and the ability of the wealthy to corrupt our systems. That this is all on top of such a tense slow-burn story is a credit to the show. The show also marks a notable end to the liberal usage of leads from other Netflix shows. While there was a certain novelty to this early on, as well as useful when it made sense (i.e. Luke Cage and Iron Fist sharing Danny and Misty), this season works so much better because of that relative isolation.
One of the best decisions the show makes out of the gate is to not to try to worm their way out of where the characters previously were. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) getting a building dropped on him, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) being in prison, Matt unmasking to Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), and the supporting cast being separated from each other all understandably would’ve been Gordian Knots that a new showrunner might want to cast off. However this allows for the characters to go through their own trials before they come together again. The other decision that benefits the show is the introduction of Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), an FBI agent who acts as a link between the various jagged edges of Daredevil’s world, as well as possibly the most relatively normal person in the cast. He and his family also like Dinah Madani in Punisher add some a much-needed injection of POC characters into the show’s world.
Previous Daredevil stories on Netflix tended to start Matt in a place of strength that the season would then work to undermine. Both for the purposes of an emotional climax and to soften him up for the inevitable boss fight with the big bad. Instead, we’re left with a Matt who’s physically and emotionally destroyed from having a building dropped on him and failing to save the woman he loved. While (thankfully) neither Matt nor the show dwell too deeply on the latter, the damage is done, and for a good chunk of the season Matt is as vulnerable as he’s ever been with no toys, no fancy costume, and no super-friends to even the odds. Even the original Born Again story started with a base Daredevil status quo, instead the show opens with Matt’s world already ruptured. Charlie Cox as always does a wonderful job with the sharp edges of Matt Murdock’s character. He also gets to play a version of him who’s more primal and heartbroken than ever before, if this ever ended up being his last season, this would be a helluva way to go out.
Wilson Fisk is no slouch either in this season. Everyone and their mother already has written aplenty about how powerful D’Onofrio’s take on the Kingpin is. He was one of the few bright spots in Season 2, and Season 3 follows through on his plan to get back on top in spectacular fashion. For all the focus on D’Onofrio’s physical presence or his rage, this season leans much harder on the Kingpin’s ability to play people like a violin which is beneficial since the story centers so much on the game of wits between Matt and Fisk. D’Onofrio doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for being scary even in polite conversation.
The big elephant in the room though is Bulls– er uh Benjamin Pointdexter (Wilson Bethel). It should be understood that he’s not the egomaniacal thrill-killer from the comics. Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing. Bethel’s performance works in the context of the show and he absolutely commits to the show’s version of the character. While there’s possibly a version of this season where a more traditional Bullseye would have worked, the version Bethel sells here is perfect for the show which leads to some truly dark places even for Daredevil.
The emerging news of Luke Cage and Iron Fist being cancelled has cast some doubts about whether the Netflix corner of the MCU will continue. While I personally harbor doubts that Marvel would scuttle an entire corner of its universe that by all accounts still is popular, if we were to entertain the notion this could be how Daredevil ends. Which would be a shame, it manages to harken back to that first season, while also carving out its own distinct story and managing to shirk the burden of setting up for the next show. If this were how things had to end: Daredevil Season 3 would be a good way to end things
5 Billy Clubs out of 5