Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’ series could learn from Marvel’s ‘Jessica Jones’ series, despite the recently released exciting second season.
Netflix has embraced Marvel in ways the movies can only hope to achieve. And yet, after finishing season two there was a small part of me that was…how do I put it mildly? Not angry. More like exasperated.
It’s not uncommon to feel a little lost after finishing a two-day 13 episode binge-watch. And around episode eight or nine of Daredevil’s second season I started to panic because it was almost over.
Except by the end I wasn’t as lost as I expected. I really enjoyed this season. Definitely more than the first for sure. But I didn’t feel lost. I didn’t feel empty. I felt relieved. And I still do. Like a big weight has been lifted. Not because I was bored or just wanted to get it over with or because it was a brutal season. Here’s your first obligatory Spoiler Warning. It’s mild stuff but if you don’t want to know anything about this season now is the time to maybe stop reading.
Don’t get me wrong there are a ton of things that Daredevil gets right. My personal favorite is the way it toys with your senses really effectively. There are times I feel like I can smell the blood and sweat. The choreography in the flawless editing of certain shots. There are times that you don’t realize it but you are sort of robbed of the finer points of the visuals. and it’s all sound mixing. And listening with headphones is a special experience because of that last point. It’s all used to great effect and it really enhances the whole reality, which is me, sitting in a chair or on my bed, stress eating while Matt and Frank kick and flip and concuss their way through the larger more dangerous enemies.
I think that Jon Bernthal makes an absolutely phenomenal Frank Castle and I really hope the spin-off series pans out. But then I’m one of the few people who could sit and talk endlessly about his time as Shane on The Walking Dead. It’s not really a surprise I enjoyed Frank so much. The two characters actually share quite a few similarities; most distinctly, they both have this capacity to love so much that it literally drives them insane (and they share Jon’s voice which is my other favorite thing). But if I go into Frank and why his character works for me I feel like I need to give attention to all my other problematic faves and the reason we relate them. Except, this isn’t about The Punisher. He’s not an issue for me.Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock in Daredevil Photo: Netflix Gif: pennyroyalorange via Tumblr
This isn’t even about Matt Murdock, who is borderline problematic in his own right (although Charlie Cox is a treasure and if anyone in the production of the show is reading this please thank everyone who took part in those perfectly positioned camera angles highlighting his spectacular spandex-clad butt, the constant vigilance those angles took were the real justice of the season two!). For it’s effort Daredevil is excellent. But…And there is a but (and it’s not the one with two t’s I was just talking about) …There were some points of contention that I just can’t let go. This is where I get myself into some hot water but, I like Jessica Jones better. A lot better. And I think that Daredevil might want to reevaluate its choices before The Defenders series and season three.
And I realize that Daredevil and the critical acclaim that came with that first season paved the way for Jessica Jones’ success. More importantly I’m one of those people who would have watched both regardless of the future Defenders series. I like superheroes. I like what they represent. I like what they struggle with daily. I like that their choices affect their real life, whether they choose to be the hero or just become one. It’s a narrative that works me. And Final Spoiler Alert it’s one that works for Karen too.
She had a lot of pretty words in her article and she’s right. Which is strange because she actually does right by honoring the men she has seen fall because of their choices. But the series as a whole didn’t really do the same for her. Her experience is much less heroic than Frank’s or Matt’s but that’s the thing. That’s her story and she’s still around to tell it because of Frank and Matt.
I like Karen’s take on these mere mortals who have achieved greatness. They’re just guys the same way she says everyone is a hero. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle. We relate because we’ve all lost and won and survived. The physical scars that Matt has and the emotional ones that mar Jessica’s mind all tell a story. “All you need to do is look in the mirror and you’ll see a hero.” I believe in that sentiment.Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page in Daredevil Photo: Netflix
I hope that the show-runners from each series are used to their writing strengths for The Defenders team-up but, If the TV wish granting genies are listening, it’d be best if the large part of the job does fall to the writing team behind Jessica Jones (this is purely based on the two Marvel series currently streaming since Luke Cage only has a 20 second trailer out right now). Because when Daredevil finished there were some glaring problems that could have blatantly been avoided.
It gets complicated because I really feel like it’s easy to compare these two series and that makes me not want to. My instinct is to keep the commentary exciting but after two days of bloodied fists, sweaty fights and tears (okay that last part might have just been me in a cycle of screaming and crying) I’m not really in the “this is the best Marvel show” camp. Because it’s not and it could have been.
There is formulaic nature to these types of shows. And I don’t mind that. I’m not looking for totally new narratives. I’m looking for something that speaks to me. And the formula really works. So well, in fact, that I was almost soothed by it: Characters are introduced or in this case, re-introduced. Hell’s Kitchen transcends setting and basically becomes its own dark and twisty character (there’s a Black Sky metaphor in there but I’ll let you suss it out). Our resident Big Bad is mentioned, possibly even seen in shadow and things get moving from there. The beginning is never perfect. We’re just picking up where the new mess is just starting to get interesting. And Daredevil managed all of that. Complete with some really great Foggy moments in that first episode alone. But this is where Daredevil falls short and Jessica Jones succeeds.Charlie Cox & Elden Henson as Matt Murdock & Foggy Nelson in Daredevil Photo: Netflix
Gif: lincoln-campbells via Tumblr
Obviously, the two shows have quite a few differences. Jessica is an anti-hero to Matt’s chosen vigilante lifestyle. Foggy is very much against his friend in danger whereas Trish Walker persuaded Jessica to attempt the whole “hero thing.” Matt and Jessica push the people they love away. Constantly. It’s how they think they protect them but the problem is that sort of isolation only makes their situation a lot worse.
I can absolutely see where Foggy comes from. He feels lied to by his best friend. He’s scared and he would rather just be a lawyer. But the fighting got old. And I don’t mean this season, it was old when it started back in season one. I get that Foggy has a hard time with Matt’s choices. And I get that Matt doesn’t want to put his friend in danger. But Jessica behaved exactly the same way and Trish didn’t hold it against her.
Better yet, Trish gave Jessica her space until she chose to ask for help. And then Trish went beyond that. She supported Jessica in her choices. Jessica was a Private Investigator, Trish tried to buy her way back into her life with a new sign. She wanted to keep Trish safe by staying away, Trish got involved anyway. The dynamic is not so different from Matt and Foggy. But all Matt and Foggy do is throw their friendship and their law firm away. And then they pick it back up only to toss it out again.Krysten Ritter & Rachael Taylor as Jessica Jones & Trish Walker in Jessica Jones Photo: Netflix Gif: iriswestallen via Tumblr
And watching Matt choose Elektra over Foggy only perpetuated the end result. And I got really bored. I just want Foggy and Matt to get along. I get that Foggy wants to go about saving the world in a different way. And I was beyond pleased when Jeri Hogarth showed up to offer him a partnership in her firm (looks like she rallied like Jessica suggested). Trish is different because she wants to be a hero too (I mean I know who she becomes later but she’s not there yet). She is the person that Karen writes about who is looks in the mirror and doesn’t really feel as physically strong as Jessica but knows deep down she is. More importantly she grounds Jessica in a way that Foggy can’t with Matt.
The importance of these friendships works when it works. And maybe Matt and Foggy need to grow apart a little bit more in order to start leaning in the same direction but it just feels like it doesn’t push any kind of limits. Worse, the only narrative that did was killing Elektra and while we can assume that she’s probably not dead forever, how many times do we have to the man-pain plot line?
No seriously, I’m asking. And not for a friend. For myself. Because every show does (some more than others) and it’s beyond old. No man had to die to get Jessica to be more proactive. Actually technically the man she thought was dead had to come back to life but that’s really beside the point. Jessica even has a whole monologue about how she doesn’t take her crap out on other people. And okay, I think that was the irony of her relationship with Luke but he wasn’t a plot device. He didn’t motivate her to do things differently, she just felt more or less crappy about what she did to him. If anything she feels like the tool. But Jessica also realizes her mistakes and does try to make up for them.Charlie Cox & Elodie Yung as Matt Murdock & Elektra in Daredevil Photo: Netflix Gif: kal-el via Tumblr
But Matt needed Elektra to die to make the “hard choices.” And okay, he doesn’t end up needing to do the thing that will set him over the edge. Frank comes back for that – just in time too – but he was ready and willing. And after the positive reinforcement that was Jessica Jones Elektra deserved better. We, the viewers, deserved better. And maybe I could overlook that (I really can’t though I point it out in every show I watch but let’s pretend I can) if there also wasn’t already the absolutely forced and contrived Matt/Karen “Love” plot line, nonsense. It was shoehorned in there to fill some kind of comic book expectation but it didn’t work.
There was clearly more chemistry between Karen and Frank than any of the scenes featuring Matt and Karen. And when Elektra came along the whole thing was kind of dropped. Sure, it leads to Matt telling Karen the truth. But he should have done that a long time ago. He actually had more than enough opportunities. And maybe we were supposed to see the difference between Matt/Karen and Matt/Elektra but it just made Karen less of a character and more of a device. Which, is probably the cruel irony of killing Elektra as motivation for Matt’s future actions.
These comic book series need to let go of that old trope. Just throw it in the garbage. If a woman’s entire purpose in a series is to be either a love interest or some kind of man pain (or god forbid both) don’t use the plot (here’s a handy flowchart that explains it more thoroughly. The important takeaway is it’s a garbage plot and should be incinerated before it ever reaches the filming stages. For every step forward from the poor Black Widow choices in Age of Ultron it’s like another four steps back.Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page in Daredevil Photo: Netflix Gif: chraliecox via Tumblr
At this point, the Netflix shows are held to a much higher standard and they should rise to the occasion. Not fall back on old habits that don’t work anymore. I won’t even go into Karen’s constant “damsel in distress routine.” And I won’t mention how she was used to show Frank’s humanity. Actually, you know, I think we can just cross reference that second point with the man-pain thing. I’ll just repeat myself for those in the back: STOP USING WOMEN AS PLOT DEVICES!
This wasn’t the only comic book contrivance that Daredevil fell back on that Jessica Jones didn’t. The other big one, for me at least, is the superhero suits. Jessica outright rejects hers. And that fits with her anti-hero shtick. But the first season of Daredevil worked so well because we got to know Matt outside of the suit. Truth is, the last scene of him in the season one finale is my least favorite moment of the series.
I get why we get our “Hero Shot” but it didn’t work for me. And I remember there because quite a few articles that felt the same way. The mask was one thing. But with just the all black getup and ninja masks over his eyes The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen seemed like they could be anyone. The suit elevated him to a different space and he just didn’t need it. I accepted it only because I was forced to.
Season two opens with him in it. I even got used to the suit (okay I like it but I still hate the mask). But why was there an entire scene in the finale devoted to sending Frank home to spray paint a skull on his new vest? Was that really necessary? No. Not even a little bit. Did it make him look awesome? No. It didn’t add anything for his character. It was a wasted scene of him doing some insane version of arts and crafts (even though Frank Castle is not a psychopathic killer a top I am completely happy to discuss). I literally rolled my eyes when he walked into the garage and shook the spray can and I’m willing to bet I wasn’t the only one. I mean does it really make fan boys that happy? I’m not saying no more suits. I’m saying that characters are still the who they’re supposed to be without them.Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle (“The Punisher”) in Daredevil Photo: Netflix Gif: sebchris via Tumblr
Frank Castle is still The Punisher without a dumb skull on his chest. And Matt Murdock is still Daredevil without a horned mask that squishes his nose. It just feels heavy-handed. They worked around making Kilgrave literally purple. He was still most definitely the “Purple Man.” Now we can argue that Jessica has her own kind of uniform. But she doesn’t “suit up” to do her work. She drinks some whiskey and tries to protect the one or two people she cares about.
Is it making more sense why I ended up feeling exasperated? I didn’t realize I had such high expectations until the season fully played out. But I realize now I was holding Daredevil to a standard and although it exceeded most of my expectations there were lows. Jessica Jones was a nice thing. And I want to have more nice things. I championed it. My overall opinion was that it was better than Daredevil and I freely tell people exactly that. But I wanted Daredevil’s second season to do the same justice. I expected it to be better.Charlie Cox & Elodie Yung as Matt Murdock & Elektra in Daredevil Photo: Netflix Gif: magnusficent via Tumblr
These series and everything in the same caliber need to step up and stop falling back on these easy plots. It doesn’t have to be a choice between who is best at their job. It’s not Daredevil vs Jessica Jones in the same way it wasn’t Matt vs Frank. It’s about learning from each other. Taking the best parts of each.
Karen is right. We’re all some kind of hero. We’re all some kind of vigilante. And knowing that the problem “is real means you gotta make a decision: One, keep denying it. Or two… do something about it.”
Daredevil season 2 is now streaming on Netflix!