Only making the first six episodes of Daredevil’s third season available for review is one of the cruelest things Netflix has ever done. The show – which follows the exploits of a blind lawyer-by-day, costumed-crimefighter-by-night – is the pinnacle of Marvel, ABC Studios and Netflix’s hit-or-miss outcropping of the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. And after a somewhat lackluster second season that felt rudderless without the imposing presence of Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, the series returns this week in better shape than ever.
Picking up immediately where crossover series The Defenders left off, the show finds Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) presumed dead after a climactic explosion in that series. He’s rescued, though, by his priest, Father Lantom (Pete McRobbie) and an acerbic-if-motherly nun, Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley). (Confidential to fans of the comics: No, they don’t say – at least not in the six episodes we saw.) Left with his heightened senses a mess, Murdock decides to take a break from the vigilante nightlife.
Enter the Kingpin. The details are best kept hushed, but when Wilson Fisk decides to turn state’s evidence, Murdock can’t help but be suspicious and return to his crusade against the crime boss. D’Onofrio is once again a delight to watch. He tears into the paradoxical figure – cultured, but brutish; loving toward his wife, but murderous to pretty much anyone else – with glee, commanding attention even when he’s deliberately blurred in the background.
That duality also plays into his mentorship of an FBI agent, “Dex” Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), a preternatural marksman who Fisk takes under his wing and gives aid to, only to help encourage some of Dex’s more violent tendencies. They don’t actually say the word “Bullseye” in the first six episodes, but that’s clearly who Dex is. Daredevil and Bullseye don’t actually meet each other until several episodes in, giving Bethel plenty of time to slow-burn his way through Dex’s realization that his tenuous grip on morality is not worth the effort. But when ol’ Hornhead and Bullseye finally do come to blows, it’s one of the best examples of how to do superhero fight choreography ever put to screen.
And that’s saying something considering the first season of Daredevil had a famous single-take hallway fight that garnered imitations in dozens of other shows that weren’t as good. Perhaps that’s why it feels like this new season is raising the bar in every way when it comes to action set-pieces. If everyone else is going to copy your hallway fight, why not give them a whole riot seemingly captured in a single take this time?
Not that Daredevil is all punching and kicking. Indeed, most of the conflicts being waged on screen occur within the characters themselves. Murdock is torn between his need for human connection and guilt over putting his loved ones in harm’s way due to his addiction to righteous (or self-righteous) violence. His best friend and former law practice partner, Foggy Nelson, is put in a serious bind due to Murdock’s actions, and has to figure out whether supporting a friend is worth losing his career. Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), former office manager for Nelson & Murdock and current reporter, has to deal with the delayed results of killing one of Fisk’s advisers back in the first season. And for Poindexter, he has to determine whether the rigid order he’s developed in his daily routine as an way to stave off his psychopathic tendencies is really what he wants.
The only character who knows exactly what he wants and how he’s going to get it appears to be Fisk. Roughly halfway through the season, though, much of what we thought those things were have been illusory. You can be sure we’ll be binging to find out how it all ends this Friday, Oct. 19, on Netflix.